Digital Media & VideogamesLanguages & Linguistics

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.