Hey everyone, Kenny Wisdom here again. Since the last time we spoke, I managed a mediocre 5-3-1 record at the Portland Regional Championship with a Lucario-GX/Lycanroc-GX deck that Olliver Barr, Travis Nunlist, Michael Pramawat, and Amelia Bottemiller also played. The deck was good but imperfect, much like my play, but the tournament was a great experience overall. Congratulations to Xander Pero for breaking it, once again.
Today I wanted to carve out some time to write about the subject I’ve been asked about the most throughout the past handful of years: commentating. I receive a handful of messages on social media each month asking how to break into casting, or seeking advice on how to improve. While I want to make it abundantly clear that I don’t mind these types of questions at all and will always try my best to reply to each one, I thought it would be easier for everyone if most of the information were already public.
Before we begin, I want to make sure everyone understands that all of these thoughts are my own. I’m sure my fellow commentators would disagree with some of what I’m saying here, and I don’t think any of us feel exactly the same way about any part of the craft. I can only speak to my own experiences and beliefs.
And of course, nothing I’m about to say is endorsed by TPCi or any other organization.
The number one question I get asked is how to break into commentating. Assuming that your goals are to some day commentate official events for TPCi (which, again, I do not represent in any way), I think you would be well served to look at how each of the current North American casters have broken in: grassroots commentary.
Not to say that breaking into grassroots commentary is easy. I’m actually pretty lucky (in almost all aspects of life, really, but that’s an article for another day) in that I was noticed (along with Jeremy) for our YouTube channel (RIP), and were sponsored by Top Cut Central to stream North American regionals on a grassroots level. That initial financial investment, as well as my being known in the community from YouTube and SixPrizes, made things a lot easier for me than they would’ve been for someone starting from nothing.
With that being said, there’s nothing stopping you from putting yourself in a situation to be given a similar opportunity! Most tournament organizers who understand the game in 2018 want their events to be streamed and will gladly allow you to do so as long as you approach them professionally and with respect.
Additionally, there are a small handful of groups that stream multiple events per year, and can handle the technical side of things for you. CriticalHit.gg puts on great events here in the US, and Limitless is doing fine work in Europe. I’m also excited to see what Dead Draw Gaming puts together for the upcoming Madison Regional Championship.
I’ve never worked with any of these organizations and can’t speak to what they’re looking for in their coverage team, but the first basic piece of advice I would give is to make yourself known in the community in some way. This can be as simple as having more of an online presence and actively trying to make friends, or as complex as starting a stream, YouTube channel, writing for a website, etc. It’s easier than ever right now to make a name for yourself, and being someone people want to see on camera is the first step in all of this.
I’d like to state that I recognize that the above paragraph is a very privileged viewpoint to hold. I know that it’s easier for me, as a charismatic, white, cis-gendered male who has no difficulty in social situations and is rarely embarrassed, to put myself out there than it is for some. I have never felt uncomfortable or unsafe in any social situation, much less at a Pokémon event, and I understand that not everyone can say the same thing. I’m not sure exactly how we solve these sorts of issues, but if you want to break into casting or content creation but feel uncomfortable doing so for some reason, please feel free to message me privately on the social media platform of your choice and I’ll help in whatever way I can.
Knowing Your Role
Now you’ve figured out how to break in. You’ve landed yourself a gig at an upcoming Regional. Where do you go from here? To me, the most important first step in becoming a successful, talented, commentator is to known your role.
Each two-person commentary team should have one play-by-play commentator, who, as the name suggests, is relaying the information that is happening on the screen in a concise, articulate, manner. The other person should act as the analyst (or color commentator/expert), whose responsibility it is to expertly break down the plays and give some context to what is happening on the screen.
Here’s an example of what each commentator is looking to do:
Play-by-Play: And no attack from Sorina means we’re gonna pass the turn right back to Mia, who draws a Cythia for the turn!
Analyst: That Cynthia is going to be huge here as Mia is very close to clinching this game, but has been drawing completely dead the for the past few turns.
