The Most Important Change to Improve Magic Coverage

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This past weekend, rather than compete in Grand Prix Washington DC, I stayed home. I’d spent the previous week in Las Vegas for the Electric Daisy Carnival music festival, and just wanted to take it easy and relax while watching games rather than playing them. With the Grand Prix broadcasting alongside the SCG Open and the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), I knew I’d have quite a bit of action to spectate.

While I frequently follow the LCS, and occasionally catch SCG Open coverage when I’m at home, it is rare that I actually have a chance to watch the stream of a North American Grand Prix since I’m usually in attendance at such events. I do watch some of the European Grand Prix coverage, since they don’t always overlap with US events. They don’t line up very well with my waking hours, though I still caught some of the final rounds of GP Milan over the weekend.

I tried to catch the coverage for DC, but that was easier said than done. Multiple posts on Twitter indicated that the broadcast would begin at 11 AM Pacific with the start of round four, but when that time rolled around there was still nothing.

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It wasn’t until almost noon that there was any word on the status of the broadcast, and it didn’t actually go live for almost another hour after that. Even at that point the link posted on Twitter was for the wrong stream address, and the broadcast didn’t switch over to the main channel for hours after GP Milan finished, leaving people who visited the link very confused.

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Now, I’m not bringing this up because I want to call out anyone on the coverage team, but this just isn’t okay. If you want people to plan to watch your broadcast, you have to set a time that you are starting and stick to it. People have a lot of options for entertainment out there, and they’ll take any excuse to change the channel.  I can speak from personal experience in this case. I got sick of waiting for the GP DC stream to start, and I switched over to start watching LCS which started at noon. Their broadcast was live when it was supposed to be, and I spent the rest of the afternoon watching League of Legends instead.

The single most important change that Magic can make to improve their streaming coverage is to schedule a start time and stick to it.

I’ve said quite a few times already that I think Grand Prix coverage should just start with the first round. I can see the arguments for delaying coverage until round four – that’s when the pro players with three byes join the event, and they’re the players around whom most of the storylines of the coverage are framed.

Frankly, I don’t buy it. Magic is a game with over twenty years of history, with personalities coming in and out of the scene all the time. Every Grand Prix has its local heroes – the Chris Pikulas and Brian Hackers and Ben Lundquists and Mark Herberholz’s of the world coming out the woodwork with few or any byes to compete. There are stories in the first round if you’re willing to look for them.

Besides – what is the message you’re sending to the thousands of players without byes in the event? That what’s happening in the first three rounds just doesn’t matter? How messed up is that?

Another explanation I’ve heard is that the additional time is needed in the morning to set up the broadcast equipment. I’m not sure how that’s the case for the official WotC coverage at Grand Prix and yet not for the SCGLive team every week at the open series, or when StarCityGames or ChannelFireball take over the coverage when they host Grand Prix. Those events start with coverage in the first round every time. Why can’t Grand Prix follow suit?

And if for some reason it’s absolutely impossible to start the coverage before the fourth round, at the *very* least pick a start time and stick with it. We all understand that there are logistical issues that can lead to tournament delays, but there are lots of things the broadcasters can be doing to fill time before the matches themselves start. Player interviews, deck techs, metagame predictions, thoughts on upcoming sets, or just talking amongst themselves about whatever – there are any number of ways to fill time if the tournament is running late. Just get the stream up and running on schedule so people can tune in when you tell them you’re going to be live.

Let’s just compare the SCGLive stream over the weekend with GP DC. One of these streams is a consistent, high quality production that goes live when it’s scheduled. The other…not so much. How does that impact viewer numbers?

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Obviously this isn’t an entirely fair comparison, because constructed events universally outperform limited ones, but that difference is enormous. SCGLive is really setting the standard for live Magic coverage these days, and the official Grand Prix coverage really needs to play catch up, and fast.

All that being said, I have to give credit where credit is due. The official coverage has been making some improvements lately. I was excited by the prospect of tuning in to the coverage of GP DC, largely because I enjoy listening to commentary from Ben Stark on limited formats. I think Wizards has done a great job in the past year or so of getting pro players into the booth to help provide expert analysis. Someone like BenS or LSV adds a ton of credibility to the broadcast, and helps to provide the perspective of someone who genuinely understands the format being played at a high level.

The European Grand Prix coverage team stepped things up first by recruiting the likes of Frank Karsten, Marijn Lybaert, Simon Goertzen, and Matej Zatlkaj, and their coverage of events this past year has been great. While I respect the talents of members of the American coverage team like Marshall Sutcliffe and the contributions of Rashad Miller in creating GGSLive and bringing live streaming coverage to Magic in the first place, they don’t really have the same level of knowledge as the top players. Even outside of the expert level analysis the pros can bring, their presence also helps avoid mistakes that commentators with less experience playing the formats being covered often commit, like confusing the functionality of cards. I hope to see more pros like LSV and BenS in the booth in the future, and I’d like to get in there myself, if they’ll have me.

I love Magic, and I want Magic coverage to be awesome. Some weekends, I sit at home and just watch League of Legends on the big screen TV in my living room all day, and I have a blast because the production value and commentary is great. I want Magic to get to that point. I think it’s making steps in the right direction, but it’s still got a long way to go.

What do you think? What are the biggest ways that Magic coverage can improve?

 

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