Every sport and esport has those commentators that you just immediately think of when you tune in. Think about football, and you think of Martin Tyler — or Barry Davies if you’re of a certain vintage. Think of Call of Duty esports and you think of Maven. Think of FIFA esports and Brandon Smith and Richard Buckley instantly come to mind.
In 2017, Brandon and Richard became the voices of FIFA esports.
Labelled as the Martin Tyler and Gary Neville (at least it’s not Phil) of the FIFA esports commentating world, Brandon and Richard are now two of the most recognisable figures within the FIFA esports community. However, go back three years, and you will realise that neither Brandon nor Richard would have ever expected to be where they are today.
We caught up with the pair to find out about they got to this stage in their careers.
How it all began
If you are not aware, FIFA esports is the gaming version of football. In a short period, FIFA has become one of the most popular esports in the world. The professional FIFA esports cups and leagues have garnered thousands upon thousands of viewers and followers while prizes of up to £250,000 have been handed out to the very best FIFA professionals who have been skilled enough to win the tournaments organised by EA Sports – the creators behind the FIFA football game series.
Both Brandon (21) and Richard’s (20) careers started in humble beginnings. “It was after university about two-and-a-bit years ago where I got to a point in my life, I had to ask myself what I want to do next,” states Brandon.
“I started to go down to my local football club, and I went to do commentating there for free. I tried to get any experience I could get basically to up my confidence at broadcasting, and then I went to UCFB in Manchester to study Multimedia Sports Journalism, where I met Richard. Of course, it’s probably one of the best decisions that I had ever made.”
Richard, on the other hand, comes directly from a broadcasting background. “I’d already done one and a half years’ experience on a local radio station in Barnsley and also a Saturday sports show,” says Richard.
“I was introduced to Brandon, and he introduced me to this FIFA online League which was something very casual at the beginning – I did it on Tuesday and Thursday nights just having a little bit of fun really.”
Brandon and Richard found themselves commentating on an online FIFA league on Twitch to an audience of between 3-100 viewers. However, it was not long before something larger showed itself beyond the horizon. Thanks to Twitter, Brandon found a competition called The Commentators Cup. This cup was a brand-new competition and was centred around FIFA esports.
“This was EA Sports’ new project in 2017 – this was the first year that they got behind and pushed FIFA esports,” says Richard.
“We entered this competition – we had 15 minutes left on the deadline when we sent ours in – we weren’t even going to do it originally and then we got an email back a couple of days later telling us that we had been successful, and they asked us to come down to London for the Commentators Cup.”
Despite being initially unsure whether to compete or not, Brandon and Richard went on to win the Commentators Cup.
“I wouldn’t say we went into that competition expecting to win, we didn’t even expect to reach the finals,” says Brandon.
“I was so unprepared but being invited down to London and being put up in a hotel for the night was just something that we never expected or experienced before, and it was just a crazy feeling.
“And then when we got to the day, and we heard other people commentating we knew we were in a competition – so we just said that we would give it our best and then we got to the final and won the whole thing.”
One of the prizes for winning the trophy was the opportunity to commentate on the final of the Berlin FIFA Ultimate Team Champions Event in Berlin. FIFA Ultimate Team, for those that don’t know, is a mode in FIFA which allows players to build their own fantasy team of players from any clubs in the world, and then play with them on the digital football field. Ultimate Team is at the heart of FIFA’s esports scene.
— Richard Buckley (@Rbuckley98) June 2, 2018
The FIFA esports scene has become increasingly popular over the past few years, and now it was Brandon and Richard’s opportunity to enter the scene themselves, as Richard states “We were given one game to commentate on – it was between two Wolfsburg players in Berlin at the Berlin FUT Champions event on May 19th 2017, and luckily we made a good impression there.
“This was on a more sort of world stage and opportunities just sort of rolled on from there – it was kind of right place, right time.”
“It was crazy,” Brandon states, adding: “To get to Berlin which was the champions finals – we got to commentate on one game there, and then I remember myself and Richard just looked on our phones and just saw them completely blowing up with tweets from people we used to admire on YouTube and tweets from professional players.
“They were just saying that we had done a great job, and we had made a great account for ourselves for the first time around, and it just went from there.”
