Analysing The Desk
The CS:GO event at DreamHack saw a "dream team" assembled of hosts, analysts and casters from across the globe to ensure that the broadcasting experience was like nothing Counter-Strike had ever seen before. There was no denying, this eclipsed anything that we had seen in our beloved e-sport, having more in common with Starcraft, League of Legends and Dota than anything we had been used to.
The live audience agreed and it was reflected in our viewer numbers - a record breaking 140,000 for the final give or take - and the future of the game suddenly looked a hell of a lot brighter than it had done for some time. Eclipsing Starcraft at DreamHack is no mean feat and yet the Counter-Strike stream did that with ease.
Being the first of its kind we wanted to give our views on how this ensemble cast handled their respective duties and express the areas in which it excelled and underachieved. Regardless of any criticism though, we all know DreamHack raised the bar for the game and we can only hope that in 2014 other tournament organisers will follow suit.
Jonas “BSL” Vikan 4/10
His announcement as being the host was met with raised eyebrows. Sure, the master of the master of ceremonies – Paul “ReDeYe” Chaloner – was unavailable due to prior commitments but Jonas still represented an off the wall choice. Having had the pleasure to work with Jonas during our CGS days and respecting his journalistic background, I was hoping for great things.
Jonas’s strengths have always lay in knowing what to say and how to say it, being able to easily appear to be the smartest person in the room when pressed for an answer about anything. In the hosting role he was being forced to ask the questions and help steer the conversation. Surrounded by so many big personalities he floundered and was really overpowered by an ensemble of analysts chomping at the bit to give their views.
The time away hadn’t helped either. Tripping over the names of teams – most notably with LGB eSports – he came across as someone who was asked to fill in at the last minute, blundering though as best he could and content to constantly bat the chat back to others to keep the glaring spotlight away from his deficiencies.
Counter-Strike is like that though. You only need to stay away for a short time to realise there’s no way back, as many a former top competitor has found, and whether or not we shall see Jonas again will be down to him. As an audition for future gigs this would definitely end with the immortal lines “don’t call us, we’ll call you”.
Scott “SirScoots” Smith 8/10
As always, the old man was good value for money. Despite being the senior citizen in the team few people could match his energy and enthusiasm, which was the perfect antidote to some of the more sedate members of the casting crew. However, to brand Scoots as some sort one trick “jibber-jabber” pony would completely undercut his value to something like this.
His inherent understanding of broadcasting means he’s the guy who will jump in and fill a fluffed cue. He knows how to cut someone off in a seamless manner when a commercial is looming or a game is about to get underway. He isn’t the guy making mistakes and saying “THE FUCK?” as the audio is switched between segments. His experience in the back room with the VT equipment and editing suite translated to a masterful performance under the bright lights out front.
In terms of entertainment value, Scoots remains one of the people we should treasure the most. Free from the clutches of EG, he says whatever is on his mind and doesn’t look to be a diplomat. In addition his Counter-Strike knowledge was surprisingly strong and it had the hallmarks of someone who had sat down and done his homework before he went on air. His closing speech about how CS:GO was the future and how anyone still rejecting the game due to affiliations with 1.6 needed to wake up to reality was also a perfect end to this new chapter in Counter-Strike history.
Should definitely be upgraded to the main role next time around as his experience will filter down to everyone else and make for a much smoother broadcast.
Duncan “Thorin” Shields 8/10
His introduction started with a pointless furore over his decision of what to wear – namely a series of sports jerseys – during the broadcast. It was a ridiculous stream of criticism, sometimes from people who should know better, that overshadowed the first half of what was the biggest show we’ve seen any form of Counter-Strike hitched to in a long time. DreamHack will never be about dress code and I’m torn on the issue – on the one hand, it’d be nice for it to feel like ESPN sports centre. On the other, the sight of wannabe e-sports celebrities wearing a cheap polyester suit as if that instantly makes them professional / competent is faintly ridiculous. In short, we should judge our commentators on what they say and do, not what they wear.
