A Discussion of Live Pro Tour Coverage
It's hard to guess whether of not Cedric Phillips saw the firestorm that was going to come over Twitter today regarding his article on Star City this morning. The firestorm is here, though, and a lot of people have a lot of different ideas on how to fix things. But I think there are two things everyone can agree on:
Magic coverage has gotten much better in 2012 than in 2011; and
Magic coverage can be greatly improved.
Let's go back to 2011. Grand Prixs were not covered in-house by Wizards of the Coast. Instead, video coverage was handled by GGsLive.com and only text coverage existed on the official Wizards site. Star City also used GGsLive for their coverage. Pro Tours only had video coverage on the Top 8. If you wanted to watch a match of Magic and you weren't at the tournament venue, life was pretty rough. As I've mentioned before, SCG Live's coverage was pretty rough, GGsLive typically had pro players with a ton of inside lingo, and good luck watching matches at a Pro Tour. Or at a Grand Prix outside of the US. Or at Nationals.
Wizards of the Coast saw what was happening with coverage and partnered up with GGsLive this year to move their Grand Prix coverage under the Wizards banner and lend them members of the WotC coverage team. Sometimes. The big advancement in 2012, though, has been Pro Tour coverage. People can actually watch feature matches throughout the premier events Wizards uses as advertising for the game. What a concept! The production levels are pretty high quality. The deck tech features are pretty well produced. Match commentary? It's been hit and miss, and that's unfortunate. When commentary is good, Magic can be a very exciting game to watch. When it's bad?
As Cedric would say, "Stiiiiiiiiinky!"
The worst part of coverage, though, by far, is after a match filled with sometimes mediocre, sometimes uninformed commentary, you then go to a replay of a match from a previous round, with the same commentary it had when it first aired. Ugh. There's definitely places to improve coverage. I'm going to focus on the Pro Tour experience and give some suggestions on what can be done to make an improved product even better.
Make Feature Matches an event for both the viewers at home and a live audience.
One of the points Cedric mentioned in his article is that matches in major League of Legends tournaments have a huge live audience who are engaged in the contest. They watch on a slight delay and their noise carries over to the broadcast, where top notch commentators call the action and guide viewers through the strategy of the game. Like I said on Twitter, in terms of entertainment and broadcast quality, League of Legends is to WWE what the Magic Pro Tour is to Ring of Honor. Pro Tour coverage is technically sound, but lacks pop, and feature match coverage sounds like it's done in an isolation chamber. Why not add an audience to those feature matches? Have one end of the PT tournament hall used for the Feature Stage, raise it up a bit off the ground, and get a crowd around it? Let them watch and cheer within reason for the players playing the big matches at the Pro Tour. Encourage audience engagement with the event. But where do you get an audience?
Make the Pro Tour public again... sort of.
Why would a crowd want to stick around just to watch 8 Feature Matches in a day and do nothing else? They wouldn't. But there's nothing that says we can't have the PT hall closed to the public, have your main stage in the middle of the tournament site, and have a public hall on the other side of the barrier (and actually put up a barrier of some sort, not just Flexibarriers and pairings boards) where the crowd gathers and public events are held. I actually like the idea of keeping the Pro Tour as essentially a studio event, as it increases not only the ability for the players to focus on Magic, but the event coverage staff can get increased access to matches.
Have a dedicated interview area and have post-match interviews from top players.
This one seems pretty simple. Get your best interviewer or bring an interviewer in. When players get done with Feature Matches, have them come over to the interview area, record a minute or two with the interviewer. Do the same thing with top players that aren't in feature matches. You can have a ton of content for downtime between the end of a match and the start of the next round doing this. These pieces shouldn't be any longer than 2 minutes, and that's plenty of time for players to let their personalities shine through and for viewers to get an emotional connection with those players.
Get each Feature Match on video.
It doesn't matter if they're broadcast live. You can use this stuff in between-round packages, highlight packages for players, tie-ins to the text coverage, etc. All the feature matches should be on video. There's no excuse to move a match over for game 3 after the first feature match is over and the commentators having no idea how the first two games went. Which leads to the biggest pipe dream on this list...
Hire a video editor or team that can get videos edited professionally and quickly to get all this video ready to fill the dead time between rounds.
It can be done. It's not cheap. But if you want to move coverage forward to a full entertainment experience, you need to have the ability to manage highlights of matches and fill lulls at a higher level than a minor league baseball team. Pro Tours need to be produced like sports television broadcasts, not event streams. (Especially crappy streams like mine!) A video team with experience in the field can't do anything but help the flow of the event, help the production, and help entertain viewers better.
Have commentators treat their job of commentating like a job.
Rich Hagon and Brian David-Marshall are the best at this. They're knowledgeable about the game, they have a good ebb and flow between them, they don't talk over one another, and they're usually well-versed in the big name participants in events. They also usually have a good grasp of the format and can make some sense of the plays being made. Other commentators and commentary teams just don't have that yet. This is not where I name names and burn bridges, but you can look over Twitter and Twitch chat to see who people like and don't like, and who does and doesn't do a good job at these things. The most frustrating part, though, is when the commentators don't have a good grasp of the format they're calling, to the point of not knowing key cards in key archetypes. I know the Pro Tours are only a couple weeks after a set comes out, so the metagame may not be known to the commentators, but you can bring name players in on Thursday to do a closed-set Deck Tech to get an idea of what players are playing or thinking of playing in the event. Commentators should also know or have quick access to the full storyline for the top 20-30 players at an event, and someone(s) at WotC should get a player database of every player qualified for a PT (since there's no longer LCQs) so that if someone off the radar ends up at the feature match stage, the commentators can get info on their GP/PT/Nats/Worlds finishes and other pertinent information.
Do something else besides standings boards for the first few rounds.
I don't know about you, but I don't really care that nearly a third of the field is at 9 points or better after 4 rounds of the tournament. That space can be used a lot better by either focusing on your 20-30 top promoted players, showcasing PT first timers that are performing well, or showing us big names on the bubble of elimination from day 1. Save the leaderboard for Rounds 7-16 at the very most.
I'm sure you guys have more ideas on what PT coverage can do to improve and make the experience even better. Leave me a message in the comments, or get a hold of me on Twitter @StillHadThese!