Let's try a fun little exercise: Close your eyes, and think about a time in your life you heard a larger-than-life broadcaster call a major sports game. The goosebumps you felt as a booming voice elevated a moment into legend.
Epic wins such as: Team USA's Miracle on Ice over the Soviet Union. Muhammad Ali's triumph at the Thrilla in Manila. Secretariat clinching the Triple Crown. Fnatic overcoming crushing odds to defeat heavy tournament favorite MVP Black.
OK, so that last one, you probably didn't experience. But it was e-sports history, and it all went down a couple of weekends ago at the Fall Global Championship for Blizzard Entertainment's popular multiplayer game Heroes of the Storm. Blizzcon (the company's annual fan convention) hosts e-sports championships for four out of the five games Blizzard currently works on, a sign that the company feels pro gaming is a major part of the industry's future. But upsets and clutch plays in any sport are only as good as the broadcasters calling them.
Fortunately for gamers, e-sports is seeing a rise of talented professional casters who hope to carry leagues into the mainstream with their voices and knowledge. They're younger than the traditional sports broadcasters you know, but they're no less obsessed with the games they cover, and they're part of a new generation of announcers keen to legitimize e-sports in the eyes of nongamers.
Sportscasters have been around for a long time, but this particular brand of casting comes with its own share of challenges. Unlike announcers who spend time with one particular league or team, e-sports casters follow a global flow of teams rising and falling, with each region possessing a specific play style requiring analysis. Heroes of the Storm offers over 60 playable characters (with more heroes always on the horizon), making the game's pro scene an ever-shifting landscape of team comps and strategies. On top of studying game strategy across the globe, casters need to know upcoming stars, underdogs and any other stories or interesting facts to relay to viewers, weaving it all together into an appealing form of entertainment for noobs and hard-core gamers alike.
It's a huge undertaking, demanding hours and hours of work every week for anyone even interested in making a living from it; fortunately, the industry is finally catching up to caster and player effort.
Currently, the e-sports scene is a web of various full-time, professional, freelance and sponsored gigs. Many casters choose to supplement their income by streaming on Twitch or YouTube Gaming and accepting donations from fans, meaning they're not only doing all that homework I mentioned earlier, they're actually spending time playing in their free time, too. There isn't a true, single season of any particular game, either, so casters don't get an off-season to catch up on any news or players they may have missed. They have to be on their game (no pun intended) year-round.
It's a lot of commitment to an industry that's just now finding a clearer path to success through organization. Blizzard announced Overwatch League at this year's Blizzcon to help crystallize its vision of the way forward for professional e-sports, with player salaries, drafts, combines and other concepts from other pro sports leagues.
If this model proves successful, it's likely other game developers and publishers will follow suit, offering aspiring players and casters some semblance of financial stability and an established career path if they're considering diving into e-sports as a profession.
So the next time you're watching an e-sports tournament, take a second to appreciate the work of the men and women working hard to raise the hairs on the back of your neck when an epic play or huge upset happens. And maybe -- just maybe -- the next legendary voice in broadcasting might be in e-sports.
Full disclosure: Ashley's brother is an employee at Blizzard Entertainment.