If one was able to hear a simultaneous eruption of cheers as a representation of the excitement of the League of Legends Championship Series returning to offline play following the COVID-19 pandemic, the voice of play-by-play caster Clayton "CaptainFlowers" Raines would soar above the cacophony. CaptainFlowers has been as vocal about his excitement to return to offline casting as he was vocal about his personal and professional struggles while casting from his room in lockdown.
CaptainFlowers joined Inven Global for an interview where he opened up about the physical and mental obstacles he had to overcome during the COVID-19 pandemic, how casting dynamics changed in the context of a remote broadcast, and what drives and shapes the way he casts a professional match.
You've been vocal about how excited you were to return to broadcasting games in the LCS studio again, but is it the same feeling without the audience and, in general, what occurred throughout the world in the past year and a half?
It's definitely not back to normal in any way, shape or form. There's so few people here in the studio compared to what the studio would look like during a normal show day back before everything that happened with the Coronavirus and all that madness from the whole past year. However, the difference between being here with no audience, reduced staff, mask regulations, and COVID protocols, it is night and day from literally not being able to leave your bedroom to do the LCS.
I've been very vocal about how difficult the lockdown life was for me and how much of a toll it look on me physically and mentally. Just being able to get back in here and have this semblance of the days being different again is incredible. Even though it's not back to 100% strength; even though it's not the 2019 LCS, it's getting there.
It feels f*****g awesome to feel like I'm putting one foot in front of the other again because all of 2020 was just a standstill. 2020 was a world with no tomorrow. Every day was exactly the same. There was no point in even calling them 'yesterday' 'today' or 'tomorrow' — it was all just 'this'. Now, there are days again. There is progress again and things to look forward to, that's what's helping energize me so much in being a part of the LCS.
It feels like the thing that used to be instead of the bastardization of what it had to become, and I don't want that to be taken as me saying 'F**k everything about remote play' — the amount of work, time, and effort that it took for everyone on this team to make the remote LCS show work how it did was incredible.
I have a newfound appreciation for all of the tech stuff behind the scenes after seeing how long they had to take to try and fix the issues where I had no idea what words they were even saying. To me, the remote LCS will just never be able to beat the real LCS with the studio and with us being able to see each other, work together in person, and create all this new content. I'm ecstatic that we are back in the studio.
Everyone's aware of how much better it is for players to play on LAN than online, but how much more difficult is it to have a rapport with your co-caster when you're not in the same room?
The mechanics of casting are 100% more difficult in a remote environment where you can't see the person next to you. The most obvious thing people ask about a lot that I've answered on my stream is tri-casts. You literally cannot tri-cast remotely. I'm sure there's some armchair analyst out there who's going to say, 'Yeah, you can. You just have to put the extra work i-' No. Don't f*****g do it unless you're in the same room with those people.
Tri-casts, which are the traditional format for larger-scale games like best-of-five playoff series', international competitions, haven't been possible for the past year. The reason for that is that the common formula for a tri-cast is one play-by-play caster and two color casters.
You have to communicate silently with hand singles to plan out who is going to talk next, what points we're going to jump on, or if we want to just continue moving forward. There is so much nonverbal communication that has to happen in a tri-cast because if you don't, everything just shuts down.
Someone's going to talk over someone else, we're not going to know whether we're going to keep going with a point or not — it's impossible to do it in a way that makes it better than a two-man cast in a remote world, which is why we weren't doing it. The other difference is that it's just a lot harder to feed off of the other person and really feel what they are feeling. There's so much you can tell by body language from somebody.
Even if you're laughing about a joke, you can look at the person and see when they start to stand up straight and square their shoulders back up at the desk to re-focus back onto the game so you can be like 'Ok, let's get back to what we were talking about.' Or, if they're still just laughing their ass off, you can continue to add on to the joke if you've got one.
Body language does a lot for casting. It's something that a lot of people don't realize unless they've done it before. It impacts you so much to be able to look, see the guy, and play off of what they are doing and how they are feeling.
Being able to be back in the studio standing next to Azael, Raz, and Kobe makes me feel so much more confident that I am able to properly react to what they're saying and doing that I'm able to properly set them up for the next thing they want to say or do, and we'll just have much better synergy and coordination.
You've been open about how it was tougher for you to cast during the COVID-19 pandemic. Were there certain things you were able to improve on by necessity given the lack of crowd hype and other circumstances, and do you feel you've become a more well-rounded caster post-pandemic lockdown?
