The arena is packed. Viewers try to catch a glimpse of their favourite players. There are sudden cheers and boos from the audience. But none of this breaks the concentration of the gamers, who are sitting with their computers in a glass room at the centre. In e-sports, players and spectators, offline and online, do not interact. Their only connection is a large screen live streaming the competition and the shoutcaster’s voice explaining what’s happening on the screen.
Making a career
Shoutcasters are essentially commentators dedicated to e-sports. They explain what the players are doing—their moves and the meaning behind those moves. The career promises a whole lot of glamour, fun and games. The money is good too—an established shoutcaster can earn up to ₹40,000 in a day. What goes unseen, however, is the struggle to make it big in the small-yet-competitive world of shoutcasting, to get gigs regularly and to even convince people that this is a viable career.
“In 2010, when I was in school, I participated in an online tournament. I came to know many people and decided to see if I could do something in the e-sports industry. Back in the day, the only options were to become a game developer or a professional player," says Gurugram-based Zerah Gonsalves.
A popular shoutcaster, Gonsalves had struggled for the first few years, even contemplating moving abroad to make things easier for her.
Mumbai’s Nishant Patel was sure he wanted to be in the e-sports industry. In 2010, he quit his job and co-founded AFK Gaming, an e-sports startup that specializes in live streams, marketing and consultancy. As most companies were interested in organizing tournaments but not hiring commentators, he started commentating.
Slowly, the demand grew, and AFK now has three shoutcasters. “A shoutcaster’s role is not just to relay what is happening in the tournament. While hiring, I have to ask if their style would suit the show and will they bring new followers. In that sense, it works just like any other marketing. A shoutcaster is an influencer. People will come to the tournament if the shoutcaster makes it interesting," says Patel.
Sudhen Wahengbam, who goes by the player name “Bleh", started playing online games when he was six. Gaming was never supposed to be his career.
An engineer by education, Wahengbam started working in sales and marketing in Bengaluru. As a CounterStrike (CS) player and expert, he always felt the Asian region was ignored in gaming tournaments.
“I took it on myself one day. I set up a Twitch channel, found a leak and started casting for myself. Over time, it got popular and people started approaching me whenever they needed information on CS. This is when I decided that I could make this a career," he explains.
The e-sport industry is slated to bring in over $1 billion in revenue worldwide this year, according to a recent report from the Newzoo analyst group. The growth has been more rapid in the past three-four years.
A report by AFK Gaming shows the total prize money from these games jumped from ₹2 crore in 2017 to ₹3.8 crore in 2018. PUBG Mobile India Tour 2019 promises a prize money ₹1.5 crore.
But asking for money in shoutcasting gigs can still be tough. When he started out, Gonsalves did not know how much to charge. It did not help that companies would often just try to get them to shoutcast for free or for products.
“Finally, in 2014-15 organizers realized the tournament needs us as well, and started to keep a budget for shoutcasters," says Gonsalves.
The amount one can demand now depends not just on the person’s experience but also on the number of hours or the kind of tournament one is casting for, he says.
Someone who is starting out needs to understand how to break into the game. Patel receives numerous applications from people who want to be shoutcasters.
“They like the glitz and glamour, but generally do not want to put in the work. I usually reply to all these applications by sending them a match replay and asking them to send me a demo video. Most of them drop out at this point," says Patel. The ones who send the demo get feedback, and they work on it and send another video.
Patel also gives importance to a player’s dedication to a game —“how many hours have they played a game, do they have a strong charisma, a good voice, a strong command on the language—these can make him/her a good hype caster. The ones who understand the technicalities of the game can analyse moves and strategy, and can become good analysts," he explains.
While beginners may not get paid at all, or get paid in products, it is important for them to have multiple brands on their CV. Shoutcasters with about two years of experience can charge ₹15,000-30,000 a day.
“If a shoutcaster decides to focus on one particular game, they can get six to eight tournaments in a year. Each of these tournaments can be spread out over multiple days, such as the forthcoming Dreamhack 2019 (a three-day gaming event in Sweden). In such an event, you can earn ₹1-1.5 lakh," says Gonsalves.
There is now more scope for newcomers. Earlier, all shoutcasting would be done in English, and usually by shoutcasters from the US or Europe.
“It was difficult to break into the scene not just because the industry wasn’t big in India, but also the organizers demanded people with a particular accent. Someone with a regional accent would not be able to get popular with a global audience," says Wahengbam. With the popularity of PUBG, and its regional content, the language barrier has eased to a large extent.
But one must do the required homework. “Read manuals, watch other sports and see how commentators bring the game alive, learn to pace yourself, sound organic, use banter… but most of all, know the game. Diversifying in different games can be a benefit in such a competitive market for newcomers," Wahengbam adds.