Seth "Achilios" King: How to get inside the booth

Seth "Achilios" King: How to get inside the booth

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It’s a hot topic these days to talk about how you can get into esports. With repeated reports from everything from Forbes to ESPN about how quickly the industry is growing, it is not surprising that many fans and newcomers alike want to know how to get in. I can’t speak much for how to become a pro or how to become a team manager or how to take your small organization into the big leagues. I can, however, talk about my own personal journey to becoming a caster and lay some breadcrumbs for you to follow.

I’ll be dividing this into four sections: How did I become a caster, how can you get started, how to prepare for casts, and what does it mean to be a caster outside of just play by play and color.

How did I become a caster?

For me, becoming a caster wasn't accompanied by a moment of sudden clarity or realization, but was more of a "sure why not?" moment. Five years ago, I met Andrew "Zyori" Campbell, a Dota 2 caster. We were driving to PAX East 2012 with some mutual friends so we had a lot of time to talk during the six hour car ride from New Jersey to Boston. He told me that he was a shoutcaster for Heroes of Newerth, one of the biggest mobas at the time, and mentioned that he thought I had a good voice for broadcast. I thanked him, but expressed that I didn't really know much about casting nor anything about HoN, so getting started seemed a bit arduous for me as a college student with limited time and income.

He insisted that he could help me learn about casting. To make things easier we would work around League of Legends which I was already knowledgeable about. At this point he said that HoN was on its way out, wouldn't be successful anymore, and that he essentially wanted to jump ship now and look for a new game. Since League was growing immensely he wanted to learn the game, so it became an arrangement: He teaches me how to cast, while I teach him about League of Legends.

Fast forward to a few months later, Andrew messages me one day and says he found us a casting gig: RaidCall to Arms on Own3d TV, featuring Team Curse. My job dropped at the news. While I wasn't completely invested in the professional scene at this point, I of course had known about Curse and knew that they were a big name to have attached to the tournament. I cannot for the life of me find a VOD of that cast. Unfortunately it was one of two or three matches that got played before the tournament was shut down. I had gotten a tiny taste for casting, and was definitely not good at the time, but I wanted to try it out some more; I felt like I wasn't given a proper chance with the event being canceled so I started looking for more opportunities via weekly online leagues.

I maintained this for years as a hobby in my spare time and only recently was able to turn it into my career. It's been a crazy experience with lots of twists and turns, but I wouldn't change anything that's happened.

What I want you take away from my experience getting into casting is this: be open to opportunities. Getting into esports is not easy and it will take a lot of hard work, but don’t close yourself off to new opportunities.

How do you become a caster?

People always ask the question of how to get started, and it's a difficult one to answer. I got to where I am because of dedication but also blind, dumb luck. So, an overarching recipe for success is pretty impossible to come up with, but I'll do my best.

Record yourself, listen back to it when you finish, and then listen to the actual cast from the VOD and compare.

First and foremost, just do it. Start taking VODs and cast over them. Record yourself, listen back to it when you finish, and then listen to the actual cast from the VOD and compare. This will help you learn about what should take priority during team fights, downtime, etc. Once you get to a spot where you're comfortable casting for an audience, look for online tournaments, local events, anything that you can get your hands on to build a resume. Things like NACS qualifiers, LMS and Demacia Cup don't have English broadcasts and this is great time to show off your casting to an audience, so get those VODs, make a Reddit post, and cast for a few hours.

I'm grateful to Aidan “Zirene” Moon for coaching me in the past, and I like to give back when I can so people can always feel free to email me or tweet at me for some advice or feedback. Just remember to be excited and have energy without being disingenuous. A lot of amateurs, myself included when I started, wanted to hype quite literally everything in the game, even if it was pretty much meaningless action. Let the game dictate the hype, learn to ride along with the highs and lows of a match and avoid overselling action. If a game is progressing slowly or it's a complete stomp, throw in some silliness and have some banter with your co-caster. If the game is so one-sided that it's boring, rather than letting the viewers remember "Wow that game was awful" help them to remember "Wow those casters were hilarious and made watching that enjoyable". If you're struggling to reach that point with your co-caster, do some team building together; play games online together, get a feel for each others personalities, and hopefully you become good friends.

When Christopher “Papasmithy” Smith and I banter during LCK, it's basically a PG13 version of how we act when we're out at a bar. It’s not a front or show that we put on, it's just an extension of how we act as friends. If you're having trouble finding the right dynamic, just have a conversation about what you think your strengths and weaknesses are and how you can work together to build off of each other. When I first started, my banter was not great and I really only felt comfortable when there was action that I could talk about. After talking to Papasmithy, we agreed that it was a weak point and that he would focus on starting the banter. This lifted a lot of mental pressure for me and allowed me to focus on my strengths while building up my banter in the meantime.

