The past future tense in eSports casting


James ‘Kaelaris’ Carrol and Manuel ‘Grubby’ Schen­khuizen, two of the live com­ment­ators at the Heroes of the Storm EU cham­pi­on­ship

Just a brief lin­guistic note here today, but while watching some of the recent Heroes of the Storm tour­na­ments, a lin­guistic quirk used by the com­ment­ators (or ‘casters’) struck my ear.

For those unfa­miliar with Heroes of the Storm: it’s a com­pet­itive video­game where two teams of five players go head to head. Each player con­trols a hero, and the objective is to work together, take out heroes on the opposing team, and des­troy that team’s base and for­ti­fic­a­tions. Like the sim­ilar and even more pop­ular games League of Legends and DOTA 2, the game has a quickly growing eSports scene, including offi­cial tour­na­ments, prize money, and lots of (online) spec­tators.

With that out of the way, the phe­nomenon in ques­tion is as fol­lows: two con­struc­tions used to express the future in Eng­lish are used by the com­ment­ators to describe events that have actu­ally just happened in the game. These con­struc­tions are will VERB, and BE going to / gonna VERB. Both of these are often com­bined with expres­sions rel­evant to the nature of the game: go down, fall (down), be killed, etc.

Some quotes from games I recently watched during the European cham­pi­on­ships:

Arthas will be going down.
But Nazeebo’s gonna go down anyway.
They get them­selves Johanna. She will end up falling!
They’re gonna be doing a massive rota­tion towards the top here.
And sud­denly that top keep is very low; will end up falling down.
Has­uObs will end up falling!
This kill will go off before the Ances­tral Healing con­nects.
They’re gonna blow Kael’thas up!
Another tower is gonna be taken down there.

Usu­ally, the will is emphas­ised by the caster.

The typ­ical thing, as said, is that these phrases above are all used after the event described has already happened. Rather than pre­dicting that some­thing is likely to happen given the cur­rent state of the game, the casters use a con­struc­tion that is nor­mally used for future events to describe the imme­diate past.

I’m not sure if this is a usage that is found in sports­casting more gen­er­ally, or per­haps spe­cific­ally US-based sports­casting. If you recog­nise this from out­side the world of eSports, please let me know in the com­ments. Regard­less, I’ve heard the con­struc­tion used by Amer­ican Eng­lish casters, British Eng­lish casters, as well as casters who are non-native speakers of Eng­lish. This sug­gests that the con­struc­tion might be part of an eSports-casting idiom.

As for a pos­sible origin, one explan­a­tion that looks plaus­ible to me is that these con­struc­tions arose as com­ment­ators were aiming to pre­dict what was going to happen next in the game, even as game events moved too quickly for them to finish their sen­tence. In other words, the future had become the present, and sub­sequently the recent past, while they were speaking. If this hap­pens enough times, it wouldn’t be that odd to stick to future con­struc­tions as the standard way of describing game events, regard­less of whether the event described is loc­ated in the imme­diate future, the present, or the imme­diate past.

  • Future research idea: cross-check this with pos­sibly existing cor­pora of sports­casting speech data. Also: cross-check with casting in other lan­guages, since this usage could the­or­et­ic­ally be language-independent.
  • Spot the con­struc­tions your­self by viewing the EU cham­pi­on­ship final.