Observers are responsible for all of the in-game action esports fans feast their eyes on, yet they continue to be one of the most under-recognized talents on any given production roster.
This is no different in Valorant, which must rely on a number of observers for its three separate VCT leagues and numerous additional Challenger Leagues. Fortunately, the game has introduced new and upcoming talents in tandem with established names in the industry.
As one of two observers for Valorant Challengers 2023: North America, Tasia “DazedDreams” McConkie has made a name for herself since starting in 2020.
“I didn't know esports was a thing, let alone an industry, until Valorant came out,” DazedDreams revealed in an interview over email. “I definitely didn't know about observing.”
Early on in the game's life, DazedDreams joined a marginalized genders Discord that would become known as Galorants. On Galorants, DazedDreams created a teaching program titled Learning Valorant where she made lessons about map callouts and wall-bangable spots with the goal of creating a safe space for new PC and FPS players to the game. She eventually began hosting and broadcasting in-house events called Playing for Fun in order to provide feedback to individual players.
During Playing for Fun events, DazedDreams would produce, observe, and cast by herself. At the time, she wasn't aware that she was taking on the load of three completely different roles in esports productions all at once. While the experience and skills she developed were invaluable, the task was a challenging one.
“It is best to find individuals to fill those roles and to solely focus on [one] role,” DazedDreams said. “As you can imagine, even if someone did know all of these roles, they will still have a difficult time doing all three at the same time and executing them well.”
It was only when she pinged legendary Counter-Strike: Global Offensive observer Heather “sapphiRe” Garozzo, whom she saw chatting in the Galorants Discord during the For the Women Summer Showdown, that DazedDreams learned of the observer role. As she became more involved with the scene, DazedDreams naturally gravitated towards observing because most people wanted to cast.
“A lot of transitioning into the official circuits was timing and impressing the right people,” DazedDreams said. She found a mentor and formed connections with other observers who believed in her talent and recommended her for gigs.
“Back in 2020, there weren't many Valorant observers, so it was easier to make connections and establish myself,” DazedDreams continued. “There were [also] a lot more opportunities, specifically volunteer opportunities, for observers to develop their skills at a Tier Two [or] Tier One level.”
While DazedDreams mainly focuses on Valorant, she has also had the opportunity to dip her toes in Halo, League of Legends, Apex Legends, PUBG mobile, Free Fire, Fortnite, World of Warships, and more. Based on her broad but limited experience observing other esports, DazedDreams has noticed that the fundamentals of her role remain the same.
“All observers should prioritize catching action, highlighting key players, showing key weapons or abilities, illustrating team rotations, and communicating to other production members,” DazedDreams said. “[But] depending on the event and the game, there are multiple observers doing different jobs and focusing on different aspects of the game.”
For example, one observer could be responsible for “pressing buttons” to control the players' point-of-views while another could be responsible for using a controller to capture smooth and steady cinematic shots.
“Observers, especially in-game directors, are unbelievably important for the viewership experience and storytelling aspect because they are the decision-makers on what gameplay is shown,” DazedDreams said.
And while observers may not have as much overt control over the audience experience as casters, they are just as, if not more, instrumental in developing the narrative in any given game or event.
In a game like Valorant, this is made all the more important because storylines can change not only round by round but also within the same round, and communication between observers and the rest of the production team can be minimal.
“Prior to show start, maybe [the] casters will want to focus on a certain team or player,” DazedDreams said. “If so, observers and the in-game directors would want to focus on that team or player.”
But at least in Valorant, there is no way to collaborate with the casters once the game starts. “Observers may be able to listen to casters and base our choices on what they are saying,” DazedDreams said. “However, depending on the production, listening to caster audio may not [even] be an option.”
This means that it is often entirely up to the observers to make split-second decisions on what viewers and casters should see during the broadcast. As a result, observers must know their game intimately in order to capture the perfect shot at the perfect time.
“I remember observing [a game] and showing a critical Sage wall going down,” DazedDreams said. “The casters were about to comment [on] how the melting Sage wall will allow the attackers to rotate and execute onto a free site. That [was] exactly what the other team did.”
It's moments like these that elevate the viewing experience to another level.
“I always tell new observers this,” DazedDreams said. “If casters are the storytellers, [then] observers are the story.”