Pro Gaming: The future of sports television or cheap filler ?
Ronald Diemicke (1148), Dec 04, 2006
Lately, competitive video games have been getting more of a presence on TV. USA Networks have been broadcasting the 'Boost Mobile MGL Pro circuit' which chronicles the competitive Halo 2 scene and The New York Times is reporting that CBS is going to be broadcasting a special on December 30th called 'They Got Game: The Stars of the World Series of Video Games Presented by Intel'.
But while the screen time is good to have, it almost seems handicapped. These programs seem to air in morning/afternoon time slots on Saturday morning - which would tend to mean that the intended audience is kids. Because of the time slot, CBS is even going so far as to extremely limit the amount of actual game play footage being shown. The reasoning is simple, most of the games end up being pretty graphic - blood and violence aren't new to TV, but don't really have their place during Saturday morning. This is some what foolish because the games (Halo 2, Counter-Strike, Quake 4, ect...) are mature rated games intended for the 17 and over - why would you put a show with content intended for a higher age audience in a time slot for kids?
The answer is that they still really haven't figured out who they should be marketing to (or they know and just don't care). With the way TV is programmed, this most likely fail to capture its target audience (which given the time slot is grade school kids) regardless of how many people actually watch it and instead of someone realizing that they can probably get a time slot for a more age appropriate audience, they'll throw the baby out right with the bathwater.
Will competitive video games ever find their true place on TV? What will be the break through game? What really needs to happen to make pro gaming a spectator sport?
And more importantly, would you watch televised competitive gaming?
A few years ago Ecofilmes (one of the largest distributors around here) had Saturday morning show where eight players went by two rounds (usually one of the top sellers for Sega systems, such as Sega Rally, Daytona, FIFA 96, Virtua Racing, MK3, etc) before facing off in the final (played in a VF2 match). Back then, it was one of the few opportunities one had to see games actually moving instead of just seeing blurry screenshots from a magazine, so I, like a lot of people who owned a Sega console back in the day watched the show.
If I'd watch competitive play again? Maybe. If the focus is on gameplay footage instead of "EXTREME COMPETITOR CLOSEUPS", "MAD DJS AND RAPPAS" or "ALMOST NAKED BITCHES COSPLAYING AS LARA CROFT", it could be interesting. And depending on the games, of course.
In the early 90s, Nickelodeon had NickArcade which did the same sorta thing in a way, but with a definite game show format and alot of extra fluff (green screen games anyone?).
I must confess a guilty pleasure from watching Nick Arcade though. More than I'd like to admit.
To get an idea how game casting is done nowadays, check soms of the vods on GGL (registration required). There are professional casters, video footage, in-game commentary and shots of the gamers playing.
I follow most major WC3 and Quake 4 matches through video on demand, and Quake III games through GTV (in-game proxy where thousands of users can login to follow). In Germany, there even is a (cable/sattelite) TV channel called Giga dedicated to nothing but e-sports.
I forget the name of the show, but a couple of years ago on G4 they aired this sort of game tournament game-show. Teams of 4 or 5 competed in I think 3 different games, and the "losing" team got to choose the final game. At the end of each show the team with the highest score (compiled from overall kills, flag captures, etc...) won, and they even set aside a minute or two to announce an MVP. The winning team won some decent stuff, but mostly it was a way for them to win a spot in future shows. You know, doing the "Returning Champions" thing.
Maybe it was just me, but I thought the show was a lot of fun to watch. They jumped around using the in-game spectator cameras, so you could follow all the action for each round of Unreal Tournament or whatever else they were playing.
Sadly, since then the channel has turned into just another version of Spike. Anyway, this is my long-winded way of saying "Yes, I'd watch that."
Isn't StarCraft a popular spectator event in Korea?
That so many games are aimed at an older audience is a problem for computer games taking off as a spectator event - although it never did boxing or wrestling any harm.
I just want to add that "Spectator cameras" and other devices are near essential to produce a TV-friendly "Spectator sport". I've tried watching videogame shows in the past (sadly with much disappointment), including ones designed to be competitions. The problem I've seen is that for a lot of games, what's used on the broadcast is footage of the players handling a controller (boring) and images of the player's screen, which isn't so bad... but makes it difficult to keep track of anything like score or tactics or any kind of sense to what's going on. If videogames want to be a spectator sport, they need to take a serious hard look at other spectator sports and learn the value of understandable rules, camera angles, closeups, replays, overlays and just a general sense of what's going on.
Your average game competition however uses a retail version of the game that was designed mostly to... well be a game, and spectator options are an afterthought. First Person shooters may have the edge, due to their years of history in LAN party competition... but it's still rare that I can watch anything like this and figure out what exactly is going on.
And if game designers aren't willing to design a brand new version of the game to allow "broadcasters" the options of displaying the footage and information in different ways... then television producers should at the very least have the capability to record the entire game, inside of the 3D world... so it can be replayed with slow motion and replays and edited into some kind of continuity.
In Korea there are two 24 hour channels dedicated to people playing starcraft and the players are not pros. Hard to believe that there is enough interest in SC to support two 24 hour channels on TV.