New season, new voices. Last night Martin "Deficio" Lynge made his debut as a colour commentator within the European LCS and was greeted with a mixed reaction from the fans who tuned in for his matches. While Twitch TV chat should never be taken as a barometer of success by anyone, some of the criticism spilled over into other areas and it took a while before counter-arguments came in to temper it. How much of it was warranted? There’s plenty to consider.
First anyone commentating in a foreign language will find it difficult. Words need to come thick and fast and sometimes the requirement for them to be spilling out of your mouth can outrun the brains ability to correctly translate them. Not only that but the two or three synonyms for an adjective that serve you adequately in every day conversation will probably quickly give cries away to “repetition” over the course of a couple of hours where you’re expected to use as colourful language as possible. On this front Lynge can be proud. Anyone pointing out a mispronunciation is overlooking the fact that even someone with more experienced and English as a first language can trip over their words. Even Leigh “Deman” Smith can get over-excited in the heat of the moment.
Secondly, it was clear nerves were at play and who can blame him? 250,000 people listening to what you have to say and once you start the live broadcast no-one can help you beyond a few verbal prompts from your play-by-play colleague. Those nerves will go when it becomes part of a weekly routine and there were enough supportive comments in the inevitable feedback thread to make him not absolutely dread his next appearance in front of the cameras.
What is crucial for any developing broadcasting talent is being given the room to find how he wants to tackle the role. The e-sports community has been so quick to embrace their favourites, the majority of which have years of experience and have commentated on multiple games, that the next generation of shoutcasters are cut little slack by the people who already know what they like. This leads to people throwing in the towel early, adopting fake mannerisms, even accents, desperate to try and find the formula for success without realising that the sacred cows of shoutcasting built success on there being little to no competition. This isn’t to say that their success was underserved, which would be nonsense, but if a veteran such as Paul “ReDeYe” Chaloner can say that the modern breed of caster have it more difficult, then I feel comfortable echoing those sentiments.
Riot have acquired someone who does have something about him, although it is hard to pinpoint what that might be. He has a good sense of humour, something that would definitely put him in good stead to stand out among the current crop of EU colour commentators. He also understands the power of shock value. This is the same player who, completely at ease, while being interviewed before the IEM crowd issues a memorable “fuck you” to his then team mate Søren "Bjergsen" Bjerg for doubting what the team could do. Keeping it PG-13, there’s room for bold statements in any sports and I’d welcome something that feels more genuine than the Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng “trashtalking” or the scripted repartee with his coach Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles. This is something I believe Lynge can deliver on.
Prior to the games, talking through picks and bans and the history of the teams, he was exceptional, as good as anyone I’ve heard in European LCS. Here, he had the time to collect his thoughts and delivered measured responses that were laden with easy to understand metagame information that could be appreciated by someone with even a cursory knowledge of League of Legends.
There is a question as to whether or not he should be a colour caster at all. In the limited scope of e-sports commentary the role of pundit, analyst and colour commentator seem to have been merged into one homogeneous mass despite requiring different skill-sets. A pundit is there to offer opinion based on their expertise, an analyst is someone who understands and can explain in great detail exactly what occurred, simplifying it for the viewer. The colour commentator can do both of these things, as well as being expected to provide context and even anecdotes that are relevant to the situation. Timing is vital for the colour commentator to understand – when action is happening, they need to be succinct and brief, when the game hits a lull they are the person expected to fill. The great tragedy for the average colour commentator is having dozens of great ideas, statistics and topics fill their mind over the course of a game, the vast majority of which never get used. The other two roles have someone guiding and instructing their contribution, it is less spontaneous. The colour commentator is undoubtedly one of the toughest roles to get right in broadcasting.
I watched Lynge when he was part of the analysts desk and enjoyed his contribution immensely. There is no doubting his knowledge of the game but what was perhaps most impressive was his candour. Up front about what happens behind the scenes in that clandestine pro circuit, his insights were always interesting, at times fascinating, and often amusing. There were glimpses of that in his debut yesterday and at times I wanted to hear more, almost as if the games (which weren’t classics by any means during his stint on air) were getting in the way.
The only real problem that could be facing him is having the time to get it right. The average playing career of a League of Legends player before they look to transition into another role currently seems shorter than any other e-sports title. Lynge is himself a testament to this having played only one full LCS “split” before being phased out of his team, transitioning to a managerial role and then being included as a caster. The struggle to the top lasted much longer than the time he spent basking in it and now he is being earmarked to be another part of the Riot machine. Yet so many of these ex players are, the assumption being on the part of anyone who had conducted more than one video interview in their time within LCS that there will be something else for them to do once they can’t cut the proverbial mustard. Riot might well want that to be a reality but they’ll soon need to appreciate that there can be little room for sentimentality in an industry where providing the best produced and most enjoyable broadcasting experience will be what defines success in the coming years. Make no mistake about it, if the fans aren’t onside, there’ll be pressure to bring in someone else to do a “better” job. That’s the nature of the entertainment industry.
Still, he couldn’t have a better mentor in the form of Joe Miller, a commentator who has probably mastered use of language and pacing as well as anyone. I’ve had the pleasure of commentating with Joe and he’s the perfect play-by-play in that he has the discipline to hold back any insight of his own and instead brings you in to shine in this area. He’ll do it often too, happily sharing the limelight. He can laugh off mistakes with a secure ease, such as last night where he commentated a replay, and he knows how to work any audience. Joe and Deficio is a partnership that will work.
Perhaps more than anyone though, Lynge might want to look not at the ex-pros, but to Trevor "Quickshot" Henry. Having only been picked up almost exactly one year ago, Henry has gone from being the new kid on the block whose accent the audience couldn’t pinpoint (was it Austalian? American? English?) to someone who is now an integral part of any LCS broadcast. He offers analysis despite having never been a pro and focuses on the delivery, all snappy one liners and as close to edgy as you feel Riot would want it to be without going off message. There’s definitely room for another one like him at the table and Deficio can be that person, in time, if you’ll let him get there before booing him off a stage he just walked on to.