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E-games draw a cadre of aspiring announcers and colorful commentators

A few hours before he goes to work, Gus Domingues preps his signature red hair, carefully shaping and poofing his ’do just so. Standing before a mirror, he hypes himself up by practicing the introductory patter to the soccer match for which he’ll serve as a play-by-play commentator.

Domingues has done his homework and knows the teams well. He also knows that the players on those teams will never touch grass or bicycle-kick an actual soccer ball. The soccer match — and all the other games for which Domingues provides commentary — unfolds on his computer screen.

Domingues embodies the growth in popularity of electronic gaming. In addition to attracting legions of participants, online soccer matches, football games and shoot-’em-ups like Call of Duty also draw audiences willing to watch the highest-skilled gamers compete against each other. As those audiences have grown, the online contests have begun incorporating aspects of traditional broadcast sports — including play-byplay announcers and color commentators like Domingues, who goes by the gamer handle Upmind.

On Domingues’ computer screen, the action gets underway — via Electronic Arts’ FIFA 20 software — between the gamer controlling the Liverpool squad and an opponent manipulating the Bayern Munich team. Domingues’ delivery is as fast-paced as the accelerated e-game action onscreen. “Liverpool has been touted to be one of the best striking teams in FIFA 20, while Munich has been a force in the back line but even then THEY STILL HAVE WEAPONS,” Domingues intones, his voice rising above the electronically created crowd noise. “GOALLL! Robert Lewandowski!” Ultimately, Liverpool came back for a 2-1 win in overtime, with Domingues and his color commentator providing post-game analysis.

For Domingues, 20, providing esports commentary isn’t just fun and games. He’s one of 450 students in Full Sail University's Dan Patrick School of Sportscasting, a degree program the school launched in 2018. In 2019, as part of its overall game program, the school built a state-of-the-art e-arena called the Fortress, which can accommodate up to 100 gamers playing simultaneously and 500 spectators.

Domingues graduates in May. He has already begun gaining a reputation as an up-and-comer in the world of esports commentators, as comfortable commentating on shooting and fighting e-games as he is with soccer. His goal: “I want to be one of the best play-by-play commentators in the world.”

Domingues says he looks to the greats in traditional sportscasting as his inspiration. The son of parents who immigrated from Brazil, he was born and raised in the Boston area, where as a kid he immersed himself in the world of sports radio, listening to Jack Edwards, the passionate play-by-play hockey commentator for the Boston Bruins.

One day, when he was 5, his father brought him home a PlayStation 2. The console provided him a hobby and a way to make new friends. In the following years, he started going onto Twitch, a video platform, to stream commentaries. “I was doing FIFA commentary online. I was doing just random games online in my basement, like that's not very glamorous … but a lot of people that watched it thought I was entertaining; they thought that I was fun, and I should try it more and see what I could get out of it.”

He got his first break at age 15. A small organization in Boston asked him to commentate for its live local e-sports events. His debut was for Super Smash Bros., “a game that I had never commentated before, a game that I didn't even own.” He did well enough that more opportunities came — play-by-play for Rocket League, Counter-Strike, Call of Duty and later Valorant. In the early days, he was compensated only with sponsor gifts — but it was all about “getting your reps in,” he says.

Domingues didn’t get great grades in high school — it just didn’t interest him at the time, he says — but he wanted to be the first in his family to graduate from a university, just not a traditional one. At the same time, he wanted to pursue his play-by-play career. He began his studies toward a sportscasting bachelor’s at Full Sail in fall of 2019.

“There's really no other school in the nation that does pure commentary, and I knew that’s the one thing that I want to do for the rest of my life,” says Domingues. “I really wanted to make myself as marketable as possible and as experienced as possible before I even turned the age of 21. I knew that I wanted to get a whole lot of pace going for myself in the e-sports world.”

Florida has a great local scene for e-sports events, which before the pandemic were conducted live at Full Sail and at other venues in Central Florida, Tampa and Miami. Domingues could (and often did) do events nearly every day of the week. The pandemic put a stop to in-person crowds but didn’t slow overall activity: Unlike traditional sports, e-sports events were able to go virtual quickly.

Live events, Domingues says, are “amazing, especially down here in Florida. The culture at local tournaments, whether it's Super Smash Bros. or Counter-Strike or any other game, the culture is palpable. You can feel the divide. You can feel the diversity, even in the broadcast booth where I'd be commentating with a person of a different ethnicity every single time.”

“One of the best players in the world of Super Smash Bros. is Hungrybox, and he ended up hosting or partnering with Full Sail to host events, called Overlords of Orlando, and that has started to happen a lot at Full Sail,” says Domingues. Domingues also commented at Full Sail’s Worlds Collide and Hall of Fame events and the Smash Ultimate to name a few.

As he nears graduation, Domingues is focused on landing high-profile events working with upper-echelon teams. A freelancer, he is hired by gaming media and events companies to comment on the games. He is talking to agencies about representation. He knows he needs to bring up his numbers on social media because as an e-sports commentator, “you don't just commentate; you have to make YouTube videos; you have to do Twitch streams; you have to do great on Twitter, maybe sometimes TikTok.” These days, he‘s paid — he won’t say how much, but no more working for sponsor gifts or a free smoothie, he says.

“When you talk about capitals of the world that host marquee e-sports tournaments, you're talking about L.A.; you're talking about Dallas; you're talking about Orlando and Miami,” he says.

The state, and Central Florida in particular, has embraced e-sports innovation, from grassroots events at Orlando sports bars to the work of the Greater Orlando Sports Commission, all the way through to higher education degree programs and gaming companies like EA that operate in the city.

Domingues says his career dream is to work for ESPN because he will have the sportscasting skill set. He also would love to work directly with e-sports developers, such as for Riot Games, creator of Valorant. “You're commentating the best teams in the world, with some of the best talent in the world. It's a big goal of mine.”

Top Games
Among popular games for e-sports fanatics:

  • Super Smash Bros. Ultimate — A multi-player fighter game, the most recent in the Nintendo series, where well-known gaming characters such as Mario, Donkey Kong, Pikachu and Link clash.
  • Call of Duty — A top-selling franchise of first-person shooter games (meaning the games are played from the shooter’s perspective) that launched in 2003 with World War II as its setting but has expanded to battles in all kinds of wars, including futuristic ones.
  • Counter-Strike — Another multiplayer first-person shooter series of video games, this time pitting teams of terrorists who try to perpetrate attacks while counter-terrorists try to prevent them.
  • Valorant — A newer multiplayer first-person tactical shooter game released in 2020 where teams of agents, each with unique abilities, do battle, with no shortage of settings for the gunplay.

 

Read more in Florida Trend's May issue.
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