Working For Exposure – A South African Esports Parable
By Rick Mortyson
There is no such thing as a free lunch. Except, that is, if you’re a tournament organiser in South Africa looking for talent to cast your tournament. There are a plethora of gamers who aspire to become shoutcasters for the country’s biggest esports titles (like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2). Trying to break into the world of esports casting can be a daunting task, and usually fledgling casters are going to have to pull some serious hours being paid in Exposure Bucks™ to be noticed.
I guess we should roll this back a bit and explain what a shoutcaster actually is for those of you who Googled “work from home passive income” and got directed here, simply because I added “work from home passive income” to this article to get more readers. Thanks Google. A shoutcaster is, quite simply, a commentator. The term is often abbreviated to caster. These are the voices you hear calling out the plays when you watch an esports match. They’re often personalities in their own right that draw fans to watch games simply because they are the ones casting them. This is certainly true for some of the bigger names in casting – like CS:GO’s Jason “Moses” O’Toole or Dota 2’s Tobi “Tobiwan” Dawson. Locally our bigger casters are developing a name and a their own following too. Voices like Michael “axtremes” Harmse in CS:GO and Kaameel “World’s Most Okayest Dota 2 Caster” Chicktay in Dota 2 are already well known amongst fans of the local esports scene in their own right.
It is absolutely true, and a good time to tell you, if you’re an aspiring caster in South Africa, that even these names that often cast big LAN finals were the tournament organisers’ free lunch once upon a time too, and in fact probably still do from time to time if they’re smart. I’ve written 300 words and it’s finally time to tell you that you should do free work. Good, we’re on the right track. I guess it’s probably important to tell you that I’m not a caster, per se. The closest I’ve come to casting is hosting a noob stream in Dota 2 last year for an online qualifier which was supposed to have a LAN final. It was something that myself and the casters I worked with didn’t get paid to do.
In fact, for a full series of LAN qualifiers a number of casters worked without being paid, whatever their motivation. Mine was to have some fun with some friends. For others though, they might have wanted the tournament experience or exposure I mentioned at the top of this article. The tournament organiser that ran this tournament used the work of casters casting the online part of their competition for free with, I can only assume, the intention of then giving them paid work at the LAN final. Which may or may not (probably not) still happen. Why am I telling you all this? Because I want to illustrate three points.
The first is the reason I started writing this – don’t be afraid to be the free lunch if you’re just starting out in casting. Think of it like your education. You’re giving up your time to gain the experience, practice, and knowledge required to get to those big LAN finals. You’re getting your name out there in a very noisy space and if you have what it takes people will notice of you. Without spending too much time writing out a how-to guide (perhaps in another article), use this time to concentrate on your game knowledge, presentation, filler material, and positioning yourself as either the enthusiastic and loud colour caster or the careful and considered analytical caster.
The second point I want to illustrate is something people often forget and something that even the big names in casting can get wrong – do the prep work. There is a reason that big casters get paid what they do for a couple of days work. It’s not just because they show up on the day and work. Instead it has to do with the amount of prep work that goes into casting games and events. You’re expected to know the players, the teams, and enough history that you can discuss not only the in-game performance, but you can relate it to the player or team’s experience and history. For example if a particular player used to play for a team they’re now playing against, it’s something that you can talk about.
The golden rule of casting is this: You’re telling a story about these players and their teams. You’re painting pictures that makes the viewer invest in the game they’re watching – you want them to care about who wins. Create stories, create narratives and create reasons why each team should win. To do this, you need to do the work to know the players and teams. While this is much more difficult at the lower tiers of casting where you’ll likely start, once you start to cast bigger games this becomes quite important.
The third and last point I’ll make before I hit 1,000 words in this article is probably the most important. Know when to say no to free work. While there’s definitely a time and place for earning yourself a few Exposure Bucks™, there is also a time when you’ll want to make some real income from your hours of hard work. In the same breath, be realistic about your earning potential. Asking for internationally comparative rates for a small LAN is not realistic, particularly in your first few outings as a paid caster. We’re at an important turning point in South Africa where casters are starting to, as a default, be paid for their work.
If a tournament organiser, like one did recently, is able to offer tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands as a prize pool, but still puts out a call for casters to cast for free, they should (and rightly so) get no offers from casters willing to work for free. Some of their prize pool should go to the talent and production team. After all, viewers on their games is where their sponsors will find ROI on their marketing spend and ultimately the tournament organiser has to prove that ROI to their sponsors.
Because, of course, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.