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Commentary and camerawork in the esports world; an interview with Insano

What was your opinion of the Worlds? (Image: Blizzard Entertainment)
Editor
9th April, 2018
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We recently had an opportunity to speak to one of Australia’s most celebrated StarCraft community members in Matt “Insano” Kearney. In part two of this two-part interview series, he tells us exactly what it’s like to commentate and control the in-game camera for an esports event.

You can read part one of our interview with him here.

The Roar: When you started watching StarCraft and playing it back in 2012, how easy or difficult was it trying to find streams and tournaments? And was there much of an Australian scene at the time?

Matt Kearney: I wasn’t really introduced to the Australian scene for about six months. I was pretty much finding streams of all the players in regions. It was probably the most popular esport at the time and the most popular game on Twitch, so finding streams was quite easy to be able to sit there, learn about the game, learn about what players are doing, and just watching tournaments almost every weekend. It was very accessible around that time. That’s what made it easy to get into, I think as well.

The Roar: But, let’s say, as far as an Australian scene, was there much that you were aware of?

Matt Kearney: I got introduced to the Australian scene through the same guy that introduced me to StarCraft because I was interested in casting StarCraft. I got introduced to a clan that was run in the Australian region. That’s where I started interacting with the Australian, New Zealand scene, through the sc2sea.com website, which is like the massive community hub that we have in our region for StarCraft. Once I knew about that website, it was very easy to connect with pretty much everyone in our scene around that time.

The Roar: How did you get into casting? How could someone who wants to get into casting now do so?

Matt Kearney: I was actually interested in casting shooters towards my time playing shooters competitively. When I got towards the end, I was like, “Oh man, the casting thing sounds pretty cool.” But I felt like watching stuff like GSL and MLG, StarCraft, I had a bit of a change of heart in which game I wanted to cast.

To get into it, I guess, I just watched a couple of the other community streamers, just see what they were up to, how they do stuff, and how they talked on stream if they were casting by themselves. I just went from there.

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The Roar: Is there anything that you remember that helped you get bigger as a caster and boosted your profile? Or did you just keep doing it and the snowball kept going?

Matt Kearney: Yeah, I would actually, towards the end of the streams, or at the end of casts, I would ask the viewers in the stream, ask for some criticism and stuff I could do better. I wasn’t afraid to take criticism at the time because I really wanted to be better. I actually had a notebook of stuff I was doing wrong that the chat would say try to fix that up for the next one.

The Roar: What would you consider some of the major highlights in your casting career? Do you have favourite event you casted, or a particularly incredible game you remember casting?

Matt Kearney: Probably my highlight of casting career was when I casted the Legacy of the Void beta tournament for South East Asia. I travelled over to Singapore with a caster from Sydney. We casted the Grand Finale of Beta Tournament there between Blysk and EnDerr, and it was a really cool experience because Blysk was the hometown boy from Singapore, and you had EnDerr, the Philippine Zerg.

EnDerr was hugely favored going into the matchup, but what was really cool, and it was my first time casting in front of a live audience as well, and I think we did a really good job of exciting the home crowd in getting behind Blysk. And Blysk, yeah, he brought it home in a 4-0, and it was a pretty cool spectacle. That’s a big memory for me.

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The Roar: As an aside, is there much traditional sport you follow at all?

Matt Kearney: Yeah, yeah. I’ve played sports pretty much my entire life. I grew up playing soccer, mostly, up until I was about 15. Then from about 10 years old, I’ve been playing cricket.

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The Roar: How would you compare e-sports casting to traditional sports commentary? Is there anything that’s quite different between the two that you’ve picked up? I feel in e-sports casting, there is a lot more talking, a lot more fast paced chat than there is with traditional sports. Say with cricket-

The Roar: Especially cricket.

Matt Kearney: It is a slow day, obviously, with cricket, so you get your rests in there usually. I feel like at some levels it’s as if you get that traditional sport feel because, in the lulls, they’re just bantering a little bit like the commentators do for, say, cricket. Whereas, when you get into, say, the professional games over in Dreamhack and IEM, it ramps up to the pace of, say, NRL or AFL.

The Roar: What challenges do you think there are when you’re casting a esports event, apart from, obviously, the fast-pace talk you have to do? Any sort of particular challenges you’ve run into?

Matt Kearney: Not really. I think my casting crew took a bit of a backseat in the last few years due to just the business of my work schedule and stuff like that, unfortunately. Back when I was able to cast a lot it was just trying to fit casting around your work schedule, I guess. That was my hindrance.

The Roar: Run us through how you would prepare to cast a major tournament. What would your schedule look like on the day of the game, the day before the game and all that?

Matt Kearney: When I used to cast some of the online qualifiers, say ACL and WCS, the night before I’d jump on some players’ stat websites just to make sure I’ve got my player knowledge up to date. I usually would watch the most recent qualifier they had, as well, just to make sure I’ve got players play styles in my head so I can talk about what they were doing in the past and how that might effect their play in the day.