Into the big time
Less than two years later, and Brandon and Richard have become the voices of FIFA esports. Their commentating has been heard on Twitch – the primary streaming platform for competitive video gaming – as well as on television channels including BT Sports. The pair have commentated on FIFA throughout Europe and in the USA and if FIFA esports continues to grow, don’t be surprised if you hear them commentate from events in South America and Asia.
However, despite this early success, Brandon and Richard know not to take anything for granted. Both men work hard on ensuring that they stay on the top of their game and keep improving.
“Every time we finish a commentary game, we always watch back some of the games, and I’m always taking down bullet points so that I can improve. I am constantly in the thesaurus looking for different adjectives that I can use,” says Richard.
“We both live stream on Twitch TV and I think that’s one of the best practices that you can get. It’s an extremely harsh format – if you’re boring on Twitch and you’re not engaging your audience then your viewers are going to decline, and you can see that straight in front of your eyes. Just being in front of a camera, you can see yourself, and you can see the way that you react.
“Since I have been live streaming on Twitch, I know that I have become a lot more relaxed in front of a camera. Even factors such as how you sit and where you can get the best out of your body on camera, little things like that; it’s all good practice.”
The FIFA esports scene
The FIFA esports scene has had a shaky time of it so far though in its relatively short life span, although it does continue to grow. “The FIFA esports scene is certainly growing,” states Pierre Portelli, the Project Manager behind the esports news and betting website EsportsOnly.
“However, it still has a long way to go before it reaches the same popularity and viewing figures of the major esports; the likes of League of Legends, CS:GO and Dota 2.”
Amidst the growth within the esports industry, the competitive video gaming world, in general, has seen a large amount of controversy surround Loot Boxes. Loot boxes are usually ways in which video games companies monetise their games. A loot box is a consumable virtual item which can be redeemed in order to receive a random selection of items. The rarest items in loot boxes are always incredibly sorted after.
Loot boxes are a substantial element of FIFA’s Ultimate Team mode whereby players open packs to win players for their Ultimate Team clubs. These packs come at a cost though – either in-game coins or FIFA points – which can be purchased with real money. Some gamers spend thousands upon thousands of pounds on FIFA points so that they can open packs to try and win the rarest players in the game – Messi and Ronaldo, for example.
However, loot boxes in a variety of games have come in for lots of criticism with some commentators labelling them ‘gambling for children’.
It was announced today that the developers of the extremely popular game Fortnite, for example, have been sued due to “predatory” loot boxes. While the Belgium government went so far as to ban loot boxes in all copies of FIFA 19 in the country. The government declared loot boxes to be gambling and therefore, illegal.
Although loot boxes were not discussed, Richard and Brandon do believe that gambling within the FIFA esports community is something that will be cracked down upon before it gets out of hand.
“I think people have their heads screwed on here you know,” states Richard.
“If you are working with a football club as a professional FIFA player, if you are working with a professional esports organisation, if you go and do a betting advert, I would be very surprised if you stay in your contract.
“FIFA is open from the age of three – of course it’s a family game – and you’ve got to look at the audience as well that it is bringing in – and it’s the younger demographic.”
Favourite moments in FIFA
Although FIFA has come in for its fair share of controversy, Brandon and Richard prefer to look at the positives surrounding FIFA esports.
“I think some of the best moments we’ve had in our short esports careers so far has been the finals in the O2 arena in 2018 where we got to commentate over the final game where MSdossary became the eWorld Cup Champion,” says Brandon.
— Richard Buckley (@Rbuckley98) August 4, 2018
“So, it was a moment for me and Richard to stop and realise that we have both made big steps in our esports careers and we’ve made a good account of ourselves and to be sharing the scene with the other FIFA esports commentators was a really special moment.”
“I think for me just to be able to travel to certain places in the world that I’ve never been to before,” states Richard.
“I was able to travel to America – a country which I’ve never been to before – and with FIFA I was able to go to LA for the FIWC 2017 qualifiers. Then just five months later I was able to fly out to San Francisco with Twitch in the tournament that they put on throughout the day – I believe that was the Twitch Creator’s Cup.
“Being able to travel to different places covering FIFA but also just to enjoy doing something that I am passionate about, it’s almost more than what I was expecting going into it.
“When I went to Manchester University, I wanted to do radio and hopefully try and get somewhere with that. I think we are making excellent progress in FIFA, and the future is bright for both myself and Brandon.”
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