InkTV spotlight: NineWholeGrains, a caster's tale
Jun 20, 2018
To stay up to date with Nine, be sure to follow his Twitter here! He also has a stream in the works, so be on the lookout for news about that as well!!!
If you would like to listen to the full interview, you may do so HERE!
A slightly cleaned up transcription of the interview can be found down below:
Jordan: Hello everyone, and welcome to the NineWholeGrains interview, where he will discuss his casting story. My name is Jordan, and with me is the man himself, Mr. NineWholeGrains! How you doin', man?
Nine: I'm doing quite well, thank you for having me on!
Jordan: Glad to have you! Alright, let's jump into this! First question, which is more of a statement. Describe to us how you first got into casting.
Nine: Well, as the story goes, I was at Don't Park on the Grass 2016, this was back in December. I had been in the competitive community for five or six months, somewhere in that range, and to be frank, I was sitting in the right seat at the right time. A.C. needed someone to fill in a commentary spot, I guess one of their commentators had not shown up and he asked me if I wanted to commentate. I said sure, went up and commentated with Cinnabunny, Rezbit's sister, and that was on day 1. Day 2, they brought me back to cast a couple other matches after Stratosphere had gotten eliminated from that LAN, and the rest is kinda history. That was really where it started, I got invited to cast SyCup, InkStorm, Platinum Cup as well, Platinum Cup qualifiers and every little tournament I could get my hands on. And that was really how things started, it was just that base and a lot of luck that got things rollin'.
Jordan: Well, I would say there's some talent involved too. * Chuckles* So you mentioned quite a few big name tournaments. How do you prepare for events like the U.S./Canadian Inkling Open or the U.S. Open from the year before or something like E3, which is obviously bigger than just some random Saturday tournament with 20 teams?
Nine: Chuckles I think the most important part, for me at least, because of the role I play, especially the role for E3 and the U.S./Canada Inkling Open, I'm brought in to be an analyst. So for me, the most important thing in preparing is making sure I understand, and truly understand, the meta game. And to understand the meta game, I don't believe you can ask one person, no matter how good they are, everybody has an idea on what is and what is not meta. It's important to get a lot of perspectives from a lot of great minds and a lot of teams. So I'll typically spend and devote a lot of time to hopping into various scrims if people are streaming them, I'll of course watch tournaments, even if people are just streaming random solo queue matches, I'll hop in, ask about different questions, different weapons, different compositions, and just try to get as many opinions as I can on it. From there, it's a matter of that and using rational judgment to form your own opinion, and it's important to get many perspectives because someone is always gonna say you're wrong, and that's just something you kinda have to live with and you try to keep your opinion as informed as you possibly can with as many sources as you possibly can. So a lot of review, a lot of VoD review, a lot of footage, and from there, it's just making sure you have your facts straight, right? If you're gonna quote who won and lost in a previous tournament, just make sure you watch the tournament. Make sure you have that in front of you, and make sure you don't say something that's gonna come back and bite you in the face. But for me, especially, it is just making sure I'm up to date on the game, and that I actually know what I'm talking about when I talk about it.
Jordan: That makes sense. You've casted obviously many notable events the past year and a half plus, some online and some on LAN. How is casting in a live setting, such as Smash'N'Splash or E3, different, in your opinion from doing an online event, such as Squidboards or BnS?
