Unsung Heroes is our series about the many members of the Fighting Game Community who work behind the scenes to make our community a vibrant, positive, exciting place to be. If you would like to submit your own Unsung Heroes, contact us here or @toptiergg.
Whether you’re up at the sticks or back in the crowd, one thing is always true in the Fighting Game Community: it’s all about taking part together. At local events, nothing could be more obvious. But now, as the FGC continues to find its footing in the esports era, more and more of it takes place behind the curtain and out of view. Especially at larger events, it’s rare to see a Tournament Organizer playing a match on stream or to hear the streamer talking back and forth with the chat.
Yet no matter how big the FGC gets, there will always be one role that’s all about making connections. “One of the biggest things I like to focus on is that relationship,” says Josh “Yaysian” Cleto. As a member of the central-Florida FGC, he’s done a little bit of everything. He plays everything he can get his hands on, and he’s served as a TO, streamer, bracket runner, and producer for his local scene. But if you ask him what he likes to do best, he won’t even hesitate. “Commentary was something I always wanted to do from the beginning.” And as the community continues to gain momentum after the pandemic-stunned year of 2020, he’s finding his voice.
As a student, Cleto already knew that he was meant for the stage. He sang tenor in his high school’s choir and landed solo parts in its musicals. At the same time, he watched fighting game tournaments and felt the glow of inspiration: whenever Stephen “Sajam” Lyon, Michael “Yipes” Mendoza, or Wynton “Prog” Smith were on the mic, Cleto knew in his gut that there was a way to combine his love of fighting games with his “knack for talking in front of people.”
But that didn’t mean that he had a straight shot to his goal. Like most people who pitch in to help their local scenes, he started off by doing anything and everything that needed to be done. “I used to stream house sessions,” he recalls. “I had my Mini ITX desktop, two SteelSeries headsets, a capture card, and a dream. At that time I was running the stream, running a tourney, and also commentating if no one wanted.” From there, he ran the stream for a weekly called O-Town Throwdown; then he joined up with Project Sunset; and now he works as a self-described “tech guy behind the scenes” for TampaNeverSleeps.
All of these roles mesh well with the skills that Cleto uses in his day job as a software developer. Where he really comes alive, though, is at the commentary desk.
Music, Sweet Music
Commentary in the FGC is different from any other competitive commentary on Earth. To a much greater degree than in other esports and traditional sports, FGC events are wildly unpredictable and intensely personal. Players experience the bruising intimacy of a boxing match, crowds act with wild abandon, and there’s always a corner of the room where someone is witnessing something they’ve never seen before. On its own, this would be a carnival: delightful, but chaotic and unstructured. It’s the job of a commentator to weave meaning from a tournament’s loose threads.
To do this, Cleto relies on the temporary performing relationship that he forms with his co-commentator. Of course, the action on the screen is vital. But when he’s on the mic, what he really wants is to achieve the synergy that happens “when the two commentators are in perfect alignment.” Listening to him work, it’s easy to appreciate the theatrical techniques that he uses: the “yes, and?” approach he learned through improv, his voice work, and so on. The true genius of his approach, however, is the philosophy behind it.
“A lot of the fun of commentary,” he explains, “is being able to keep things rolling with your co-commentator and playing off of each other to make it entertaining for the viewers.” And what better description of the FGC could there be? From top-level competitors to casual players to organizers to audience members both in the venue and at home, that’s all that the FGC wants: to keep things rolling, play off each other, and make it entertaining. For some people, that means carrying the tune; for others, it means singing in harmony. As a consummate performer, Cleto can do it all.
With events restarting in the wake of COVID-19, Cleto is already picking up where he left off. So far in 2021, he’s commentated Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 at TNS Atlanta and the online edition of Frosty Faustings XIII, and he’ll be featured on Guilty Gear -Strive- at the upcoming DreamHack Beyond. So if you venture out to the southern US for any fighting game events, make sure to look for him. He’ll be the one making the most out of his time in the spotlight.