And on that front Duncan delivered in spades. The whole “e-sports historian” angle is really overplayed but there is probably no-one else that could match him for that kind of knowledge or anecdotes from a 1.6 background. An essential component in building up storylines, Duncan’s value really comes in contextualising a game, merging the “then and now” and helping those who don’t have his same experience and knowledge grasp why games are suddenly more important than just simple wins and losses.
He is also an entertaining person in his own right. Steer him towards the right subject and not only can he find something interesting to say about it but he will also usually find an alternative view on something that has often seemingly reached the point of closure. If he could be more succinct at times, his points might resonate even more but for the most part you can just have fun listening. He, like most Brits, is also someone who might struggle to keep it PG-13 and certainly isn’t interesting in moulding himself into another bland, casting clone.
He’s made no bones about how he’s not interested in pursuing this full time. This is a shame as on this showing he has come a long way since his days with IEM. Polish the rough edges – a point that might sound rich coming from myself – and he could just as easily be in the mix as a caster. No doubt though, the analyst desk role exposed a new side of him that will win over even some of his most vicious detractors.
Stuart “Tosspot” Saw 9/10
Another announcement I personally had mixed feelings about, I perhaps should have realised that the QuadV stamp of quality would come shining through. And shine it did. Despite not being a natural Counter-Strike man by any means (we all know where Stu’s passions really lie) he still managed to narrate the action in a fashion that is rarely matched by the new breed of play-by-play commentators.
His use of pitch, tone and volume to generate excitement is probably the best of any caster in Europe (we all know Americans have a headstart in this department) and this was visible from the live crowd that were pumped every time he was at the commentary desk.
It’s not just that though. He has an expansive vocabulary and rarely repeats phrases, a cardinal sin among some of the younger generation, and he is someone who has an eye for when to comedy. Most modern casters, living under the delusion that this somehow equates to professionalism, rarely criticise players when they make mistakes. Tosspot understands that even at the highest level a “fail” deserves some gentle ribbing.
His class was most apparent on day one. Delays kicked in and for several hours Stuart had to fill. In lesser hands this would have been as disastrous as Ricky Gervais’s improv at Live 8 but he actually managed to keep it entertaining and flowing, despite people around him being about as receptive as a terrestrial TV aerial in North Wales.
His commitments to Twitch mean that we’re unlikely to see him regularly but he is one caster whose infrequent visits we shall welcome, no doubt about that.
Corey “Considerit_Dunn” Dunn 6/10
Corey as a caster should be absolutely beloved by everyone in Europe. We love American voices and his drawl is right up there with the best of them. He is polished and possesses many skills other casters would kill for. And yet, and I’m almost loathe to say this, there always feels to be something lacking from his casting that leaves me a bit underwhelmed. It always starts out good but over the course of a game, especially the best of threes, his potency seems to fade and all that I can focus on are some of the mistakes.
I don’t know if it is just that he needs a stronger colour commentator to be paired with but it does seem that some of his observations about the game are way off. He will often break up the play by play with some attempted tactical insight and it feels like an imbalanced way to do the casting, especially when those insights are way off the mark.
There’s no doubt that Corey is still a top level caster but you have to wonder if it’s lack of competition domestically that is making him a little soft in some vital areas for casters. It was great to have an American voice at DreamHack, essential even, especially with the way the compLexity narrative unfolded. However there has to be more to it than just the voice, especially in this company.
Tomi “lurppis” Kovanen 6/10
The rise of brand Lurppis as some sort of Counter-Strike guru shows only the lack of retired players transitioning into media roles. He has benefited from a number of things, a perfect storm to enable him to monopolise a role many would be better suited to. We can safely assume that there are many better tactical thinkers if we look at achievements alone, yet there are barriers such as the lack of English speakers or seeing them limping along into the twilight of careers in CS:GO. Patrik “cArn” Sättermon certainly offers a better option but was too busy assisting his team in winning the damn thing. Bjorn “Threat” Pers has shown himself to be both knowledgeable, excitable and likeable but also allows play-by-play guys to make him agree with their own glib insights when he should correct them. With the insistence from the bulk of the community that a CS:S player couldn’t really offer the same level of insight, Lurppis seems to be the only option that manages to straddle across all areas to benefit.