Nine: There really is no comparison. Chuckles Casting in person, first of all, the ability to stand next to your partner and physically, I mean, so much of communication is non-verbal, right? You eliminate that part of communication when you're online, and it's unfortunate but that's just how it goes and as we have online tournaments, it's something we've just had to get used to. But when you're there in person and you have that non-verbal communication, it just adds so much to it. You can point to the screen when you want to draw attention to something to your co-commentator when they're casting. You can give them a motion when you want to say something, and you can see when they're champing at the bit to get something out, and it really makes it so much smoother because you know when they're about to talk or want to speak. On top of that, you can feel the energy of the crowd, right? I mean, I don't usually look at Twitch chat when I'm commentating because I want to focus on the games. But that means I don't get to see what the crowd's saying, if they're going wild, going hype, or anything like that. In person, at the LANs especially, you can tell. Let's take Marsh's great push at Smash'N'Splash 4, for example. If that was online, it would be two, maybe three, people in a Discord chat room going crazy as opposed to 100 plus, 200 plus people in that room, screaming. And when the energy is like that, it adds so much to your commentary and it really makes it all that much more exhilarating. So there really is no comparison, and I think a lot of people would like for more events to be offline and commentators are no different. But it makes the chance that we do have to do it that much more special.
Jordan: Okay, and I guess to go off script for a little bit, how exactly do you learn to focus and stay zoned in on the game you're watching and commentating when you're on LAN and a hype moment is building up and you've got 200 people screaming at the top of their lungs?
Nine: Chuckles I, ya know, it's all about the approach to the event, right? You want to be professional about it, you want to treat it like a job, and you want to be doing your job well. To me, it's a mindset, I'll give into the crowd and let their energy seep into my casting as I'm going through, but for the most part, like I said, you're there to do a job no matter how big or small the event is. I treat it as it's very important, I try to match what the crowd's doing, I try to match the theme of the event. And if I'm starting to drift away, I just tell myself "Take a deep breath, blink a couple times, and get right back into it", because there's so much to observe in the game itself, ya know? Like, if you look away, you miss so much in a game like Splatoon, so it's all the more important to me and for my mental game to make sure that I stay focused. So it's just a matter of taking it seriously.
Jordan: Okay. How would you say commentating Splatoon tournaments, especially Splatoon tournament streams, have changed since you've been a part of it, or since December of 2016?
Nine: Well, I think the standards raised. Part of the reason that I even got that opportunity in that fateful day up in Washington was because there weren't a whole lot of commentators there and weren't a whole lot of commentators in the scene. There were a lot of players who also commentated, and to be fair, that's still where a lot of it comes from, but I think there's a new standard now, in streaming and commentating both. There's a lot of reasons for that, there's a lot of big players who have started to commentate more and really get into that. I know both InkTV and EGtv have both really raised the standard in streaming, to the point where things are starting to be timed now, and we have entire systems to make sure that we don't have to do a sync test between every round, and we've gotten more practice with each other, right? All the big commentators now, I've had several sets of experience with, so every time that happens, you're going to artificially get more chemistry between the casters. So more experience all across the board, the envelope has been pushed now, it's not longer acceptable to have a couple people just in the same Discord voice chat room. You've really gotta come at it and step your game up, because people are starting to recognize that commentary's difficult. If you want to be a good commentator, you have to bring something to the table, and I think that, like in any sort of endeavor where people are trying to improve, that level of competition is always healthy.
Jordan: Mhm, now you knew we had to talk about it.
Jordan: What was it like casting at E3 alongside your mentor, Jordan Kent?
Nine: Alright, so you know how playing with the Grizzco Blaster is in Salmon Run?
Nine: Okay, that's basically what commentating with Jordan Kent is, because it's just easy mode with him around. Like, both chuckle So one part of commentary that I don't think is talked about enough is the flow between the two commentators. People talk a little about it and the roles that commentators take and going back and forth, but I don't think people talk about how that exchange happens and making that exchange happen naturally, fluidly, and on cue. Jordan is so good at doing that, and it's just smooth and it's easy and, to his credit, he always sets you up. He kinda lobs up softballs, for lack of a better term, slow pitch softball, recreational league. He just tosses em up to you there, he gives you good questions, and he asks good questions himself. Jordan is very studious himself, he wants to do a good job no matter what game he does. Of course, we know he plays the game, he's not an all-star at it by any means, but he plays it enough to know what needs to be done, he's good at it, and I just have a lot of respect for someone who understands what other people can bring to the table and try to strengthen that. So, commentating with him was wonderful, the tips that I got, the feedback, and all the wonderful things he said about me on Twitter, it's just a dream come true to be respected by someone who does it professionally at the highest level in a number of different categories. So, ya know I could go on and on about that, but like I said, he really does make it simple. He's so good at what he does, Ashley as well, keeping that flow up, keeping the energy up, just being there to support everybody is wonderful stuff all around.
