They come fast and furious.
An unrelenting, unstoppable avalanche of words, almost a verbal assault, coming together to form a frantic waltz of tension and climax. The action comes a mile a minute, but it’s never enough to slow down commentator Jamie Diaz Ruiz as he finds never-ending ways to describe the scene he and his viewers are witnessing in real time. To paraphrase what a viewer once said in his Twitch channel chat, he seemingly has the “Hall of Fame Lung Capacity badge.”
It’s what he does best. If you’ve ever watched a game casted by the 23-year-old, you’ve noticed Diaz Ruiz has a voice that would outlast the Energizer Bunny. In this clip of DevGoss hitting a late three-pointer for Throwdown, Diaz Ruiz clocks in at 77 words in 20 seconds (really, we counted), good for 3.85 words per second, all on the fly. This is normal for him.
The England-native has talent and experience in commentating and hopes to be part of the broadcasting talent the NBA 2K League will bring in for league matches come May. Though the league still has a number of things on its to-do list, everyone knows acquiring a stable of good, reliable casters will have to be taken care of before the first match is played.
Also known as “Dirk”, a name he got from shortening his old gamertag, “D2K Nowitzki 41,” Diaz Ruiz is one of the top candidates for the multiple positions likely available. With five years of esports commentating experience and a love and knowledge of both the NBA and NBA 2K, his qualifications check out. His professional casting experience covers Call of Duty and Gears of War, and Diaz Ruiz has showcased his 2K casting abilities on his Twitch channel, commentating on MPBA2K tournaments.
It’s a job he wants, and a job many expect him to get, with the backing of league managers and prospects alike. There are other candidates, including Chris Manning and Scott O’Gallagher, who are former and current employees for NBA 2K, respectively, and both of which commentated the NBA 2K17 All-Star Tournament Championship last year, but Diaz Ruiz is a community favorite. It can be assumed it’s a matter of when, not if, he’s hired for the first season of the league and beyond.
Born and raised just outside of London until he was 10 years old, his first foray into gaming came at the age of five, playing FIFA 96 (“The graphics were terrible,” he remembers), and sneaking Tomb Raider for the original PlayStation out of his dad’s cabinet. “I never really stopped playing video games, never took a break,” Diaz Ruiz told DIMER. “From that point on, I’ve found a way to play. GameBoy, PSP, PlayStation, anything.”
Diaz Ruiz was always interested in basketball, but wasn’t sure if he’d enjoy a basketball video game. After his friend introduced him to NBA 2K10 when it came out, however, he jumped into MyCareer and Crew Mode, the former equivalent to Pro-Am, and eventually played competitively on GameBattles. His esports experience goes even further back, watching Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Nationals competitions in middle school due to a friend who was in the Call of Duty competitive scene. “I was like, ‘this is cool, I didn’t know this existed,’” Diaz Ruiz said. At 15 years old, he played Call of Duty: World at War competitively on GameBattles. “I’m a competitive person, so when I found out there were video game competitions, I was glued to it. I was like, ‘this is the real deal, I want to do this.’”
But the idea to commentate on esports didn’t occur to him until he was a senior in high school. Diaz Ruiz actually had intentions of being a journalist, and wrote about the NBA for Hoops Nation. “I wanted to be a writer for an NBA team or anything, really,” he said. “But I lost my drive to write. So I said, ‘you know what, I’m going to try commentating.’ I’d never done it in my life, never had any experience at all.” Diaz Ruiz tried to break into the casting scene through an amateur Call of Duty organization that ran show matches, but was rejected after trying out.
“I was like, wow, okay I guess I’m not that good,” said Diaz Ruiz
He persisted, joining up with the now defunct Perfect Alliance, a Call of Duty competitive league, to get his first shot at casting. “They took me under their wing and gave me the opportunity to cast as much as I want, gave me the chance to improve as much as I want.”
Diaz Ruiz spent the next few years casting esports, getting in practice and repetitions. Anyone can commentate, he says, but it takes countless hours of effort. It turns out the players aren’t the only ones who have grinded for the league. “I did not have the voice for commentating,” Diaz Ruiz remembers. “If I go back and watch old videos of myself I think, ‘wow this is what my voice sounded like?’ You need to do enough repetitions, and when I say repetitions I mean a year to two years to find that rhythm and flow, find your own voice and not copy other commentators. For anybody who wants to try it, anyone can do it. But it’s a matter of staying consistent with it and making progress.”
