Our South African Esports Narrator
By Rick Mortyson
When the tale or story demands it, the narrator plays an important role in setting a scene. Or, in a fourth wall breaking way, makes sure the audience doesn’t miss anything important and can follow along with scene or act changes and plot points. They’re the voice that steers the plot direction and summarises the acts. Much in the same way, as the South African esports scene matures and starts to stabilise into a rhythm, we too need a narrator. Just like in theatre, sports and competitive landscapes have stories to tell, and fans of the South African scene are all ears, waiting for a story to be told.
Of course, it’s never that easy. There’s no democratic vote or appointment process for someone to be given the proverbial microphone so that they can spin the story as if their commentary and thoughts were canon. We all have voices and we’re all shouting above the noise of each other, trying to get our thoughts and opinions known. Whether that be writing opinion pieces on a website, hosting a podcast about your game, casting your game or even just spamming Twitch memes, you are a contributor to this many-headed narrator that weaves our story. The problem with a crowd sourced opinion is that it’s incredibly polarising. We’re humans and we disagree with each other and that’s okay. Disagreements lead to arguments or disagreements which ultimately lead to conversations.
In some ways, what follows in my tale is the result of a bastardised take on influencer culture.
Popular culture and conditioning
As a species, we suffer from conditioning. Our conditioning comes from popular culture advertising and many other sources but at its root, it’s careful, planned and executed with intimate knowledge of how we work. Because of this conditioning, we’re constantly looking for someone to tell us what brand to use, what to eat or what to wear. Industries like fashion and big multinational brands rely on this marketing conditioning to be successful. In more recent times, people have become weary of being marketed to, and a new wave of advertisements have emerged – our peers. Brands task those of us that stand out above the crowd on platforms like YouTube and Instagram to endorse their brands for us – and it works. When we see our peers and those we look up to using these brands, we’re more open and perceptive to accept their approval rather than a slick, well produced advert.
When we cross these realms together – our influencer culture and our esports narrative – our narrators become those peers and those we look up to. What they say and the stories they tell have weight and can quickly become interpreted as canon. Those who have developed personal brands within the scope of South Africa and carry weight in their words and opinions have become our narrators.
The voice of South African esports
In esports, it’s easy to rely on those that own tournament organisers or those that cast games or write for news sites to be our narrators. Even by reading this opinion piece, you’re allowing me to narrate my bit of the story to you, but the telling point that I was sure to include was that this is an opinion piece. Every story or retelling of a story you hear is subjective. It’s told from the viewpoint of that very personal view. Although to this point, it might not sound like I think so, but that’s a good thing. If we had just one narrator, one dry fact based retelling of the happening in South African esports, it would lack the depth and interest that these personal opinions generate.
Over the last few years, I’ve seen a few people declare themselves (or be declared by the community) the “voice of South African esports.” But how do we define that? How do we, as an industry, give credence to a single voice – which is a single opinion in such a vast and varied landscape? Do we expect each personality to start each tweet or piece of content with “this is just my opinion but…” or do we aim to educate the audience that we find ourselves with into not taking each word they hear as canon?
The power of influence
There’s a fair amount to be said for earning the respect of your audience. If you have that audience that looks up to you as their narrator, you’ve created a brand and a presence that has some influence. And influence is a powerful thing, but it’s also a dangerous thing. If you have that audience, there’s even more to be said for you to treat that role with tact and grace. Recognising that you hold that influence means choosing what you say and thinking carefully about the opinions you publically dish out before you do.
We’re a fledgeling industry, with many outsiders seeing big names (those personal brands we were talking about earlier) and taking their public opinions and thoughts as canon. If you’re new to a sport or industry, the first people involved in that sport or industry you hear giving thoughts and opinions can often shape your thoughts and opinions. It’s that age old adage – first impressions count. It’s up to us, each with our own little audience that we find ourselves narrating to, to be responsible with the messages we send out into the world.
Of course, chances are if you’ve ever called yourself the ‘voice’ of something, you’re probably not the right person to be the ‘voice’ of anything.
But that’s just like my opinion man.