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essays and pithy thoughts

The streaming video arms race in gaming

in glhf

…is entirely pointless.

I know, I know, this is coming from a former participant (and leader for a short while at least, I’d argue) in said arms race. You could chalk this post up to being a bitter loser; fine, I can’t stop you. The reason why I voluntarily dropped out of this race because it is, indeed, pointless at best and counter-productive at worst.

I’m going to reiterate something I said last week, prompted again from the following post from Zechs:

Despite (okay, because of) the fact that most major Western esports commentators are American, they apparently can’t speak English. Good job they can shout “oh my god” and “I love this play” otherwise they’d just be noisy, irritating, wait… what? Here are some simple lessons for any commentator, whether they’re a budding upcomer or a veteran of yelling “ohhhhhhhh!”

  • One Colossus; many Colossi (pron. col-oss-eye).
  • “Wary of cheese” is not the same as “weary of cheese.”
  • The Day9 Rule: you can’t just put “of” in front of every word, e.g. “too good of shape.”
  • “Casted” is not a word. The past tense of cast is just cast.
  • There are no degrees of perfect. Something is either perfect or it isn’t; it cannot be “quite perfect.”
  • Can Terran players pick up an opponent’s base? No? Then they can’t drop it either.

Probably more to come. Many more.

Yes, it’s bloody easy to nitpick comentators; but commentary makes or breaks a production more than any other factor. Stunning video quality quickly fades into the background for most viewers. You might get a bushel of comments about the video quality of your shiny, solid, spanking new 720p or 1080p stream on the first time you unveil it; after that it’s just a given. The video quality of a gaming stream is noticed most when it’s acting up, dropping frames, laaaaaaaging! The point I’m trying to make here is that the law of diminishing returns is really agressive when it comes to video streams; it’s a lot of pain for really minimal gain unless you’re leaps and bounds ahead of the rest of the competition, and there’s no room to be leaps and bounds ahead anymore. Numerous organizations have now hit that 1080p ceiling, and there’s nowhere left to go, at least for the time being.

Really, if you’re going to stream video along with your commentary, you need only ensure that it’s of a passable quality enough to keep motion pixelation to a minimum, isn’t lagging, and isn’t dropping frames. The commentary, however, along with the quality of the audio production, is paramount, as it’s the one thing that your viewers are tuning in for, whether they realize it or not. If they just want to watch the match, they can easily find a game-engine replay somewhere. If they just want to know the result, scoreboards are everywhere. People tune into streams for the extra layer they can’t get elsewhere: the extra insight and excitement added by great commentary.

In other words, if your viewers are watching your stream muted, you’ve fucked up royally.

Lots of casting groups gloss over this detail, choosing to ignore it; after all, you can’t tweak a few settings, buy a new add-on card or two, throw in a few cables maybe and get an instant boost in commentary quality, like you can do to a video stream.

A large part of why the TGBF project held no joy for me coming into this year wasn’t because it was still not making money, or that we were still struggling simply to get a few hundred consistently on the viewer count – I was perfectly fine with all that – it was because I had removed myself completely from the commentary side of productions, I had become completely wrapped up in the video side of the production, and it sucked all the enjoyment right out of it. What used to be a fun evening of hopping on the mic had transformed into a logistical exercise. As a result, my productions suffered. My main focus wasn’t telling the story of a match, or of a season over the long term; my main focus became keeping a video stream on the rails, and all sense of storytelling went right out the window.

Do you know of any Starcraft commentators doing their thing without a video stream? I can’t think of one, yet that would be the ultimate test: can you still paint the picture of a match in the minds of listeners without the help of a production tab on their screen, or a minimap?

I’ve had the itch to get back into commentary lately, because I realized it’s been years since I’ve actually done it, and I remember how much fun I actually had doing it. Nowhere in there is an itch to rejoin the video arms race however; it’ll be back to basics, audio-only, radio style.