Jordan: Yeah. That last bit's actually a nice little segue into my next question. How would you say you've evolved as a caster from the first time you did it at Don't Park on the Grass 2016 through now?
Nine: Well, there's a lot. There's a lot that's changed since then, and I've tried to work and improve what I do. But, I'd say first and foremost, on that day when I was a caster, it was my first time as well. My thinking towards the game had not yet evolved. I was a player, but like a mid-level player at absolute best. I mean, Stratosphere, I know it's a meme, we were on the come-up but we were still very young and still very new to it all, and along with that, my thinking towards the game had not yet evolved either. So I'd say that the biggest way I've evolved as a commentator is understanding the game on a more fundamental level, and learning how to break down maps and weapons and understanding the finer points of Splatoon, because you have to be able to do that to commentate the game well. You have to understand it, because you could bring up anybody to talk about what's happening on the screen, and I'm not throwing shade at play-by-play because I think it's an important aspect and great for controlling flow, but even that is an art and has to understand what's going on. So understanding more about the game was a big part of it and I had to ask a lot of questions to a lot of people and take a lot of notes before that happened. So that's first and foremost. Recently, I've been trying to work on my delivery, the way I'm speaking, controlling the tempo of what I'm saying, controlling energy, just really refining the delivery as I've gone on, and getting to know the players better and having more familiarity with commentating in general. Ya know, Don't Park on the Grass was very good for me because I was familiar with all the players, right? Most of them had been at SquidStorm, and if they hadn't been, like I don't think Wolf was at SquidStorm but I knew of Wolf and I'd seen his play a lot, so that was good. But I just put a bigger emphasis on studying and making sure I've got the right idea going into it, that I know where the players are from, that I know their tournament results. So it's been a lot of note-taking, and a lot of effort and confirmation and making sure that I know what I'm doing. It's been readjusting my mindset towards it, it's something that I take very seriously and I try to be as professional about it as I can, and there's a certain standard of work that has to come with that. So, very long-winded answer but it's a long-winded question.
Jordan: True, and I guess to combine the last two questions, in addition to Jordan Kent, is there anyone in particular, Splatoon related or not, that you have formed your own casting style from? Like, is there anybody else you look up to or take notes from, especially, when they're behind the mic?
Nine: Hmmm, well, so, this is gonna sound super cheesy, but I'm one of those types that watches everybody that I can behind the mic, as experienced or advanced or as inexperienced or wherever they fall on that spectrum, because I really do think you can learn something from everybody that you work with and everybody that's doing it. I think Hitzel said on one of the posts that was made around the E3 time, I started to lose track, that "Nine absorbed the best parts of every commentator", and I think that's, you know, very kind words from him, but there is a little bit of truth to it in that I tried to look at everyone and see what they were doing, see what I liked from it, and see which of it I could apply, and I worked with a lot of great commentators very early on. Of course, I got to work with Eirik, I got to work with Zach very early, with Toad (Toadsili), and I also got to work with FLC, I think I posted something about this today (June 19th, when the interview was conducted) actually, like my second or third tournament I casted was with FLC. You wanna talk about intimidating? This was a dude that I was just religiously soaking up all of his game notes that he would post, and posts that he would make anywhere, and now I'm casting with him! So that was a really big moment for me and a big experience to kind of learn how he went about doing what he was doing. And of course, I got to work with Hitzel a lot as well. So I really do try to take something from everywhere. Professional sports, of course, with Jordan (Kent), Mike "Doc" Emrick, as some would say, he's the greatest hockey commentator there is, and I think there's a lot of parallels between hockey and Splatoon, at least in terms of game flow. So I really started watching a lot of what he was doing. Kevin Harlan, he was a GREAT basketball and football commentator, I learned a lot from watching him, and Smash commentators as well! I have a lot of respect for commentators like D1, Dogysamich, James Chen from Street Fighter, Wobbles, Lovage, so I'm a fan of commentators, I'll put it like that!