Just like any aspiring professional, Diaz Ruiz loved listening to his favorite commentators. “One of my all-time favorite commentators, going back to Halo even when it was on ESPN, is [Chris] Puckett,” he said. “He’s my idol. A guy that everytime he casted, I would listen. I wanted to be exactly how he was when it came to play-by-play. He had the voice and he was very good with it.” Others in the scene like Ben “Benson” Bowe and Alex “Golden Boy” Mendez were there to help guide Diaz Ruiz and critique him as he was working his way up. He considers Benson a mentor, someone he still talks to about his performance at events.
“The strange thing is that I work with these guys now, so I went from someone who just watched them from the sidelines, thinking, ‘wow I want to be in these guys’ position,’ to four years later I’m on the same talent card as these guys.”
It’s a well-deserved accomplishment. Call of Duty events line his résumé (Diaz Ruiz just got back from commentating at the Call of Duty World League in New Orleans last weekend), and he even took his first crack at Gears of War casting last November in the MLG Gears of War Dallas Open. The guy who at first couldn’t get in with an amateur Call of Duty organization now seems like a natural.
But the idea of commentating on esports was met by skepticism from Diaz Ruiz’s parents—and admittedly, it’s a tough sell for an older generation. “To say when I was satisfied with my casting career, it probably hit around year three, and the only reason it took so long was because I was finally able to show my parents, ‘mom, dad, I’m getting paid for this now. I’m flying across the country to commentate.’”
Year three of commentating for Diaz Ruiz was when Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare was released. That’s when he started to realize he had potential.
“They never really told me I shouldn’t pursue it. My mom never went to college, my dad went, dropped out, then went back to get his degree after moving [to the United States], so my parents were big on going to a university now that we were in the United States. They were focused on success in high school, and that after high school you needed to go to a university to find success. I didn’t go to college, I focused on YouTube and commentating. They never said to me, ‘don’t do this, you’re not going to make anything of it.’ But they were just saying, ‘I think you’re wasting your time with it, you could be doing something else. But if you want to do it, go ahead.’
“My mom was the biggest supporter, but my dad hates video games. He likes them now, though, because of how much traveling I do and he sees I make decent money off of them.”
But even though it’s a foreign concept to some, commentating plays a vital role in the esports experience. Just like in professional sports, a caster can bring emotion and energy to the game while guiding viewers through it. As Diaz Ruiz put it, imagine watching a video game stream with no sound. Nobody wants to do that. “I can’t watch something unless it has good commentary,” he explained. “If the commentary is not good, I’m immediately turned off by it.” Diaz Ruiz remembers watching a League of Legends competition years ago, with the popular caster Trevor “Quickshot” Henry commentating the matches. “I don’t know anything about League of Legends, maybe the basics of it. He kept me locked in to the game just because of how good his casting was with his partner. They had me locked in to an entire series of the League of Legends World Championship and I had no clue what was going on.” Though basketball is a global sport understood by many people, a casual viewer would need to be informed about the mechanics of 2K. Concepts including badges, shot meters and the differences in strategy between 2K and the NBA may need to be explained to audiences who aren’t as knowledgeable about the game as others. A good commentator could do all of that and help the viewer base of the league grow. It’s why a guy like Puckett now hosts the recently launched and so far tremendously successful Overwatch League. Even if you don’t realize it, part of why you tune in to both sports and esports competitions is the commentary.
Diaz Ruiz now resides in Arizona with his girlfriend and their dog, taking a “gamble,” as he described it, to get away from his home in Illinois where his family has lived since coming to the United States. Working for the NBA 2K League has been a focus this year, but not just commentating if necessary, even if it is his specialty. “A full-time job in esports is what I’m going for,” he explained. “If a team reached out to me for something that’s not even a commentating job and said, ‘hey, we want you to come work for us full-time in esports,’ I’d be like, ‘say no more, I’m there.’”
It would certainly be more glamorous than his current position as a water technician for a water restoration company. “It’s about getting out of my current job and moving forward with what I want to do. When I go to these events, it doesn’t feel like work to me. It’s a little bit tiring, but it doesn’t feel like work. It doesn’t feel like you’re just going in and putting in your hours for the day and you want to go home. I want to find that peace of mind and say, ‘I love my job, I love how everything is going.’
“To say I’d be an NBA employee and not just be employed but be a commentator, that is something I could run to my dad and tell him because he knows how much I love the NBA and how much I want to work with an organization. He’d be like, ‘holy Hell, it’s happening.’”