Careers in Esports: Steve Kangas, Freelance Shoutcaster

career spotlight May 19, 2020
Steve Kangas, Freelance Shoutcaster

The big esports events are nothing without the staff that run them. In this case, the shoutcaster. It’s a time-honored tradition that goes back to the radio when you would simply listen to a sporting event.

Modern shoutcaster do much of the same thing, giving viewers a comprehensive play-by-play and commentary on the game, sometimes at astronomical speeds.

But what does it take to get there? We talked to Steve Kangas to learn more about becoming a shoutcaster in esports.

How did you get involved in esports?

I’ve been a gamer my whole life, ever since I was 5 years old playing on an N64 with my brother. I first thought about esports as an industry I wanted to get into when I was in college.

I started college with a couple of different thoughts—I thought I was going to be an engineer and then a math teacher. Eventually, I started shoutcasting for my esports club at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities. It was mostly focused on League of Legends and there was a big tournament where my school was going to be competing against a bunch of other schools in Minnesota.

They asked a bunch of members of the club if anyone wanted to shoutcast it so they could stream it and put it on Twitch. I was the only person who volunteered, so I got it by default. Through that, I found out I loved it and had a passion for it. Yelling at a video game was a really fun way to spend my time. I figured, hey, if I can make a career out of this, that would be great.

That was how I got known as a caster—doing collegiate, CLoL, and Big 10.

Was that your first job in esports?

Yeah. I used it to transition into more production and streaming. I also did journalism for a bit.

Now what exactly does a shoutcaster do?

At the basics, you entertain people that want to watch a game. I shoutcast League of Legends. There are people that enjoy playing and there are people that enjoy watching. Usually, it’s the same crowd, so the people that are watching will know a lot about what’s going on screen.

There are people that just watch also. They want to be involved in the scene but may not care to play. So shoutcasting is primarily entertaining viewers while the game is going on.

You’re hyping up the hype moments and explaining what’s going on in between those moments. That way people can learn more about the game or why the situations are playing out as they are. That’s really the core principles of shoutcasting.

Would you say you need to have a lot of game knowledge to shoutcast, no matter what game you’re working on?

Primarily, but it does depend on the audience. With new games, you don’t have a lot of time to learn the game. I’ve had to shoutcast Rocket League and I had no idea what was going on, but it’s a simple enough game that you don’t really need in-depth knowledge about the intricacies of what players are doing.

But for a game like League of Legends, you definitely need to know the game in order to shoutcast it. If you’re interested in getting into shoutcasting, you can be a general shoutcaster who knows a bit about the different genres and what the core concepts are and get by, or you can specialize like I’ve done and dig in deep with one game like League of Legends.

How would someone who is in middle/high school go about getting into shoutcasting?

Check to see if your school has a club or any type of organization that does esports. Even if it’s just people who are hanging out and playing. At my high school, we had a Smash Bros. club that I would go play in. 

Looking back, I wish I had grabbed the mic, set up some speakers, and just streamed and shoutcasted them so people who couldn’t have made it to the club that night could have been there to hang out with their friends.

As soon as someone is yelling into a microphone about a game, everyone gets excited. If you’re in high school, that’s step number one. Find something local or something with your friends where it’s a low-judgment environment.

If you’re feeling really bold, you can hop into the online scene. There are so many amateur leagues online. Just go to the Reddit page for the game and make a post saying you’re interested in shoutcasting some games or tournaments. You’ll be surprised how many online amateur events will reach out to you to run their stream and shoutcast their games for them.

That’s how you start. You grow your audience from there and keep working on the craft. Starting seems scary, but all you have to do is look. If you’re willing to look for opportunities, you’ll find them. 

What are some of the pitfalls one would need to look out for when shoutcasting?

Expectations was one for me. Where I thought my career would take me. In college, I loved it so much and it was all I wanted to do. I wanted to make a career out of it, and I built my whole life around it. And it’s gotten me very, very far and I’m very happy with where I am. 

But if I had told myself two years ago what two years of hard work would give me, I definitely expected to already be on LCS stage casting Bjergsen solo kill Froggen in lane. That has not happened because you really need patience in this industry. 

You have to be good at it, and it takes a long time to develop that skill and to get comfortable with your own voice. If you want to get into shoutcasting, it’s very fun, it’s very rewarding, but you’ll want to have patience and take it slow. You’re not going to be the next CaptainFlowers who shows up on Reddit and then is casting for LCS the next week. 

Try and establish communities. You don’t want to establish yourself with one and as soon you get big enough to go onto something else you leave them behind. That’s how you get burned as a shoutcaster. That’s how people start talking about you behind your back. That’s where the negative side of the industry comes in, is when people can tell you’re doing it for yourself and not for the community. You need to be doing it for the fans. 

If you’re just using them for your own clout and your own gain, they’re going to see right through that and you’re not going to make it very far. Make sure you’re still talking to those communities and that you’re doing it because you love it.

What do you think students can learn from something like shoutcasting?

I think you can learn a lot about yourself and your personality. When I first starting shoutcasting, I didn’t think about how I sounded or what kind of person I was on the microphone. I was myself.

As I was getting more serious, I tried to be a bit more professional, I tried being a bit more buttoned-up—I put on a tie. I found I stopped loving it. It was because I wasn’t being myself anymore. I was no longer Steve.

A lot of my shoutcasting career for the last year has been trying to find that again. Just doing it more casually and having fun with it. That’s taught me a lot about who I am. I don’t have to put on a persona that I think people will like more. I can just be comfortable with myself, and if I’m comfortable with myself the audience will be too.

What are your thoughts on scholastic esports?

I love the fact that more and more high schools are getting involved in esports. Traditional sports have a great structure in place to get us professional athletes from middle school players to high school players to college. They get scholarships and an education and that opportunity to go pro if you’re willing to dedicate the time. I would love it if esports took a similar route.

I think that there are some things that esports at the scholastic level needs to improve, particularly the physical education part of it. Making sure that they’re still physically active and fit and healthy. That’s a big concern I have for myself. I look at a screen all day and I need to remind myself to get outside, get some sunshine, be physical, and eat healthy. 

Those skills are taught to traditional athletes and aren’t necessarily taught to esports athletes. I would love to see scholastic esports improve upon that, but overall, it’s a great starting point for any gamer who’s serious about going pro or just wants to learn about the industry. You don’t have to be a pro gamer to work in esports, either. You can start at that level, but that passion alone will steer your direction in life in ways that you’d be surprised.

What’s been your favorite experience in esports so far?

Moving to Los Angeles. I started off in Minnesota as a Midwest boy, but because of what I was able to accomplish in college, I was able to make a move to California with the few contracts that I had and the day job I work. I was an esports journalist over the summer. I shoutcasted for orgs like OpTic Gaming, Dignitas, CLG, Team Liquid earlier this year. 

Being in California and working in the League of Legends esports scene has been such a great experience and journey for me that I’ll never forget this time.

Finally, what do you love most about esports?

For me, I never had an outlet as a kid for competition that I liked. I played sports and it was kind of fun, but I never had a passion for them. I had the competitive drive, though. Video games were a way to compete against myself. I was a home-schooled kid, so I didn’t have a lot of opportunities to compete with others. 

I would see how fast I can finish this level. Can I beat a game in two days? How many stars can I get? My love for video games and my competition with myself is what led me into esports, and then I found a way to compete with others that was fun for me. 

I’m not a physical competitor, I’m not a big sports guy, but I will tune into every single weekend for LCS because that’s the competition that I like.

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