Are you a big Call of Duty fan? Well, you don’t need to be one of the best players in the world to make a name for yourself in eSports. Take Ben ‘Benson’ Bowe – he’s only been commentating for two years but this year he has been a caster at big events such as MLG Anaheim and the Call of Duty Championship. However, despite making it in the US, Benson hasn’t forgotten his roots – last weekend, he was back at an EGL event where his career began. We caught up with him to chat about how he got his big break, what it takes to be an eSports commentator and the differences between UK and US casters.
How did you become a professional CoD caster? What was your big break?
I first started casting back in 2012, so I’m still a bit of a noobie to be completely honest! My first big event was an EGL (European Gaming League) event. I remember how nervous I was when I arrived there; I had no idea what to expect. This was definitely a big break which helped propel my career to where it is today, but the biggest break came when I first met Chris Puckett. I was a huge fan of everything he had done in Halo so tried not to fanboy too hard.
Chris agreed to let me come on the MLG streams and cast with him. I did that for about two months and my fanbase grew exponentially. Without a doubt, if I hadn’t met Chris when I did or grinded out the MLG online streams for a few months, I would be nowhere near where I am today.
Is it a good way into eSports for young gamers who perhaps aren't good enough to be a pro player?
eSports is so big right now and there really are so many different things you can do within it. I feel like everyone truly aspires to be a player, but the hardest thing is really coming to terms with the fact that maybe you simply aren’t good enough. If you do realise that, do not fear. From casting to coaching and even potentially producing the show, eSports has a home for everyone.
Were you always a big Call of Duty fan?
100%. I remember coming home from school and hopping straight onto the Xbox to play Call of Duty 4 with my friends. The franchise has always appealed to me greatly. The fast-paced action in multiplayer and the epic storylines in campaign has made Call of Duty my favourite franchise for a number of years now. No matter where I personally end up in my casting future, Call of Duty will always have a place in my heart.
As a CoD caster, do you almost need to know more about Call of Duty than the players?
Casters need to know everything about the game. A caster with no game knowledge will not succeed. The biggest part in my eyes is networking with the players. I have taught a few top players some sneaky tips and tricks which I have seen them use successfully. As well as that, players have taught me so much about the game that it really has taken my casting to another level. I believe this relationship from player to caster is an important one for both parties.
Ahead of a big tournament, how much research do you have to do into the players and the teams? Do you have a big book of notes and stats in front of you as you commentate?
Statistics have become more and more important in eSports and have really helped casters’ in-game knowledge. There is so much you can tell from just looking at a simple stat. For example, Evil Geniuses, at one point in MLG COD League Season 2, had the highest win rate on DOM Freight with the least flags captured. Now just think about that for a second. That means the way they play is to capture two flags and hold. They slay their opposition. This play style is very different to a team who constantly puts a lot of pressure and pushes to gain control of all three flags. That one small statistic has just told you everything you need to know and what you should expect when watching them play.
Seeing a change in the statistics or seeing a team go against the trend is what always makes casting fun for me. I have a bank of what I feel to be the most important notes from my career.
Do you take any inspiration from sports commentary and punditry?
Absolutely. They have been doing it so much longer than us in eSports and on such a professional level. From phrases to appearances of the sets, I feel eSports is trying to match sports. It’s a way to really be taken seriously by the general public more than anything. If you see two well-dressed and groomed gentlemen on a set ESPN would use, how can you not take that seriously?
You commentate with American casters. Would you say there is a difference in style between the US commentators and Europeans?
There is a massive difference. It’s hard not to notice for me at this point. You see, the trending styles for Americans tend to be energy and enthusiasm whereas in Europe you see more analytical commentating. Both styles are great and massively important to casting. As a viewer, it just comes down to personal preference as to what you like.
Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is coming out in the winter. What does a sequel mean for casters? Do you have to play it to learn all the new features, strategies and maps?
It means get ready to grind. It’s always an exciting time for casters because you don’t truly know what to expect. It’s fun though because one thing is for sure, I get to play the game a lot. It also means I will have streams open every day of the top players, learn from watching them and, of course, by speaking to them.
What is the most memorable match you've ever commentated on?
The Call of Duty World Championship Grand Final 2013. It was an experience which will never be beaten. At the time, I felt like I was in over my head, but it was my peers who trusted me and helped me to deliver one of the best casts I have ever done.
Which players do you admire?
To be honest, there aren’t a lot. The only two players I would say I admire are Nadeshot for everything he has achieved within gaming and on a personal level, and Aches for his skill across the entire Call of Duty franchise and being the most winningest player.
Cheeky question. How much money can you make from CoD casting? It must be a more stable job than playing where you're paid for winning tournaments.
Its significantly more stable than the average player. Don’t get me wrong, if you are the best player on the game in the best team on the game, dinner is on you. The money you make casting is solely down to you and how good you really are. Companies will see your worth and make an investment appropriately.
How do you see CoD casting changing as eSports becomes more popular and audiences become more knowledgable? For example, football punditry has got deeper into the tactical side of the game.
We are already seeing this shift right now. The analysis has become a more integral part of casting within Call of Duty and something I feel the fans really do appreciate. For newer fans as well, the analysis helps break down why certain plays were important and why a team dominates others. To grow as an eSport, that is the most important thing.