This is an excerpt from a magazine feature I created on Justin and the E-Sports scene in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metro area.
In November of 2014, Justin Varghese made a decision that would change the trajectory of his life forever. He sat down behind the counter at the Plano, TX based FX Game Exchange and watched contestants in a Super Smash Brothers tournament duke it out. He sat down next to a few guys he didn’t know that well and narrated the frantic happenings onscreen while critiquing the player movements. Justin did this all on camera. And he loved every minute it.
Since then, the University of Texas at Dallas graduate traded in his keyboard and mouse for a controller and a headset. Varghese is now the Head of Strategic Partnerships at Tourney Locator LLC. (TLOC), the very company for which he stepped onto the mic for. Varghese and his on-air partner, Nabil Pervez, operate as the main two faces of TLOC, a DFW company that organizes and stream video game tournaments via their Twitch channel. The duo broadcast weekly as JV and Nebtune. Along with a weekly series at the Exchange, TLOC sets up yearly and monthly tournaments, at times sponsoring players and traveling throughout the region.
Prior to joining TLOC and signing a Major League Gaming contract, Justin had extensive video game experience but no broadcasting or recording experience. It all happened kind of fast for Justin, so I asked him to break it down for me.
Start with a game you already know well.
This part can’t be stated enough. To go from playing with your friends to breaking down each play session into a detailed critique or performance and technique, prospective Casters (as they are called) have to have a wide and deep base of knowledge. Where else would you pull that from than those hundreds of hours you poured into Destiny or Tekken?
“It all stemmed from that initial love of Smash 64,” Varghese said. After that he moved on to other versions of Smash, Halo 5, Call of Duty Black Ops 3 and Pokken while studying four more games to cast in the future.
Know the difference between color commentating and play-by-play.
E-sports Casters don’t all practice thier craft the same way. Like other sports, commentators can lean toward the technical analyst side where jargon fills the air, or they can focus more on capturing the literal movements on screen for the folks at home. Justin tends to learn towards the former, focusing on the play-by-play duties while his partner, Nebtune, gives the color commentary. The color caster has to be able to anticipate how the round will go and the overall strategies of the players. Some casters do a little bit of both.
“Commentary, in my opinion, is evolving. It’s hard to label it sometimes,” Nebtune said, smiling. “In traditional sports you have your play-by-play guy and your color analyst, who is often and ex-coach or player.”
Find somebody you gel with on-air.
Nebtune and JV are a static duo. Just ask either of them, they both said it without the other knowing. Even though they didn’t know each other well before they started casting together, 37,000 subscribers probably can’t tell the difference. TLOC has multiple commentators and castors who wear the headset, but none quite resonate like this particular duo.
“That’s my guy. Whenever I’m trying to grow and develop, Justin is my go to.” Nebtune said.
The level of professional partnership the two share works well enough to where they are able to not work together for an extended period of time and immediately jump back online for 6 hour sessions. Which leads to the next point….
Study. Watch. Practice.
Justin and Nabil take different approaches to casting, but they agree that practice makes perfect. For most casters that starts with picking up the controller and learning first hand. It doesn’t mean you have to be good, just knowledgeable. The two often go hand-in-hand, though. This also includes watching other casters’ sessions.
“It’s not just a one-time investment. You have to constantly be investing time into many different games,” Varghese said. “I like to think that you can learn any skill in about 20 hours very quickly because that’s just how the learning curve is. The first 20 hours you learn so much. There’s a brilliant book of the same title that’s about this. I have my own system in conjunction with ways of thinking like that to really expedite my learning process.”
There you have it. Start with what you know, learn the different styles of casting, find a good co-host and study hard. Then you can start worrying about the difference between shoutcasting and hypecasting (Depending on who you ask, there isn’t one). With luck you too can travel around the continent, narrating the harmonic and precisely timed chattering of polyurethane buttons smash against metal receivers. Or as Justin calls it, storytelling.