What makes a good event? I’ve been thinking a lot about goals recently, and my developing interest in content production and editing has me looking behind the curtain at the factors at play behind “spectacle” events. For regular readers of my column it should be no surprise that I often branch out in my topics, for better or worse, so today I thought I’d give a Pro Tour warm-up piece, in characteristic Trevor Holmes style. So buckle up for some random musings that loosely tie in to Magic and hopefully it will come together at the end!
Part of what draws me to StarCityGames coverage every weekend is the Magic, sure, but mostly I’m entranced by the back and forth between Patrick Sullivan and Cedric Phillips. The comparisons to ESPN coverage, while slightly exaggerated, have roots in fact; SCG coverage has a clear method of presentation and executes their model to near-perfection. It’s been said before, and it’s a sentiment I agree with, that Wizards could gain a lot from attempting to emulate ESPN. Fox NFL coverage aside (really, Curt/Terry/Howie/Jimmy are atrocious) the National Football League does an excellent job covering their events, and the results show.
Obviously there are other, more important factors at play regarding a sport’s growth than the coverage that accompanies it, but you can’t deny that coverage is the link between the professional and the audience. I truly think the only thing separating Magic from League of Legends level popularity is the way it is presented to the public: through coverage and Magic Online. This weekend, I’ll be watching both the Pro Tour and the Super Bowl, with an eye towards what Wizards coverage can do differently to *possibly* one day grow the game to Super Bowl League of Legends levels of watchability.
The Super Bowl
For those individuals unfamiliar with football (or American sports in general) it’s possible you may not have heard of the Super Bowl. While it has recently grown into a cross-cultural spectacle full of entertaining commericals, halftime concerts, and copious amounts of fanfare and analysis, the Super Bowl at heart is the culmination of a season-long competition to prove football superiority. Similar to the Magic Pro Tour, the Super Bowl excites both players, fans, and casual observers alike.
I have the unfortunate position of living in North Carolina surrounded by bandwagon Panthers fans, and I can’t talk trash because my team (the Tampa Bay Buccaneers) are literally garbage. Seriously, we should just rename ourselves the Tampa Bay Browns. Now, I know there’s some die-hard Panthers fans out there (insert that “I’ve been a fan since ‘95” nonsense) but for the most part, Panthers fans only get riled up when they’re in a winning season. Before the age of Cam Newton, every week was some flavor of “Jake Delhomme/John Fox is (somewhere on the Jesus/Satan spectrum)!“ depending largely on whether Carolina won that week or not.
Don’t get me wrong: criticism of your team is great and all. It’s encouraged and shows you care and are passionate about your squad. All I’m asking for is a little loyalty when your guys are on the ropes. The Bucs went 2-14 last year, but I wasn’t calling for anyone’s head. This is partly because our main problem is penalties, and we can’t fire all the culprits (as we’d then have no team) but my point remains. For angry Panthers fans headed to the comments, slow it down (for angry Magic fans who don’t understand or care about American football, bear with me!). Obviously I’m a little tongue-in-cheek with this. I’ve developed my passive-aggressive trash talk to the point where I can feign innocence if anyone gets too offended, as my veiled criticisms hold no weight when some adversary can just throw the numbers “2-14” right back at me. I truly have no room to talk.
So, I’ll be watching the Super Bowl not to cheer on either team (I was in Denver once. It was “fine?”) (Editors Note: Tread. Softly. Sir.) but rather to appreciate it for what it is: a concentrated, calculated effort to whip every American into a frenzy and convince them of the divinity of the sport of football (which is absolutely true). Starting to see the Magic and Pro Tour connection yet? Yes, designers truly do look at everything in life and dissect it down to its constituent parts. It’s both a blessing and a curse.
The Pro Tour
I’m not comparing the two events for the sole reason that they lie on the same weekend (by pure chance), but rather because I’m convinced they are structured with similar goals in mind (at a macro level). At this point, the Super Bowl is a spectacle that everyone watches and knows, whether they care about football or not. The Pro Tour is nowhere near that visible (nor will it ever be), but they both have enough similarities that I find it worth comparing them to gain some sort of insight or lesson from it. Let’s break it down:
Both the Super Bowl and the Pro Tour exist as the final stop in a competitive endeavor of sorts. Magic professionals grind Grand Prix and compete in Regional Pro Tour Qualifiers to acquire invites to the biggest stage. Professional football teams fight all year until two men enter, one man leaves. Both events carry with them significant prestige worth battling for, not to mention monetary rewards and rock star status (you think we don’t treat PT Champs like rock stars? Check Twitter after the event. Martin Dang could have posted a picture of a spoon and it would have had 1,000 favorites!).