Jordan: For shame, not mentioning Al Michaels.
Nine: Hey, Al's amazing, he needs no pump up from me!
Nine: He's the greatest for a reason!
Jordan: Yeah! What do you enjoy the most about commentating Splatoon?
Nine: Well, I think first and foremost, I am a huge fan of the game and everything about it. The style, the music, the competitive play, the casual play, I just love Splatoon. And being a commentator gives me the chance to talk about the game. I think so many people, their favorite thing to do is talk about what they love with their friends, and I am fortunate enough that I get to do that every time I step on the commentary stand and put that headset on. So many people don't get the chance to do that, and I get the chance to do it almost every weekend, and with BnS, I get the chance to do it every week when I really want to. First and foremost, that's the reason I love commentary, but I also get the chance to see the top level gameplay all the time, and I get to see it up close and personal. I get to talk about it, get my thoughts out there, and use that to build on discussion and research on what I'm doing next. And I get to meet a lot of people too. Of course, the visibility that commentary has given me has led me to meet a lot of great players, a lot of great people, and some very very close friends that I don't think I would have made had I not stepped up and commentated on that fateful day in Washington, which is just what I'm gonna call that tournament from now on, I'll never call it by its real name again.
Nine: Yeah, there's so many great things, and like I said, it's things I don't think I would have gotten to experience had I just remained a player, so those gifts are countless. But like I said, just talking about the game with friends and people who I love.
Jordan: Okay, I like that answer. On the flip side, what is one thing you find particularly challenging about what you do?
Nine: Oh my God, this meta is impossible to figure out! Both laugh Like, the best players and the best Splatoon minds on the planet can't figure this meta out for more than two weeks! How the heck am I supposed to do it?!?! And, seriously though, we always have new weapons coming out, we have changes to the weapons, we have patch notes that we always have to keep up, new stages being added, new modes being added! It is so difficult to figure things out and know what you're talking about all the time, and there's no way around it. Like, if you want to be good at commentating and you want to really know what's going on, you just have to put a ton of time into it. You have to watch the scrims, you have to read the notes, you have to discuss with people who make it their business to stay on top of the meta and on top of the game. And that's a lot of hours and time spent doing that. And all the wonderful research that I did for the U.S./Canada Inkling Open and all those discussions I had? In maybe two weeks, once (version) 3.1 drops, every bit of data that I took and every note might be worthless. Like, there are some weapons that are gonna stay at the top, but the game is going to change drastically, and I say this not knowing anything that's going to be in that patch. This is me just assuming, because it happens over and over, and it can be disheartening at times, and players change. They leave teams, they change weapons, and it can be difficult to say "Alright, all this I thought I knew about a player, I have to throw out and figure out what they're doing, like, right now! chuckles I get one match to figure out why they're playing this weapon and figure out what their role is in the team, and that kind of thinking on the fly can be very difficult, but really just staying on top of the meta. Staying on top of all the teams in the great shuffle of people joining a team, a team disbanding and going to another one is really difficult, but thankfully I've been around it long enough that I feel I might be starting to be on top of it and know what's going on. But like I said, a new patch is gonna come out and it's all gonna go away.
Jordan: I mean, that's what makes the game fun, am I right?
Nine: It's true, it's true. I mean, everything worth doing is difficult in some way, shape, or form.
Jordan: Yeah. Alright, last question. What is one or a few pieces of advice you'd give to someone who is interested in casting events but does not know where to start or doesn't have any experience doing it?