Obviously, it's one of those things where you have to learn the different skills you need, like trying to get a feel of where the cast is going next without the person being next to you. The unfortunate part about it is that it's not very useful of a skill once you can stand next to the person again because just being able to see and react to them overrides any of that. It wasn't particularly constructive in that way.
In terms of learning actual casting mechanics while remote, there wasn't a lot to it that applied once we came back in the studio. The biggest thing I learned was how to cope with what was honestly an incredibly **** situation that had me feeling awful all the time.
The things that I had to find new ways to approach were often my own mental hurdles — waking up in the morning and just wanting to go back to bed. It doesn't matter if you're casting games two feet from there, it just feels like one of those days like it's been for the past 365 of them, and you feel like ****.
But that doesn't matter, because there's a ton of other people out there that also feel like **** and the one thing that they've got that might make them feel a little bit better is watching the LCS. They want to have you hype the games up, and that's your job. Being able to work on my own ability to power through whatever was happening to me personally and still present a good show — it's like acting, almost.
You have to be able to be an actor, presenter, and entertainer even if you're personally feeling really beat down that week. You don't know how exciting you're going to be able to be, but you gotta be because that's the job. Having that resilience and mental toughness is the biggest thing that COVID world taught me in harnessing the ability to take the punch on the chin, grit your teeth, keep going, and make the show the best thing it can be.
There were a lot of setbacks in COVID world...a ton of them. I remember I was supposed to cast the finals 2020 LCS Spring Playoffs. We had gone to remote casting about halfway through March, and I was supposed to cast the finals in mid-April. The night before, I got an ear infection that spread into my skull and I couldn't function. I couldn't sit up straight because of how much it hurt, so I had to call the manager and tell them I couldn't do it.
I spent the whole day of the finals in the emergency room getting tested for this thing contaminating my skull or whatever, it was pretty wild. I beat myself up over that for two weeks, just like 'Why did it have to happen now? Why, of all times, why this time?'
I got to the point where I guess when you deal with enough of that, you just say 'Ok, whatever happens, happens. We're just going to roll with the punches and we're going to try to figure it out and get there.' Resilience is the thing I learned, trained, and adapted to have more of during COVID-19.
That's an incredibly crazy thing to have happen, especially just before a LCS final. Scary stuff.
Yeah, it was pretty wild. I wish I could remember the actual name for it. It's one of those fancy medical words, which is why I can't remember it *laughs* unfortunately, I am not a doctor like Medic. They told me that it was really dangerous depending on where it spreads, but luckily, mine stayed pretty local to the area of the skull around my ear.
Even after going to the ER, doing the antibiotics and getting it back to normal, it was a pretty painful week. Fortunately, it didn't happen last summer, and it hasn't happened since. I'm hoping that was a one-off in life where you play the mission, get credit for it, and then you're done.
Throughout your casting career, your hype style has been matched by you coining phrases like 'meatball' for big, burly tank champions. Are these on-the-fly phrases that just come to you, or do you think of them prior to these matches?
It's not like I have a notebook or a list where I write these things down to give a shot. It's usually just something in the spur of the moment. I just look at it, perceive it in a certain way, and just say it.
The 'meatball' thing was me talking Ornn back when he was super mega-broken, and I was just looking at this big guy walking toward me who couldn't be killed for any reason. I was like, 'What is this guy? He's just a big old meatball rolling at you, and there's nothing you can do about it.' So I called him a meatball from then on.
I always like to be imaginative, creative, and entertaining. It's one of my strengths as a commentator and one of the things that I play to the most because I think it's something that can really make things stand out for viewers. It can make something more memorable or make something not feel like a repeat of a game you just saw. It creates a lot of fun when people like getting into those names and calling tanks 'meatballs' or if I have a creative way to word a teamfight.
People love that, and to me, one of the most things about casting is creating those moments for people. Whether that moment is a teamfight in the World Championship finals or some random thing I gave a funny name to in week 4 of the Spring Split doesn't matter.
If viewers remember it and send me a message on Twitter or Twitch chat saying 'Dude I loved that, that was great.' That's the whole goal right there: get people excited, get people having a good time, and make memorable moments out of this thing that they can enjoy because of what I brought to the table.
I want to come out of every cast saying 'I brought something in there that if you swapped in Phreak, Quickshot, or any of the other top tier play-by-play casters, you wouldn't get the same experience.' When I cast, I want it to be uniquely me. I want the Captain Flowers version of the game I'm casting to be decidedly different from that game if it was commentated by anybody else.
All images by: Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games via ESPAT