In short, the spectator-analyst is the person who watches the game from afar without the burden of actually playing. A more direct definition: a backseat driver.
We’ve all seen it a thousand times. Zuna tries to make a huge play and ends up finding himself caught in the middle of the opposing team with no support. “ZunaFeed” and “LUL” fill the Twitch chat as the viewers work themselves into a frenzy over what appears to be the dumbest play ever, and Reddit posts immediately crop up criticizing the player for his poor choices and/or his mechanical errors. The casters try to make sense of it, but the one story on everyone’s mind is how “retarded” you have to be to make a play like that. If you’ve found yourself saying the same things, don’t worry—you’re not alone.
I’m just using Zuna as an example here, but this sort of thing happens to even the most consistent players in almost any competitive scene. Whether you play Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends, basketball, or badminton, there will always be mobs of people trying to tear down your play and explain the what the proper decision was.
But is that okay?
Let’s be real. The skill range of Twitch chat is comprised scores of Bronze-Plat players, quite a few Diamond/Masters players, and maybe a handful of Grandmasters. So it’s impossible to tell exactly who has an well-informed opinion on the subject unless you recognize the name. Still, all fall prey to the same pitfall: they all have the luxury of observing the game without having to go through the mental and physical rigor of actually playing it and worrying about the outcome. Spectator-analysts are movie-goers at a dollar theater with overpriced popcorn, worried only about the entertainment at hand and typically very little invested into the actual outcome of the match. They do not need to predict the movements of the players or make decisions themselves; they can simply sit back and watch the show.
This is the difficulty of being a spectator-analyst: knowing that you have full information of the game and a much clearer view of what either play should or should not have done in order to achieve the best outcome. While a player is juggling a multitude of things on top of the pressure of performance, the spectator can focus in on a single asset and analyze it well after the play occurred. They don’t have to keep up morale or make the next call.
That said, opinions from spectators with full vision and time to focus on the gameplay are not necessarily bad. An analyst almost always has full knowledge of the games he or she is studying, and their opinion can be valuable feedback from time to time; at the very least, it is good discussion for the fans and fanatics who make up a sports/esports fan base. The player themselves typically know what they did wrong (hindsight is 20/20), usually better than the majority of viewers. In the case of Zuna or other top tier players, the levels of decision making are usually far beyond the average spectator.
The Hoax of Qualified Opinions
Which brings me to my next point: everyone is still free to have an opinion. When Reddit blows up with bronze-level spectator-analysts trying to shove their way into the conversation and say something intelligent, it’s easy to call them out on their skill level on the basis that “they don’t know what they’re talking about”. In fact, this idea gets blown out of proportion to the degree that some will say only pros can realistically comment on other pros’ play, and sometimes even less successful pros get shit on for giving their opinions on top tier Korean players. It becomes a weird metagame of opinion-shaming those who are opinion-shaming pros by method of opinion.
This is unfair and unfounded. The best coaches and analysts in the world are nowhere near the level of their players. The best coaches in StarCraft and League of Legends were never the best players of all time, and some of them never even really played professionally at all—Coach Park of SKT1 and later CJ Entus comes to mind. As I suspected (and the Internet confirmed), there are many football coaches who have never even played organized football as well. Though it definitely helps to have a certain level of skill, understanding of the game comes in many shapes, and it’s not hard to put two and two together sometimes.
Therefore, I think it’s important to base your criticism of opinions on the merit of the argument rather than the player. One word posts that say “ZunaFeed” are poor excuses for actual analysis and can be ignored. However, even if someone is low ranked or not quite at the same level as the player they are criticizing, it is the value of their explanation that matters most. A logical rationale and thoughtful response demands some respect. If some of the details are wrong, feel free to set the record straight, but don’t be that person who assumed you have to be somehow qualified to have a good opinion.
TL;DR Be aware of your position as a spectator-analyst and have mercy on the players when they do what appears to be “stupid”. Criticism and discussion is warranted where necessary, but there is no such thing as a “qualified opinion”, only a good or bad one.