How Do We Help Magic Coverage?

 

A lot of topics pop up on Reddit about the effort and quality of Magic coverage, and how it feels as though Wizards doesn’t take it seriously.  There is a lot left to be desired for sure, but whenever these topics come up, we get an awful lot of people talking about how bad the coverage is, but not talking about what is actually bad about it, or how things could be done better.

I absolutely agree that Magic coverage is extraordinarily sub par.  I watch a lot of other eSports, and although Magic is a little tougher to turn into a spectator sport than something like League of Legends or Super Smash Bros., a lot of the time it feels like official Wizards of the Coast coverage doesn’t even try.  I’m just going to go over a bunch of main points and talk about how I feel about them while being as constructive as possible.

1.) The coverage isn’t engaging or personal.

This is one of the things that I think the Super Smash Bros. community does better than any other eSports community I’ve ever witnessed or been a part of.  Everything feels like it has a personal touch.  Like you’re watching a bunch of friends on camera doing something that they’re super passionate about. (Granted, you basically are.)  Every player has their own personality, and even the coverage cast are people and characters that you can identify with.  They engage the audience by getting them invested in not just the game itself, but in the people playing that game.  How do they do it?  They don’t rigidly plan out how they want their interviews and interactions with the player and the camera to play out.  A lot of the best coverage I’ve seen when watching Melee is when they shove Mang0 in the booth and let him be himself while talking about the game he loves.  No preconceived notions of how he should act, they just put him on the mic with the guideline of “Try not to curse too much.”  He, as well as many of the other players they’ve done this with, simply bring the coverage to life by being themselves.  While sometimes it comes across as being semi-unprofessional, the community comes from grassroots beginnings, so it’s only natural and feels appropriate for them.

League of Legends seems to have found a nice medium between professionalism and personality.  Recently one of the longest-running professional players retired from the game, and his interview was pretty heartfelt.  Dyrus was always a very real person, interacted with his fans a lot, and because of that people became invested in the team he played on even when the team itself wasn’t doing particularly well.  No matter how far down in the standings Team Solo Mid was, they always had the crowd on their side, and a large part of that had to do with how they invested the time in letting the community get to know their players via “GameCribs,” a short two-season web series that featured the players in a reality-show setting.  People loved it, and it helped them get to know TSM.  It’s the responsibility of the coverage team to acknowledge and cultivate that type of fan connection.

People WANT that.  People want to become fans of players.  When you have such a diverse group of people playing your game at a high level, people are naturally drawn to them and become fans.  It’s very similar to professional wrestling in a lot of ways, because the group of people take on their own roles outside of the game that they’re playing, and people are drawn to that aspect just as much as the in-game aspect.

This is not present in Magic at all.  While I understand that it might be a little difficult to do in Magic because of how often the “cast” of people you have to work with changes, it seems like they aren’t even interested in trying.  Whenever they do interviews or deck techs, they always seem very rigid and planned out, to the point of stifling any real individuality.  When you think about professional Magic players, there are very few of them that you remember because of their personality.  Outside of people like Luis Scott-Vargas, Reid Duke, and Patrick Chapin, I personally can’t identify with any of them. Every other Magic player is basically the same exact person to me.  It’s hard to get invested in watching 12+ hours of coverage of people I barely know anything about.

It may just have something to do with the personality types that are drawn to Magic, and I’d certainly be willing to concede that point to an extent, but I think all gamers are pretty much the same in that regard, so maybe it isn’t that big of a hurdle.

So how do we fix it?  As stupid as it sounds, one of the best things they could do is stop trying so damned hard.  Stop rigidly planning things out, and just get players in front of the camera and let them be real.  This doesn’t just fall on the shoulders of Wizards of the Coast, either.  Magic pros also have a bit of responsibility to cultivate their fan bases outside of coverage via streaming, Reddit, Facebook, etc.  StarCityGames actually does an okay job of doing the things I mentioned up above, and I think it’s a large part of the reason that people prefer their coverage to Wizards coverage.

 

2.) It looks very amateur.

Wizards coverage, to put it simply, looks like it was orchestrated by a high school theater department.  Everything is just ragtag.  The one-size-fits-all blazers that I swear the entire coverage team has to share, the obvious A/V blunders that constantly plague the coverage, the advertisements that look like they were made in PowerPoint…it all just looks like it was put together with the most basic amount of effort required.  When I’m watching League of Legends coverage, people who don’t know otherwise would think I was watching ESPN.

A lot of people theorize that this has to do with the fact that Wizards tries to do everything in-house.  It would certainly explain why everything looks so amateur.  They’ve likely got an actual bunch of amateurs putting this stuff together.  I wish there was more to say on this subject, but it just seems so obvious what’s going on.  If they are paying people do provide this “quality,” they are being taken advantage of.  People often talk about how they think that Wizards has the opinion of “Well, if it makes money, it’s good enough.”  I’m not convinced of that, I think they’re just an old juggernaut that’s stuck on the track that it’s been on for years despite the times changing.  Wizards used to be ahead of it’s time in terms of a lot of the things it was doing, but times have changed fast and they haven’t.

So how do we fix it?  Put some money into it, or hand it off to someone who is going to put in the proper amount of effort.  ESPN did a pretty good job of covering Worlds back in the day, why not see if they can do that again for Pro Tours?  StarCityGames has done a decent job of picking up the slack as far as coverage is concerned, and while they have a long way to go, they at least have an excuse.  They’re doing coverage EVERY weekend from a different place each week.  Wizards has their venue available to them for weeks before the event and they only barely manage to have a more advanced setup than StarCity, who sets up their coverage area the day before the event.

