It's weird as a part-time SC2 commentator to be involved in events of this size and scope. Most of my daily work and by far the majority of my income focuses on games that aren't Starcraft. An event of this size would often be fodder for coverage, such as Gamescom or Eurogamer was. The other commentators are all full-time, this is their only gig, their only calling. It sometimes think maybe I shouldn't be there, regardless of myself and Apollo's active partnership.
I'm going to be frank about the issues there were in this blog entry because I know Dreamhack is mature and forward enough to understand. They are not the kind of people to get upset if someone points out something they could do better and are highly receptive to feedback. They also know I love em. I would hope as a result, no drama would come of any criticism given and any that does is mostly likely drummed up by people who crave such a thing and would like GLHF magazine to be a real publication for their gaming handbags.
So myself and Apollo were given the Steelseries Arena, a similar setup to my solo stage in summer. Those who don't know the story of summer, I was, until a few days beforehand, not going to be there. There was no floor space for me to cast on so I was going to do the solostream from home, just like I'd done at DH Winter 2010. Steelseries happened to have spare space after a last minute pullout of their scheduled guests so I agreed to host their WoW event in return for being able to cast my SC2 from there. The SC2 proved a massive draw, especially with only 2 stages available at DH Summer and despite technical issues arising from inappropriate equipment, was a success. This time around we had a similar setup but with less seats, 3 metal benches were provided with around 30 capacity, 20 lower than DH Summer. I'm not really sure why that was the way that it was but it became abundantly clear that would not be enough. As we were also positioned close to the door to Hall C, the amount of standing spectators we had around the stage blocked traffic. Noise was also an issue in that Hall, in more ways than one. Vendors complained that the stage was too loud and we were forced to turn ourselves down several times. This was a problem because we were also battling with the HoN stage right in front of us, which had a superior setup and higher capacity. We also ended up next to the Razer booth which had several rowdy giveaways and some guys that were inexplicably commentating Worms Reloaded. Overall this isn't ideal for anyone. Our PA has to be loud enough for people to hear, obviously and with multiple booths and stages having to compete in a high traffic area, it is a big distraction for casters, vendors and spectators. While we and of course Steelseries benefited from the foot traffic of that Hall, I feel the disadvantages outweighed that. In terms of equipping the stage, we had to start late because we arrived to find desktop microphones rather than headsets, which simply cannot work. I shouldn't really have to explain why that's a bad idea, but eventually we were able to get some head-mounted microphones and all was well. Of the 3 stages, we were also the only one who had to control their own production, including stream management, overlays, ad-rolls, scoreboards, transitions, camera and sound engineering. I tend to do this a lot in my own tournaments, admittedly on equipment I am familiar with so it's not such a big deal but it does add to the stress of the situation, particularly during long casting days and I am very concerned with quality disparity between stages and having to focus on not screwing up observing, casting and producing while doing all 3 at once. I honestly feel that any stage, regardless of size should be assigned a production guy to deal with this stuff and ensure the casters can focus on casting. TheGunRun and Tranceh were able to help out a couple times but the production crew was stretched very thinly indeed. They did their best but had to focus on the Dreamarena and Studio streams.
To kill a caster
Let's talk about the length of the casting sessions. Many remarks were made on the subject of how tired we all looked. A combination of long days with few breaks (many breaks were cut into or sometimes completely eliminated due to game over-run) and most of us either being sick or just getting over sickness did not help. 14 hour days 3 days in a row is tough for anyone. Anyone who thinks casters get the easy job has never tried to cast an event of this size, it is a marathon and both a mental and physical endurance session. It also requires extremely careful vocal management. Overdo it in just one game and you can blow your voice out for the rest of the event. As Tasteless has said before (and he is right), casting for long periods of time with a strong voice requires the use of the diaphragm. The voice must come from deep down and the least strain possible put on your lungs and throat. We were all really beat up after the first and second days and welcomed the way the finals were setup which gave us all a chance to rest and enjoy some high class Starcraft. It is however impossible not to be enthusiastic with all the support from the crowd. All of us had scheduled signing sessions and all of us ran out of time before we go to everyone. It's impossible to be upset with anything at all when people are queueing up to speak to you. Every caster was visibly humbled by the outpouring of <3 from the people at Dreamhack. I was surprised we even had a queue tbh. Myself and Apollo had been signing and doing photos at our stage whenever we had freetime. Doing those events gives you a very different perspective on how people really act. It's easy to focus on the negativity when it's displayed online but in reality the silent, happy majority are the ones that make everything worthwhile and at events like this, you get to meet them. This went a tad off-topic but what I will say is I firmly believe tournaments need to be careful with the hours they put on casters, because it can degrade the quality of the performance. If you want a really well presented tournament, you have to make sure your casters are 100% all the time, because they are the ones responsible for the presentation. Good games can be ruined by bad casting, bad games can be saved by good casting. I do not wish to speak for the other casters at that would be inappropriate and honestly, I don't need to, the fatigue was obvious to everyone. I often say that sportscasters would not be able to survive doing what we do and after this weekend I can safely say that I'm right.