Preparation is a big key to casting as well.

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The Roar: When you’re casting a game, what do you look out for, and need to look out for, that the audience, perhaps, isn’t looking at or isn’t noticing?

Matt Kearney: Just the little things that players do that stands out to them, like little micro-moves or something that’s … Say in a high micro-battle, there’s sometimes casters who talk, “Oh, the marines are attacking the merchants,” but there’s something just going on in the background there in the fight where you can just see they’re moving roaches in and out, pulling the hurt ones back.

Making sure players know that, hey, this guy’s winning the fight because he’s making sure he’s losing as few units as possible.

The Roar: That makes sense. You were saying before that StarCraft’s a hard game to understand when you first watch it. For someone who is watching it for the first time, what are some of the key things they should be looking out for to understand it better?

Matt Kearney: If I were introducing a new player, I’d be explaining the whole base versus economy, so those with the more bases, the more income they have to be able to afford their army. It’s like, yeah, the more bases they have, the more army they’re able to make throughout the longevity of the game.

The Roar: How can you really tell who’s winning an engagement?

Matt Kearney: Usually, at first glance, it’s usually a look at who’s got more stuff as the fight goes on, but then you’ve also, a lot of the time when you’re watching pretty much any StarCraft broadcasters, they have UI all over the place.

There’s numbers everywhere to tell you what’s going on. So, through the fight, if you’re not quite sure what’s going on, there’s usually an indicator saying how much army they have on the field, how much army cap they have. I suppose that’s the basics of an engagement.

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The Roar: Describe to us your role as the regional observer for ANZ major StarCraft events, what’s that role like? How is it something you came into?

Matt Kearney: It’s basically just observing in that it is just getting in camera work. Pretty much everything you see on the streaming game is controlled by an in game observer for StarCraft moving the screen around so you can see what’s going on in the game.

Then, what is really cool about the observer, is they’re like a silent third caster or an extra assignment caster because they help feed the information to casters, and they also might point out some information with their cursor. Like upgrades or just little things that are happening on the map that points out to even the professional scene, just so they can see what also is going on.

I feel my role mainly is to feed as much information as I can to the stream and the casters to make their job a lot easier.

The Roar: How’s that something you came into? Was that just an extension of casting, or how did you score that role?

Matt Kearney: I actually offered. I’m not really sure how I was really into the observing thing. I think I just offered because there wasn’t really a lot of streams going on for a lot of the ACL qualifiers, which were the Australian Cyber league for StarCraft. I put forward to one of the admins for ACL.

I was like, “Hey, I saw the stream’s sometimes looking a little bit rough. I’ve got a pretty good internet connection. Do you want me to run the stream for the casters? That way they just jump in the game, and I provide the stream.”

That’s where I got into the observing part because I looked into it a little bit. There was already big Australian observer at the time in inFeZa. He actually wrote a really large and pretty comprehensive guide on how to be an observer. I really have to thank inFeZa for writing that, for getting so good at observing, I guess.

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The Roar: That’s fair enough. I understand that, over the last few years, you’ve actually invested some of your own time and money to set up tournaments in Australia. Tell us about that. How have they gone?

Matt Kearney: I’ve donated amounts to local prize pools and stuff like that. I’ve helped with administrating and weeklies here and there, but I haven’t really run a full tournament by myself. That is a goal I have in mind.

The Roar: How did it feel to be chosen to feature in the StarCraft 20th Anniversary celebrations?

Matt Kearney: It was a massive shock, actually. I was on lunch at work, and I got the phone call at the front in the first place.

The Roar: Did you recognise the number?

Matt Kearney: Actually, I didn’t recognise them at first because it was quite loud where I was. He was like, “Oh, is this the famous observer Insano?” I’m like, “Hello?” they were like, “Yeah, it’s Blizzard, mate. How’s it going?” I’m like, “Hey.” It was like, “Hey, mate. I’ve got a cool thing for you here. Would you like to go to America and be a part of StarCraft’s 20th Anniversary celebration?”

Matt Kearney: I was kind of speechless. I literally was. I didn’t say anything for a good 10 seconds, and they were like, “Did you hear me?” I was like, “Sorry. I was trying to process what you’re saying.”f

The Roar: That’s incredible.

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Matt Kearney: But, yeah. It really was unexpected, and yeah, there was a lot of excitement the weeks leading up to traveling to that event.

The Roar: It recently was announced that the StarCraft II World Championship Series qualifiers will be at IEM Sydney. Are you going to be there?

Matt Kearney: Yes. Yes. I’ll be observing the events and managing my players that qualify. I already have one qualifier who got seeded in from the previous qualifier, and I’ll have four more competing on Sunday for a spot there.