The first steps
A question I have been asked several times in my commentary career, and also a question I asked several commentators in “The world of the commentator, virtual or real” series for GTR24H (here is the link to one of the articles) is “how did it all begin?”. For some, it’s a sideways step from a different arena into sim racing, bringing experience and expertise along for the ride, whereas for others, it’s a first tentative step into the unknown. For those that want to get into sim racing commentary, here are some pointers that I can offer.
Odds are you’ve done this without realising. Maybe you’ve seen a stream of a racing league and thought about giving commentary a try, or perhaps the thought has struck your mind from a forum post (that’s how I found AOR to begin with). Find some previous broadcasts and listen to how the commentators deliver information. It is important for commentators to not just inform the public, but to keep the audience engaged. A good race can be ruined by bad coverage, and equally a dull race can be more entertaining by good commentary. Drawing inspiration from established commentator’s style is fine to begin with, but be careful not to directly copy their style and anecdotes.
This is almost a hypocritical first step for me to offer, as this is exactly what I didn’t do, as I jumped straight into Apex Online Racing, one of the biggest online racing leagues at the time. The difference between my experience and my advice is that I brought with me many years of customer service experience and two years of broadcasting experience from having run my own talk show on the local radio station. For those without the life experience behind them that I had, I would always recommend starting with a smaller league, certainly with a smaller audience. This will put less pressure on you to hit the ground running. Commentate on the AI racing themselves, which might feel a bit strange to start with, but this is a great way of beginning to find your style, and whether the commentary is for you to begin with, all with no external pressure and expectations.
The What, Who and Where
So you’ve decided to take the plunge and offer your services to a league. The next step is to arm yourself with some information. Know the What – what is the machinery being raced? Is it F1, GT3, lawn mowers etc? You don’t need to know every minute detail, but having a broad understanding of how the cars work and the game works is very important when you’re starting out. Learning these things the hard way will often brand you as “clueless”, which is not a great way to start building your commentary reputation. Know the Who – who is taking part in the league you are commentating? Look at previous race results, if possible. This will give you an idea of who’s hot and who’s not, which will then give you a realistic idea of who is doing well. For example, a driver might look like they are struggling in the midfield, but if last season they were last and lapped every race, then clearly they have been working hard to improve, which you wouldn’t know without understanding the driver a little. Know the Where – what track is your race on? This also links back to the What part, as some cars will suit more twisty tracks compared to more open and flowing tracks, so having a broad understanding of those characteristics will help.
Not the video game series by Criterion Games (ahh, fond memories). After a while of commentating, you’ll develop your own style and your reputation will begin to grow. You’re enjoying commentating (very important to enjoy it, as it will be very obvious to the audience if you aren’t, and your commentary will suffer) and you want to do more of it, so you start looking at other leagues, maybe other styles of racing, to commentate on, and suddenly your calendar has five commentaries a week. You’d be surprised how easy it is to do this, and you’ll fast-track yourself to burning out. Suddenly the love of commentating is replaced by the feeling of “not another one”, and the quality of what you deliver will start to fall. This can also hit your mental health as well, handling the pressure of expectation, along with whatever real-life commitments you already have (be it work, family, friends, studying etc). All too often, a very talented commentator has turned away from the microphone as they have burnt out, myself included. I had to take a break for a few weeks to rekindle my love of commentary, but for some, that love is never rediscovered. Balance is very important, leave yourself some downtime to recharge your batteries. Quality is far more important than quantity.
Sim racing is open to all, and if you have the skill and drive to try your voice behind the microphone, there will be a stage for you to express that skill.