To Don the Crest of Content Creation

Hey everyone, Azazel here. Today I’m bringing you a feature on what the transition from play to commentary has been like. I plan on doing plenty of team reports/interviews/competitive analysis articles in the future here on the official Liberty Garden website, but today I’ll only be covering a select few things, outlined below:

1. What commentary has been like
2. How it has impacted my perspective of the game
3. How it has impacted my play
1a. Why you should/should not commentate
2a. Positives and negatives in commentary
3a. Important aspects of commentary:
-Working with people
-Streaming etiquette

Commentary, The Dream

So if you haven’t ever commentated a match before, it’s definitely something I recommend you do. Whether it’s your own play on a YouTube channel, a Swiss round where you have a bye, or your best friend in the finals of a Premier Challenge and people want you to give some life to the match on the mic, I highly suggest you try it out. For some people -like myself- it’s more enjoyable than playing in a tournament. So let’s get into it, most of what I enjoy is watching people excel in their own way, whether it be making incredible predictions, making excellent switches, or even setting up a difficult strategy, I admire strong play, period. Also, when I’m only watching it happen, the execution of gimmicks is rather enticing at times. In particular I personally love predictions, partly because I’m impressed with a player’s courage and then even more so because I’m happy that the prediction worked. In a metagame as hostile as VGC 2015, making predictions is some really nerve racking risk/reward decision making, so getting to watch it happen successfully is purely a thrill with no anxiety involved. I also enjoy an array of other small details in commentary, like identifying rhythms in people’s play, calling out optimal plays that would win games but are hard to see, and I love going in depth when two players have a clean and intense match where I can analyze and vocalize all the thought going into plays that might seem illogical to the average viewer, like ice beaming a Tyranitar. When I commentate, I’m not trying to say what’s happening on screen, I’m trying to teach and give insight as well as make an enjoyable match even more entertaining.

If you have commentated before and/or know anything about color and play-by-play, then you should know by watching (if you watch me that is) that I heavily favor color commentary and am very driven by unlocking the mysteries behind a peculiar strategy or play-style. Pokémon isn’t the most flexible game in terms of determinable outcomes, which is why many turns come down to fifty-fifties and favorable (and sadly sometimes unfavorable) percentages, so my duty is to explain the risk and reward in breaking free from these coin flips and analyze the many possible outcomes of rolling the dice. Unlike a game like Super Smash Bros Melee where every button input could yield hundreds of results, Pokémon is a game where two players click a couple buttons and let the game’s engine decide their fate based on the outcome they prepare for best. Figuring out why and how they approached their decisions is always a delight and what I love about most in my commentary role.

It’s all about perspective

With the transition to commentary came an unexpected side effect. Commentating matches where great players like Wolfe Glick and Paul Chua consistently make optimal and even more than optimal plays has had an effect on me. Anyone who watches someone like Wolfe win three straight Regionals gets that fire lit inside them, something that says “I want to be able to do that.” I get to deal with a good chunk of that, especially since I’m lucky enough to live in the North East, an area so dense with talent we can ship players like Aaron Zheng to SoCal and not fear the competition any less (although I guess it’s only fair to send our apologies as well to SoCal, we didn’t really mean to make the most stacked region in America even more stacked). Watching people like Chuppa Cross and James Baek perform consistently well over and over is always a treat, and there are many more who always play well and take the crown at our PCs on occasion too. Spectating alone is a treat with these competitors, but diving into their thought processes and examining how they fare in both their losses and their victories is what makes me change my perspective on the game. Before I expand, let me give an example. Looking at team sheets and analyzing a matchup between two players is really critical to how I approach a match. When I see someone fighting an awful matchup it’s almost painful because they have to play perfectly every single turn, whereas their opponent can make mistakes every now and then without too much lost. In an even matchup, something like the matchup I commentated between James Baek and Trista Medine recently, I felt it could go either way. James had a Sand team with no Steel type and Trista had a Tailwind mode Kang team with a substitute Sylveon. My exact statement on stream was “if Trista doesn’t get flinched, she should win this match.” What was really going on in my mind while the first game occurred was a turn by turn projection of outcomes, I pictured the four Pokémon each player would bring and then pictured what plays each player would make in the event of flinches/knockouts/and also sleep turns since Trista was running Amoonguss. Game one Trista got up a Tailwind and won because of it. Game two Trista made a read I felt was risky but possibly game winning, and James punished the choice for a decisive victory. Game three Trista had in the bag but the fast Rock Slide that didn’t flinch all game caught up to her and she paid for it in the last and most pivotal turn, sealing her fate. James did in fact receive even worse luck in finals though, so what goes around comes around quite often. Anyway, my point here isn’t about the game or the matchup, my point is that the turn that Trista didn’t protect her Sylveon and it fainted to an Iron Head I was able to confidently see that play happening two turns before it did because of how three dimensional my perspective has become (out of necessity) when I’m analyzing a match.

