The Halo Championship Series, 343 Industries and Microsoft’s Halo eSports initiative, is picking up speed as teams will compete week to week in an online Pro League that is produced, ran, and streamed by ESL from their studio in Burbank, CA. While it is incredible for spectators to have so much Halo to enjoy each week, there are arguably many things that the team running the HCS can improve upon.
One of the most frequently brought up pieces of discussion is the current state of commentators and casting during HCS tournaments. As an avid fan and spectator (and aspiring caster), I’d like to dive in and share some feedback regarding what I think needs to be changed to improve competitive Halo broadcasts.
Simms, Goldenboy, Benson, Puckett, Strongside
The play-by-play commentator is currently one of the most misunderstood roles by the HCS broadcast team. I’ll be diving into frequent mistakes and misconceptions in a bit, but I’d first like to establish the myth that commentators need to be speaking at all times. Bombarding a viewer/listener with redundant information is in my opinion one of the most damaging things one can do when commentating a competitive Halo match, or any competitive eSport for that matter. Below I’ll lay out a handful of guidelines that I believe are by far the most important things that a play-by-play caster should be focusing on throughout a match.
Macro, not Micro
This guideline is fairly simple – don’t tell the viewer what is happening on the screen. If a player gets into an engagement with another player, you don’t need to announce that it is happening unless it is a pivotal moment or turning point in the game; the viewer already knows what is happening.
The play-by-play caster’s job is to relay as much valuable information to the viewer and inform them of what is going around throughout the rest of the match. If an Overshield just came up off screen, bring that up and handoff to your analyst. If two teammates are taken out, relay that information to the viewer and talk about how it is going to affect the player on screen. If a team is rotating or getting into position, talk about what they are doing and then hand off to your analyst to break down its relevance and importance.
Once you slow down the pace of your commentary and focus on the grand scheme of a match, it helps provide more valuable information to the viewer and allows for a more fluid interaction with your analyst caster. The nitty gritty details of every gunfight do not matter.
Hype is important, it creates memorable moments that fans can latch onto, but it shouldn’t be abused. A simple cleanup multi-kill isn’t much to lose breathe over. I don’t believe that this is a major problem, but I think the main point I want to drive home is to maintain composure. It’s so easy to get hyped over one play and ride that momentum for a longer-than-necessary period of time. Take the time to recollect yourself. Fans don’t want to hear someone who is unnecessarily excited over standard competition and gameplay. A person who can relay information calmly and at a steady pace is much more healthy for a broadcast. Just take a deep breathe and slow down.
Silence is not your enemy. As I stated earlier, the myth that commentary needs to be flowing non-stop is something that literally only Halo suffers from. Games such as League of Legends, Smash Bros., Counter-Strike, and more all have slower moments where the commentators take a breath and let the slower pace speak for itself. I’m not suggesting that you abandon the mic for 10 minutes, but 3-5 seconds of silence or light-hearted discussion is a good way to let viewers immerse themselves into the footage. Don’t be intimidated by what’s going on screen, whether it be fast or slow paced.
Walshy, Ghostayame, Gaskin, Wonderboy, Pro Players/Coachs (Elamite, Towey, Tsquared)
Halo 5: Guardians has a ton of depth, arguably even more so than previous competitive Halo titles, and this should be expanded upon and utilized during HCS commentary. Analyst casters need to provide insight about the game’s meta, strategy, depth, and how these are playing out during each match of the HCS. Once again, I’ll lay out some guidelines regarding what I think needs to change or be improved upon.
First and foremost, if a commentator is analyzing and breaking down a match, the information they are sharing must actually be correct. A major piece of criticism from fans and pro players was the outdated game knowledge that certain casters were bringing to the table (Halo World Championship). Some of them had only studied and played the game early in its lifecycle, so the information regarding strategies and metagame that they were telling viewers was just completely untrue.
Depth of Knowledge
Often, an analyst caster will have the information in their head, but will relay or explain it to a viewer in a way that is extremely generic. While play by play should generally be Macro, analysis has the liberty of being either Macro or Micro, you can break down small plays to explain their relevance to an overall team effort, or talk about a long period of time and how it is affecting the match.