PBP: The Worlds 2014 Top 16 competitor will shuffle her hand in and draw six cards. What is she looking to hit here?
Ideally, there may be more opportunities for each to provide a little bit more context to what they’re saying, but this is a pretty basic breakdown of how part of a turn should go.
The PBP should be prepared to do most of the talking, and should be willing to put the analyst in a position to look good. You’ll often see the PBP person ask a question that should be obvious to a competitive player. This is because they are trying to keep the conversation going and give the analyst an opportunity to go deep on strategy.
I’m a firm believer that the PBP should primarily focused on relaying exactly what is happening on the screen. I know for certain some of my fellow commentators don’t agree with me on this, but I think it’s important for a viewer to be able to understand what’s happening in the game with their eyes closed. This is even more important when you know your audience is made up primarily of viewers who don’t know what all of the cards or decks do. Hearing “Natalie will play an N, allowing her to draw four cards to Nicholena’s two cards” may not be what the experienced, competitive, player is interested in hearing, but that kind of information is invaluable to a less experienced viewer.
The analyst, on the other hand, needs to be able to tell the audience WHY the actions are happening, and why they are important. Ideally, each member of the broadcast team will have at least a basic understanding of the main match-ups of the format, but it’s even more important for the analyst, as expert-level understanding of the game is what they’re bringing to the table.
You likely will not know which role suits you best until you give it a try. I recommend practicing with your broadcast partner over Skype and switching off every once in a while and seeing what sticks. Generally, the better/more experienced player will take on the analyst role, and the more enthusiastic person will do PBP, but it depends on a lot of factors and you can’t really figure out which is better for you until you do it.
Ideally, each person will have one role they are more comfortable with, but will be competent at both roles. It’s important to at least have a general understanding of the other role in case you ever get paired up with someone who shares your preference in role (we try our best not to let this happen on official streams, but even there it happens from time to time). If you’re flexible enough, you can determine your role solely based on who you’re paired with, but when starting out, I’d strongly recommend you focus on one or the other.
I feel comfortable in both roles, though I slightly prefer the analyst seat. My primary partner in the booth, Jeremy Jallen, is much better at PBP. Josue Rojano is probably the North American caster who is most tuned into their role, as he exclusively provides PBP commentary. For a good look at a successful analyst/PBP combination, watch some of Kyle Sucevich and Josh Wittenkeller‘s old feature matches.
Finding Your Voice
“Mike never tried to rap like ‘Pac / ‘Pac never tried to sing like Mike”
Like most everything else, a Drake line helps to simplify this idea. Now that you know your role, it’s time to find your voice. It’s time to determine what makes you, you, and develop a unique voice for yourself in the booth. I’d like to think that, if someone who regularly watched the official streams read a transcript of the commentary without names, they would be able to determine who was saying what based on personality alone.
The most important piece of advice for this section is to just be yourself. If you try to put on an act, or become anything you’re not, it’s going to come off as disingenuous to the audience, and you’re not going to have very much fun anyway. It’s fine to play up certain aspects of your personality or try new things for the sake of the stream, but under no circumstances should you be acting out a character. Not everyone is built for commentary, but each one of you has a rich enough life and a deep enough personality to be able to be interesting to the right people under the right circumstances. Use what you’ve got and be genuinely, radically, solely, you.
That’s not to say that you can’t be introspective, though. It can be difficult to find and develop your voice if you’ve never spent hours upon hours fixated entirely on yourself in a narcissistic, borderline frightening manner. Thankfully for you all, I do that all of the time, and generally have a pretty good grasp on who I am.
I would describe my commentary as heavily based on no-nonsense analysis and dry humor. I am pretty low energy, but believe in amping up the excitement when the situation calls for it. One of my biggest strengths is deep knowledge of the players histories within the game (prior tournament results and the like), and my willingness to see how much I can insult Jeremy on air before it violates the terms of my contract. My biggest weakness is not always immediately understanding the nuances of decks I don’t have much experience with, and the fact that it’s somewhat difficult for me to speak clearly for long periods of time.
