The athlete and broadcaster lent his voice to competitive matches at E3 this week, giving live commentary on a slate of Nintendo video tournaments. The lifelong fan of Nintendo extols the skills and passion of esports players.
LOS ANGELES — Jordan Kent strides past giant displays of Super Mario, wading through Nintendo employees and fans in the Japanese company’s gargantuan booth at the E3 trade show.
“That’s one of the most exciting things I’ve done for work,” he said.
The thing was giving live commentary on a slate of Nintendo video tournaments here this week, lending his voice to competitive matches of “Splatoon,” “Arms” and “Pokken.”
Kent is in an unusual position for someone diving into esports, as competitive video gaming is known: He has been at the heights of the other kind of sport.
At the University of Oregon, Kent was the school’s first three-sport letter winner since World War II, competing in track, basketball and football.
He was drafted by the Seahawks in the sixth round of the 2007 draft, spending two years on the fringes of the roster, appearing in nine games. He was out of the NFL a year later, and today works as a broadcaster in Portland for Comcast SportsNet.
Kent is also a lifelong fan of Nintendo, a habit that began when his family got an NES console when he was 5.
“The gameplay is so fun, the whole philosophy of having fun,” he said. “The characters become part of who you are.”
Kent got on the gaming giant’s radar via Twitter. An Oregon alumnus working at the company saw his posts about Nintendo and invited Kent up for a tour of the company’s North American headquarters in Redmond. Kent returned the favor at Oregon’s football facility in Eugene.
At some point, esports came up, a conversation that this year turned into an invitation to call Nintendo’s tournaments at E3.
Kent studied up, streaming esports broadcasts on his tablet while cooking, and playing audio of matches in his car on long drives. Over time, he got the rhythm. Another trip to Redmond to get some training from Nintendo’s experts helped, too.
He also drew from the advice of former Sonics play-by-play sportscaster and current Trailblazers voice Kevin Calabro. “The most important thing you want to do is be entertaining and authentic,” Kent says.
If the wave of congratulatory handshakes from Nintendo employees after Wednesday’s last match was any indication, he pulled that off.
He knows there can be a bit of a cultural divide when esports come up. Some traditional sports fans bristle when competitive video gaming uses the same terminology, an alleged geeky invasion of the athletic realm.
Kent, 32, chalks that up to a generational split. People enjoy sports like basketball or baseball because they played as a kid, or grew up around the game, he says. Even if they can’t dunk like LeBron James or throw Felix Hernandez’s changeup, they can appreciate the skill involved.
It’s similar in esports, he said. “These people put hours and hours of time into something, developing a skill, and [you’re] able to watch those skills in a very exciting and captivating way,” Kent said.
“Every generation after us will have been exposed to this their entire lives.”
He gestures to a packed show floor. “I look at this audience. They are as passionate as any in sports. It’s a very exciting time.”