SCG Live – Missing the Mark
In 2010, the Star City Games (SCG) Open Series brought Legacy back to prominence in the US through their series of semi-weekly events, covered by GGslive. This year for the Open Series, SCG announced a partnership with GGslive to have their events broadcast with SCG branding as SCG Live. For the most part, SCG has treated the broadcasts as GGslive with their own commentators, but I believe that's the wrong angle to take.
GGslive serves a really awesome purpose, providing video coverage of events Wizards of the Coast either can't or won't cover themselves with the full Brian David-Marshall/Rich Hagon treatment. Grand Prix, SCG Opens, Midwest Masters Series events, and GenCon Championships have all been covered by the GGslive team. They provide a great service to the Magic community, but they're not selling a product. They might have a T-shirt you can buy, but they're not out to drive subscriptions to their service or anything like that. On the other hand, Star City is selling a product. The more people they get to attend their SCG Open weekends, the more revenue they get. The more people they get subscribing to premium content, the more revenue they get. The more people that get the SCG Open decklists off their site and click the button to put the whole decklist in their shopping cart, the more revenue they get. SCG Live's primary goal should be to sell their products and generate revenue, and in that respect, it doesn't seem like it's doing an effective job.
When you watch a broadcast of a sporting event, you see a lot more than the court or field and the broadcasters. You see the crowd, the reactions of fans to triumph or defeat, the atmosphere in the stadium. All of this is for good reason, as it's there to sell the viewer on coming to the game. Would you go to a baseball game or a football game if the presentation you saw on TV matched the experience of being there live? Probably not. With SCG Live, the viewer's perspective is only that of the broadcasters and the feature match table. They might as well be in a separate room from the rest of the event to the SCG Live viewer. Nothing in the broadcast conveys the atmosphere of being at a big Magic tournament, emphasizing the side events, casual activities, etc. A decent amount of time is spent in WotC coverage of events talking about all the cool things you can do at a Pro Tour or a Grand Prix if you're not playing in the main event. They give players a reason to come to these events. SCG Live and the event coverage overall doesn't do that. Yes, being at a SCG Open event is a better experience than watching it on the Interwebs, but their coverage does a poor job of conveying that.
On other fronts, SCG Live is a success. In terms of covering the events and legitimizing them, it's been wonderful. For some players, SCG Opens are a preferred destination. Gerry Thompson has been eschewing most Grand Prix events in favor of the SCG Opens, and the circuit has brought forth new names and writing talent like Lewis Laskin, Adam Prozak, Alex Bertoncini and Edgar Flores. In that sense, SCG Live has helped the revenue stream by helping to make the Open circuit a legitimate destination for players, but the draw of big cash prizes and the SCG Players Club has its share of the credit as well. It's difficult to say whether the SCG Open Series would be as successful without branded coverage or if things would be the same had SCG not paid GGslive and the broadcasters they've hired for the events for the branding.
The third goal of SCG Live should be to entertain the viewer. There's a lot of downtime at a Magic tournament. Matches get over fast and you're stuck to the rigid structure of the tournament. This downtime is an opportunity to accomplish lots of goals. Have some pre-taped packages on what goes on at an SCG Open event. Is there a PTQ on the side Saturday? Throw a package of coverage of the event on Sunday. Talk to people at the event, dealers, artists, etc. Leaving the broadcasters out there to fill dead air sometimes 30 minutes at a time or more is very difficult. Take a cue from sporting events again - there is downtime built in and inherent to these events, but broadcasts are prepare to fill that downtime with things to keep the viewers engaged.
It's much better to have SCG Live than not to have it, but it seems like a lot of missed opportunities to provide a product that's better for all parties - better for Star City to generate more revenue and better for the viewers. Hopefully SCG can take a look at the successes and failures of the first half of the season and not dwell too much on who's good or bad at commentary. (There are problems there to be sure, but there's potential for those problems to work themselves out if the structure and support around them was better.)