I’m not saying that I’m good at the game or really that much better than I was before commentating, I’m saying that when I commentate, which is a completely different mindset from playing trust me, I have been able to improve my foresight and outcome prediction due to the work I have done on the microphone. In some ways I do feel I have improved my game play due to what I’ve witnessed and analyzed, but I don’t think I’m anything of note yet, so I’ll get back to that once I accomplish something better than bubbling a regional top cut. But to wrap that point up, I feel very strongly that getting into commentary is a route with a lot of positive return, both to how we approach the game and how we see the game through not only our own eyes but through the eyes of our peers. Even still, what commentary has done for my play-style is hard to quantify or even elaborate on.

The Commentator’s Curse

First and foremost: commentating a match between Wolfe Glick and Paul Chua doesn’t make you play like Wolfe Glick or Paul Chua. When I watched Wolfe assert his mental prowess for a win over Tommy Cooleen in Top 4 at the Lancaster Regional, I was able to pinpoint that he was skillfully drawing attention to his Azumarill and using a combination of both Fake Out and Rage Powder to protect it the turn after the bunny itself protected, thus keeping a max attack Pokémon with priority on the field at all times. This strategy, and more importantly the near flawless execution of it, led to his victory. Some of you may have noticed his use of a Gardevoir in finals, but when I discussed his play with him after his finish he woefully explained to me that he only used Gardevoir 3 times all tournament, and one of the games he brought it to he lost in swiss. His overall record on the day was 14-2, so his victory margin with Kang/Azu was 11-1 as opposed to his Gardevoir yielding him a 2-1 record. While I’m disappointed in his usage of Gardevoir (who wouldn’t be right?), who can really blame him for using Kang/Azu when it won him a regional?

I then of course attempted two things when I got home:

-Using Kang/Azu/Amoonguss

-Countering the living snot out of Kang/Azu/Amoonguss

Countering it was a lot more comfortable for me. I used Sand with mixed Salamence and it was a really fun style to play. Using Kang Azu myself yielded me about a 60% win rate and pulling off the setup was mentally taxing and at times too difficult, so I gave up on it. The point that I’m trying to make here though is that I wasn’t able to do what Wolfe Glick did just because I analyzed him doing it, no more than you can shoot a 3-Pointer as accurately as Steph Curry just because you eat, sleep and breathe Warriors basketball. It’s definitely different, but the fundamentals behind the analogy are related. What you can do is model your form after Curry and take one thousand jump shots a day until your shooting percentage goes up, because that my friends is a plausible practice method. On the contrary, it might not work. You might be a clunky basketball player and not have the shooting gene in you, like myself, so instead of practicing shooting threes you figure out that you shoot pull-up mid-range jumpers much better and practice that way more. (Side note: This isn’t an article about play-style, but there is one in the works.) Commentary has, in time, improved my play I feel, but I don’t want to say it’s an end all for my education, being a student of the game is also a huge part of elevating your play and practice is by far the best way to improve in my opinion.

To commentate or not, insert Hamlet quote

With that said, let me get into why commentary is or isn’t for you. In my opinion I feel as though anyone can commentate with the right etiquette (See Streaming Etiquette below). Even people with a little bit of nerve in them can have what it takes to make a match entertaining and insightful. That being said, there are still plenty of things I recommend you know before joining in on any stream. First off, you need to know a great deal about the game, all of the common archetypes and move sets used, and even the more niche things that make appearances from time to time. Nothing dumbs-down commentary more than two people saying “Um…I don’t even know what that does, do you?” Not only does it make the match harder to enjoy, but it makes the viewers agitated and sometimes leads to people flat out muting the volume. I’ve done this myself on many a streams because I can’t bear hearing two people that know less than myself spouting off awful insight or an assortment of confused murmurs that make for nothing better than droll background noise. You need to make sure that you understand why Gardevoir and Amoonguss go so well together, why manual Rain is such a good check to Charizard Y, and even what random things like Vivillon do. If you don’t know what these things do then you’re going to trip yourself up in the long run, so it’s good to study up on both the metagame and the niche things people use to counter it.

Furthermore, you need to know the ins and outs of the common archetypes, obviously because as the name ‘common archetype’ suggests, they are pretty common. Stuff like Sand, Garde/Amoon, Zard/Lando, Chalk, Rain and more all have reasons for their team composition and knowing what everything is capable of and how to beat it will make your analysis top notch. To go even further with this and to offer an example, when I’m watching someone like James Baek commentate a match and he guesses by a team composition which Pokémon carries Safety Goggles or that a Gardevoir has Trick Room over Hidden Power I’m not only intrigued, I’m paying attention to what he says because his analysis makes figuring out the match’s most plausible outcomes easier. I make the greatest effort to do this myself and definitely encourage it amongst other commentators. Also, check out James Baek’s channel, his play by play analysis is one of the best on YouTube and I have a lot of respect for his thought process, regardless of how lucky he is as a player. *winky face*

The “commentary isn’t for you” part of this section isn’t very in depth, I’ll leave it at this:

-if you get way too nervous to the point that it disrupts the match, don’t do it.

