Hbox and Chillin Share Their Commentary Secrets
November 25 2019
Hungrybox is going full esports! That’s right, that means more than just Melee, but streaming, and of course Ultimate commentary. A while ago, Hungrybox and Chillindude sat down and gave one of the most instructional, interesting interviews about commentary you’ll find. To celebrate, we’re releasing it now! If you’re helping out your local by stepping up to the mic, looking for some inspiration to join the Smash scene yourself, or just want to hear some professional talkers talk about talking, then you’ve come to the right place!
What are some of the most important skills for a Smash commentator to have?
Hungrybox: I’ve always been really excited watching Smash since I was little, so I just express that excitement in the best words that I can, while trying to tell a story. Whenever I see a big string or combo happening I just try to amplify and, you know, crescendo in how fast or powerful I’m speaking and that is… to me it’s sort of, when you have the visual aspect and eye candy that Ultimate offers, when you have audio on the side to compliment that, it really gives the viewer much more reason to watch it and be invested in it. So my words follow the game and my emotions follow the emotions of whatever I’m seeing on the screen.
Chillin: Yeah, that’s a really good way to do it. There’s two categories that commentators generally fall into which is play by play or color commentary, which is more the hype, whereas the play by play is trying to break it down, get more in depth. I think, as a good commentator you can kinda fill both roles and do as necessary with what your co-commentator is doing [...] but I think if you both have a mix of it, it works really well.
I think for Smash, in particular, having a lot of game sense, a lot of game knowledge is really good because it makes it a lot easier to describe. A lot of the times Smash can look chaotic on the screen, especially if you don’t know the characters or game really well. It can be hard to bridge the gap between a brand new viewer and someone who’s been playing the game for years and years, so a commentator’s job is to bridge that gap and describe why they're doing the things they’re doing and what makes them top players. Basically describing the execution level and what was impressive about the things that these players were doing.
I also feel like, with Smash, since it’s such a grassroots game, I really enjoy the conversational aspect of it sometimes. I feel like if you and your co-commentator are just having a good conversation about the match on screen then it turns into good commentary regardless of whether you’re trying to fit into a specific category of commentator. You don’t really have to force it as much in terms of trying to actively describe a match, you’re literally just having a conversation about it and I feel like that often ends up being the best type of commentary.
What does preparation for commentary look like?
Hungrybox: Because I’m mainly doing Ultimate, the game is still relatively new and so everyone is still learning. You just want to keep on top of the meta, keep track of what general opinions are of characters, what general opinions are of players, and you wanna also understand narratives. I always like building a narrative when I commentate, so I wanna understand a player’s history, a player's recent results. If he’s playing against a certain rival I wanna highlight that because that's what gives interest to a match. You know, if you’re just saying what’s happening, it’s good for newer viewers, but if you say what’s happening and make sure to have a story with it and make sure to have that background knowledge, all of a sudden the viewer is like, “Oh wow, I hadn’t realized this person had lost to this guy ten times in a row… Wow, I didn’t realize this person came so close to winning this tournament last year and now he’s looking to get a sponsor…” It makes things a lot more interesting.
Chillin: I think that’s a big part of commentary in general, specifically for big tournaments. It’s the storylines that have led up to the tournament. I think in terms of preparation, it’s really just watching other tournaments, getting a feel for how these players have developed and got to the point where they are now and, as HBox said, staying on top of the meta is really important. So, you can do that through watching tournaments, watching VODs, and social media too when people are posting tier lists. Try to get an idea of who people are seeing as the best characters in the game - specifically for Ultimate. Obviously Melee’s tier list is pretty established.
Hungrybox: Or is it?
Chillin: [Laughs] Even with Melee there’s so many storylines that constantly change throughout the years despite how consistent Melee’s top level is, so the more tournaments that you’re familiar with, the more you have a feel for what the storyline that led to this particular tournament’s top 8 is. It really helps paint the picture for the viewer.
Aside from that, I think technical game knowledge is always good to have. I’ve started to do that more recently, where I’m trying to look more into specific frame data and to be able to explain specifically why a certain interaction went in a certain character’s favor. The numbers are often important for that too.