The big comparison I find between the two events is the underlying reason for their existence in the first place. As companies, both the NFL and Wizards need to provide some sort of goal for us to strive for, otherwise NFL players are just wasting money on cardboard and travel time and Magic players are getting concussions and in trouble for steroid use for nothing. Maybe I have that backwards? Maybe not. Aside from that, the Pro Tour and the Super Bowl both exist as a marketing tool for their respective entities to use to generate more interest in their particular game. The NFL has done its job at this point, but there was a time when football played second fiddle to baseball in America. Ask your grandfather. Now, they literally own a day of the week. Magic, in my mind, is the NFL in its younger days; plucky, underdog, struggling against the mighty League of Legends baseball overlords.
Tying it Together
It’s important to restate that I’m not comparing the Super Bowl to the Magic Pro tour merely because they lie on the same weekend. I believe (and hope I’ve explained thoroughly) the parallels the two events have to each other, and what the Pro Tour can aspire to be by taking lessons from the Super Bowl (and football broadcasting in general). While we could get into details like marketing to those unfamiliar with the game, working to make the event more entertaining for all involved, etc, I feel that’s straying a bit too far from the path. Before we add in all the fluff (halftime performances, cheerleaders) we need to start at the basics. (Seriously, how could would cheerleaders be at Pro Tours? We could have Patrick Chapin blow the roof with his MTG mixtape or something).
More than the Super Bowl, it’s possible the Wizards really wants to emulate a lot of what the League of Legends crowd does. They are already on their way; we can see similar attempts to generate storylines and drama between individual Pros and teams. I’m not sure shoutcasting is the answer, but quippy sarcastic commentary seems to be falling short for the majority of the audience. SCG recently changed their intro theme for their broadcasting in an attempt to generate more of the “excitement factor” by splicing in clips of the commentators going nuts. I feel this is a step in the right direction towards making the game more exciting and approachable from an entertainment level.
What’s the Goal?
Lots of talk will be had this weekend about “is the format better”, “should we have banned Splinter Twin”, “is Wizards the NFL in disguise, coming to ruin our health and steal our livelihoods?” We’ll even hear the adage about Wizards’ banning of Twin akin to an NFL banning of the Patriots. I don’t have the answer to any of these questions, and I don’t necessarily even find them that interesting. The format is what the format is, and I will continue to play Grixis Control and lament my opponent’s nut draws even though it’s my fault I have Pia and Kiran Nalaar in my deck. For some reason, I find myself analyzing, deconstructing and rebuilding everything I see except for Magic. I’m sure it has something to do with the fact that Magic is my escape, like most other people, so it would make sense that I don’t approach it in the same way I do everything else.
Catching a glimpse of how Pro Tours run behind the scenes was an awesome experience that I’ll never forget. In Vancouver, I got taken behind the curtain for just 5 minutes to do an interview that you should really read, because it’s about me and I like it! You don’t notice on the Twitch stream, but literally inches from Brian David-Marshall and Rich Hagon is a flurry of activity; cameramen, technicians, writers doing text pieces, content guys updating social networks, and an actual tournament going on! The polarity between what we as viewers see on screen and what actually goes into creating content is exciting for me. Maybe I’m way off base, but that’s what I think about when I watch any production, be it Magic or the Super Bowl.
All this ties to the event goals we talked about earlier: promoting their respective entities. In both cases, it’s a season-long production with steep costs and hefty behind-the-scene requirements. In both cases, it’s an uphill struggle to claw your showcase from backup program to headline event. I like to keep these considerations in mind as I’m consuming all the Pro Tour and pro ball action, and I always encourage others to do the same. What can I say? It’s the designer’s curse!
What’s the takeaway here? Yes, I’m incredibly interested to see what Modern looks like now that the Pros have had a chance to sink their teeth into a format free of the shackles of Splinter Twin. So why didn’t I write about that this week? Maybe in the back of mind I’m afraid things won’t change much, and the format will stay the way it is. So, boring? How can the format be boring if there’s twenty different decks! The format is great, and I’m not sure I want it to change. If it did, I think that’d be great too, though. You see what I mean? I’m so ambivalent right now when it comes to Modern that I’m fine with whatever happens (as if my opinion really matters). If the pros break it, they break it, and we get to see something cool and awesome. If it’s 16 rounds of high-quality textbook Modern Magic, that’d be great too.
Instead of worrying about the format, or comparing it to some predetermined notion of “pass-fail” in my mind, I’m going to sit back and enjoy it. And by sit back, I mean take detailed notes and draw comparisons and cross-references between two vastly different productions. I am what I am.
Thanks for reading and see you next week!
The_Architect on MTGO