An example is the best way to illustrate this:
“And OpTic Gaming need to push into this Basement Stronghold, they need to work as a team to push in and get a numbers advantage. And yes – Maniac working very well with his teammate is able to get an assist and start capturing that Stronghold! Now they need to rotate to Nest as a team to maintain control of these two optimal Stronghold locations, as Allegiance is fighting back from the Engine area to try and stop this incoming OpTic push”
“What we just saw there was a good example of positioning and baiting from OpTic Gaming. Str8 Sick acted as an aggressor for OpTic Gaming to initiate a team fight in Basement, while Maniac anchored from Carbine and Open Field to clean up the kills thanks to Str8 Sick’s initial damage. In addition, APG made an excellent play by trading kills and cutting off Yellow Corner to stop the Allegiance push that was coming in from Tower. OpTic Gaming will succeed in capturing Basement but will not have the numbers advantage to rotate to Nest, they’ll need either White Control or additional slays to begin scoring once again.”
Mentality, Tilting, and Veteran Plays
These three words are buzzwords. They add no depth and don’t really hold any weight in any form of color commentary. While it is entirely true that teams can lose momentum, or play through a match very emotionally, bringing up player mentality during a match analysis is just not interesting conversation, and it massively draws away from the depth of the game.
- “They just need to play their game”
- “X is shooting bodies, and that’s can really get into the heads of OpTic Gaming, etc., etc.”
- “Victory X is the oldest player in the league and making veteran plays like that is exactly…”
Any type of player can make any type of play. Briefly mentioning that CLG has nerves of steel, or that Renegades can lose a lot of momentum due to emotion is fine, but this should not be brought up more than once per series (let alone once every game). Avoid buzzword commentary under most circumstances.
- Spawn Control
- Objective routes
- Optimal Setups & Meta Mixups (Ninja’s Killing Frenzy on Rig was an unconventional meta mixup)
- Thruster/Ability usage, Button Combos
- Rallying/Poking/Bullying (trading shots, whether the person leaves the target / keeps shooting because they’re ahead / backs down because they’re behind or even),
- Target prioritization (where they’re looking when they push into different map segments)
Repetitive Vocabulary & Individual Mannerisms
Having cool catch phrases or memes coming from specific casters is quite alright, but it should never become repetitive to the point where it starts to irritate viewers or become monotonous. Some examples:
- “At this moment in time”
- “Top Mid Section”
- “Squad” (in reference to a team)
- “So X will say ‘Guess what?'”
- “Unorthodox strategy”
- “When I was on ’06 Carbon”
Catering to New Viewers
This seems to be a major theme/goal of the 343/HCS/ESL crew who are guiding their commentators. I firmly believe that dumbing down commentary is damaging to the growth of an eSport under most circumstances.
Call of Duty’s CWL does an excellent job of balancing entry-level information as well as advanced metagame analysis/commentary. At the start of a series or game, they’ll showcase a “Beginner’s Guide” video where they teach players about how each gametype works and what to look out for during the match. Then when the match begins, the commentary is very rich and insightful, they let the casters share all of their knowledge about the game and dive deep into the plays that are occurring.
Halo 5 is one of the easiest eSports to follow; dumbing down commentary makes our eSport seem less intricate and exciting, and makes commentary for established viewers extremely redundant. Currently, the HCS style of casting is way too “teach-y” and it is really drawing away from the illusion of omnipotent knowledge that casters are supposed to seem to have in an eSport.
If you want to briefly touch on the Stronghold mechanics during an OpTic viewer spike, obviously that is important, but don’t sacrifice good commentary for that purpose.
The Caster Binary
Elamite has already brought this up, and I’m going to expand on it. This entire article is written under the premise that there is one play-by-play commentator in the booth, and one color commentator. Strictly adhering to that binary is completely unnecessary.
