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LEGDAY’s crash course on commentary: “… casting is a conversation with two talking parts and one silent listener; the audience.”

Volamel 2018-09-06 07:36:36
  People talk about meteoric rises and explosive careers, but no one has reached the same heights Harry "LEGDAY" Pollitt has in just seven short months. He has gone from casting the Overwatch’s inaugural Open Division to being flown across to the world to lend his voice to the celebration that is the Overwatch World Cup. If there was ever a person to ask about how to stay motivated in the cutthroat world of commentary, it would be LEGDAY. Esports Heaven caught up with the young casting phenom before his next event to talk about how to grow as a young commentator, how exactly to get started, and his thoughts on the European Contenders grand final. _____ Commentating is something that is quickly becoming more and more popular as esports continues to grow. Instead of asking “how” you got into casting, I’m going to ask you “why” you got into casting? Why not become a team manager or a player? Why casting? When I started casting in November it was because I’d always had an interest in all kinds of vocal work. I’m both a singer and have a keen interest in voice acting, so to me casting seemed like a natural skill to try and hone. Another appeal of casting was that I didn’t have to work with my local time zone as I did with playing since ping doesn’t really matter much for spectating! I was working evenings cleaning offices at the time, so I’d finish up and get home at around 11 pm and just log into the American Servers to try and find something to cast, either scrims or an Overwatch University League match. I would sometimes pull double duty on those OWUL nights, playing with my team in EU and then swapping over to cast NA. We all have our role models or people who inspire us. When you first began getting into casting, who were some of the commentators you looked up to and why? Were they all endemic to Overwatch? Before Overwatch most of my gaming experience was with MMOs, so esports was a pretty foreign concept to me. I only first found out about the fledgling scene in open beta because I was trying to find VODs to watch to improve. Inevitably what I found was a slew of matches from Gosu Weeklies. I was looking to augment my play with a macro understanding of the game, but instead I was gripped by the stories shouted at me by ZP and Hex. I suppose that gives away the game as to one of my role models. ZP is an incredibly knowledgeable caster and his play by play is also fantastic. That versatility in talent I find very admirable. To no one's surprise, I also highly admire Uber. My favorite casting moment in all of Overwatch is his commentary over LW Red vs Splyce in a Gosu NA Weekly, one of the first times we’d ever seen Korean teams in the western scene. Uber was casting at his equivalent of 4-5am and trying not to wake up his German neighbors with the hype shouting. Finally, I adore the more dry and chuckling style of Wolf, playing foil to the excitement and hype of Achilios, who can hit 100 in but a moment, relying on Wolf to temper the broadcast and bring the levels down to his more conversational and venerable tone.  

“It’s just such a juxtaposition to my old life, on November 1st, 2017 I quit my job cleaning offices and toilets to start my Masters, thinking I’d be studying hard and trying to make something come of that. Maybe get a part-time job in a store or something to help pay the bills, and a few months later I’m flying to South Korea to chat about a game I love with some great friends and coworkers. It’s just beyond reality.”