At the very least, if they aren’t willing to hand it off to someone else to do properly, they should hire a proper staff for coverage.  This includes graphic designers for fades between desks and overlays, proper casters, and an A/V team to keep track of things during the broadcast.  When you consider how much money they’re already spending on a venue, plane tickets for participants, etc, it becomes hard to believe that they can’t justify spending just a little bit more in order to get the right people on staff to produce a quality product.

3.) It makes the brand look bad to new players.

Imagine for a second that you’re somebody who knows nothing about Magic.  You happen to be surfing Twitch and you see that the Magic Pro Tour is on the front page, and maybe your favorite streamers aren’t online so you decide to randomly tune in and see if you can learn a few things about the game.  The coverage is confusing to people who don’t know anything about the game.  They talk a ton about statistics that don’t matter to you, such as players’ Pro Tour historical data, or the stats of cards you’ve never heard of, yet they rarely, if ever, actually show those cards on the screen, so you’re basically listening to a bunch of inside jokes from the outside.  It’s horribly overwhelming to the uninitiated, and this is on top of the things that I’ve already mentioned earlier in this article.  So your first contact with the game is a bunch of confusing information presented to you? Especially when it looks like it’s being broadcast by the same crew that broadcast Wayne’s World?

It’s very likely that you tune out and never kindle that curiosity that you initially had.  After all, why would you watch this when you could easily just watch whatever random DoTA 2 tournament is on at the time?  Where they’ll actually explain things in detail to you?  Or maybe you’ll go watch a fighting game, where you don’t need to know anything about the game you’re watching in order to enjoy the action.  These games engage you as a viewer and make you want to play them.  Magic could do that too if the coverage were appropriate for the newer audience.  This is great for building the player base!

So how do we fix it?  This is tricky, because you have two sides of a coin that you need to please.  If you dumb down the coverage too much, veteran players will throw a fit because they don’t want to listen to Marshall Sutcliffe break down what a card is and why that makes it good.  But if you don’t dumb it down, you’re losing opportunities to engage new players.

I think the only real compromise you can make in this department is to split up your coverage team and have them work both sides of that coin.  Have two channels, one geared towards veteran players where you have people like Randy Beauhler spewing all of the stats that he and other veteran players are so fond of.  On the other channel, get Marshall Sutcliffe and Zac Hill to pander to new players, explaining basic nuances of the game like mulligan decisions, mana curves, and the value of power and toughness.  Run your advertisements on both channels to make up for your initial cost.   This wouldn’t cost them really anything other than a little extra coordination to accomplish, since they’re not really adding anybody new to the mix.  You pimp the new player channel in places where new players would see it, such as the front of Twitch, and put links to your veteran channel on the Wizards website, where most people are tuning into the coverage from anyway.  As long as they’re clearly labeled, veteran players will always find their way to the appropriate channel anyway, so you don’t need to worry about these players getting “lost.”

4.) How can we make the extra effort worth it for the players AND Wizards?

So a lot of the things I’ve talked about up until this point puts a lot of responsibility on the players, too.  If we implement changes where the players become an integral part of the process, we need to make the incentives set in place for them better.  It takes a lot of mental fortitude to be a celebrity in any amount, and if they’re going to have to put up with everything that’s involved in being directly in the public eye, they deserve more than what they currently get.  Right now the system in place gets you a paid trip to each Pro Tour and some pocket change.  While a free trip and a few thousand dollars is nothing to scoff at, the extra effort that you have to put into your interactions with the Magic community should be worth more than that, especially considering how incredibly difficult it is to get to that point anyway.  There are competitors in other games who make $100k a year just by playing the game they’re good at.  And that doesn’t even include what they make off of sponsorships, that’s just winnings.

As far as I know, Wizards doesn’t seem to have a formal ban on wearing branded gear or logos, so why aren’t more players seeking sponsorship outside of the big Magic branded websites?  (TCGPlayer, SCG, CFB, etc.)  Based on what I know about Magic players, I know that they do a lot of the following: They travel a lot, drink a lot of energy drinks, eat a lot of snack food, and have an affinity for eating out at restaurants.  It seems obvious to me that we should be seeing players wearing branded jackets with Delta, Monster, Twix, and Outback Steakhouse logos on them.

This burden doesn’t fall on the shoulders of Wizards as much as some of the other things in this article, but they could certainly do their part in reaching out to these companies in an attempt to help out these players that they want to spotlight.  It’s going to be much easier for a large corporation like Hasbro to get in touch with the proper people to discuss sponsorship than it would be for some random guy named Paulo to do it on his own.  It wouldn’t take a lot on their part to open up the floodgates, but it would be insanely beneficial to the people who have the potential to be full-time Magic pros.

These types of partnerships also stand to benefit Wizards directly.  Right now they have ad space for UltraPro, but they could run ads for revenue if they really wanted to.  They have plenty of downtime between games to be able to do it, and the viewer base is nothing to scoff at.  Run some damned commercials.  We, as players, aren’t going to blame you, especially if the quality of the broadcast is better.  The people who are bothered by it are all running adblock anyway.

5.) In closure…

I’d like to remind people that a lot of this is my personal opinion.  I’m certainly open to being wrong about things.  That being said, I have nothing but the best interest of the game and coverage in mind.  I love watching streams of the games I love, and while every game is different, the approach to the “best” ones always seem to be the same, and I hope that Wizards can see that too.

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