While there are a handful of things that viewers can agree on in regard to what they like in casters, individual preferences vary widely. I’ve focused on Dota 2 casters as it’s more or less what I’m familiar with, but many of these concepts transcend all games and are pretty much applicable to any sport, eSport or physical.
Not really more than a day goes by without some kind of caster flame thread on Reddit. Criticisms range from “[Caster] lacks deep game knowledge and often misunderstands hero abilities” to “[Caster] has an annoying voice and I hate it.” There’s a pretty fundamental difference between these two extremes. One is a more or less objective criticism of game knowledge and the other boils down to personal preference, but both provide us with insight into the things that matter to viewers. According to a community poll (results available here), “analytics” was chosen by the largest percentage of respondents as the highest value trait in a cast.
Here’s an example of caster criticism that falls on the line between objective and subjective. Caster Owen “ODPixel” Davies is considered a favorite by much of the Reddit community but has some specific criticisms levied at him. Many consider him too “meme-y” and lacking the serious tone needed for professional tournament casts. Additionally, according to the survey linked in the previous paragraph, the community at large appears to dislike Owen’s tendency to make excited noises instead of explaining why he’s making those noises. Again, let’s look at the criticism: memes and sound effects basically reduce to personal preference again. Some people love witty quips and sound effects worthy of their own soundboard. Should ODPixel alter this casting style that he’s cultivated because a percentage of viewers dislikes it or continue to play to his strengths and provide that lighthearted banter that made him famous?
Decide for yourselves.
During WCA, both JoinDota and Beyond the Summit provided English – language coverage. JoinDota’s stream was more or less the tried and true setup – pairings of hype casters and analytical casters that balanced each other out well to round out the cast. Viewers were treated to power couple Capitalist and Blitz who have excellent caster chemistry. On BTS’s stream, the casting was much more informal and “for fun.” Viewers could choose the stream which fit their personal tastes. The vocal portion of Reddit seemed to prefer BTS’s “clowny” casting, however some users reaffirmed their preference for more serious casts in high – profile tournaments. Having both available seems like a win for viewers, but does splitting the viewerbase in two hurt the studios? If dual casts by studios are sustainable business models, it may be something to consider in the future to cover the range of viewer tastes.
My two cents (hardly controversial) is that while casters should always be looking to improve, they don’t have to please 100% of the people 100% of the time. It seems like *someone* will appreciate their work if they put the time and effort in to develop their craft and continue to improve. Many viewers are willing to give newer faces a chance as it helps bring some new life to the scene. There’s a difference between “objective” criticism like miscalling plays or not understanding game mechanics and “subjective” criticism like the level of seriousness in their banter. Tone and banter appeal differently and aren’t always a strict negative, even if a portion of viewers views it as such for a particular caster. Fix fundamentals like game knowledge first, and then work on either honing a specific style to appeal heavily to some or become more versatile to appeal to the masses.