Both commentators must have a strong grasp on the game and should be able to float between play by play or color commentary on a whim. There should be a constant dialogue between the casters that isn’t forced. There needs to be a fluidity to commentary that currently doesn’t exist. If the casters are in sync, there is a lack of choppiness that can normally push viewers away. If the commentary is fluid and natural, viewers will be able to follow along much easier.
You don’t need to get everything that happens on screen. Letting the gameplay speak for itself is fine, especially when it isn’t a major play. Having an analyst talk for 15-20 seconds is fine! Neither caster should feel rushed, the conversation should always be fluid and comfortable.
Below is a commentary interaction that I have transcribed directly from the HCS Last Chance Qualifier, followed by what I would consider ‘corrected commentary’, utilizing more depth and better articulation of information from both casters.
Disclaimer: Obviously this is easier written/said than done; I am writing it with pre-determined knowledge and a caster is forced to come up with it on the fly, I understand that. I’m simply writing this as an example of the types of dialogue that can be refined and utilized more effectively.
Bravo: “…back over to Stellur who’s going to pick up this [kill] quick, and now looking across at where the other opponents might be… looks like Naded here, trying to push low, and you do have the rest of the players on OpTic now pushing along outside Red Bend going to Red Nest. Still got Overshield by the way!”
Strongside: “It is so hard to break out of this spawn trap over at Red especially when the other team has Overshield and Rockets for so long. Rockets are such a big powerhouse weapon in this game, and even though he’s out [of Rockets] they are still going. They’re keeping the other team split spawning around the map. Now they’re spawning over by Tower. Let’s see if they capitalize and put some aggression on them. Theres players at Blue, players at Tower – three players from OpTic Gaming in Tower and GREAT job by Stellur for staying alive, he’s gonna keep getting naded but you know what he’s going to keep staying alive, he’s not overextending, he’s gonna come back, help his teammate, I love this play by Stellur.”
Play by Play:“…back over to Stellur who’s going to pick up this [kill] quick, and now looking across at where the other opponents might be… looks like Naded did try to push low into Red Yard for OpTic, and you do have the rest of the players on OpTic now pushing along outside Red Bend going to Red Nest. Stellur’s still got Overshield by the way!”
Analysis: “Stellur had a lot of freedom there to clean up that player in Blue due to an early rotation to Tower from his team. Now that he’s at Red Bend, they’ll be trying to trade Red Nest using Rockets and OS to force OpTic Gaming into Tower spawns.”
Play by Play: “It looks like they’ve done just that, as Stellur is now doing an incredible job at staying alive and dodging grenades in Red. In addition, he’s grabbed a BR and is still putting in incredible damage on the player who attempted to capture Catwalk by sitting on Red Ledge/Window”
Analysis: “Exactly that – Stellur anchoring Red while his team fought from multiple positions around the map really baited out OpTic from their Tower spawns, and because of his BR fire on Red Ledge, they simply could not capture Catwalk and were put into a forced rotation into Blue, where they were met with opposition from the remaining players of Team Liquid.”
In addition, I have compiled a video below to demonstrate how this fluid commentary dynamic is utilized in other eSports. Note how in some cases, the binary is very apparent, where other times it simply seems like a natural dialogue between the two commentators.
And if you want inspiration to draw straight from Halo 5, this is one of the best commentated matches to date in Halo 5: Guardians.
Player Outlines have created an extremely divided debate amongst the community, so this could very well be one of the more subjective parts of this article. However, I do believe that Player Outlines should be enabled for a majority of HCS matches. Reasoning:
- Assists both the Play-by-Play and Analyst by feeding them an enormous amount of information. With more information, their insight and casting becomes more meaningful with more depth.
- Adds suspense, especially during tense moments and stalemates (Ace’s Plaza Sniper during HWC 2016)
There are some matches were outlines are less beneficial, such as a very hectic Regret TS or Empire Strongholds. I can understand the reasoning behind disabling them for fast gametypes like these.
In addition, outlines can be toggled in a way that adds further discussion to certain moments during matches. If there is a stalemate with a Sniper, enable outlines and discuss where the enemy team is positioned and then disable them and watch the Sniper do his work. Some stalemates could have them enabled, some could have them disabled.