And he insight is fine, exactly what a former player would be expected to offer. He notices why certain tactics are executed at certain times, he spots the flashes and nades, he can say correctly how someone should have played a situation. The main deficiency is that when he is in the colour commentator role he is little more than a charisma vacuum.
At DreamHack, after being told to “tone down” the Twitter flaming and constantly ridiculing other players according to my sources, he simply offered a dull droning point of information that was akin to the shipping forecast. The number of times Tosspot tried to set him up for some caster interchange, or provide a platform for some good humoured banter, he simply ignored it and was back to droning on about something that really could have waited.
For someone who brands himself as a “big personality” there was none of that on show here and the shame of it is there’s plenty of people who can offer both if tournament organisers are willing to take a risk and realise that, for example, you don’t need to take a second string 1.6er over a top tier CS:S player in the CS:GO universe.
Auguste “Semmler” Massonat 7/10
Auguste was the definitive play by play and analysis guy rolled into one in the short lived Bloodline Champions scene. Since then he has floated between roles, often playing the straight guy in the GD Studio despite his considerable talents in other areas. His decision to go “all in” on CS:GO is a move that surprised anyone who had followed his career and it was undoubtedly hard going at the start.
Forming a bona fide bromance with Anders Blume he has had to often play the role of colour commentator when I believe his strengths lie in play by play. However at this event he felt more cemented in this role than he has in the past and made some solid observations throughout. Certainly they are lacking the depth that a pro-player might bring but they are delivered in an easy to understand way and were, for the most part, accurate and insightful.
What is often overlooked in the current casting scene is that a colour commentator shouldn’t just bring knowledge but also personality. This is where Semmler excels. He was in his element when on the big stage, berating cameramen for not observing the action, reeling off anecdotes and looking to get in on jokes. He brought the fun to a commentary team where Anders is always going to be more methodical.
There’s still a long way to go but he knows it and works hard. He’s probably the one caster who plays the game more than any of the others and is always looking to enhance his knowledge. I still think his talent lies in play-by-play but he’s slowly and steadily moulding himself into what the scene needs, which is the smart play.
Anders “Anders” Blume 7/10
Anders is always going to be a divisive caster. We all know that his voice isn’t the kind to grab you by the lapels and shake the shit out of you. Even with significant improvement in this area it still isn’t going to resonate in the same way as a Miller, a ReDeYe or a Tosspot. Still, the reality is you don’t HAVE to have that despite it being an advantage.
What he does have is a good eye for what is going on. He doesn’t really miss lot or make many missteps, he can clearly identify the action and reel it off without his brain ever going faster than his mouth. It is like listening to most sports radio. It provides the information you need to create the picture in your head of what is happening around the limited images you can see. This is actually a skill that requires a lot of practice to hone.
Anders is also a grafter. He works hard, he attends every event, when he has the opportunity he can contextualise what is happening accurately because he was casting the previous tournament and knows first hand what occurred. Having this sort of continuity in casting is rare because competition usually precludes that. Anders has been the go to guy for CS:GO casting before any paycheques were put on the table, let alone one of this size.
His inclusion on the mainstage was an absolute must. He simply had to be invited to do it and the decision to let him cast the final was a class act. No longer can his critics say “he’s not ready for a big event” because he has been under those bright lights, with 140,000 spectators online, and handled himself admirably at a time when others might have let the occasion get to them. I’ve no doubt he will continue to get better but for me he punched well above his perceived weight here to show he can rise to the occasion. Long may it continue.
Anders might not be the single greatest person you ever hear cast CS:GO but he is THE CS:GO caster and on that basis alone deserves to be respected and appreciated.
All photos Copyright DreamHack and used with permission
Photgraphers Helena Kristiansson & Rikard Soderberg