Forget the 2020 Olympics. Cast the Premier League from your mind. The 2020 Crossroad Dash is the hot tournament of the moment. Or, at least, that's what spending more than five minutes on Twitter would lead you to believe.
The postponement and cancellation of scores of tournaments across the world due to the coronavirus pandemic has forced sports journalists to get creative, but no one has quite managed to capture people's imaginations like Nick Heath.
The freelance rugby commentator's creative social videos, which include his play-by-play for the "International 4x4 Pushchair Final" and the "Find a Bargain Steeplechase," are ingenious in their simplicity. The videos have been shared and re-shared, helping his Twitter following jump from 15,000 to over 100,000 in just over a week.
The inspiration for the videos was a simple one for Heath: boredom.
"I thought, 'I'll just ride out this storm and maybe when I'm just out and about, I'll record a video of those two lads playing football over there,'" Heath told ESPN on Thursday. "I put a silly parody voice over it that I used to use to entertain my mates. 'Maybe I'll get a couple of likes from friends who acknowledge that I'm clearly bored.'"
Heath, 41, films mundane situations, such as people perusing supermarket shelves or two dogs chasing each other around a park. He accompanies the video with excited commentary, fooling you into thinking you are watching an actual sporting event.
In his first video, Heath recorded two men passing a ball around in a park while commentating on them as if he were watching an elite game of football. The video has reached nearly 330,000 views.
Another clip captures a group of people crossing the road and has been viewed over 736,000 times. "Crossroad Dash, light turns to red, we wait for the beeps," Heath excitedly starts:
"There they are! Now JD Sports Man has got a decent start. Leggings is on the outside," he continues, using notable features or clothing as markings for the people on the screen. "Oh, JD Sports got a bit distracted over the shoulder and Leggings is going to get there. She does it again. Three titles in three days!"
Heath's commentating is impeccable, but it is his comedic observations that make the videos stand out. Heath creates backstories and makes previously unknown characters out of people. Here are a few more of his gems so far (keep reading after tweets):
Initially, Heath would record the commentary live as he filmed, but has since started recording people and then later placing the audio over the video.
"For just being a little bit more discreet I've taken them back home," he said. "The funny thing is, they don't actually take a huge amount of time to do. It just seems to be a fairly innate silly voice and character for me to be able to find."
Heath trained at the Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts in London for three years when he was younger and spent a decade doing voiceovers, live events hosting and promotional work before moving into broadcasting, aided by fellow commentator and another former actor, Simon Ward. As a freelance rugby commentator, Heath's work mainly revolves around interviewing rugby players and commentating on Gallagher Premiership, women's Six Nations, Tyrrells Premier 15 and Champions Cup games. But back in his drama school days, he created a character based on all the great sports commentators of the 1980s and '90s and would perform for friends. Now, Heath is channeling his character again.
"He's probably the sort of guy that's almost excited to be out of the house and ready to apply his sporting clichés to everything he sees rather than it necessarily being the greatest bit of sport in front of him," Heath explained. "I just thought it would be a fun moment to chuck him out on Twitter when I was bored, and little did I know the world wanted more."
Heath's newfound fame has come with a mixture of benefits and downsides. He's set up a PayPal account for people who have enjoyed his videos and said he's been "blown away" by people's generosity. He has also been contacted by producers interested in bringing his work to a wider audience. However, Heath is cautious of becoming known for the videos alone, and the increased scrutiny that comes with having a large following.
"It is a challenging consideration because I want to maintain credibility as a sports broadcaster and a credible commentator alongside revisiting a little bit of opportunity to work in the comedy sphere and on that side of things," he said. "So, if I'm able to find a sweet spot of having a foot in both camps, that would be an amazing place to be.
"You have to be more considerate about what you put out there knowing you've got a lot more eyeballs on stuff. But similarly, I now know that I've got an increased profile for anyone who might be considering working with me on things and if that means I might appeal to them a little bit more."
Heath maintains the main benefit of the videos gaining viral status has been the messages from people who have found a bit of levity from them in an otherwise worrying time.
"I have been absolutely bowled over by hundreds of messages from people who have said I'm keeping them going," Heath said. "I'm giving them their first laugh at the end of a tough day and I certainly didn't set out to do that but that's become a big part of it and it's an amazing gift to be giving."