We’ve had quite the conversation and debate on Twitter today. Well, as much as you can in 140 characters of course. Feedback for talent (casters, hosts, presenters, interviews, experts, analysts etc) in esports is exceptionally difficult to find in any great quality.
Twitch chat you say? Get real. It’s a lot of fun in there, but taking anything worthwhile from it to help you improve as a caster is near impossible. Reddit? Well yes, sometimes, perhaps too rarely there is a post which helps. Twitter? Forums? Surveys? Sure, all of them CAN help you improve, but it’s often very hard to read past the emotional responses (I HATE XXX CASTER) or the un-educated (THIS GUY KNOWS NOTHING ABOUT THIS GAME) and actually glean something useful.
I’ll accept that you can learn what your audience likes and dislikes, but that’s not really directly related to you improving your skills as a caster or host for example.
So where do you get solid advice that you can take and practice? Like most professions, I’ll listen to those who have done or are doing the job. Fellow talent are easily the best place to get advice and feedback, honest, un-emotional feedback and ultimately improve your craft. That’s not to discount professional critique, because you can also learn from that too, but we aren’t really talking about that here, we’re talking about community feedback.
While I am loathe to discount ALL community feedback, I’ll be honest and say I rarely listen to most of it (good or bad) because the majority of it is based on emotion or a lack of understanding of what my role is on a show. If however, a body language expert tells me my posture is wrong or I’m giving off a bad vibe because of the way I use my hands, I’ll absolutely listen to this because it will help me improve in my role. That person may not know anything about esports or the game I am covering, but it does relate to doing a better job. This professional critique is essential to improving too, but I’ll stand by what I said, the best people to help me improve are my colleagues and those who have done the role or understand it (producers and directors for example).
One of the things that communities could do better themselves is understand the roles of those on a show. Too many times I see feedback like “He doesn’t know anything about the game” for a host. The reality is actually the host knows “enough about the game” for their role, usually asking questions, helping the flow of the conversation and proving professional interchanges to other segments (throws). This is the role of the host. If you are looking for detailed analysis of a particular character or a breakdown of a play, you are expecting the right thing from the wrong person.
The role of an expert or analyst likewise gets critique in the form of “this guy is terrible at driving conversation”. News flash – he ‘aint there to drive the discussion boss! he’s there to break down the play in a detailed way!
I think you get it by now, but its frustrating reading through a ton of feedback to read this kind of stuff, because it’s un-educated and unhelpful. One person argued this is the fault of communication and how the talent is announced. Nonsense, it’s the fault of the viewer who doesn’t understand that persons role in the broadcast. If you don’t understand it, go and learn and really it’s not all that different to commentary on other sports.
If you wonder why talent don’t take communities feedback very well, here are some examples of why:
“XXX Caster sucks” – Emotional, but also unhelpful as it doesn’t say why.
“XXX caster is better” – Again, emotional, based on preference and unhelpful.
“I hate this guy XXX should play different music” – err yeah ok.
“XXXX Caster should turn their mic up” – Production, not caster buddy.
“XXX caster doesn’t know shit about the game” – Usually feedback for hype casters from someone with a high ELO or an inflated idea of what they know and usually someone who prefers colour casters (or ex-players).
“XXX caster is boring” – Usually feedback from someone who prefers a hype caster to a colour caster.
The pattern is easy to spot here. It’s about emotional opinions. And that’s honestly fine, it’s great we have a diverse selection of commentators, presenters and experts to choose from. We aren’t going to like all of them (or rarely so) but while you may like one kind and not another, it makes feedback much harder to deliver, especially without emotion, for which most of our likes and dislikes are controlled.
If the feedback is genuinely well written and explains why someone doesn’t like your casting, that is at least helpful, but what if their reasons for giving you the feedback is because they want to hear more technical stuff in your cast, but actually your role is that of the hype caster? Tough to implement that to please this feedback.
I’d also argue, it’s more up to the event organiser or the broadcaster to ensure they offer an excellent balance within the commentary team, the broadcast team as a whole and the entire show. In most cases, especially for the larger events, this is absolutely the case. The “something for everyone” approach is perfectly valid across an entire broadcast team, but don’t expect the entire team to be ex-pros just because you prefer hearing more of a technical broadcast.
This piece came about due to a survey put up by Nessa (https://twitter.com/ReinessaDota) that was tweeted about in terms of “helping casters grow”. I argued it doesn’t help the casters grow, rather gives them a good idea of their audience at best. Nothing wrong with putting up these surveys, but casters really get help by well-structured feedback, most often from those who also do the job or have done it a lot in the past and from professional critique. They do not benefit from communities feedback on the whole, as harsh as that may sound. Communities are generally divided one way or another on a particular caster, they either like them or they hate them. There is often no middle ground.
I know you will perhaps think that this is the vocal minority and while that may be the case, if the silent majority says nothing, how do we know?
The most likely feedback casters get is around their style and that’s fair enough, but again remember this is personal to each of us. While we may enjoy one caster, we may hate another, with little rationale, even from our own brains as to why! How are we supposed to form a helpful, balanced piece of feedback on this basis? I’ve given plenty of feedback to fellow casters and hosts over the years, rarely is it about their style but more about technical delivery. Style is unique, if someone doesn’t like that, but you are technically excellent there is not much you can do about it. And as a former colleague, Ben Nichol rightly points out “Honestly if what you do is great in the eyes of your peers nothing else should matter”.
Asking people via a survey to point out who they like and dislike also isn’t very helpful. Some of the newer people in broadcasting are more susceptible to negative feedback and I’ve seen several talented people crushed under the weight of feedback from communities that were downright rude about them with little real cause other than “they aren’t as good as XXX” who has been doing it for ten years… If you are new to this, ask fellow broadcasters and avoid community feedback until you are sure of your own talent.
I’m not saying we should just simply ignore communities offering feedback, but I would like to see higher quality, more reasonable and balanced feedback that could help talent in esports.
That’s a tough ask, because what we do for a living involves a lot of emotion and without that, I don’t think esports would be nearly as amazing as it is.