Harry "Legday" Pollitt

  You just recently had the opportunity to travel to South Korea to participate in the Overwatch World Cup Incheon qualifiers. How was the event for you? What were some of your biggest takeaways? Incheon was a fantastic experience and Jaws and I were super honored to be able to work at the event alongside some fantastic player and broadcast talent. The event itself was probably one of the best experiences of my life. The friendships formed in Incheon were some that I shall hope to treasure and nurture for a long time to come. I’d already met ZP from our joint Contenders event in Krakow and it was great to see him again. Meeting Achilios, Wolf, Jake, Malik and Goldenboy, however, was surreal for me. I remember coming in from working as a cleaner and watching Wolf and Achilios cast APEX a year ago, now I was meeting them face to face as someone in their profession, it was unreal. The biggest takeaway from the World Cup stage, however, was probably the insight into how tight the communication is with Overwatch League level production staff, a far more hands-on and precisely timed approach than I am generally used to. Obviously, the ambition being to make it to Overwatch League the experience was invaluable in helping me to prepare myself for what will hopefully be a step in my future career. On your Twitch FAQs, you’ve got a fairly simple but important answer to the question “how do I get into casting.” You respond with “ … just cast. Speak over muted Overwatch League VODs, ideally with a partner.” Was this something that you did when you first started out? I actually started casting with an Overwatch player who has been around the European scene for a long time, Karra. We were both competing on opposing teams for Overwatch University League (OWUL). After a match block we were coming together to talk about how our respective games went and Karra asked the Discord if anyone wanted to join him to cast the North American games that were happening a few hours later. I asked him to join and we had some fun with it that night. After OWUL wrapped up we found ourselves lacking in opportunities to cast, with Karra having to scrim far more competitively, while I was quitting my job to start my Master’s Degree in Law. Having a little more time myself, I started looking elsewhere for opportunities to cast, offering my services to community tournaments, scrims and matches alongside partners I’d randomly picked up on BroadcastGG along the way. One of those matches, I forget which event, was my first meeting with the wonderful Evie “Ham Tornado” Feng who I went on to recast the Nexus Cup Annual Finals with. I’ve somewhat gone off track from your initial question so I should try to summarise: no, that was not the manner in which I learned to cast, or started such, but I do feel it is the easiest and most accessible method by which to introduce yourself to the skill. One key part people may miss in that last question is the “partner” aspect. How important do you think it is to have a solid and rigid co-commentator with you at all times? I think having a casting partner is probably the most important thing to consider when getting into casting. It’s important to have someone there to bounce off of because, at its heart, casting is a conversation, with two talking parts and one silent listener; the audience. Having that second voice to balance your own in the context of a conversation is important because if you imagined the scenario in real life, you’d find it far easier to listen to a pair of people talking compared to just one person talking at you. If you want to practice by yourself and no one’s available, I can’t fault the work ethic, but if you have a friend who’s enthusiastic about the game, even if they’re not interested in casting, it’d be worth getting them involved just to bounce off of. Young casters may have to go through a few partners before they find the right one for themselves and that’s fine. Casting pairs coming together doesn’t happen because two people are ‘good’ as much as they come from two people finding they have conversational synergy and can interact with each other in an honest and genuine manner. One topic that has kicked up in the community as of late is working for free. This is a giant issue when it comes to the budding commentary community in almost every developing esports. And obviously everyone has to go through his or her obligatory voluntary period of working for free, but where do you draw the line? I’d love to get your take on this topic. Obviously all being in the esports industry we think people should be getting paid for their work, but you’re right that it’s a very contentious issue as to at what point one can expect money for their services in an industry that is, for better or worse, not paying until you can demonstrate a level of value for your product. I think it comes down to that you need to be responsible with your ambitions when getting into esports. For everyone who quit their job, went all-in on esports and came out successful there will be countless more who lost homes, friends, financial security and worse. If you treat esports work responsibly and have the time to spare for gigs and work that won’t pay you if you can extract some personal value out of it both for yourself, and from the employer, then go ahead. If you need footage for a showreel in a new game that you want to move into casting, or if you need to flesh out a resume before a big season of events starts, then it’s okay. If you have the minimal gain for your time committed or you don’t have much time to spare and already have experience at your command, never be afraid to turn down something from an organizer who cannot pay you. It’s important to remember that if you have a valuable product and you consistently give it away for free, it sets a precedent both for yourself and within the industry that the level of proficiency you show isn’t necessarily something that needs to be paid for. These are my personal opinions though. Let me pose this hypothetical to you: I am a new commentator looking to find my big break in esports. Should I: focus on more general casting and cast for multiple competitive titles or should I specialize in one specific game? I’d say that it can depend on the game. Some titles may be more lenient in the casting talent they pick up for their events depending on the tournament organizers involved. Some may be more likely to pick up whatever talent is available at their price point with prestige from other similar titles, and some may be more inclined to look for endemic casters who have been grafting in the grassroots community. Personally, I’d think that if I was trying to get into esports I’d find the game I’m most passionate about, research the potential opportunities which I could get into as a caster and evaluate if they’d soon have a hiring opening, due to a strong advancement path or wave of expansion. If it didn’t seem likely, look to the game you are next most passionate about. If you want to get into esports, indiscriminate of game, instead of just caring about one game that you want to get into, then this to me seems like the most measured method. Something that I think is inevitable is seeing traditional sports commentators dabbling into competitive gaming and esports. Are you worried at all if or when that happens? Do you think that endemic esports commentators have a specific skill set that divides them from traditional sports? I think, to labor an analogy, this might be a similar argument to how we view the rest of the world versus South Korea in many esports titles. South Korea, representing our endemic esports casters here, is often viewed as superior or more skilled in the gaming arena by many, but as we saw in Overwatch League, that gap is easily closed when you have people from other regions coming into close contact and being able to practice with those people at such a level can often level the playing field. Just like we saw western teams take games off of Korean ones, we could see traditional commentators becoming as proficient in commentating on games. After all, video games are just like in real sports where you simply have to take the time to learn the ruleset and nuances. This was a very labored way of saying that yes, I do think those commentators could eventually hang with some top esports talent, but it would take a lot of work considering the fact that many already have well-paid television positions. I don’t know if it would be worth such an investment on a personal level so I’m not personally worried. Now obviously you’ve got the Overwatch Contenders Europe to finish out your year with. And I know you have to be unbiased, but talk to me about the final between Eagle Gaming and Angry Titans. What are some of the bigger storylines going into this final? Well, certainly one of the biggest storylines coming into this particular matchup is Eagle Gaming outperforming expectations and slaying a dominant Gigantti to make their way to a home crowd for their final showing against Angry Titans. The home crowd story here is probably the one we really wanted to drive home in the semifinals, because for many French Overwatch viewers, I imagine after the dissolution of Rogue and the conclusion of the Overwatch World Cup 2017, that Eagle Gaming has been one of their mainstays of French national pride, especially with AKM riding the bench, UnkoE and SoOn have been around but not on a fully French roster. For Angry Titans, this is their time to strike, the players have been on the periphery of greatness for so long, especially ONIGOD, and are ready to claim their place as champions. If you look at Angry Titans Liquidpedia the last thing they outright won was Open Division in 2017, when in reality, it didn’t really matter since there was no proper infrastructure for Contenders Trials. Now that you’ve made it this far, it’s time for some reflection. You’ve climbed the commentary ladder quicker than I’ve ever seen. You have gone from casting in your bedroom to flying across the world casting for hundreds of thousands of people. I’ve got to ask: what has it been like? This entire experience has been mind-boggling and humbling. Experiencing the world of esports almost as a first-timer, having never known any esport beyond Overwatch has allowed me to delve into this world as an absolute newcomer and be amazed at every turn. Visiting my first LAN and hearing the Overwatch score boom across a speaker stack that would put Motorhead to shame thrilled me to my very core. Meeting a new group of friends who I adore both working with and just being around and weaving my way into these new families in Overwatch casting, Contenders and BroadcastGG has been a treat and a privilege. It’s just such a juxtaposition to my old life, on November 1st, 2017 I quit my job cleaning offices and toilets to start my Masters, thinking I’d be studying hard and trying to make something come of that. Maybe get a part-time job in a store or something to help pay the bills, and a few months later I’m flying to South Korea to chat about a game I love with some great friends and coworkers. It’s just beyond reality. _____ Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLGs of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at @Volamel. Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment.

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