In pretty much any sport, there are often a few legendary commentary duos. What do you look for in a co-commentator?
Hungrybox: With a co-commentator you have to read them first and bounce off them. They’re all gonna be different people, just like I’m different from a lot of people, and if you understand if they’re looking to be more serious, if they’re looking to be more talkative, you can take the approach of, “here, explain it to me.” Sometimes, some people know more frame stuff and technical stuff than I do, because I’m considered more of a hype caster, and they’ll say something really informative and smart and maybe I’ll make a funny remark about it to bounce off of them while still educating people. While, if someone else is being excited I’m gonna take turns being quiet on the mic, and then taking the reins. You gotta share the excitement there, you can’t overflow it. So it’s just a matter of balancing it and making sure you get the ebb and flow of what they do and don’t have.
Chillin: For sure, it’s exactly as he said, it’s a matter of balancing out the two commentators. You don’t want too much of any one thing. You also don’t want the commentators to be on totally different pages, like talking about different stuff, not really vibing with each other. As I mentioned earlier, the best commentators can switch their role on the fly so [...] if you’re a good commentator then you should be able to make it work pretty much regardless. As long as they’re not non-stop talking or whatever. That’s one thing that’s a big no-no: not giving your co-commentator a chance to talk, because then obviously it’s essentially just you commentating and that ruins the whole point of having two commentators in the first place.
I also feel like if you’re co-commentator is trying to keep it too casual or too serious then you can kinda balance that out by, if they’re making too many jokes you can go back to talking about the match a little bit, or vice-versa. It also depends on the tournament, because a supermajor top 8 you wanna have a little more of a serious tone than like Summit iron man or low tier matches or whatever. There’s obviously a time and place for the different tones.
In terms of a good co-commentator, I really prefer someone that’s easy to talk to, someone that you can have a conversation with, cause like I said, that’s when commentary’s the most fun for me, and a lot of the times for the viewers as well.
Were there commentators that you could tell you were going to gel with early on?
Chillin: I definitely felt that with a lot of co-commentators early on. Honestly the Melee commentator roster at tournaments these days is pretty good so there’s not very many people where it’s just a bad co-caster to have. I think some of the more obvious ones that I gelled with early were Vish and DJ Nintendo. They’re both just old school homies, for one, which helps a lot just to know the history of the game, the meta. And also Old school players tend to have the most game knowledge, just because they’ve been playing for the longest. Like, DJ can recite frames off the top of his head for a lot of random low tier characters - which is pretty wild! And then with Vish, Vish just has a very similar sense of humor to me, which I think is very important in a co-commentator as well.
If you share a similar sense of humor then you’re gonna be having a good time on the mic. You’re gonna be laughing with each other a lot and that translates to the viewership. If the casters are having a good time, typically the viewers are too.
Hungrybox, who would you like to commentate with that you haven’t yet?
Hungrybox: Uh, probably this one guy, Chillindude829. That’d be kinda cool. [Chillin and Hbox laugh] There’s no reason why the two Liquid casters shouldn't cast together in Ultimate.
Honestly D1 I really enjoyed commentating with. I’d really love to get another block with EE, just any of the top tier guys, just to give them a new angle on how I do commentary for Ultimate. I think the more people I can successfully do commentary with, the more I learn myself, so as long as I just keep doing it with new people, that’ll be a really solid avenue for me.
Do you feel that the wider audience that’s starting to come with Super Smash Bros. changes the way that you and other commentators talk about the game?
Chillin: To an extent, yes, but at the core not really. At the end of the day, we’re still gonna talk about the game with the knowledge we have. When I first started commentating I would always have the temptation of dumbing the game down, assuming everyone watching is a new viewer, but I think that I don’t like trying to appeal to the lowest common denominator in that sense because it literally dumbs the commentary down. The commentary won’t be as interesting for people who do know the game. So I think, even for a new viewer, if they’re watching and they’re listening to the commentators, it might take a while for them to get some of the specific references and stuff like that, but I think it’s clear enough for them to still enjoy the commentary. [...] Because Melee’s been out so long it’s kind of on the viewer to, if they hear a term they don’t understand or whatever, just google it real quick and find out what it means. The game’s been out so long we can’t keep re-explaining it every time. It’s kind of like if you were watching football and after every single touchdown they were like, “by the way they get 6 points here...” That's obviously a little much for something so established.
