Off the Cuff: State of Smash Commentary


©- @TL_Peanuts​

Disclaimer: The views of the writer in no way reflect the views of Smashboards as a publication or the Smashboards team, they are solely their opinion.
Introduction

This editorial is in regards to The Big House 6 and how Fendrick "Fendy" Lamar intends to take care of the commentators at the event. What we have in front of us is a sloppy step in the right direction for the future of Super Smash Bros. as a competitive eSport. It has plenty of problems however, and that's more of a matter of logistics and experience that comes from a different set of skills than what has carried the Smash scene forward for years. My personal issue, and really the only front I can fight on is the fact that what they're doing for TBH6 further perpetuates the problem with Smash commentators only being a select pool of enough individuals to count on one hand. It's a vicious circle I've had an issue with ever since I got into commentating and will continue to be against until we as a community figure out a solution.

Explaining the Vicious Circle

The experienced commentators get more screen time because they're experienced commentators and will continue to build experience, while the newer commentators aren't allowed to commentate because there is a demand for experienced commentators to occupy screen time. It creates a cycle where no one new can grow and unfortunately, this mindset trickles down to a lot of local scenes causing the problem to be even worse. Super Smash Con did something great for commentators, and that was provide a large variety of commentators with a lot of combinations we hardly ever see. It gave some of the more known but not as shown off commentators plenty of room to adapt and show their skills, giving them further experience and making it more likely for us as viewers to see and hear from them future.

What TBH6 intends to do if Fendy has worded right to what he means, is close off that opportunity even further. It ensures we'll get people like Terrance "TKBreezy" Kershaw, we'll get EE, we'll probably get D'Ron "D1" Maingrette, but we won't get people like Gunblade, we won't get Day, or DireOnFire, or even people like Stephen "InfernoOmni" Silver who want to expand their brand and knowledge sharing in a different format than Youtube videos. Now this isn't necessarily a bad thing but it keeps the pool shallow. And that’s a problem.

Saving the Best for Last?

Commentary for Super Smash Bros. for WiiU on a national scale is stuck in the same bubble that Super Smash Bros. Melee is and has been in for many years. That being said, Smash 4 has a chance to change and adapt. It's a different animal from Melee and it needs to be treated as such. Because it's so accessible and because there's so much talent all over the world, it leads to a lot more talented but lesser known individuals who won't get the chance to go big because they don't have the experience in large scale events. It needs to be from either connections or a stroke of luck to break through and that's not a fair deal to those who aspire to commentate. Think of it this way, when was the last time you cared about commentary during pools of a national tournament? Unless you have a case of terrible seeding that would lead to Gonzalo "ZeRo" Barrios vs Jason "Anti" Bates Round 2 winners, or you get an anomaly where a random character specialist well known in their home region beats a top level player, no one cares about pools except for the players and the TOs.
This is the perfect time to let fledgling commentators get their feet wet, to give them a chance to commentate at a big event. It's the perfect situation for commentators on the rise. It's not the place for D1+TK or TK+EE, It's nice to hear them but during pools, big name commentators know what they commentate is inconsequential in the grand scheme of the event, and so they talk about anything else BUT the match going on. There's a major difference in how commentary works during pools and once you rise up to top 32 or something of that nature. Because when you weed through the chaff of lesser level players, you get people who know what they're doing and are determined to bring home the gold. THAT's where we want experienced commentators, to tell us why what we're watching this late into bracket is different from what we we're watching in pools.

Then and Now

Melee is much more grassroots, that's how it started and ultimately that's how it will stay. The people who fought tooth and nail to support it remain at the top because that’s where the effort and time they’ve put into it says they belong. But Smash4 is born to a new era of competitive gaming, right on the forefront of mainstream media and support. It needs to grow differently. We have a global community actively at our disposal, instead of the hoops and ladders that the EU or Japan needed to leap through in order to represent themselves in Melee, it's already all there and now is the time to start using it. And on the international front, there's a wide representation to further the idea that this is a global community. Right now, can you name a commentator not from the United States that is notable in Smash4?

This isn't a rhetorical question, I know for a fact that non-US readers can. Because they're notable in their own scenes, they're notable in the ways we don't often get to hear or see. And if given the right stage, they'll be memorable to those outside of those scenes. This is one of the major reasons I look forward to Astra, because we get to see Smash WiiU from a perspective that isn't the US but is still informed, a pleasure that is often overlooked or not given the credit it deserves. For everything that Super Smash Bros. Brawl and its community leaders accomplished, their efforts helped lay the foundation for a stronger future of a global Smash community. Smash 4 built something grand upon that foundation. For TOs, for players, and for commentators.

