Meyou takes a look at the tournament coverage scene, and offers advice for aspiring commentators!
I’ve been watching a lot of Magic coverage the last six months. I got hooked watching the excellent StarCityGames (SCG) coverage during work. I mean…. during breaks and at home. The majority of the time it is minimized out of view as I listen to it more akin to a radio broadcast. I spent the last weekend watching Patrick Chapin clench the Pro Tour title on the twitch.tv feed. I’ll admit that I never used to watch coverage. Mostly, it was because the quality was not there. Magic coverage has come a long way and I now thoroughly enjoy it. However, I have a few constructive critiques to help me as a player and hopefully a few others enjoy coverage all little bit more.
What Did You Say?
Please turn up the volume feed oh pretty please. Some of the time I am unable to get to a computer with decent quality speakers. Pile on background noise, loud toddlers when I get home, and it can be difficult to hear. I actually have to give credit to SCG on this one. I very rarely have difficulty hearing the SCG coverage. As I listened to the Pro Tour, I strained to hear much of the coverage. It made me chuckle though when Mark Rosewater popped up during a segment. It was loud and clear. I mean very, very loud and clear. It put a smile on my face. As other R&D staff followed, I again had to strain to hear the content. Sure, many people may not have this problem. However, the volume can always be turned down and it’s a very simple fix. Crank it up.
Breaking the Fourth Wall
Who makes love to the camera? It’s Zac Hill and Patrick Sullivan. This point became very evident as I watched the Pro Tour coverage. At many points, the coverage team were talking to each other and not looking directly at the camera. I was intrigued especially with my psychology background. Does it really matter I thought? Am I that vain? The truth is that it did matter. I much preferred the coverage when the staff were directly looking at the camera. Zac Hill impressed me as he was very cognizant of the camera. This is in stark contrast to the SCG coverage were much of the time the staff is looking forward. They are looking at me. They are including me in the conversation. It feels personal. As such, I very much prefer the SCG coverage because of this and I’ve been impressed with Adrian’s efforts. I suppose we can talk about human nature and the like, but it just works. I suppose there is a reason TV reporters and the entertainment industry spend much of their time talking straight into that lens. So please, include me in the conversation and look at me.
How Many Counters is That?
Again, I have to give it to SCG on this one. At first, I thought it silly watching coverage staff placing special dice on Tarmogoyfs or switching out a players personal dice for their own. You know what? It is much better than a player’s personal collection of dinky tiny dice. I had a very difficult time trying to see the numbers on dice that were on tokens as Ajani, Mentor of Heroes started going to crazy town during the Pro Tour coverage. At one point, the color of the dice blended in with the color of the tokens making the matter worse. I found the thought humorous as I watched the dozens of Pro Tour staff running around. It made me wonder. Why couldn’t any of them get those players a decent sized dice? This isn’t to mention I was having difficulty trying count as I watched on a very large computer monitor at full screen. I can only imagine the difficulty of anyone watching from their phone or other small device. Please get those professional players some larger dice.
What is one of the worst things a radio or TV show can do? Well, one of them is called dead air. It is a loose term that refers to the interruption of a broadcast or silence. Essentially, nothing is happening. It is one of my bigger gripes for the SCG coverage. I understand the coverage staff need breaks and etc. However, when the feed goes dead, it doesn’t always start back up. That is a technical issue. Nonetheless, as an audience, I don’t have anything to listen to. I don’t care what gets replayed. Play something. Anything. Although, I would appreciate additional content during those intermissions. Tape stuff ahead of time. Let it be an opportunity for up and comers to step in and get their feet wet. Who cares what the B-squad is talking about during that time? At least it isn’t a dead feed.
