Search icon


03rd Apr 2018

Professional FIFA commentators tell us what it’s like to be the Gary Neville of esports

Wil Jones

Brought to you by Gfinity Elite Series

What is it actually like to commentate on pro-level FIFA 18 games? How do you become the Martin Tyler or Jamie Redknapp of the digital world? How is it different to real football? To find out, we spoke to Brandon Smith and Richard Buckley, the men in the commentary box for the FIFA section of Gfinity’s Elite Series.

Brandon and Richard made their name by winning the EA SPORTS Commentators Cup in 2017. It’s a particularly interesting place to be – whereas most esports commentary has developed from scratch as the games have become popular, FIFA of course has decades of real life football coverage to be compared to. Both still students, Brandon and Richard met studying sports journalism at University Campus Football and Business (UCFB) in Manchester, an institution specialising in the sports industry. Instead of just being kids who got their start screaming along with Twitch streams, these are two smart young guys who look to have big broadcasting careers ahead of them.

With the Elite Series season 3 currently in full swing, we sat down with Brandon and Richard at the Gfinity Arena in Fulham, West London.


What’s your earliest memories of FIFA?

Richard: I remember playing FIFA 07 or 08 when I was 9 or 10 years old. My older brother is eight years older than me, and when I started beating him, I realised that I was actually decent at the game.

Brandon: I’d probably say quite a similar thing. Playing against my brother was always an interesting one, especially when I started to get better and beat him, and he’d just turn off the console. I didn’t realise the competitive world there was until about 2013.

Did you always want to be sports commentators?  

Richard: I always wanted to get into broadcasting – I did a sports radio show on my local radio station when I was like 14 to 16, on a Saturday afternoon, taking phone calls. I had no intentions of going into esports.

Brandon: I used to go down to watch either Bognor Regis, my local team, or Brighton & Hove Albion, with a dictaphone – [A commentator once told me to] just go and record yourself, just to get like the habit of speaking, and I used to upload on to YouTube.

Richard: When we first went to university, we could either go down the journalism route, or down like a commentary route. And for me, I’m much better at speaking than I am writing. I went to Middlesborough U23s, and Blackpool in the second round of the FA Cup, and did some commentary there just practicing with Sky Sports commentator Peter Smith.

At university I met Brandon, and he’d done a little bit of broadcasting before. We played some games of FIFA against each other, and then the opportunity came up with EA Sports to participate in the Commentators Cup. We won that competition and from there the ball has just carried on rolling.


How did the Commentator’s Cup actually work?

Brandon: We had to commentate over a clip from the Paris regional final between Hashtag Tass and S04_Cihan. To put in perspective, picture me and Richard in my room at uni, dressed up and everything, on a little webcam with the green-screen behind us. We didn’t expect to hear anything back, and then two weeks later we got an email saying can you come to London for the final.

Richard: It is all about just seizing opportunity. Straight after that we got an opportunity with Ajax esports in Amsterdam. And then went to Qatar last year, we went to Los Angeles, Sweden, Germany, San Francisco…

Brandon: I’d never been to America before in my life, and to get to go through FIFA was just surreal.

How is it different to IRL football commentary? Like, I’ve noticed you name real players like Messi or Ronaldo as they’re playing – do you have to keep re-contextualising in your head that this actually two guys going head to head on a PlayStation game, or do you commentate as if this was an actual match?

Brandon: [Until recently], there were never really ‘FIFA‘ commentators, so for big events they would bring in a football commentator to commentate on FIFA. But they would only be able to commentate at that level. When we commentate we get into the game, we talk about UTs of a player, why they’re doing certain skills, why they can outpace a certain player. We actually commentate on the players, like if Messi is going through, and at the same time as that, talk about the players that are controlling the actual games, like what Gorilla has won. There is a big difference.

Richard: I think the main difference from doing real life football and FIFA is the pace of it. In FIFA, it’s two six-minute halves, whereas in football it’s 45 minutes. There’s a lot of time in football where the commentators are almost stalling for time. Like, if the ball is out for a throw in, if you’re watching TV, the commentators will be just quiet, or they’ll show a replay. Whereas in FIFA, it’s pretty much 12 minutes of just non-stop action. You’ve got to keep on talking.

Where do you see yourself going from here? Would you like to be on Sky Sports? Or do you think FIFA is going to be big enough to just stay in this world?

Richard: I think FIFA will continue to grow. If, or when, the Premier League gets involved, I could see that going on to Sky, and there being a weekly Premier League show with FIFA esports. If we were the commentators or the presenters of that, that would be like the dream.


Would you ever try your hand at any other esports?

Brandon: You see a lot of commentators dive into about four different esports, but then you can’t ever get the knowledge that you want, and maybe the reputation as well.

Richard: Yeah. FIFA‘s our specialty. You wouldn’t tell like Roger Federer to go play squash even though it’s still using a racket.

So what commentators have you been particularly influenced by?

Richard: For me, Gary Neville. I really like how he goes really deep into the game. How he speaks as well – when I was doing broadcast journalism a lot of people said you had to hide your accent – “You can’t get anywhere in broadcasting with an accent”. Whereas with Gary Neville, that’s one of his stand out points.

How important is your friendship to being a good commentary team?

Brandon: I think one thing that people find incredible is that I can stop talking, and he just knows when to talk. I don’t have to say “Richard, what do you think about this chance?”, I’ll just stop and he’ll just start talking. I think there are duos out there that don’t really have a good relationship outside of their work like we do. Me and Richard are at the same uni, we’ll go and do stuff together, we’ll go out and go socialise, and I think that’s a real big key thing.


Now that FIFA is your job, do you ever feel that concentrating on it all the time might take the fun out of it and ruin it for you?

Brandon: I think it’s good from the commentator’s point of view. If you’re a pro you play 2000 games, and then sometimes it maybe is just a job. But as commentators, we just watch the action. Then afterwards we’re like gagging to play a game.

Richard: Yeah, I think when I’m not commentating, or doing uni work, or out and stuff, I’ll be playing FIFA. Nothing’s changed.

Finally, how do people react when you tell them you are a FIFA commentator?

Richard: Usually the first question is “What, so you can actually make money from that!?”  And then explaining to them that people are paid salaries by teams and football clubs to play FIFA competitively, and then, for example, that Gorilla won $200,000 last year.  The more you explain it, the more they start to understand it, but when I told people that we’re going to Los Angeles to commentate on FIFA, they were like “What, really!?”

For more information on Gfinity Elite Series, tickets and live streams, go to the Gfiinity website