Rise of Heroes
I was a little disappointed honestly to see the reaction of folks to the small Korean attendance to Dreamhack this year. I've never believed that Koreans are required for a good tournament and with European players beating Koreans on a regular basis as well as exhibiting a wide variety of interesting playstyles, I believe an exciting and dynamic tournament is driven primarily by European involvement. I can absolutely understand the desire to see top-tier play but as a Starcraft fan, I really do not need to see the absolute best 100% of the time, anymore than as a football fan I would only wish to watch Manchester United for skill rather than simply local support (not saying they are the best, merely an example). Throwing half of Code S at a tournament doesn't make it a good tournament, in my opinion, stories make a tournament great and stories are driven by people. In a sport played in a 1v1 scenario, I feel personalities are what drives the entertainment and emotional value of a tournament. When I care about a player because I know something about him, I become emotionally invested in his performance, a vital aspect of any broadcast sport. I get excited when I cast Sheth for instance because he is an identifiable personality as well as an incredibly talented player. There were also other storylines going on, Naama rising from a desolate year to place highly in the tournament he won a year ago. My concern was not for his playstyle or his level of skill but because his previous triumph added an interesting dynamic to the way the tournament played out. The finals were the best example of this and could not have gone better if they were scripted to be so. It was true Jedi vs Sith action, it was Skywalker vs Vader, hell even the lightsabre colours were accurate (if we go by Episode 5 rather than 6 at any rate). PuMa brought out his indestructable Deathstar build, only to have Hero's plucky X-wing pilot torpedo that fucker into oblivion. Game 6 was won by a gutsy yet unpopular all-in, putting the final game on a knife-edge and turning PuMa into the villain to Hero's... well hero. The guy who has never won a major tournament finally triumphs and enters the stage to deafening applause and adoration. Undoubtedly the skill on display was phenomenal but tell me, was that final good because the players were Korean or because of the story of those players? I'm going to go with the latter on that one. Koreans are not required to make a good tournament, the standards that some posters seem to hold for players are ludicriously high (to the point where anyone who isn't Nestea/MVP is terrible) and honestly, I wish we could just chill out and watch some great Starcraft. Drama comes from imperfection more than it does from perfection.
Are you not entertained?
I'd like to talk about the casting couch for a moment. I should not have been there. While in-between games was awesome to chill out with the guys, joke around and watch some SC2, the difference between the couch on camera and the couch off was massive. Several of us said that we'd love what we said on the couch during the games to be like a directors commentary, an alternate stream or some kind of bonus because I think people would have enjoyed (as well as have been a little offended) by the stuff we said. However, on camera it was all analysis and let's be honest, what place do I have there alongside Day9, Bitter, Tastosis and Apollo? What can I offer in that scenario? Nothing at all. I also think 4 might be too many, I noticed Bitter was having trouble getting airtime as was I (though that is my fault for having nothing of value to offer to the discussion). In this case, I think 3 is the magic number. The couch itself though is a stellar idea and was otherwise well executed (with the exception of it being a tad unstable, causing Day9 to fall backwards off the stage off camera at one point. What is it with Sean and malicious chairs anyway, he seems to have the worst luck in that regard. Where possible, every tournament should implement the couch, it gives vital time to the casters to prepare mentally and take a rest before the next game, it easily masks preparation time and potential delays as well as a much more indepth view of the game from multiple perspectives rather than just 2. Do it.
