From Twitch to TV: the voices behind the game

Provided by Adela Sznajder/DreamHack

For almost every game, there is a voice. Someone the viewer sees, hears, and connects with while the individual commentates or casts the game. For English soccer, there was John Motson. For Monday Night Football, there's Al Michaels. For the Olympics, there's Bob Costas. And for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the second biggest esport in the world, there's Anders Blume and Auguste "Semmler" Massonnat.

For the past couple of years, the dynamic duo has casted nearly every major event. From the Laxness Arena in Cologne, Germany to the Polyvalent Hall in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, Anders and Semmler have been right there to commentate on all of the greatness of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive history.

Come this Friday night, the two will have a new challenge: present Counter-Strike to viewers of basic cable's most-watched entertainment channel, TBS, which will premiere Turner and WME|IMG's new esports venture, ELEAGUE. It's not the first of its kind, with DirecTV hosting the Championship Gaming Series -- which is commonly known for its failures -- in 2007, but it's the first to be produced by one of America's top networks.

Presenting the game to viewers who have never seen it before may prove to be difficult, but Anders and Semmler are confident that their fluency in their commentary can hold its own on national television, with a few minor changes:

"Sometimes we fall into that pattern where we assume people understand what we're talking about when we describe a play or say, 'they did this', right?" Semmler explains. "We need to be careful and to be sure we make that accessible to a new viewer who has no idea what's going on. I think we're solid enough in our commentary to get it across with just a few minor tweaks here or there."

For Anders, it's something he's greatly recognized for individually. He's known as an explainer and does his best during major tournaments to allow new viewers, either familiar with esports or not, to understand the game on a basic level. Now he'll need to transition that trait into his work for those watching American television.

"You can sort of preemptively explain to someone stuff to look out for and I think that's a powerful way of doing it. Because when you do that, people feel like they become a part of it when they recognize what they've just seen," he says. "You've already given them a clue, like 'look out for this thing' and then it happens, and then you can say, 'well there was that thing we were just talking about.' So you can get people involved in it like that."

For previous endeavors, Anders says he often receives feedback from people who are unfamiliar acknowledging that they enjoyed having the game simplified for them.

"We need to be careful and to be sure we make that accessible to a new viewer who has no idea what's going on. "

"[Receiving that feedback] sort of confirms the market is growing and that it can be exposed to new viewers. I see no reason why the same can't be true for television," he says.

The climb to television for both Anders and Semmler has been incredibly quick. They first began receiving major recognition in the middle of 2014, after working with esports team Ninjas in Pyjamas on its streaming channel NiPTV.

"I think part of it is down to timing and luck," Anders explains his meteoric rise to Counter-Strike commentating. "We happened to be there when this game started growing, we happen to really love it, and we found a good synergy and then we just worked a lot of events. Some luck, some timing, and a lot of hard work. That's been it. It's been an interesting journey, I'd say."

But neither have let the fame get to them. When asked about being on the ground floor of ELEAGUE and helping launch what may become one of the biggest Counter-Strike ventures in the world, both Anders and Semmler said "[we] don't even think of it that way."

"Now that we're here, it has to be like a full team effort kind of thing, which is actually a mentality that you should want to adopt if you want to work in esports as talent, a caster, or something like that," Anders says. "When we're on camera while the game is going on, we become the face of it. Outside of that, there's a camera crew, there's a production manager, there's a product manager, there's a producer, there's a lot of people that go into making the show happen. So if you -- all the time -- think of yourself as the star of the show, it becomes really hard working with everyone else."

"It's obviously fun and we're both sort of proud to be here and to be a part of it," Anders continues. "And obviously, in some ways, the fact that they were quick to ask us about it, and quick to try and get us on board, is some sort of recognition that we're doing a good job and that they can sort of recognize that too, so that's great."

The main reason Anders and Semmler have been able to participate in so many of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive's memorable moments is within the basis of their work. Unlike traditional sports commentators, who often sign contracts with sports networks for exclusivity to their broadcast rights, Anders and Semmler have no allegiance aside from each other.

"I enjoy working with everyone else too much. It's that simple," Semmler says. "I don't want to just tie myself to ESL, I don't want to just tie myself to DreamHack. But even though it's changed with MTG being in the mix [which own both ESL and DreamHack], there would've been a time if I went with one, I might not been able to do the other. To me, it's much more interesting to maintain good relationships with everybody and work with everybody, look to grow together than to say, 'actually, I'm gonna say no to all of that excitement. I'm just gonna go over here and focus on this one product.'"

But Semmler and Anders are optimistic that Turner and ELEAGUE changes things for the Counter-Strike broadcast. Until someone creates a product that's head and shoulders above the others, Semmler says he'll continue to be a freelancer, primarily because it's more fun.

Anders, however, believes that the moment a network or tournament organizer fully pursues broadcasting rights for the both of them in an exclusive manner will be monumental for growth of the business.

"Esports is doing well, but we haven't reached the level yet where it's valuable for one network to say, 'we will straight buy you people,'" he says. "At some point, I think there will come a day where someone will say, 'actually, can we just buy all of your time?' I think it's a natural evolution and it might be -- for anyone who cares about esports business -- some kind of milestone to look for. When that happens, you'll know that we've reached a certain level."