And the golf channel award goes to… Wizards of the Coast. Ever watch golf? There is a lot of dead air. It is a stark contrast to a good baseball announcer. A good sports announcer never shuts-up. It is always lively and always happening. Part of it is there is a lot of information to transmit to the radio listener who isn’t watching the game live. Too many times I felt the Pro Tour coverage staff went silent during the Pro Tour coverage. It drove me crazy. It is something I appreciate about the SCG coverage. Even when there isn’t anything going on in the match, the staff are always talking about something. Sometimes it doesn’t have anything to do with the match as those players shuffle. That’s fine. Sometimes, it was some of my favorite conversations. As I have said, I not always watching. I’m sure many other audience members aren’t either. I understand it’s a live feed, but don’t assume I am watching. Explain and keep talking.
Green Screen Tables
This is long term goal, but I do believe it to be the future. I remember writing an article a long time ago commenting on atrocities of deck tech coverage in the past. At that time, we had the camera trying to focus on the cards and then back to the player. I said: get a blue-screen. As we have moved forward, most deck tech use a screen in the background. The use of screen has greatly improved deck tech coverage we now see at big events. With that said, I think the same application could be done at the players table. Why not use the table as a background. It’s there. We are all looking at it. It open the door for many applications. It reminds me of football coverage when they circle things and those imaginary lines on the field. Heck, cards could be brought up on the back-drop of the table. It’s something I don’t foresee in the immediate future, but I think there is something there to be explored.
The Future of Entertainment
As much as I love the coverage, I think it has painted itself into a corner. Sure, we are watching for coverage, but why stop there? I would love the head judge to stop in and talk about unusual rulings that day. It is always fun seeing Evan Erwin get a pie in the face. Why not player interviews? Coverage can be more than just coverage. It can be entertainment and the world is its oyster. We got a chance to experience some Khans of Tarkir spoilers for the fall set during the Pro Tour. That was fun to see. Coverage is a highly underutilized medium for spoilers. Why not pepper coverage with a spoiler here and there throughout the season? In any case, as a greedy fan, I want more. Entertain me. Let’s expand coverage and make it an event.
One of the bigger hurdles in Magic is getting to know the players. As I have become more aware of the key players, it has become more entertaining cheering on my favorites. No offense to Chapin, but I was rooting for Reid Duke to get there. It is one of the reason I am a big fan of the Deck Tease podcast. I enjoy getting to know players on a personal level. It makes watching coverage more entertaining. I know Rich Hagon does his best to fill us in on who is who, but reading off a bunch of facts at the Pro Tour doesn't tell us anything about them. Besides, reading off a bunch of names to me at least is not very exciting. “This player is 138 pounds, blue eyes, has three top 8's, plays Magic.” Snore…zzzzzz. Make players more personal. I always enjoyed watching Kenji play Magic because of his personality, not the fact he has made multiple top 8's. I don't care about his rap sheet. Let's get to know the players a little bit better.
A Positive Conclusion
I honestly very much enjoy the current quality of Magic coverage. I feel the coverage at SCG is very positive and it is an aspect I really appreciate. Instead of critiquing the players, the coverage team explains other avenues the player may be taking. The chemistry with the SCG team is always excellent and entertaining. The most I can say about SCG is that I feel they are actively trying to bring us high quality coverage. They are trying and I think that is very important. SCG isn’t just slapping something together on a whim. They are doing their best and I will believe it will only get bigger and better in the future.
Although it may appear I may be fawning over SCG, it is because I have higher expectations of Pro Tour coverage. It is the big show. The epic tournament to end all tournaments. It should be spectacular. For the most part, it delivers. I enjoyed the Walking the Planes segment about how to attend a Grand Prix. The segment on Conspiracy was entertaining. It was a nice touch having Elspeth show up to congratulate Patrick Chapin. When I could hear, I enjoyed the coverage commentary. I simply feel it could use a little more polish.
Anyway, feel free to post your own critiques in the forums and hopefully the powers at be will take heed.
Now I know you can watch the replays of some of the matches, but it's all clumped together. It would take a bit of organizing and video editing, and you might have to hire a few more commentators if you wanted to get more than 1 or 2 games at a time. But the flip side to that is that SCG could (and should) charge money for a service like that.
That is such a great point! How often to people have to hunt through 9 hours of footage for the match they wanted to link or something!?