Want improved Dota 2 casting? Involve more retired players

When ex-professional player and current Dota 2 analyst Sebastian “7ckngmad” Debs tweeted how he felt about the quality of casting in Dota 2 last week, it became the spark that lit the virtual world on fire. Everyone from pro players and casters to well-known hosts voiced their opinions on Twitter, Internet forums and Reddit. A topic that had barely seen the light of day had suddenly became a boiling cauldron in the community.

Since the initial tweet, current pros including Braxton “Brax” Paulson, Per Anders Olsson “Pajkatt” Lille and Jonathan “Loda” Berg have shown their support through Twitter for 7ckngmad. Their argument: casting has degraded to what they called “memecasting,” which is basic analysis supported by private jokes and Twitch memes. In the players’ opinions, casting recently is less about the game and more about entertaining a small but loud minority on Twitch chat.

Loda said it’s unprofessional to call call Alliance’s play style “sneaky and disgusting” — this coming from the well-known standpoint of Alliance being a team who understands and flawlessly executes the “Rat Dota” style of play, having the team create space throughout the map while strong-pushing heroes force heavy pushes on the other side of the map. He also tweeted that casters don’t have any knowledge of understanding of the game, withPajkatt mentioning how entertainment in casting doesn’t need to be through memes.

Many casters and hosts in DotA replied with a mixture of responses. Owen “ODPixel” Davies said “there is a mutual respect between pro players and casters” before posting a fluff picture belaboring the point of giving casters feedback. William “Blitz” Lee accepted failure stating he “messes around” too much during his commentary. Austin “Capitalist” Walsh has been very active over social media about the point, taking it through a different angle. Capitalist has compared a lot of the comments from pro players to unknown Reddit users blasting casters without giving useful insightful or any argument whatsoever. He also announced that he and any other caster in the business would actively appreciate constructive, well-thought-out feedback, and that the simple firestorm they received wasn’t useful or productive.

The outrage came not long after one of the most well-liked tournaments for casting every year. The Summit 4, which took place in December, brings in a different style of casting by having pros from teams not playing as the co-casters alongside a play-by-play commentator. The pros’ analysis of the live game is second to none, and that setup bridged the gap of understanding between the professional players and the viewers at home. As The Summit 4 closed, regular DotA watchers realized how having a professional player as a co-host works well, and with some players such as Tal “Fly” Aizik and Andreas “Cr1t-” Nielsen carrying on occasional casting on Hitbox after the tournament, people have seen and enjoyed a very high quality of game commentating that hasn’t been replicated since.

There is a very clear problem if so many high-profile people think there is a decline in the quality of Dota 2 casting. As esports grows, it needs to gain a level of professionalism, and that includes players and casters. For the improvement of esports as a whole, there needs to be a system where casters can be critiqued in a fair and constructive way.

Neither side’s arguments are perfect. The casters have taken the points raised by 7ckngmad too personally. At the same time, some professional players have taken this as an excuse to air off their personal feelings towards the staff who commentate their games without much merit. The main problem is that there haven’t been any serious events recently, which Capitalist has pointed out, as major tournaments have ended and smaller tournaments are thus not taken as seriously. Likewise, qualifiers for the next Major tend not to have the A-list teams.

Critics in the industry have a reason to complain about casting, but there is no palpable way to improve. Casters can only watch other casters and experiment mid cast to see what they like and feel works well. There’s also a lack of competition in terms of casting studios, with JoinDota, Behind The Summit and MoonDuck Studios being the only major studios. Because of that, there isn’t much of an incentive to stay at the top of their game once a mainstream commentator has reached the peak.

The pool good casters is small, and the number of casters who understand the game at a level comparable to pro players is even smaller. The way traditional sports bring in retired players to be analysts fulfills both criteria, and League of Legends has endured massive success following that model.

The duo of Capitalist and Blitz works very well together because Capitalist is a high-skill player and Blitz is a retired professional. The duo adds hype to the game while also explaining to viewers the intricacy of plays, and both are well liked. Dota 2 has only existed since 2012, and the criteria for being a caster isn’t much more than simply being good on a microphone.

Although that allows for people to go into a career they love, it also means the quality of casters at the highest level fluctuates wildly. For now, at least, Dota 2 needs more retired professionals doing casting for the community to see consistent, high-quality work. That will set a true benchmark for anyone wanting to join the scene.

British freelance writer and astronomer. Fighting the good fight.

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