In Ultimate something like that is definitely a little more welcome, because everyone’s kind of new to Ultimate, right? So everyone’s kind of getting the feel for the game and especially more specific advanced stuff. Not everyone knows that stuff yet, especially when it’s character specific because there’s so many damn characters in the game that you can’t possibly know everything about every character yet.
A big part of the Smash scene is the DIY spirit. As one of the first leaders of the Smash community, do you have any advice for the little guys, the players doing commentary and building hype for a local with like 50 viewers?
Chillin: Yeah, I would say keep at it. We all started small. My first tournament was one I ran myself at age 12 and it got 14 entrants, but I was so excited at the time cause I was like, “Oh my God, there’s other people that play this game competitively.” Obviously at this point that might be less exciting because everyone knows that there’s a big tournament scene, but if you have the passion for it then you have to let that passion out through what you do, whether it’s commentary, or attending locals, or running tournaments, running smash fests... The whole Melee community is essentially a passion project at this point. The only reason that anyone is still playing this game is because those of us that love the game refuse to let it die. You kind of have to keep that spirit in mind for anything you do approaching the game because in a lot of cases it’s not gonna be easy. If you have the passion for it, if you love it enough, you gotta illustrate that through what you do for the game.
You’re hopping on commentary for a major. It’s currently pools and both players are people you don’t really know. It’s peak pools gameplay and there a lot of flubs on both sides. You don’t know your co-commentator very well. What’s your approach to the game? How do you keep things interesting?
Chillin: So, in those situations it can be very difficult to commentate, period. I’ve been in that situation and you really just have to talk about the game itself, the matchups, the meta. I think if there’s a lot of flubs happening, you don’t need to point that out necessarily. People kind of expect that in early pools matches. You don’t need to say, “oh these guys are both messing up this thing and this thing.” I feel like in those situations you can just describe what the matchup is supposed to look like or the matchup in general, like this character beats this character because so and so. Even if that’s not what’s happening on the screen, you can at least get some discussion going that way, by talking about the matchup.
You can also talk about more basic things. When it’s two players who aren’t doing the optimal stuff, they’re still gonna have edgeguards, they’re still gonna have stage control, or corner the other player, so you can still try to get into those things that don’t necessarily require the players to be good for you to talk about. Keep it basic, keep it simple, talk about the game at a more basic level, but one that still generates discussion.
I think it’s kind of understandable in the round 1 pools situation to not have 100% of the commentator focus be on the match itself. It’s understandable to allow a little bit of freedom in terms of tangents and stuff like that. Obviously you don’t wanna go fully off the rails, you wanna still discuss the match but allowing for more discussion around the matchup, the characters, that can help keep it interesting when the match itself might not be the most interesting.
Would you rather commentate/play Melee where Fox has 6 jumps, a Brawl where Metaknight has a rest mechanic, a Smash 4 where Bayonetta has a wobble, or an Ultimate with just one character of your choosing?
Chillin: I would easily commentate Ultimate with only Wolf. That would be the sickest meta of all time, just Super Smash Brothers Wolf. That would be so dope. The other ones sound hilarious though. I think, as ridiculous as it sounds, Meta Knight with a rest mechanic sounds so hilarious, it would be so funny - like up air, up air, up air, up air, rest. That’s really fun to think about.
If you could get any Smash term added to the dictionary, which one would it be and why?
Chillin: I think it would have to be wavedashing. I think wavedashing is the most iconic Smash technique, at least Smash Melee technique. It almost represents Melee in a way because Melee was designed as this casual, fun game but it became competitive because of the engine. So that was kind of an accident. Wavedashing itself is - it’s unclear whether the developers intended that or it was just that they designed air dodges to slide along the ground, and then people realized you could air dodge right after you jumped, put those together, you get wavedashing. I feel like it almost represents the spirit of Melee where we took this thing that wasn’t supposed to happen and made it really, really, sick.