MTGA Tournament Comentatory
Have you ever considered commentating on a Magic: the Gathering tournament? Well, if you know your cards and like to talk about MTG, I’d recommend giving it a shot because it’s a lot of fun. That said, there’s a lot that goes into the commentator’s job that I’d like to discuss today to help guide you through the process of commentating a tournament and, hopefully, provide some insight on what it’s like inside the booth.
Why are all MTG Commentators Streamers?
You may have noticed a trend that big-name MTG broadcasters are also the operators of livestreams either on Twitch or YouTube. Both activities have a lot in common — both require you to narrate the action that’s unfolding and tell a story about gameplay in real time. In the case of livestreaming, the streamer themselves is usually the one playing while in a tournament setting they are on the sidelines with the rest of the audience.
The goal of a stream is to keep the audience engaged and entertained while they watch the streamer’s gameplay by interjecting thoughts on what is occurring, witty banter, or humorous anecdotes. In a way, it’s the same for a tournament commentator, especially the color commentator. The goal is to bring the audience into the action by providing an additional layer of context and information to the gameplay taking place.
This job may sound simple in both contexts, but it’s incredibly important. Have you ever tried to watch someone play a video game with no sound or face cam to help you connect with them? It’s much harder to engage and become emotionally invested in the action without that human element, and the commentators are responsible for bringing that to a tournament broadcast.
What Jobs are Commentators Really Doing?
Commentary teams usually come in pairs with each person being assigned a specific role as either the Color Commentator, or the Play-By-Play Commentator. These roles may seem similar at first, but you’ll find they are actually very different skill sets.
The Color Commentator is the subject matter expert in the booth who usually has deep history with the game being played. For sports broadcasts, these are often retired players or coaches, while in MTG these can be players who have achieved success in tournament settings or those who have simply played the game for a very long time. Color Commentators are responsible for telling stories and providing insight into what the players might be thinking or relating key information that may not be apparent to a casual observer. For MTG, this might be details about other cards that could be played, “They do have mana open for Vanishing Verse,” or, “If I were in their position, I probably would have attacked with the 2/2 there.”
The Play-by-Play Commentator, on the other hand, has a more structured role to perform. Their job is to vocalize the plays as they occur, giving the audience an opportunity to look away from the screen without missing any of the action. While the Color Commentator needs to know a great deal about the game at a high level, the Play-by-Play Commentator needs to understand the game at a tactical level. In MTG, that means knowing all the cards that are available in the format so they can be announced quickly when played with a deep enough understanding of their function to be able to briefly describe the effect each card will have on the game. The better the Play-by-Play Commentator understands these cards and effects, the better they will be able to bring the audience into the action with just their words.
What is It Like to Commentate a Remote MTG Arena Tournament Specifically?
For the last few years, major and minor tournaments alike have been held online exclusively. As a result, Magic: the Gathering Arena has been the primary vehicle for competition. Because MTGA is lacking a spectator mode, tournament organizers must work with the players to stream the games to a third-party service, such as Discord, where the commentators can watch the game and record their commentary.
While this setup is certainly not ideal, many communities looking to encourage a fun and entertaining environment have taken to it and are putting on excellent programs on a regular basis. From the commentator’s perspective, this type of setup requires flexibility as there are multiple programs and windows that need to be running in order to see the chat log from the livestream, the gameplay itself, the other commentator’s camera, and possibly whatever broadcast software is being used to capture their own audio and video.
The commentators are responsible for juggling all those windows while also keeping a running dialogue going about the games themselves and listening/watching for cues from the production team about what games are coming up next, what sponsors to plug, or if its time to cut to break. There’s a lot to manage, but the experience can be exceptionally rewarding.
Personally, I’ve been commentating on remote tournaments for the past nine months and have found it to be an incredibly fun and empowering experience. It has given me a fresh perspective on the game that has increased my enjoyment of it tenfold. If you were to ask me a year ago how I felt about control mirrors, I would have said they’re tiresome and boring; but now, I feel like they are an interesting exchange between players that are exceptionally fun to watch. This perspective shifted because I’ve had to find the fun in those matches as I presented them to an audience.
If you are given the opportunity to commentate a tournament, I would recommend going for it if the above details don’t sound too overwhelming. Put simply: while there is a lot to manage, it is just an incredibly fun time.