This weekend I had the pleasure of watching the MLG Winter Arena, something I hadn’t initially planned on doing. It was Friday morning and I was trying to decide whether to click the big, yellow pay button on Twitch.tv. $20 for a traditionally free event just didn’t seem worth it, especially since there was ASUS ROG and a pile of work in front of me. But as I stared at the MLG logo I realized that I couldn’t miss it. There’s just something about MLG events that’s too appealing to pass up. So here is my experience as an eSports Pay-Per-Viewer.
The first thing you noticed after launching the live stream was their new interface. It was sleek and sexy, and intelligently designed. I was actually very surprised because generally these kind of in-house things suck. But this overlay for the Arena was awesome. The designer Kyle Magee (@KyleJMagee) did a fantastic job and you can tell he definitely spent time thinking about how people would use it. So the first shout out I want to give is to him.
The performance throughout the tournament was adequate. There were very few lag spikes (except during the finals), and the 1080p stream was crystal clear. The biggest technical problem was the multiple login requests from Twitch.tv. If the stream you were watching asked for your credentials, it killed the other streams and you’d have to login multiple times. Fortunately the Twitch staff got that fixed up after Friday.
Overall the visual and auditory experience was something I would expect from ESPN or another corporate entity. The graphics, transitions, music, pre-show content, everything was very impressive and a huge leap for eSports. I laughed to myself as I recalled opening multiple tabs, resizing windows, and manually switching audio to watch games for last years events. Not anymore ladies and gentlemen, not anymore!
As always the casting team by MLG did an amazing job. The line up was: Nick “Tasteless” Plott, Dan “Artosis” Stemkoski, Marcus “djWHEAT” Graham, JP “itmeJP” McDaniel, Rob “robpsimpson” Simpson, Tobias “TumbaSC” Sherman, and Tim “Robintivo” Frazier. Oh and yes, Day wasn’t there, apparently his schedule didn’t work with the event. They also had players like Paulo “CatZ” Vizcarra and Manuel “Grubby” Schenkhuizen casting games as well. It was a great line up and had some hilarious moments all weekend long.
Perhaps the coolest part of the casting setup was the main stream and the “side-table” (is there an official name?). After two main casters covered a game, they would turn to an additional two casters that would talk about their analysis. It was an awesome little back-and-forth that added a lot to the viewing experience.
Overall the Arena was very professional in terms of its casting selection. Everyone looked sharp (although not everyone thought so) and casted great. The only change I would make here, and it was originally stated by iNcontroL, was the “low production” white rooms:
Really don’t like the white room casting thing for MLG. Has a low production feel to it. @MLG @MLGSundance — otherwise great so far!
— Geoff Robinson (@EGiNcontroL) February 25, 2012
The Games and Players
I’m not going to break down individual games since there’s plenty of coverage out there, but I will say that they were awesome! Some of the biggest names in StarCraft were battling it out this weekend, so game after game was a treat to watch. If you couldn’t afford, or refused to pay the $20 PPV charge, you’ll definitely want to check out these games once they’re released.
I tuned into ASUS ROG this weekend as well, but when you compared brackets it was easy to see which tournament was more appealing. Don’t get me wrong, there were some big names at Assembly, and their tournament was great, but MLG’s line-up was just so sick.
Another feature that added interactiveness to the matches was their use of the @Poll service for phones and Twitter. Before and during matches you could send in your vote for who was going to win (or who you wanted to win). It added another level of fun to the tournament but wasn’t explained very well. The first few I sent failed because I didn’t realize you were ONLY supposed to put “@Poll ######” NOT “@Poll PLAYERNAME ######”. So I missed some vital voting sessions but it all worked out in the end. They also had a Twitter account @MLGAllAccess which was giving out prizes for guessing when players would GG and how long matches would run. Another great idea.
Lastly MLG made sure to reduce down-time as much as possible by providing on-screen brackets, match overviews and updates, and interviews with players. It all flowed smoothly and definitely was in improvement over having commercials or graphics and music.
And for those of you who know @G4MR on Twitter, he wrote up a recommended games list on his blog. Check it out. I’ll be sure to add more links if I find some good ones.
So was it worth the $20?
Yes and no. This event was a great idea, it was run amazingly well, and delivered an experience I am happy to pay for. But here’s where we draw the line. On the one side you have people serious about eSports, like myself, the players, die-hard fans, etc. We are the people this event was successful for. On the other side you have the vast majority of StarCraft 2 fans, a group unwilling to pay for this event. For them, PPV may not be worth it.
But I believe this is a great step for legitimizing eSports. Any industry that has depth offers more to those who continually pursue it. We often times see the world at a surface level, thinking that that’s as far as it goes. “eSports is about free content”, “this will ruin eSports”, “no one wants this”, etc. And that’s a perfectly valid reaction to be honest. We have expectations for MLG and they changed them. But I think the problem isn’t that this event cost money, it was that our perspective of the event was never clear. We shouldn’t look at these Arena’s as a traditional tournament. It’s something entirely new, designed for a new audience, and providing a new level of content. I think the outrage that surrounded this Arena was unjust because people weren’t looking at it the right way. These Arena’s are a great idea because they showcase which organizations and individuals are serious about eSports and/or StarCraft. They give serious news sites and blogs a chance to publish “exclusive” content that will help drive viewers to their site. “Who won? What matches were good? How was the experience? Did anything crazy happen?” These questions can only be answered by people who are trying to make headway in this industry. Someone had to do it first, and MLG got plenty of negative press for it, but I think it turned out great and really showed the world that eSports isn’t a joke and it’s not going to die, because there’s serious business behind it (or at least potential).
So, what I’m trying to say, is that PPV did some good this weekend and catered to a more serious audience. It has the potential to help eSports grow tremendously as long as we treat it properly. If all events start going PPV, no one will win and eSports will shrink drastically. If we find a nice balance of free and PPV events the industry will entice new talent through the lure of profitable ventures and become something worth doing for a lot more people.
A list of other random things
Here is a list of other random things that didn’t fit into the main article:
Prior to, and during the event, a philanthropist thread on Reddit was helping poor gamers get PPV passes! What a generous community of awesome people. :)
Minor improvements to the overlay could be: mouse disappears after x-amount of time (mine wasn’t doing this for some reason). Indicate we are logged into Twitch.tv and have a premium pass. Ensure that whoever is playing right now is listed somewhere. Occasionally the “update message” wasn’t displaying who was playing on each stream.
In case you didn’t know: the first game each day was free to watch, then a “pay wall” went up. There were no commercials, only website ads on the info panels (panels you could open and close at will). Every match was available to watch live.
Of the “80 hours of content” or whatever they advertised, I watched around 25 hours myself. I don’t think it was really possible to watch more than that: Friday ~4pm-12am, Saturday ~12pm-9pm, Sunday 12pm-7pm. Does that look right?
Sundance mentioned two important things. One, the event was successful and there will be more. And two, there might be an Arena event for LoL in the works?
MKP didn’t know he won at first. It was a very weird ending to the event and brings up a good point: players need to learn how to win and lose better! Show some emotion guys, it’s kind of awkward otherwise. I know, I know, he was overwhelmed, blah blah blah. Just throw up a fist or something.
“As Video Gaming Goes Pro, Viewers Pay Up” – NPR interview with Husky. Tweeted during the event, haven’t actually listened to it quite yet.
And GameSpot coverage by Slasher. This is a great step for GameSpot, recognizing eSports and helping out.
Other Tags: MLG, StarCraft II, SC2, PPV