As regards to the hosting, everythings pretty much already been said. There have been some issues in previous tournaments with inappropriate hosts who often through no fault of their own simply don't fit. I'd like to express my interest in hosting future tournaments and being responsible for player introductions and initial crowd-warming. Hopefully the impromptu hosting at the request of the actual host didn't annoy too many of you, I didn't really have a choice at that point but to play along and roast the guy a little. I felt sorry for him up there honestly, I don't know what the issues were, perhaps it was inexperience or something went wrong with his preparation, but he was clearly not suited to the task. Turning him and his chosen game into a figure of fun wasn't planned, well the entire thing wasn't planned but I hope it at least made him something of a sympathetic figure to the crowd, not sure if that was the case.
Beauty (right) and the Beast (left)
A long way to go
So to turn to the matter of personal criticism. I try to take as much feedback as I can after each event and had the pleasure of once again consulting with the other casters and players (many of whom came to watch the casts due to the well organised schedule which gave them plenty of time to do so) on what to do better. I focussed primarily on camera control this time around and not missing drops/action. As far as I am aware I missed 2 drops/battles, the first of which was also missed by TLO (that's how crazy a drop it was) and the other was at the very end of PuMa vs Nightend. While that battle only occured for 2 seconds before the GG (we were focussed on the battle in the main), it still pisses me off that it wasn't displayed. I think the camera control was good though for the most part, I used Smart Camera Pan and a lot of unit/building follow to get smooth movement, though I had issues during the finals because it wasn't my mouse and the sensitivity was out of whack. Using hotkeys to snap to my co-casters vision was also useful and it's something we discussed beforehand to make sure we nail every drop and minor skirmish.
For the most part I think we interacted as a pair well and after doing 3 tournaments this month we are on good form, despite the illness we've both had to greater and lesser extents. There are times when I think it can be perceived that I'm ignoring Apollo's points, more often than not it's simply because his explanation is so thorough and accurate that I have no followup, though I'm starting to get better with being able to extrapolate his analysis with either a reinterpretation which is less technical for the more casual fans, a joke or an original theory of my own. Game knowledge building is still a slow process that is requiring a lot of work but I'm not really making the stupid mistakes I used to, at least not that I've noticed or that anyone seems able to point out specifically. Practice is still required and plenty of that will continue to happen with various engagements booked for the both of us. I think laddering more is helping, I used to hate playing but since I switched to Zerg I'm enjoying the game again and it also gives me an appreciation of the various macro mechanics and how important various things are which I didn't really have before. There's a lot of work to do though and it's especially challenging to do so when Starcraft is very much part-time for me. I feel a more sceptical eye is cast toward my casting as a result of not being full-time Starcraft but I don't think that's unfair and I will just have to try harder to win over my sceptics.
Setting the BarCraft
I don't think there is any real doubt in my mind that Dreamhack just set the bar for arena-based eSports events. That is how sports should feel. It's a little unfortunate that the camera angles made the place feel less occupied than it really was. There were actually A TON of people on much higher rows at the back than the camera showed and it tended to focus on the extreme left and right top rows that weren't in use since they couldn't see the screen. The crowd was enormous, loud and enthusiastic, the lighting and use of music was ideal. Music is such an underrated thing when it comes to eSports events. It is an ideal crowdwarmer, it tends to cause spontaneous rhymic clapping and chanting in time to the beat, far as I'm concerned all players should have musical intros of some description, hell go one better and go as far as WWE, with short video intros for the players, get some pyrotechnics going, go crazy. "But it's not professional/it's cheesy!" some may cry, "how dare you compare our treasured eSport to wrestling!". Guys, you watch a game with giant tanks, fat floating space octopus and the machines from War of the Worlds, you're already occupying an entire universe of cheesy nonsense, embrace it. Some technical slipups did happen in terms of camera panning and production mics being left on (Tastosis made a remark that the casters mics were still on, this was not the case unless we spontaneously learned how to speak fluent Swedish) but that's easily tightened up for next time and you gotta give em credit for pulling something of that scale off with it being the first time in that venue.
ESPORTS, serious business
A special mention must go to dApollo. It takes a strong will to cast for 14 hour days, it takes a superhuman will to do so through sickness and yet still nail the analysis time and again. This man is the most talented, knowledgeable and hardworking analyst in Europe, respect him.
Alright folks that's me done, taking a week in Stockholm to chill. Thanks to Dreamhack for a stellar event, the staff for all their hardwork, my colleagues in casting and partners in crime for their astonishing presentations and all the fans for their continued support. Congratulations to Hero on a well deserved win and on the many other players whose exploits may not have received as much adoration but deserved merit and respect. See you next yea