When Anthony Ortega signed on as a shoutcasting intern for UCI Esports at the start of 2018, he didn’t quite know what to expect.
As a transfer student, Ortega knew little about UCI’s esports program when he first arrived on campus. In the course of his studies, however, he met Lyubomir “BloodWater” Spasov, a player at the time for UCI’s scholarship League of Legends team. The two became quick friends, and when Bloodwater mentioned UCI Esports was looking for shoutcasters, Ortega jumped at the opportunity to apply. A few weeks later, he was offered an interview, and a few days after that, notified of his new role as a shoutcaster intern.
There was only one problem: He’d never shoutcasted before.
In the last 20 years, shoutcasting has undergone dramatic changes as technology—and so too interest in esports as a form of entertainment—has developed at a rapid pace. Far from its origins on the floors of crowded arcades, where shoutcasters called plays for spectators gathered in droves around screens no larger than a laptop, casting has become a respectable career path for those with a passion for esports—and the personality to match.
The rise of streaming platforms such as YouTube and Twitch has enabled shoutcasters to reach larger audiences than ever before. Testament to the claim is 2019’s League of Legends World Championships Finals, which attracted a per-minute viewership, on average, of over 21 million. These numbers are not particularly uncommon, and seem to be growing year-to-year; In fact, League of Legends is set to overtake the Super Bowl in overall viewership as interest in the latter dwindles.
Part of the reason viewers tune in to major gaming events in such numbers is the appeal of individual casters, who play a central role in telling the stories behind the matches they narrate. By providing an emotional connection to games through their commentary, shoutcasters bridge the divide between the average viewer and his or her favorite pro players, connecting them to high-level gameplay in an easily accessible way.
Shoutcasting is becoming an increasingly important part of high school and collegiate esports, too, where thousands of students compete each year in leagues running the gamut of competitive titles. Because casters of all backgrounds and experience levels fill this niche, it’s a great place to pick up new skills and gain experience under the guidance of seasoned mentors.
In the early days of collegiate esports, however, skilled casters were in short supply. Many entrants to the industry in 2018 came from a background of radio-news or TV broadcasting, as might be expected given the fields’ significant overlap. Others, like the recently-recruited Ortega, joined having no experience at all speaking for an audience on air.
But they knew games better than most, and in the nascent collegiate scene, that was enough.
Ortega’s first cast was for the 2018 College League of Legends series, organized by Riot Games. In preparation, Ortega practiced casting in his apartment and scoured the Internet for information about the competing teams. He also sought the advice of Joushi, a fellow student, whose knowledge of shoutcasting made him a great mentor for new hires.
“Since it was my first ever cast, it was pretty rough even with the preparation I’d done in advance,” Ortega said. “But I managed to get through it in one piece.”
In time, Ortega came to love the advance preparation that went into crafting an entertaining cast. With Joushi’s help, he honed in on the areas of his commentary he could improve, and slowly but surely became one of UCI Esports’ most experienced shoutcasters. Within the year, he had earned a management position, which he holds to this day.
“When I officially started as Shoutcaster Manager, I oversaw a team of 7 other casters,” he said. “Because I had the most experience casting, I would help them out however I could when they found themselves struggling. We met every week to do practice casts, and it was really gratifying as their manager to see them constantly learning and improving their skills.”
As his shoutcasting career gained speed, Ortega’s academic career flourished alongside it. He graduated UCI at the end of 2018 with a degree in Business Economics, and proceeded the next year to the University’s Master’s of Finance program. Now, as 2020’s Spring Quarter begins, he’s taking on a new role: That of professor for UCI’s first-ever shoutcasting class.
According to Ortega, the class has been a long time coming.
“I first thought about having a shoutcasting class in 2019,” he said. “Even though I pitched the idea to the full-time staff at UCI Esports almost immediately after it came to me, it took a couple months to get the class approved by the university administration.” But a few months’ wait to make his dream a reality didn’t dampen Ortega’s spirit. “It was actually really nice to have some time to get everything in order before the class officially started,” he said. “I was able to get a few of my friends together during that time to help me write a complete shoutcasting curriculum, and make sure the content we were planning to teach was the best it could be.”
The class is, of course, a work-in-progress, but Ortega set out to make its first iteration exceptional. And why not? It stands to be the work through which students will remember him for years to come; the legacy of one of UCI’s first shoutcasters.
Equally as important, however, is Ortega’s drive to give back to the community that allowed him to realize his passion for casting. By volunteering his time to teach others the ins and outs of his profession, he hopes to imbue his passion for shoutcasting in a new generation of students before he leaves UCI in the summer to open the next chapter of his life and career.
“It’s a bittersweet moment moving on from UCI Esports after all it’s done for me as a student, but knowing I’m making a lasting impact in the esports community with this class makes the transition easier.”
No matter where his career takes him once he graduates, memories of the time he spent shoutcasting will always have a spot in Ortega’s heart. Particularly the memories where he’s with his friends.
“Out of all the experiences I had being a caster for UCI Esports, I remember the NASEF High School Overwatch Finals last fall as being the most fun and memorable,” he reminisced. “It was a full day of being able to do what I love with some of my best friends at UCI, so I’ll remember those events fondly when I graduate this year.”