Conclusion

Commentators are like the MC to a live show, they're the ones presenting the entertainment to you and in their own way are entertainment as well. And in a market where the bulk of the money comes from online views, commentary is more important than ever before. The vicious circle of exclusivity needs to end in Smash4's commentating circle so that we don't have grow to have the same issues as Melee did in the past, or how many competitve games have before us. Smash4 is still young and it's rapidly growing. Give it time and we'll have notable representatives all over, it's all matter of giving them the right stage. But so long as there persists a bubble of experience feeding the experienced, that growth will be stunted.

The problem with commentary in the Smash community doesn't begin with a clear cut answer. But it does begin by asking the very question of "how should we fix it". By discussing it openly and acknowledging this vicious circle I've discussed, we can begin to take the steps to involve both people who want to get in to commentary and people who want to make money off of commentary. For commentators who want to build up experience, to establish a portfolio, and further hone their craft, consider letting the ones who have a passion for it commentate pools. They get the experience they thirst for, while entertaining people who sit around and enjoy pools. And for the more seasoned veterans of the mic, treat them with the respect they deserve. The intense amount of pressure put on a select few figures for both knowing a ton of niche information about a game while presenting it in a manner that's entertaining and follows a strict flow needs to be appreciated for what it is and compensated appropriately. The idea of compensation is an issue not just within the Smash community, but competitive gaming as a whole and even something that stretches into other established sports. But when we look at what we have now and the body of individuals that either want to get involved or get recognized for how much work they put in, we need to start the discussion and keep it moving forward.
 
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Frank "Hangman" DeJohn

Comments

#2
I think there are levels to this.

SSC functions well as an inclusive event, with 20+ commentators all enjoying the con, having a great time, and celebrating the diversity in our scene.

TBH is a prestigious national with a rich history as THE premier Midwest event. I'm of the opinion that it should be treated as such, with a small but seasoned commentator pool. You don't get your feet wet at TBH, you have locals for that. It's simply not the right place for it.

The SHINE commentator list is huge, with a ton of brand new names, which is fine since it's a new event in an underserved area. It absolutely makes sense to let commentators grow with the event, and have a ton of different voices on the mic.

But our supermajors like EVO/Genesis/TBH? I think we need to put our best foot forward.
 
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#3
I could like this article so many times over.
Currently my only commentary experience was KTAR XIV, and the Twitch recording (Hitbox Arena) was, after some time, deleted. But I had more fun in the booth then I did in pools- or even in friendlies, where I actually did decently. There should be a place in the Smash community for every kind of participant, and this article is a great way to open the community's eyes to other ways to participate.
 
#4
I don't believe that "fledgling commentators" should commentate a big event untill they're ready for something that big, in that regard I agree with Coney's stance that we should put our best foot forward in Supermajors and the like. That's not to say I believe the same people should always be commentating the same big tournaments, you have to make room for new blood eventually. Though, there are plenty of events, and plenty of opportunities for inexperienced commentators to get to the point of recognition for that.
 
#5
I think pools is a good idea to let new up and coming commentators, but I think there should be some evidence too that these commentators are up to the task. Not necessarily top caliber, more so commentators that won't deafen your ears and will provide entertainment and/or a constructive viewpoint.
 
#6
From my experience with commentators, I would love it if most of them would stop talking negative and spreading false information about characters (and players) they do not play or enjoy. Or worse, expressing their distaste for commentating in the first place. I do not mind a few mistakes here and there from the matches I watch, but hearing all of Shulk's arts being called "monado" along with a few minor gripes that come along with, I feel that our commentators are getting the hang of it.

As for what was mentioned in the article about the vicious cycle, I really enjoyed how Super Smash Con handled it, and I even noticed a separate stream showcasing the same mainstream matches that featured not well known commentators as well as those speaking a different language.
 
#9
As someone who really loves doing commentary at my local, and would love to do commentary in the future, I definitely agree that there needs to be more ways for lesser-known commentators to hone their craft and get their name out. Maybe TBH isn't the best place for this, but I think pools at large tournaments should become a stepping stone for commentators. Let them start out at smaller tournaments, but then, after they get some experience under their belt, give them a shot at commentating pools. Because once D1, EE, TKBreezy, Scar, and Toph decide to stop, there's not really anyone their to fill their spot.
 
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