In the same regard, you can disable outlines to try to show the viewers the players’ perspectives. If a team eliminates 3-4 players, you can disable outlines to discuss how they are moving and attempting to read and predict enemy spawns. After a short duration, re-enable them.
It seems like the ESL/Caster team have already ironed out this issue from the first day of the Pro League, but it goes without saying that third person should be used cautiously. Only during a Flag Run in progress or when there are people coming off of respawn and the player on screen isn’t in the middle of any action. It should never be used when a player has a power weapon or is mid-gunfight.
Sticking with a player after they die is not the end of the world. It only takes 8 seconds for more action to be appearing on screen, and rapidly switching to a new perspective after multiple deaths is jarring for viewers and extremely difficult to commentate. Staying on one player for longer periods of time allows the casters to become more comfortable and discuss that player’s role and impact on the match. You should want to be switching to new players to introduce new talking points and analysis, not just to see someone shooting on screen.
Of course, someone with a Power Weapon or a Flag Run/Cap should obviously take priority. Here’s a little flow chart of switching priority:
Flag Caps > Flag Runs = Sniper > Power Weapons or Multi-Kills > Powerups > Other Action
Broadcast & ESL
When you have a sponsor, are cutting to a video/clip, or are introducing a new scene, please go over whatever it is you are planning with the casters. The Xfinity desk seemed tacked on at the last minute and because of this Strongside struggled numerous times introducing it and not knowing how to proceed afterwards.
Give them a simple setup before the stream is live: “My name is Strongside, joined by Elamite on the Xfinity Desk at the ESL Studios in Burbank, CA, etc….”
Sponsors/Plugs shouldn’t feel forced or be able to confuse commentators, it draws away from professionalism.
Example: FrankTheShow always is aware of how he will introduce our ASTRO Spartans Tournaments on stream, as well as running down prizing.
This has been a brief piece of feedback from our community that I thought I would add. Try to grab kills/plays/moments that really mattered in the match to tell a story. Seeing a random slo-mo grenade kill isolated in an unimportant incident isn’t really highlight worthy.
P.S. Casters: Don’t try to ‘commentate’ the replays, discuss the overall storyline of the match and maybe briefly touch on major moments but don’t say “hopping on board with” and just recite what happens in the replay. Use this time to re-analyze the game as a big picture, don’t focus too much on the screen.
Second Console, Tricast, or Spectator
The EU Stream demonstrated how incredible it is to have an outsider controlling the Spectator Mode. Wonderboy was still able to chime in to the commentary, but primarily focused on the gameplay and controlling the camera for the other casters to break down. Therefore, a Tricast or an outside spectator controller is an option that I’d recommend looking into for the NA stream.
In addition, I thoroughly recommend giving the desk a second console, so both casters can break down the action. Having a second tool to relay more information into color commentary is extremely beneficial towards quality casting.
You shouldn’t miss matches. Ever.
- Be in contact with players to assure they are starting their matches on time, but also not early enough to finish a match before the spectating can begin
- If you miss a match, DO NOT announce it on stream. HaloWaypoint offers a feature that allows you to bookmark a film after the match is already completed. You can bookmark this film, tell the players to hold their match, commentate the game, and then proceed with the rest of the series.
The new overlay for the HCS matches is awesome! It’s a bit tough to currently see the logos and names of teams, so a few people have suggested reorganizing some of the tiles to make the team images larger, but it is definitely clean-looking overall.
It would also be ideal if the rest of the stream graphics (series layout, team profiles, down-time timer, etc.) matched the new translucent theme that the HUD utilizes.
And that wraps up an obnoxious 3,200 words regarding how I believe the HCS/ESL teams can improve commentary and broadcasts for Halo’s competitive future. Keep in mind, a lot of this is of course subjective (some of it is even added from our forum community!), and it is merely information that I wanted to throw out to help share my input.
The HCS and competitive Halo have already come so far and I guarantee things are only going to get better. Head over to our forums to share your input regarding the HCS!
Thanks for reading!
Writer | Ryan “Infinity” Cox