Unlike traditional sports, where camera people work for a third party broadcaster, esports events will usually have their own observer who controls what is seen by viewers. We speak to several people with observer experience for some insider knowledge.
What is an observer?
An observer is someone who controls the in-game camera for esports broadcasts.
They will need to identify key plays, make sure the camera is highlighting the most interesting aspects of the match, and highlight replays for highlight reels.
Observers work within the production team behind the scenes, liaising closely with the casters and broadcast crew.
Observers may be required to edit footage and be active on social media to stay up-to-date with developments and remain in the know.
Some events have multiple observers and a dedicated in-game director to switch between them, depending on the game.
Will ‘Viperoon’ Whittingham, Hitmarker social media and content exec, who also has experience as a caster and observer, says: “It’s important to make the distinction between a ‘live’ observer (who follows the main action with the viewer) and a ‘replay’ observer (who creates replays and catches anything missed). The replay observer may also produce cinematics on-the-fly.”
Former observer Tom ‘Tridd’ Underwood tells the British Esports Association : “The job’s great because you can get opportunities to go to events and you sit in a quasi-role between talent and production, so depending on your employer you tend to get the best of both worlds.
“The challenges are that you need to stay engaged for a long time – for example past ESL Premiership finals have had a broadcast time of around 10 hours.”
What skills are required?
Tridd explains: “To do the role, you need to have an understanding of the game you are observing to the point where you’re able to have an idea of what’s going to happen next. You need to have a steady hand in games like League of Legends that require you to track global action.”
As an example of the particular skills the big companies are looking for, a Riot Games job posting for an observer stated that the role requires someone ‘keen-eyed, experienced [with the particular game you are observing], focused, dependable, punctual and a team player’.
You may be required to have different skills depending on which game are genre you are observing. FPS games are very different to watch compared to MOBAs, for example.
Observing requires good levels of focus and concentration too – missing a play or messing up some of the camerawork may frustrate the viewers at home or in the arena.
Tridd states: “I think if you able to understand the game enough to know what’s going to happen next, you’ve probably got the hardest part down. Just back that up with some steady mouse control.”
Understand the tech or game specifics
Joseph Harding, an experienced esports observer, runs through a few points to be aware of.
“Every genre has its own points/tools,” Joseph says. “For example, League of Legends has a program called League Director for 3D pre-planned camera movements.
“There can be a few unspoken rules too such as only using the teamfight UI (user interface) for replays.
“Also, the game has a lot of undocumented info, like code you can add to the config files to add better timers and so on. There are shortcuts too, like pressing Ctrl + Shift + Z to let you zoom out further.
“The observers usually also vision mix, where they have buttons for picture in picture and to go to replays, or a base race, for example.
“At the LEC, they have foot pedals for some actions such as PiP up or dropping the scoreboard – and even one to talk to the director for calling out your actions.”
How to become an observer
Having experience helps, so considering working at a grassroots event or initiative on a short, voluntary basis might be a good idea to get your foot in the door so you can land some paid work.
Tridd says: “In terms of finding opportunity, it’s tough. Online events require you to host the stream, so you need a powerful PC and solid upload connection. Offline events are even rarer, the biggest thing like all broadcast roles is networking.”
Observers might also want to create a sample deck or presentation for employers to show what they can do.
How to become a great observer: Tridd’s top 3 tips:
- Layer your learning. Learn the key bindings and the mouse control. Then add new features as and when you’re comfortable with the previous.
- Listen to your casters, if they’re talking about something, make sure it’s on display.
- Only once you have the fundamentals, begin to have fun with it. You’ll be surprised what some zooms or some tracking can do for entertainment.
Hours and salary
Tridd says: “Observing doesn’t require as much preparation as an on-camera role, so your working hours are as long as the games last, including about an hour to an hour and a half to set up for online and offline events.”
Observers will usually be called upon around specific events so may work on a part-time or freelance basis, but there full-time positions too.
Salary varies. Most one-off jobs may pay around £150-250 per day, but top tier tournament providers could pay anything from £300 to £1,000 per day depending on experience, reputation, working hours and the size of the event.
Observers may also be required to help out in other areas too.
Will ‘Viperoon’ Whittingham, Hitmarker social media and content exec, who also has experience as a caster and observer, says: “When working as an observer, I’ve also worked as a production hand at events, helping to set up and pack away too. And at most events I worked as an observer, we would be on the same hours as talent, using the extra time either to prep cinematics or simply assist the producer or the casters with any prep or anything like that, even doing sound and stage checks at events. The modern observer is basically a dogs body!”