Adam Bobrow is aware of the stakes are excessive. This table tennis match in Qatar marks Ma Lengthy’s return to the game after a months-long break following an damage. Lengthy, a Chinese language champion considered one of many best gamers of all time, is up in opposition to Timo Boll, a German participant who has been ranked best on the earth 4 instances over. Can “the Dictator”, Lengthy’s nickname, make a comeback?
With Lengthy up two factors, the 2 start a rapid-fire rally, their sneakers squeaking as they dart across the table. Boll returns the ball from far behind the left of the table and sprints to the opposite aspect to meet it again. To achieve it, he switches the paddle to his proper, non-dominant hand, permitting him to make a strong shot that Lengthy can’t contact. And the group goes wild.
Bobrow, a lanky Californian, throws his fingers within the air, partially knocking off his microphone. “Oh! The hand-switch counter! Timo! I misplaced my headset on this!” Bobrow yells. Boll puffs out his cheeks, barely sheepish, and raises one finger, as per the game’s etiquette when a participant has made a fortunate level.
“Take a look at this! He wasn’t even trying!” Bobrow bellows throughout the prompt replay. “He wasn’t even trying! Yeah, only one? You say that, nevertheless it retains occurring, Timo!”
Over time, Bobrow has parlayed each his lifelong obsession with table tennis and countless, unabashed exuberance into viral fame, receiving tens of millions of views on YouTube for goofy movies like “Enter the Snake: Twist of Fury” and “Excessive Ping Pong Celebration”. He’s additionally made a profession out of it. Because the official commentator for the Worldwide Desk Tennis Federation (ITTF), the game’s major governing physique, Bobrow is named the “voice of table tennis” to followers the world over. He travels with the ITTF’s annual world tour all yr lengthy, from Budapest to Japan to Australia, dwelling out of a suitcase painted with illustrations of famous players. So far as he is aware of, he’s the world’s solely full-time table tennis commentator.
Most table tennis commentary is staid and even keeled, delivered within the genteel tones of golf or tennis commentary. However Bobrow’s voice always rises and falls with a fan’s pleasure. It may be laborious to search out skilled stage commentators for table tennis, and a few video games have commentators who aren’t conversant in high-level play and converse in generalities. Not Bobrow, who can simply establish a strawberry or a Chiquita (two completely different backhand pictures for countering serves), who can spot the distinction between a reverse pendulum serve and a tomahawk serve. He doesn’t linger on a participant’s errors, as an alternative emphasizing their achievements: “Who does that? No one does that! Calderano, this can be a mashup of sports activities!” he yelled after a degree by the Brazilian participant Hugo Calderano within the 2018 Grand Finals in South Korea. He set free a disbelieving shriek after Japanese participant Koki Niwa made an easy seeming level on the 2017 Swedish Open: “He may very well be ingesting a cup of tea proper now!”
He loves table tennis – he watches it virtually each day, obsesses over the gamers, speaks rapturously about Jan-Ove Waldner, his favourite participant. He lives in a small condominium in Taipei dotted by Submit-Its with Mandarin vocabulary phrases. China is residence to the world’s largest viewers for the game.
At matches, fueled by hard-boiled eggs and room temperature water, he supplies a continuing stream of mini classes to his viewers, explaining the ways, historical past and rivalries behind the match, based mostly on his research of the game and conversations with gamers. He favors loud clothes, equivalent to sweatpants with neon flames, a shirt mimicking a sculpted torso, something that may spark dialog – the everlasting objective for Bobrow, who describes himself as “essentially the most excessive extrovert I do know”.
“Lots of people say don’t mix work with pleasure since you don’t need to make your favourite factor in life your job, after which find yourself hating it,” Bobrow says. “I feel there’s a flip aspect to that coin that has been rather more true for me, which is that if your work is one thing that you just love, that doesn’t really feel like work.”
Kanak Jha, the 18-year-old at the moment ranked 38 on the earth by the ITTF, making him the highest-ranked American, describes the environment at worldwide tournaments as targeted and critical. However when Bobrow comes, “he brings a number of smiles to the gamers,” Jha says. “He brings a number of enjoyable, I feel, to the game for everybody.”
Bobrow’s ardour for table tennis is uncommon for an American. Whereas there are many leisure gamers, there hasn’t been an American table tennis champion on the highest ranges in many years, and America has by no means gained an Olympic medal for the game. The US doesn’t have a league system that produces champion gamers, or superstars to rally round. New gamers like Kanak Jha, who got here on the scene round 2012, are beginning to change issues. China has the world’s largest table tennis viewers (it’s the nationwide sport), so he’s discovered sufficient Mandarin to get by. However for now, Bobrow is normally the one American – commentator or participant – on the world tour. “I truly actually thrive on that. I really like being the one something,” Bobrow says.
He grew up exterior Los Angeles, taking part in table tennis together with his father, fascinated by how his dad made the ball spin. He performed by school and didn’t cease afterwards, alternating performing auditions with educating table tennis classes, together with on the Los Angeles location of Spin, the chain of table tennis golf equipment Susan Sarandon co-founded. On the time, the ITTF was looking for a commentator with a deep information of table tennis. A lot of folks had that. However not everybody had the attraction that might entice new viewers. In 2014, Bobrow utilized for the job. After taping himself commentating a sample game, he and the opposite finalists for the job traveled to that yr’s World Championships in Tokyo for a ultimate take a look at. He acquired the job, and in 2017, he renewed his contract till the tip of 2020.
“We’re not fairly on the stage of basketball or NFL or these huge sports activities – simply to sort of relaxation on our laurels and have an ex-pro, or somebody who’s possibly not as an attractive or as enjoyable, to be selling the game,” stated Matthew Pound, advertising director for the ITTF. “We do take this very critically and we’re fairly fortunate and glad to have Adam on.”
TV remains to be the largest outlet for the ITTF, however social media is significant for reaching followers in locations that don’t broadcast table tennis, and Bobrow is nice at that. He has a watch for what works nicely on the web, from 30-second-clips to exhibiting the extra human aspect of gamers in his video sequence “Ask A Professional something”. For the sequence’ inaugural video, Bobrow acquired the Dictator to croon Timbaland’s hit Apologize. “It’s laborious to present an actual determine,” Pound says, “however I feel for positive, he’s introduced us extra followers and introduced us extra views.”
In fact, not everyone seems to be a fan. There are on-line complaints, together with from Reddit customers who grumble that his commentating model focuses on pleasure over evaluation. However typically these irritated Reddit threads are additionally crammed with feedback in protection of Bobrow from followers who perceive that his objective is introducing extra folks to the game. “Should you take heed to anybody else that has introduced previously decade, it appears like you’re watching a fucking golf match regardless that the content material warrants a spectacular response,” one person wrote. “His major job is to not solely make it entertaining for the individuals who play, but in addition for the widespread people who don’t know the sport so they begin watching. He’s doing an amazing job too as a result of he clearly is rising it.”
Bobrow believes contagious enthusiasm is what’s going to usher in new followers. He needs extra folks to understand what he already is aware of – that table tennis will be as thrilling and tactical and dramatic as another sport.
“At any time when somebody tells me, ‘My girlfriend didn’t take note of table tennis in any respect, however now she enjoys watching as a result of she loves listening to what it’s important to say, and studying in regards to the gamers and the sport,’ that, for me, is hashtag mission achieved,” he says.