The takeaway is don’t be afraid to just go at it. Stop telling everyone “I think I want to be a caster” and just cast. Put yourself out there and don’t be afraid to ask for feedback. And if you’re wondering what you can cast right now, the North American Challenger Series is only broadcasting a few games. Reach out to the organizations and see if they’ll let you have VODs to do broadcasts with. You never know, they may say yes.

Photo courtesy of: Achilios
Photo courtesy of: Achilios

How to prepare for a cast and how to continue to get better

Every caster has their own "ritual" when it comes to preparing for a broadcast.

Every caster has their own "ritual" when it comes to preparing for a broadcast. For most people it revolves around note taking and reviewing past games, and while I do this as well I mostly focus on vocal warm ups. When I'm home getting ready for a cast I typically do a basic Do Re Mi to start and make sure there isn't any breaking in my voice. Then I'll occasionally sing a non-stressful song in the shower or just go straight into tongue twisters, which for me are the most important. Tongue twisters help you enunciate properly, focusing on speaking your T's and D's clearly. I repeat these a few times, increasing the pace each time.

Outside of that, the vocal prep is constantly managing your voice, speaking from your diaphragm, and generally not losing it. Good ways to make sure that doesn't happen is regularly warm up your voice and never cast without doing so; that can strain it and can lead to losing it more easily. Drink "Throat Coat" tea before/after casts with a bit of honey, and also plenty of water. Speak softly on off days. Outside of vocal warm ups just reduce your voice and volume by 30-50% if you can.

I think one of the more difficult things to practice as an amateur is building storylines for the players and teams. Since most of your practice is reviewing VODs or doing minor events with non-professional teams, it can be tough to find the time to gather the proper information, but it’s really important in having a strong cast. Talking about the game itself is obviously required, but a lot of the great aspects about League of Legends as an esport come from the players, their rivalries, and the teams they used to play on. It's what makes Han "Peanut" Wang-hos journey to SKT so great, or Song "Smeb" Kyung-ho moving to KT, and Yiliang "Doublelift" Peng going to TSM.

Once you know the game well enough and you're able to convey the action clearly to an audience, start focusing on the stories behind the teams that you're talking about. If you're at a minor LAN event, interview some of the players before their games start and ask them how long they've played, what their rank is, and who their favorite champions are. It might not seem like critical information, but it adds flavor to the cast and allows the viewer to build an emotional stake in the game.

When you try to throw those mouthful-names out in the middle of a team fight, that’s when you can get tripped up easily

If it’s a matter of putting in time to either learn every ability for every champion or the backgrounds of key players, the latter should win every single time. As long as you know the majority of ability names, you can get away with saying "Q" or "ult" for others with difficult names, such as "Hyper-Kinetic Position Reverser". When you try to throw those mouthful-names out in the middle of a team fight, that’s when you can get tripped up easily, so always prioritize the overall pace and consistency of the cast over an ability name that can easily ruin your flow.

Is there more to casters than just play by play and color?

I'd say that color and play by play are the best overarching ways to describe someone’s role during a cast, but once you go beyond those distinctions it’s all about style. For instance I'd probably classify myself as more of a "team fight" caster, excelling during the action but suffering during the downtime. There are casters across titles that are about non-stop hype, macro casters like Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles who talk about the big picture, micro casters like Mitch "Krepo" Voorspoels who explain the intricate interactions during games, and some that blur the line between pbp and color.

So, I do think there are a few distinctions that you can make to establish what "type" of pbp someone is, but the most important thing (aside from being entertaining for the viewers) is having a clear dynamic with your co-caster, no matter what two styles are on the desk. For instance I've had to cast with Max ”Atlus” Anderson and Erik “DoA” Lonnquist at times and double play by play can be rough; you both want to yell about the action, and then you begin to "step on each others toes" with the commentary. So having a clear dynamic going into a cast is one of the most important things, because if you're getting frustrated with how things are going, then the audience certainly is as well.  

This was a lot to take in. TL;DR?

If you want to be a caster, don’t wait for an opportunity to come knocking on your door. Find VODs to cast over. Look for amatuer or local tournaments to cast over. And when you’re doing those events, make sure to do your homework. Get as much player information as you can and even try to interview the players ahead of time if possible. Make use of Reddit, your friends, and anyone else you can think of for feedback: it’ll help you grow.

Getting into esports won’t be easy. It’ll take a mixture of hard work, determination, and luck. But you won’t get anywhere sitting around saying “I want to be a caster.”

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