Evolution Championship Series (Evo) 2015 just completed this past weekend; a packed Las Vegas ballroom, thousands of contestants across Twelve official games competing to see who’s skillset, in-game knowledge and ability to adapt, and commentators to bring as much insight into the event for the audience as possible. While the event is primarily geared towards the fighting game community, Evo has become a global event where competitors come from around the world, audience fly in from all over to witness the sodium intake and hundreds of thousands more spectator via twitch, YouTube and dozens other restreams.
What’s important to the success of Evo and the revival of fighting games as a whole is everyone involved in these sorts of events and what helped made a few of the games manageable to follow and appreciate were many of the top-notch commentators that were on stream during the many of the intense matches.
…Knowing what’s important
There are plenty of different types of commentators within any community. There are those meant to just get people excited and keep everyone’s energy up (The Hypeman), those that are explaining what’s going on on-screen to make the game accessible to those with little-to-no knowledge about the game (The Observer), those with a distinct knowledge of the match-ups within the game and able to relay the advantages and disadvantages about each character and the players behind the joystick (The Statistician), and those who can wrap all of these things together and weave a yarn so intricate that the fabric is complex with knowledge and thick with insight by able to be understood at a glance in its elegance (The Storyteller).
Evo had plenty of each kind of commentator, but what the event needed was Storytellers and thankfully the Street Fighter 4 championship was in the capable hands of Seth Killian and James Chen. When watching the stream, a spectator is supposed to get a better understanding of what’s going on within the game, but during the Street Fighter 4 championships we got insights into the game, the playstyles of every contestant, the history of many of these players in regards to their past Evo experiences and told in easy to understand and digest ways.
Seth and James, and many of the more seasoned announcers at the tournament (don’t think I’m only singling them out for their ability), have a lot of information to process and spit back out to keep a spectator engaged. They are watching what’s going on on-screen, processing the playstyles of each player, keep in mind a forest of movesets and combos that each character can perform and need know which tree the player is moving down when it looks like they’re trying to make a move on the other player. They’re also keeping in mind how each player is reacting to one another in an attempt to get in the other’s head. They track the major competitors over the years, keeping track of everyone’s local history, who everyone normally plays and their backups, who everyone has come across in the top-8s and 16s of the major championships and knowing how much each player has grown over the years to get to where they are now.
With all of the information that they have to track and process, they don’t just keep it to themselves, but try to give us the story behind each player. We get sights into the struggle that every player gets put through to make it to where they are.
It’s even more apparent with how Seth and James handled the story of Gamerbee.
…And telling a fighter’s story
Gamerbee made a splash back in EVO 2010 when he took out longtime competitor Justin Wong, but had yet to take the trophy for Street Fighter at an EVO event. This past year Gamerbee devoted a large chunk of his time to training for Street Fighter for this year’s tournament. He placed well in many of the tournaments that he attended, but EVO is a different sort of animal. An enourmous set of pools to play through in a double elimination tournament and getting knocked into the Loser’s Bracket during Semi-Finals meant that he competed against nearly 20 players in a best 2-out-of-3 with only a single lost set, but couldn’t afford to lose another without getting knocked out of the tournament. With all of the pressure and stress of the day, Gamerbee was able to get through to the Finals with a few days to rest and strategize for his matches against the best of the best on Sunday.
It isn’t important for me to tell his story because we know by now that Gamerbee got second place, but what was important was how he got to his second place seat. He had to go change to his secondary character, a character that he’s less familiar with but still incredible proficient with to win a few of his matches and fought his way to compete against the last competitor from winner’s bracket. The matchup between the two was even throughout the 3-out-of-5 matches that were played in each set, but Gamerbee was able to win his set and reset the bracket. It went to game 5 where Gamerbee lost, but the real story wasn’t what happened on screen, but what insights Seth and James were able to give us while we watched Gamerbee claw his way back to face the champion.
…By Making it Relatable
Seth and James were able to give us the play by play of the matches that Gamerbee has had, but they also gave us insights to each player’s background. They told us about the growth that Gamerbee had to achieve during the year between EVOs, where he learned to be in control of his emotions and that the Gamerbee that they used to see would’ve cracked under the pressure that EVO thrusts apon you. They told us of the moments that Gamerbee dropped his combos and left large opportunities on the table because of his nerves being frayed and his attacks just didn’t connect the right way or the follow up wasn’t timed correctly enough. They told us of the clutch hit-confirms (when a hit landed as opposed to being blocked) and Gamerbee was able capitalize big with only a reaction’s notice because of how fluent they were with their character’s movments, like moving your fingers across a keyboard at 120 words per minutes and not chickenpecking every single letter that comes out that you the thoughts that you have become lost to you.
…Gaining new fans to the sport.
A good commentator doesn’t just tell you things that you already know, but it makes the basics of the game accessible to everyone, it makes the advanced strategies that come out understandable, and gets us to be invested in the struggles that some of these competitors have to go through. They were able to get us invested in Gamerbee’s background, stress and aspirations and made the event that much more exciting. We have someone to root for, someone to live by and someone to die by. Although Gamerbee lost, Seth and James put us behind him through the end of it and gave us someone to care about.
If all game tournaments were this good at giving us a story to follow, then we might be able to elevate these things with a few more viewers, right?
Final run for Gamerbee: