The story of Raafaa: The new kid on the LCS block
Dexerto sat down with LCS caster Marc ‘Raafaa’ Arrambide, the newest addition to the LCS broadcast team for 2023. He spoke about his ambition to create new and inventive segments on the show, the long path that led him to the LCS, his first split on the broadcast, and the struggles of coming in after Phreak and Dash left the broadcast.
The LCS broadcast has gone through its fair share of transitions this year. They moved away from having a traditional host like Dash and put much more of a focus on goofy broadcast segments and big personalities, something far detached from the LCS’ previous goals of coming across like a more traditional and professional sports broadcast.
And, though the LCS lost some all-time greats on the broadcast team, it also gained a new face: Marc ‘Raafaa’ Arrambide. While he’s new to the LCS, he’s got years of experience casting in League of Legends and helped define the Wild Rift broadcast in its short stint as a Western esport.
Dexerto sat down with Raafaa to talk about his first split as an LCS caster, his creative process for coming up with unique segments, his path to becoming a caster, and his ambitions for the future of the broadcast and his role in it.
Humble beginnings and a helping hand
For most that end up being involved with massive broadcasts like that of the LCS, the process of “making it” is often one filled with frustration, uncertainty, and hardship. On top of requiring a massive time investment to hone your craft and make a name for yourself wherever you can.
Raafaa’s journey is one that started from his passion for League of Legends and esports broadcasting that gradually evolved to the point where he dropped everything to focus solely on casting.
“When I started pursuing broadcasting, I was working a part-time job, and I was also in school. I didn’t know if I wanted to continue doing school or go into the workforce early. after I was full-time in school for a few years, transferred, lost credits, and got behind, I was like, ‘Man, this school thing is taking longer than I want it to.'”
“I didn’t even know if it was worth it, and I felt bad for putting my parents in this position where they’re paying out-of-pocket tuition, and I’m not even enjoying it and doing all too well. So I lessened the workload but wanted to feel like I was being productive, so I got a part-time job. Both were… Meh. I had to figure out what I wanted to do with my life.”
“Shoutcasting, I realized that I enjoyed it, and it was a way to start being an outlet of all these years of me putting value in and being so passionate about the League of Legends space. But I didn’t know how I was gonna get from point A to point B, where I’m just a nobody and another fan to casting LCS.”
“The only thing I had ever seen was Captain Flowers getting a viral clip on Reddit, and then, nine months later, he’s on LCS. That was the only path that I knew without having to go to school or get a contact at Riot. It felt like somehow I needed to find ways to practice online and get a viral clip. Thankfully, that’s not how I ended up having to go about it. I found my own way into the space.”
Raafaa ultimately decided to remove some of the luck factors through sheer effort. Rather than trying to work on his broadcast skills while going to school and working part-time, he devoted himself to the pursuit of his passion. Something he was able to do, all thanks to his father having faith that he could pull it off.
“I asked my dad, ‘I want to quit school, I want to quit my job, and I want to put a full year into making this work. Is that ok with you? Cause if it’s not, I’ll move out and just do it on my own.’ And he agreed. He was like, ‘I don’t understand what this is, but you seem happy doing it. Sure, I’ll give you a year.’ So I pursued it for a full year, not making any money at all. I was just volunteering.”
“When nothing came of it, I thought, ‘Ok, this is over. Guess I’ll go back to school.’ But my dad was surprisingly like, ‘No, I can tell you’re much happier doing this than anything else you were doing when you moved back here to Utah. I don’t know how long that’ll take you, but please tell me how I can help.'”
“I didn’t really know what I could tell him to help me do. He was trying to approach it like an entertainment industry, like with music. Did I just need to get a contact? But I didn’t know. I was just going through amateur Discords and amateur leagues, and I just continued trying to get better.”
While Raafaa may well have been able to make it to the LCS on his own, he attributed a large portion of his success to having the full support of his father. Having the time and resources to devote himself fully to casting paid off in spades.
But what does improving as a broadcaster look like? It’s not like you can “win” a broadcast. There’s no objective way to gauge such a subjective medium. That said, Raafaa’s put a ton of time into thinking about the concept of broadcast theory and the ways in which he can discover concrete ways to improve his presence as on-screen talent.
Raafaa’s refining his own style instead of copying others
Being in a position where you’re expected to replace other broadcast talent isn’t an enviable one. No matter what, Phreak and Dash being off the 2023 broadcast was going to leave a hole that isn’t possible to fill. Raafaa knew this going in and expected backlash from LCS fans.
“Most of the time, especially this year, I haven’t really gone scouring the internet for thoughts and opinions on me. Especially since I’m the new guy. I already anticipated that many people are gonna be hesitant about wanting me on the broadcast in the first place, especially in the wake of them seeing Phreak leave the broadcast, them seeing Dash not getting a chance to return to the broadcast.”
“I know that, even if it’s not my fault directly, and even if I’m not trying to replace Phreak and what he brought to the broadcast or me not trying to replace Dash, day one comments are, ‘We lost Dash for this guy.’ I know there’s nothing productive I can glean from that guy. I can only take community response and feedback so seriously. If someone takes the time to lay out critical thoughts, I’m like, ‘Ok.’ Whereas if I see someone who’s like, ‘F*** this guy,’ I can’t get much from that.”
Raafaa had the near-impossible task of trying to guess what an already-skeptical audience would want before even the audience itself knew what they wanted. So, his solution was to just take things he already knew he was good at and try to transition them into the broadcast.
He described trying to figure out what makes something a “Raafaa segment” rather than just another breakdown of what a player did in-game.
“I’m just trying to do it in a way that is different from looking at the telestrator and saying, ‘This is what they did.’ If there’s a way you can allow people to creatively or through a different artistic means to express their appreciation or fandom for a player, to me, that’s cool. Because that gets to resonate with an audience that may not necessarily care for the analytical insights.”
“There’s clearly an audience that wants the analytical stuff, but I think there’s also an audience that gets a chance to, if the bit lands well, go, ‘Wow, this is cool!’ We’re bringing in music and making this fit a more casual audience.”
In a landscape where production value is skyrocketing in and around esports, Raafaa got up on stage with a guitar in-hand and sang a song he wrote to discuss about the LCS split so far, one that also addressed the change in direction for the broadcast that viewers were still getting used to.
It’s ultimately an acknowledgment that, while the team is still learning what it means to exist without some of the all-time broadcast greats, they’re trying something new instead of playing it safe.
“I tried writing an original song that summarized the first four weeks. It was more endearing and heartfelt, and I think the small audience that it landed with appreciated that and thought it worked really well. But I think the audience that doesn’t care for that and wants something more high energy and more, just kind of like zany and wacky, which has reflected in a lot of the content that has done really well this year, those two music things haven’t lined up with that.”
“The last piece I did for Yeon and Eyla was this, like, 80s power ballad. Still kind of lower energy, but it was a lot more… It was better in terms of execution than the other two. Every time I’m doing something with music, I’m doing something different, and I’m trying to explore different genres and different angles to all still do, which I hope is the same thing: Using music to build up and elaborate further on players’ stories and narratives. If I’m not doing that, what’s the point of doing music for the LCS if it’s not about the players and the teams?”
Truly the players’ caster
Throughout the split, Raafaa made a point of talking with and getting to know players in the LCS. Though he already knew some of the up-and-comers from Academy through his time casting just below the LCS, building rapport with players and getting to know them as people was something he really strived to do.
“I just personally reach out to players. I go, ‘Hey, is it cool if I just ask you some vibe check questions before your match this weekend?’ I’ll ask, like, ‘What are you currently working on as an individual? What are some things your team needs to work on? What are your goals as a team this split?’ And sometimes I’m just gonna get the same answers, like, ‘Oh, I’m trying to win LCS. I’m trying to be top 3 in my role.’ But, even if I get the same answer that doesn’t really expand on my insight, that’s fine. I’m establishing rapport with this person, and I’m trying to show to this person that I do care about their trajectory.”
“That way, when something interesting does happen in their match, I can turn to them and go, ‘Hey, this blind Thresh hook was super sick. This Insec was gnarly.’ I want to develop relationships with players so that they can feel confident that I’m doing to tell their stories right, or that I’ll be able to share their stories in a way they want expressed to the audience.”
Raafaa had a number of segments with players this year in an LCS-wide effort to bridge the gap between players and broadcast talent. Rather than just having players confined to promotional videos and post-game interviews. Players were regularly featured in seasonal content and invited to cast matches and bring some of their insight to the show.
For example, Raafaa has an incredibly natural chemistry with TSM’s Chime, a player who’s had his own difficult path up to the LCS. With all-time greats like Bjergsen retiring from the LCS, building up audience interest in new players is an essential part of keeping old and new viewers’ passion for the league alive.
This chemistry then translated to a tri-cast featuring both Chime and Raafaa alongside Raz, a seasoned LCS analyst, and caster. Some players are a more natural fit for broadcast than others, but Chime’s chemistry with Raafaa came through in their smooth transitions between analytical/game state commentary and play-by-play action.
These broadcast appearances often feature players on lower-tier teams as well. The reality of competition is that, in order to have a winner, someone has to lose. It can be easy to focus on top-of-the-table teams and mold a narrative around players that are on the up-and-up, but leaving lower tier teams and the people on them in the dust isn’t something Raafaa has any interest in doing.
“I think that, a lot of the time, teams placed lower in the standings get overshadowed. Especially in the past few years, they don’t get love from the broadcast. They just avoid them like the plague. It’s like, ‘Oh, well, Immortals kind of suck. If we don’t have anything good to say, let’s not talk about them.’ Like, well… I mean, just because they aren’t performing well doesn’t mean we can’t talk about the players as people and get to know the players as people.”
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“The beneficial thing for me is that some players on, like, Dignitas, Immortals, Team Liquid – I’ve known Yeon since 2020 when he first started amateur, and he was the first class of 100 Thieves Next. I can talk about his player progression, his journeys, his struggles, his best moments, his worst moments. I can also talk about Haeri briefly because I cast for him in Academy, Immortals. I love Kenvi. When I get the chance to go back and go through their history and try to understand them better as people, I get the chance to put myself in their shoes.”
“I know there are other casters that might choose to podcast it up and talk about something else if they feel like there’s nothing else to talk about. My usual go-to if I’ve already accounted for game state is I will try to talk about a player’s journey. Not saying other casters don’t do this, but I’ll even take the time to talk about something that’s… maybe a fun fact about the player, things in general that they’ve done.”
“I want to help players build fandoms for themselves so that, when you get invested in someone who is struggling and, in some ways, can be more relatable because they’re not the best and they’re not always doing super well, it becomes much sweeter when they finally do get a chance to make that big push or have a big game. It feels more rewarding.”
The case Raafaa made here was proven in Spring 2023 when Golden Guardians went from a 0-4 team in Week 2 to the runner-up for the LCS title and one of North America’s MSI representatives. Longtime fans of players like Licorice and Stixxay got the payoff of them being near the top for the first time in years, and being able to convey their storylines well is something that helps net those players new fans as they head to international competition.
Raafaa can relate to these competitors in more ways than one, seeing as before he came onto the LCS broadcast, he had already defined the casting meta in another game: Wild Rift. Though the mobile game was short-lived when it came to Western esports, Raafaa certainly made his mark as someone who cast at Icons, the international Grand Final for Wild Rift.
Casting is a competition all its own
Though mobile games historically don’t do well as competitive esports in comparison to Eastern countries like South Korea, China, and India, Wild Rift was given a chance at becoming the first breakout mobile esport in the West. While we know now that the game didn’t pull enough viewership or attention from Western audiences to keep the competitive scene alive, Raafaa learned a lot from casting and playing Wild Rift that has helped him evolve and mold his casting style in League of Legends.
“League of Legends, before minions spawn at 1:05, you have a minute to go to your lane and do level 1 stuff. Wild Rift starts immediately, as soon as you walk out the gate. Minions spawn at like 5 seconds they all arrive to lane at like 20 seconds. That’s when all your jungle camps spawn as well. Passive gold generation is tripled. Overall game pace is like 2-3 times as fast. A normal 25-30 minute game of League of Legends takes like 12-15 minutes in Wild Rift. It’s practically half the time. If someone stomps, you can win the game in like 8 minutes.”
“We know games are fast, we’re gonna try to catch everything. But I think it’s a losing battle if we’re all game state and that’s all we have the time for. There’s no way we’re going to catch every single game state that’s occurring and also get to talk about things we think are important which are, you know, narrative for the players, stakes for the players, being able to bring other player brand building moments in-game while also trying to respect the normal dichotomy between League of Legends casters with dedicated roles in play-by-play and color casters. For me, in Wild Rift, I don’t think that should exist.”
Raafaa spoke fondly of TJ, someone he titled a “mobile game casting legend”, and the man who taught him a lot about the differences between casting Wild Rift and League of Legends. Their ability to come into Wild Rift and define the casting meta was something that taught Raafaa a lot about finding space to, as he put it, give the cast “room to breathe” and mix his passion for telling player stories with his play-by-play casting style.
For those unfamiliar, building upon the storylines is something the color caster traditionally focuses on. That doesn’t mean play-by-play casters never dip into player storylines, but it tends to be much easier to wrap storylines nicely into analysis than it is to integrate it into play-by-play commentary. Raafaa’s trained himself to take advantage of what both roles can offer to the broadcast and try to carve out his own casting style.
“How is your delivery unique and fresh versus another play-by-play caster? How do I define myself as Raafaa and have a Raafaa cast versus the way Caster #23 is gonna cast? You’ve definitely heard Caster #23, where it’s another play-by-play that calls it. They have the radio-level voice and they always end like this. They ramp up like this and always end like this. That’s your, like, ESPN/radio formula. I catch myself doing it every now and then, but I want to cast games like I would talk to people. I want to be real, I want to be genuine. If I’m excited about something, I want to show it. I want to exclaim it.“
Ultimately, being a caster isn’t a competition against other creative minds on the team: It’s a competition against yourself, an internal struggle to figure out what does and doesn’t work without any clear indication as to what’s the “right” way to do things.
“People have heard Joe Miller, Dman, Phreak, Riv, Quickshot, all the OGs from over the years. Why should they want to hear new guy come in and cast in a different way than someone else? But the people who end up being the best get people to like them for their style. That’s why Flowers, Medic, Atlas, Drakos, a lot of the play-by-plays for the new generation are regarded so highly.”
“For me, I just know that’s going to be one of the biggest struggles: Having to accept that people are going to take a long time to warm up to me. I have to not let that feedback affect my growth and really just listen to what my broadcast team is telling me to work on, what my producers are telling me to work on, and do what I’ve always been doing since day 1: Be my worst critic.”
“I have to be the person that sits down and reviews my own work and talk through and reflect critically. ‘Was this the best way to deliver this? Was this the best way to set up x, y, and z? Was this the best way to toss over to this? How can I better phrase this next time? How can I better make use of this small window to deliver a narrative point that’s important to this state of the game?'”
“I have to trust my own judgement rather than listen to what the community says. At least for now, because… with no disrespect intended, they are not my job. They don’t do my job. You can have a subjective taste that has some merit and value but, at the end of the day, they don’t know me holistically. They don’t know the thought process that I put into these things. Therefore, I can only get so much if I were to base my improvement on what they said. I have to trust myself, and I have to trust my peers.”
The path to improvement is ultimately non-linear, especially at the level Raafaa’s at. That said, he’s got a pretty solid idea of what makes his casting unique and the base he needs to build upon in order to become a caster that can stand alongside other all-time greats and make it to international competition.
“Obviously I’d like to be better with my word choice and be artistic with that, but sometimes the best things I can say are the simplest things. If I’m excited about Eyla getting a nasty, multi-man Thresh flay, you know, I would love if I could in-the-moment turn a phrase like Medic or CaptainFlowers and just spit off something that’s super cool and memorable.”
“But I think, for me, the things that are most memorable when I’m casting is the tone I deliver. I know my vocal range is very high, and the tone I deliver and the emotion I want to bring to a cast is probably the most different thing about me compared to a lot of play-by-play casters.”
“There are times when people are not ready for it, and they think, ‘Oh, he’s just screaming.’ but I have – when I get emotional, I get up there. I get very invested in how events turn out for a play, and I think about this player performing something and what it means to them. Like, holy s***, they went through all these struggles and made the game-winning play that gets them to Raleigh, gets them to New Jersey, gets them to Worlds.”
“I realized that, when I was getting into casting and thinking about what I wanted people to remember me for, it’s just being able to deliver the emotional tone that immortalizes a player’s greatest moment forever.”
Life outside the LCS and finding out what’s next
Raafaa’s got a lot more going on than just his own casting. He lives with a few other casters that are working within the League of Legends space in what they’ve dubbed “Casa de Caster”, and, outside of comparing notes and giving each other advice in their free time, Raafaa also gets to live with like-minded friends while working his dream job.
Plus, he’s good at more than just casting: Raafaa’s killing it in the kitchen. If you go to Raafaa’s house, you know you’re gonna be eating good. He may have done a Grubhub ad, but that doesn’t mean he has to order in to get some restaurant-quality food.
Making it to the LCS has also changed the way that Raafaa looks at life. With it having been his dream for so long, the path forward is uncertain. He has a lot of options, but that doesn’t make it easy to pick any one direction to put his talents toward.
“To be honest, up until I got to the LCS, the big dream was to get hired for the LCS and be able to cast LCS. For me, this was – before LCS, I had been able to get through and open a lot of smaller doors that led into slightly bigger doors or more options for doors. Each door that I kept unlocking, almost like in something like Super Mario 64, I got access to a wider world and a wider network of possibilities. But LCS was always the biggest door.”
“Once LCS was unlocked, that, for me, was the widest net I get to cast now into the world. The possibilities are endless. Cause now, my main goal in the League of Legends casting space is that I want to be invited to an international tournament. Whether that’s MSI, whether that’s Worlds.”
“And then, depending on how far they let me cast that – even if it’s only for play-ins, at least that was the next step. Then the next step is to cast the group stage. Then quarters. Then semis. Then casting the world final for League of Legends, or the MSI final. End goal is a World Final cast, and then, you know, the other next time would be like I’d love to cast a World Final when it’s in NA.”
“Afterwards, I’ll evaluate and see how I want to continue contributing to the League of Legends space. Do I want to be a play-by-play caster still? Do I want to take my music talents and – I know, because of LCS, I’ve already been entertaining the possibility of other directions.”
“Even though the LCS is a tournament and a product about a video game, we’re in LA, this is an entertainment product, we’re working with sponsors and other like-minded creative individuals. This is the space I always wanted to be in, even before I knew what League of Legends was. I grew up doing a lot of music, and grew up always kind of fantasizing about the entertainment industry.”
Though he’s still passionate about League of Legends and wants to do a lot in the space, he’s not ruling out other options for himself if they end up being better for the pursuit of his passion for being an entertainer.
If Raafaa was scaling at the start of the Spring Split, he’s closer to late game now. It’s less about grinding and finding new skills and more about figuring out what to do with his vast knowledge of the medium to push any production he works on to be the best it can be.
“When I did something with Grubhub, I met creative individuals over there that are excited to work with me again. They want to pitch further stuff. When I started doing music stuff in the LCS, now people are asking me, ‘Hey, do you think you could write a jingle for this segment? Do you think you could write a music bit for x, y, and z sketch or an upcoming content bit in this video we’re doing?'”
“I want to expand on my talents and give myself as much learning experience as possible in being a creative individual. That’s what I want to do with my life no matter what I’m doing and as long as I live.”