As I was saying, I was going to cast Hearthstone with ESL Australia, and the first show was live two days ago on Sunday. I am going share my first casting experience in this post.
If you are interested, the vod is available here.
I reached more than an hour before the broadcast time, so I could find my way and prepare accordingly (not sure what I would need to do). The whole event took place at the ESL studio.
The backstage and production room were what I expect of them. I took some pictures, but I was told not to publish them online. The production room basically was filled with monitors and broadcasting equipment. There were some surprises, for example, I found a pack of opened veggie crisps at the corner.
Brad of ESL introduced me to the broadcasting desk. What would be shown where, what to look out for etc.
It was mother’s day, so I called my mum.
“Hey, guess what I am doing now?”
“In your office doing research?”
“Seeing a doctor?” (I was having fever and flu before the event.)
“No, I am going to cast a video game. A card game. You know those cards I have under my bed for so many years? That type of game.”
After a long pause… “What?”
“You can tune in and watch it live. You will then understand.”
So, when I joked about spending all the lunch money on Pokemon cards when I was young, and I forgot my mum was watching the stream, I was half serious too. My mum was really watching it, and she now knows where I spent my money.
The rest of the crew arrived later. To my surprise, Elison and Ben suited up with pocket square, but I guess it happened when there were some last minute changes. I showed up with shirt, pants, jumper and boots, which were basically what I normally wear when I teach in uni. At least I brought a blazer, so I didn’t look that underdressed in comparison.
Everyone just seemed to know what to do when he walked in. There were several key things to do at the background.
- Update the design overlay for the stream (e.g., player names and decks).
- Arrange which game to be aired.
- Organise the Swiss format tournament itself.
- Communicate with players.
- Communicate with casters.
- Update social media.
- Play OverWatch at the back.
The plan was to have two casters each time, and I would be the analysis guy no matter who I paired with. It would not be wise for a first timer to be the host. That fitted me well anyway, because I am not a novel and funny guy by nature. As I have summed up previously about the general tasks of casters, I will focus more on the analysis, critique and education. With that being said, I still have to narrate and be entertaining to a certain extent. Elison and Ben would start the first round of the day, so I could watch and learn to see how certain things should be done. That included other things that the viewers wouldn’t see.
Apart from the opening of my first cast when I knew Elison (who is working with Blizzard now) would tell me to introduce myself, there was no discussion on what we would say. Rather than saying there was no planning, it was in fact difficult to prepare. The Swiss format made it hard to know the match up. The impromptu bouncing of lines really came down to experience and chemistry, which I didn’t have. I just had to react on the spot and ensure I didn’t screw up, and that was not easy for a first timer. Hence, there were many questions being thrown to me by the co-caster to general the conversation, and I just had to nail it on the spot. There were times when I was asked something, the first thought was “wtf do you want me to say dude!?” I had to give it a spin and bail myself out.
The above image is my view when I cast. Like I have mentioned, it is inconvenient for me to share certain things, so I blocked the background. I was not too sure where to look when we were not in a game yet, should I look at the camera or should I look at my co-caster? After I watched how Elison and Ben did it in the first round, I noticed they looked at each other occasionally to appear like a natural conversation between two person. I tried to do that (maybe a little too often), but I was advised that I needed to look at the camera more often as I needed to speak to the audience. Also, instinctively, when I looked at the camera, my attention would move to the big screen below it instead.
Several years of teaching experience in different universities definitely helped me with casting. I used to be a very bad speaker (still am, but better), and I wasn’t referring to public speaking but just normal conversation. I speak fast, and I have been very conscious about it to slow myself down to ensure my students understand me. I was expecting myself to be very nervous, but I actually wasn’t when it happened. Interestingly though, a friend gave me some feedback after my first cast, and suggested that I appeared nervous. More importantly, he pointed out that I needed to interact more with the person beside me, and I took it on board in the later rounds. He also sent me the print screen below. That’s quite brutal. One friend actually said, you do look like Frodan, and another said I look like David Kim.
Visually, it was quite a tough job for me, because I don’t have good eye sight. The light was shining at me in a dark room, so it was extremely difficult for me to look at the screens. I found it uncomfortable looking at the big one under the camera, because the light cut into my eyes and the background behind the big camera was dark. The contrast made it difficult for me to visually focus on the things on it. The smaller screen under the table was more comfortable because the light would not shine into my eyes directly since I looked down, but it wasn’t clear enough to see the names of the cards.
On top of the visual challenges, I needed to process multiple things simultaneously during the cast. Obviously, I had to pay attention to what my co-caster was saying, and evaluate the state of the game. To make the task even more taxing, someone from the production room was speaking into my headset. Sometimes I knew someone was speaking to my headset, but I couldn’t process the information as my attention was on my co-caster and the screens. I was so cognitively overload that I couldn’t analyse properly, for example, I forgot Ice Armor does not get activated against spell damage on the hero and only activates when a minion attacks the hero. I just had to clarify it when I had the chance later.
There was once when I was told to go for a break by the production room due to some technical issues, but I didn’t capture what was said and we just kept talking to buy time until a match was loaded on the screen. I talked about card game experience, catching a student playing Hearthstone in my class, Australia’s eSports participation in the world and other stuff. I also managed to drag my racism against Protoss into the cast.
There were other relatively minor things that I found awkward during the show. It could be simple things like, where do I place my hands? I kept saying “that’s right”, which is something that I always say in class (to ensure I maintain a positive learning environment). Another reason is to acknowledge what the other person said (and that also explained why I nod a little too much), but I should have mixed up these affirmative cues more.
Ben a.k.a. Sandman, who played the host role, often asked me questions during the show. At times he asked me what certain cards do, and luckily I knew those that he asked. There were other more difficult questions about which deck a player should pick for a specific time, and what decks I would pick for the tournament. These were the situations when my fifteen years of competitive card game experience came handy.
There was this round when Elison and Ben were casting a game between two control warrior decks, which is basically like a Heart of the Swarm style Swarm Host mirror long drag out match. I went out to get some food when they started that round, and it was still going when I was back. There was also a ten minute delay on the live stream (to avoid cheating), and it was funny to see people in the “live” chat were saying it was going to end soon when the real time game was still going on. At least I didn’t have to cast this long game.
The ESL crews were quite positive about my first attempt. As I was saying I took the feedback from a friend after my first round, and I tried to interact more with the co-caster. He actually sent me a message to tell me that I improved a lot in later rounds, and that was encouraging. It was funny that he didn’t know there was a ten minute delay on the live stream, and he was wondering how I could text him while I was casting.
It was tiring though as I was at the studio for more than ten hours. The duration itself was not the main issue, but the fact that someone, who leaned towards the introvert side of the scale, had to be in front of a live camera for so long was mentally draining. Overall, the experience is a positive one.