Nine: Oof, that's a good one. Well, I know on Ink Radio, I've talked about the InkTV commentary server where we dole out different tournaments that are there, a chance to commentate BnS, but reaching out to people, myself, I know Zach is big on it, I'm sure there are a lot of commentators who could maybe give you a chance to commentate. But I think, first and foremost, you just have to commentate as much as you can, right? Talk to people, find out what tournaments are going on where, see if you can get a gig, and really, it's like finding work in anything else. You have to first take the initiative and try for that. And the more initiative you show, the better chances you'll have on getting a spot on a commentary. You may not get grand finals of a LAN your first time, but it all starts somewhere. I know there were a lot of commentators at Smash'N'Splash 4 who were trying it for the first time who have now reached out to me and asked about more tournaments. So that's initiative and that's very good, initiative is going to get you far! Beyond that, I would say finding, not necessarily what makes you unique as a commentator, but find your strength and find what you bring to the table when you commentate, because there are a lot of commentators, and I think a lot of good commentators in the Splatoon scene. We're very fortunate to have a number of people who can come in and do a good job on a given tournament. So it's finding what you're good at, resting yourself on that, and slowly building up so you can become a balanced commentator, and it does take time. I know this scene isn't very old, in the grand scheme of things, you look at how much things can change in a year or in six months, and it does take some time to get those opportunities and build up your skill and what you've done. More than that, I would say if you really want to be a great commentator or a great player, you have to take it seriously. You have to be a professional about it, and I don't mean treat it like a job, but conduct yourself well. Give it the necessary time and have a realistic mindset about it. Don't expect great things to happen immediately, understand that there's a lot of people on the list and if you want to be on that list, it's gonna take some time and some effort and some differentiation of yourself and your brand. And the last piece of advice I'd give for that is, ya know, be fun to work with! Chuckles Like that's a great piece of advice for everything, but no one is going to want to commentate with you if they don't like you, and to take it a step further, no one is going to like your commentary if they don't like you. I have heard pretty solid commentary, and then when I go to talk to somebody else about it, they'll be like "Oh no, that was horrible!", and in my mind, I'm thinking "Okay, objectively, that was good commentary, but it wasn't enjoyed by everybody because they don't like the person". And I don't mean, you know, have absolutely no standards, be nice to everybody, and hand out your business card at every retreat. But don't be a jerk, understand what people are going through, be empathetic, be professional, and people will want to work with you. It's not too difficult of a concept, but it is something that I feel does deserve mention because we get caught up in our frame data, we get caught up in our roles and our back and forths, but ultimately, we're all just people. We wanna work with people we like, we wanna have a good time while we do it, and as long as you keep up with that, and you keep working at it, you will improve. And that goes as a player as well.
Jordan: Okay, any closing thoughts before we wrap this up?
Nine: Uhhhhhhhh, man. I guess just thank you to everybody who supported me through the whole E3/U.S./Canada Inkling Open saga. I know it's been a while now and things are starting to slow down again, but you all don't know how much it means. As divided as this community sometimes is, the troubles that we do have, we can all really band together. And it means that much more to me that, even with all the division, people were still really nice to me and they supported me because that's how we're going to grow, that's how we're going to get bigger and better. We've got to support those of us who are on the big stage and those of us who are trying to make it, and I wouldn't have made it that far without your support. And I know especially for those of you who were at E3 and were chanting and cheering once I came out, that really did give me the strength I needed to get that first sentence out, and the first sentence is always the hardest. So thank you to everyone who helped me, has given me the chance to commentate and represent you guys, and I'm not done yet! So I hope you'll continue to support me as I go and continue to do what it is I do!
Jordan: Alright, thank you very much, Mr. NineWholeGrains, for sitting down with me for this interview!
Nine: Thank you for having me!
Jordan: Of course! Thank you to everyone reading this interview, and stay tuned to inktv.media for more exciting content!
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