While you may not have such detailed thoughts about yourself, I’m sure you understand your strengths and weaknesses outside of the booth. Are you very funny? Are you charismatic? Are you great as speaking? Whatever it is, you have some natural talents. Lean on them, develop them, and do your best to improve upon your weaknesses.
Dos and Don’ts
The three bigger sections above cover most of the larger-scale commonly-asked questions. I want to spend the last bit of this article going over some more micro-level ideas that I feel are important.
Avoid Baton Passing
One of the reasons I believe it’s very important to determine which role you’re more comfortable with and to understand what is expected of you in that role is so that you’re comfortable when you get into the booth and have an understanding of what to say in any given situation. One of the biggest signs that someone is uncomfortable with their role, their partner, or themselves is what I like to call baton passing. It goes a little something like this:
Caster A: Erin is definitely going to go with the Jet Punch this turn, for a KO on Amelia’s active Lucario and benched Octillery.
Caster B: Yeah, Jet Punch is definitely the play here, taking 2 Prize cards and decimating the board.
Caster A: Yeah, it’s the clear choice. Two KOs and leaving Amelia without much set-up.
*Repeat until you turn off the stream*
This is a pretty common mistake, one that I’ve made and I’m sure I’ll make again at some point in the future. But it’s also very easy to prevent with the right amount of comfortableness and preparation. Speaking of…
Prepare In The Right Ways
As a commentator, especially in the analyst role, you should have a general understanding of the format you’re going to be talking about. You should know what the major decks are, and how each match-up works. You don’t need to memorize every card, but you should know what the commonly played ones do. You should understand what has been popular in the format recently, and spend some time before the tournament researching recent metagame trends. This is all pretty basic, but can be a lot of work, especially if you haven’t played the format in a while. Knowing this information is essential to the process, and once you’re comfortable with the above, you can move onto more complex ideas.
For instance, it may seem like, by just being involved in the game, you’ll have plenty to talk about when you get into the booth. This isn’t always the case, however. Knowing something and being able to articulate it are two very different skill sets, and simply understanding how a deck works doesn’t mean you’re qualified to talk about it. It’s important that you’re not only able to speak on something, but you understand the logic behind it as well.
This is most relevant when thinking about matchups. Something I like to do, regardless of how much I’ve played the format or feel that I understand the match-ups, is to make a cheat sheet with what’s important in each matchup, which cards matter and which do not, etc. This can be really helpful to refer back to in case you need something to talk about, or when you just inevitably forget something.
Lastly, while you should try to fill your head with as much information about the format as you can, it’s much more important to focus on learning the types of things you can’t simply look up on the fly. If you forget the name of Lucario-GX’s second attack, it’s just a Google search away. If you forget how the Lucario/Lycanroc vs Buzzwole/Garbodor match-up works, you’re in trouble.
Don’t Fear Dead Air
In a perfect world, each game would be so thrilling that it would provide us with things to talk about at any given moment. However, everyone who has played a match of Pokémon knows that is rarely the case. While you should always work your hardest to present the most entertaining, informative stream possible, sometimes you’re just going to run out of things to say.
It’s natural to feel scared or embarrassed of dead air, but I think the alternative is much, much worse. I would rather have a few seconds of silence every now and again than to have commentator’s that are spouting off useless information just to fill time. The game is going to have certain lulls, and the commentary is too. As long as it’s not a frequent occurrence, it’s nothing to worry about.
Don’t Talk Too Quickly (or Quietly!)
Almost everyone talks too quickly their first few times on the mic. Relax and try to speak at your normal pace/in your normal tone. Oh, and move the mic way closer to your mouth than you think it should be…and then a lot closer than that.
Hopefully this helps to answer some of your questions about how you can get into/improve at commentary. If you need clarification about anything, or feel there’s something I didn’t cover, please feel free to leave a comment on this article, tweet at or DM me, or email me. I love Pokémon more than anything in the world and I think quality coverage is the most important factor in growing the game, so I am always available to help anyone in any way that I can. Just ask. :)