-if you think Kangaskhan more often carries crunch than sucker punch please don’t do it.

-if you’re really judgemental or rude please, just don’t do it.

Simple right? I believe so.

Pros/Cons in commentary

If only I had a Venn diagram…

-Pros:

There is a lot of good that comes along with commentary. I think the most important positives to take from commentating are the experiences you have and how you apply them to your game. Being able to interact with the community is also really nice, I’ve enjoyed a blossoming in a lot of personal relationships with people who ask me for advice in the game or even people who just reach out to me to give me kind words and feedback. I’m a real sucker for encouragement, so anyone who even so much as messages me and says they think I’m doing somewhat of a good job is quite literally making me feel important, so I do my utmost to add to those relationships daily.

I could probably write an entire extra page on just how much commentary has done for me, but I’m just going to leave it explained as is, it’s really a blessing.

-Cons:

At first I didn’t want to put any cons, but there are actually several of note so I’ll do my best to explain them thoroughly. First off, not playing kind of really sucks. I always like to joke around about how relieved I am that I don’t have to stress over losing to hax, but I really love playing this game and it’s unfortunate that I can’t play at every tournament. I chose this though; I’m happy with my decision. Working together with Jen, Dan, and Patrick has been beyond thrilling and I would make the decision to do so a hundred times over if given the chance. To continue, losing your voice is a pain as well. My vocal chords are really tender at times because I was in choir, drama and my Acapella club in high school. My voice has always been a bit weak and I stressed it really bad in the four years of intense vocal performance. If you have a weak voice or lose it really easily after a concert or anything you should be wary of this retaliatory effect, your body makes your voice less effective to warn you to stop using it so much. Good vocal care with water and tea has done wonders for me though, so I can’t complain too much. Just be wary.

Now, to conclude this feature I will address the small details in commentary that are important but sometimes overlooked.

Working with people

I can’t stress enough how important it is to be cooperative and welcoming in this field. I’ve only been doing it for about 5 months, but the reason I’ve been able to do it so frequently has been both the capability of myself and all who I’ve worked with to compromise, correct, and cooperate. Being open to working with new people, as well as being focused on forming a strong duo with Dan Levinson has made my commentary experience an extremely positive blend of focus and fun, with extra emphasis on the fun part. I’ve commentated with Dan, Mike Suleski, Zach Droegkamp, Jonathan Evans, Joshua Lorcy, Tiago Maltez, Danny Hemchand, Daniel Stein, and Tom Hull. Not a single one of those people commentate the same. The variance in style, inflection of the voice, analysis trends and many more small factors make all of these people unique and commentating alongside them has been a great blend of positive streams. I’ve commentated in 5 different states, and under 8 different TO’s and stream officials. Taking each experience as a blessing and focusing solely on bringing positive energy and insight to the stream has made the experiences I’ve had all quite splendid. Making yourself easier to work with and being very receptive of others will make doing this job a million times easier and more enjoyable. On that same note I would also like to take this moment to give a humongous shout out to my other half Dan Levinson, as working with him has been amazing, the chemistry we’ve formed is insane and the respect I have for for him is unmatched. You keep doing you man.

Also, something important to note is that Dan and I are heavily critical of each other, just in a very constructive way. We are always looking to improve not only ourselves but each other and our duo on the whole. I am so lucky to have someone like him who is so easy to work with and intelligent in every sense of the word. I really couldn’t have asked for a better match on Tinder (in case no one knew how Dan and I met).

Streaming Etiquette

Ok so let’s make this brief because it’s important but boring.

Be polite.

Be respectful.

Be funny without being rude.

I myself have made mistakes in this department. It’s not something you can undo easily, and it leaves a mark on your commentary style and history, so make sure to take heed of the rules and manners relevant to your streams.

And that about wraps up everything I wanted to address! I hope this helped anyone considering commentary or someone looking to improve it. If anyone has any questions I’m almost always responding to my Twitter and Facebook, just give me a holler. My greatest passion in Pokémon isn’t my own success, it’s bringing out the better in everyone around me, so I thank all who have helped me to do so and given me opportunities where that mindset is at the forefront of the endeavor. Lastly, thanks a ton to Jen Badamo aka the GOAT, for helping shape me into someone who gets to don the legendary title of:

CONTENT CREATOR.

Keep it real people, stay tuned for more.

 

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