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.