Behind the CS:GO Observer’s Desk: An Inside Look from Heather “sapphiRe” Garozzo

August 19, 2016 | By sapphiRe | GAMING

Fans of Counter-Strike will likely be familiar with the teams, players, coaches, casters, hosts and analysts that make up a CS:GO tournament production. However, there’s one very critical position fans may take for granted – that’s the CS:GO observer.

Often hired with the “talent”, but also working closely with production, a CS:GO observer serves as essentially an in-game producer. It’s the observer’s job to ensure fans are shown the most important and exciting frags throughout a CS:GO match.

In CS:GO, there are ten different players navigating throughout a map. Action can happen at any given time throughout a round. Further, frags can occur at the same time at different areas in the map. It’s up to the observer to determine what’s the most important piece of information to relay to the audience. The observer controls which player’s first-person point-of-view is shown on stream.

While a flank could be happening on one side of the map, on the other side of the map the world’s best AWPer could be staring down the barrel at three flick shots. The observer needs to anticipate the most existing action and quickly navigate to that player’s POV.

An ideal observer’s workstation has at least four instances of CS:GO in front of them to monitor the action across a map, while giving heavy focus to the CS:GO radar.

With sometimes one million dollars on the line, hundreds of thousands of fans tuning in, the best players in the world competing and top-tier casters hyping up the action, all of that can quickly be all for naught if an experienced observer isn’t hired to showcase the action.

A CS:GO OBSERVER’S SKILLSET

While an observer doesn’t necessarily have to be a professional player, having some level of competitive experience is certainly beneficial.

The observer must have a high understanding of each and every CS:GO map. It’s important to understand the angles, chokepoints and all position situations where opponents crosshairs can meet.

Just like a CS:GO competitor, a CS:GO observer must have quick reaction time. It’s important to be able to understand what’s happening in-game within a fraction of a second and quickly navigate across the map to capture great frag moments on stream.

The observer must be tuned in to the casters at all times. Besides getting a feed from the observers, the casters also have their own computers to locate action. It’s on the observer to follow along with the caster’s direction so the viewer has a seamless experience.

THE PERKS OF BEING A CS:GO OBSERVER

As much as I love and miss competing in Counter-Strike, there are some great perks living the “observer lifestyle.”

Being an observer takes you all over the world. These past twelve months alone, I’ve been to Las Vegas, Ohio, Atlanta, San Jose, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Germany, Poland and England. Trips to Brazil and Oakland are in the near future.

The observers usually get an early look of the setup and can meander around the stage before and after a show is complete. We also can get a quick snap with the champion’s trophy.

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Before and after events, I get to mingle with the best players in the world. We all spend time together at the hotel lobby bar or go out for a night on the town to explore a new city.

During match days, I’m able to stand near the teams, watch them warm-up and listen to their strategies. I’ve been able to watch and celebrate with teams in some of the game’s most memorable moments. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet some incredibly talented and kind-hearted individuals from all walks of life.

As esports becomes more mainstream, more celebrities and professional athletes have joined in on the CS:GO fun. I’ve met people like Shaq, Charles Barkley, Rick Fox, Ricky Lumpkin, Kyle Long and Morgan Spurlock, among others.

Just like casters and players, CS:GO observers are invited to opening ceremony dinners with great food, drinks and conversation. After events, either the tournament organizer or Twitch will host a grand party with drinks on the house. Sometimes there may even be post-event paintball match with the teams and casters.

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While observers certainly can’t match the fandom that follow players and talent, a few fans have shown their love to observers in unique ways; whether making signs to hold up while in the audience, bringing custom gifts or asking for autographs.

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Lastly, but most importantly, I get to work with the most successful production and talent crews in the business. It’s a great feeling, for example, to know that I’m able to help Anders and Semmler cast the ESL Cologne $1 Million Major Finals for millions of fans. Knowing I’m responsible for broadcasting the world’s best CS:GO action to an international fanbase is an incredibly rewarding feeling and something that drives my passion to continue as a CS:GO observer.

THE PRESSURES OF BEING A CS:GO OBSERVER

While the perks of being a CS:GO observer make the job incredibly rewarding, the job doesn’t come without some pressures.

It’s on the observer to showcase the best action in a CS:GO match. Having an “off-day” impacts the viewing experience for potentially millions of viewers. Moreover, the casters are relying on the observer to showcase the most important action. An inexperienced observer or an observer having an off-day will negatively impact the caster’s ability to do their jobs. Depending on the prestige of an event, there’s a chance only one observer will be on-hand. It can be draining to stare at dots on a radar for hours on end, especially when 60hz monitors must be used for broadcasting. The observer must be well-rested each and every event day.

The observer is responsible for anywhere from four to ten computers (including those of the casters) – get them set-up, upload and verify that all configs match and ensure the game is updated or the correct beta version is being used. When the producer or director changes which PC is going out to stream, it should feel very seamless to the viewer because every version of CS:GO should look and feel exactly the same.

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Event days are often very long. Observers are generally one of the first to arrive at the venue (for tech rehearsal) and one of the last to leave (we don’t leave until the final match is complete). This can often mean up to eighteen hour days in the most extreme case.

Still, the benefits of the position certainly more than make up for the pressures that naturally come with live production.

HOW TO START OBSERVING CS:GO

There are very few professional CS:GO observers worldwide. With so many events occuring week after week, there is a need for more experienced observers in the scene. However, it’s not something that’s easy to get into. Top tier events are wary of hiring an unproven observer, as they know the risk it could have on the entire production.

It’s a job that requires some experience-building at smaller community events before being promoted to the million dollar majors.

Start by observing matches from home, on your personal stream. There are hundreds, if not thousands of matches across leagues like ESEA, CEVO and FACEIT that go unstreamed. Find a GOTV IP and jump into a match. Practice broadcasting the match and ask your audience for feedback. Build up a portfolio of “observed matches” to share with future employers.

After doing so, start reaching out to smaller events – either LAN or online. There are new tournaments popping up every week for a few thousand dollars. It may mean volunteering to start, but as you gain experience, you’ll be able to request a higher salary.

It’s very important that observers build trust with both the production staff and the casters. Build relationships with those people that are putting on events and eventually you may be able to work your way up to top tier events.

It takes time, but the payoff of being an integral part of a CS:GO production is worth every effort.

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