And why we should avoid TV
Note: I have nothing against the author - i have never met him. But i feel it very important that we all be on one educated track when it comes to discussing the possibilities of Starcraft broadcasts in the future. I welcome any response or criticism of what i've writen
Reponse to this article:
These are my personal opinions, not those of Teamliquid.net.
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The author sure is a...ok i'm done.
I've been following esports and networking with esports organizers, journalists and personalities for about 6 years and the notion of “increased viewers = good on TV” is one that comes has come up often. Without sounding too patronizing, it usually comes from new esports journalists who haven't followed the inner workings of the scene closely or don't know enough about esports history and the companies/people that surround it. Unfortunately for the author, he failed to recognize that esports has been broadcast on television multiple times, receiving millions in investment and failed catastrophically.
Why numbers don't matter (right now).
Starcraft 2 viewership numbers aren't really anything to write home about. CPL events were doing 100k viewers easily in 2007 when there were no services like justin.tv or ustream to help them out. WCG was/still is pulling in those kinds of numbers They ran/load balanced their own broadcasts – i'll have to ask Slasher what the stability of the streams was like. The prizes were bigger. The viewers were bigger. Many organizations embraced CS1.6/Source as their flag for taking esports to the mainstream and they failed. GGL Failed. CGS Fails. CPL Failed. ESWC Failed...should I go on? Starcraft 2 should not be on TV.
1) CGS. This was detailed perfectly by djWheat on Reddit and he does a far better job of explaining the circumstances than I would.
I'm only mildly informed on some of the financial/organizational issues that plagued CGS so i'll leave those alone, but the insider stories i've heard truly sound like what happens when “uneducated senior management” put their inevitable - but necessary spin on a product. The #1 reason I hated CGS was because of what it represented – XFL/Slamball meets Gaming. Whenever TV productions get involved there is a strong push to target the most casual of markets by dumming down the experience and adding a lot of flash to draw in casuals. It's a business – you need to be able to prove that the audience is extendable and that there is a strong attach rate for 1st time viewers becoming long time supporters. Some will argue that Husky et co already proved this is possible....but did they really prove an attach rate for viewers ignorant of Starcraft "the game" or an attach rate for viewers who knew what Starcraft was but didn't know it was an E-Sport...this is important, and I can only assume that a massive portion of VOD/Stream fans already knew what Sc was or had played it in their youth. I do not believe that Starcraft Esports Broadcasting is extendable to an audience who has little interest in Starcraft the game.
2) When broadcasting a "new" product, one needs to keep things simple (read: dumbed down) in order to attract a casual base immediately. If you cannot prove potential success within a few broadcasts you are done (see midseason cancelations of every show on network TV ever).
This leaves the existing hardcore fan raged while still the broadcast remains confusing to the casual demo. Why? Because Esports broadcasts on Television have proven one thing, you can target a casual market, or you can pray that your existing hardcore demographic transfer over - you cannot have both. Any marketing or business student will explain to you that this is ultimately doomed to fail or enjoy only marginal success.
Yet again and again, new esports figure heads attempt to target both. With a game like Starcraft, "simple" isn't a key word. How do you simplify one of the most complex games on the market...by cutting things down. While one could argue that CS wasn't “made for broadcast” the way that Starcraft 2 was, it is still overwhelmingly complicated for a new viewer. I can watch poker and UFC with my dad who has no interest in either...understanding GSL by himself? Probably not going to happen. This leaves a niche product that isn't extendable to a new audience.
3) The CGS was very inaccessible by the very nature of it being a subscription on DirectTV – I didn't even consider getting the service until I was comfortable that it was a good product. Like most gamers though, when I realized that most of the flare of “true” CSS/1.6 events was gone I decided it was doomed to fail – it shut down about 6 months later (i'm sure it was predicted by many others).
Why Starcraft should never be on Western Television.
In order for a TV game show to be viable, it needs a few things which Starcraft cannot provide without being shit.
1. Easy to edit while maintaining the narrative. Unlike a broadcasted strategy game like poker where the scene (television scene, not community) is compact (1 hand, 1 hand, commercial, 1 hand, 2 hands, commercial etc.) and easily interchangeable, Starcraft does not allow quick or easy editing decisions. Without former Starcraft players on hand in an editing both, you would be left with a chopped down product – missed building placements, missed timings, and a raging viewer base. This isn't really a negotiable point. Games would HAVE to be edited and cut to allows for a commercial in the middle. A TV station simply cant run a 45 minute game without commercials in North America and still remain profitable.
2. Able to target core demographic and casuals simultaneously.
The very strategic nature of Starcraft alienates a lot of viewers. I think we have made huge strides opening the door over the past few years via the work of Day, Husky, the SC2GG guys – but it's really not enough. As a viewer, I need to be able to be flicking by a station and within 2-3 minutes understand exactly whats going on even if i've never played. Again though, i believe there is an overwhelming amount of evidence to suggest that "hardcore" games are not able to target hardcore and casual TV audiences simultaneously.
3. Social Networking
While Teamliquid can't take full credit for any one production's success, the nature of having a very central hub where one can come and find live events quickly is a huge benefit to live broadcasts. Social media hubs like facebook/twitter and sites like reddit also contibute heavily, but I find it ignorant to suggest that this would be scalable when applied to a television. The social platform which impassions viewers on Teamliquid simply doesn't exist on television. The Starcraft Esports scene is very niche despite it's size – do not mistake size for accessibility. These new viewers came to esports via the promise of Starcraft 2's launch, they found Esports along the way.
Predicition Time “Where We Goin” - Bobby Kelly
Within the next 5 years or so I expect Justin.TV, Ustream and others to fully embrace IPTV-like features. With a tailored dashboard for featured high quality productions, I think IPTV is the only acceptable course for Starcraft and esports. The matches themselves are only about 50% percent of what keeps Starcraft games interesting – the rest is the social experience of knowing you are communicating with thousands of others live and being able to comment on the action at hand. Imagine having a 1080p stream on your tv and a few of your friends webcam streams all watching simultaneously. With easy access to live chat, and whatever medium our forum evolves to.
Want to poll your audience to increase interactivity? “Who is going to win Idra/Huk” then selecting your score/vote live on screen and having immediate feedback. Why do threads like MLG hit over 900 pages in comments and over 1.5 million viewers – because of the story, because of the attachment fans feel to players and the knowledge that thousands of others are sharing in that experience - live.
Additionally this opens a number of marketing opportunities during events for sponsor plugs (ability to show a direct clickable link to sponsor site/ordering page that would open in a satellite window on the TV to order/promote/whatever). I think it will become increasingly easy to generate revenue through IPTV and for broadcasts to promote sponsors with more interactivity and ease (Although, the cost of IPTV broadcast may remain high for some years). The entry barrier for amateur productions has dropped drastically over the last 2 years, and within the next 5 will drop further while allowing for scaled up production values.
The most important thing for Starcraft esports has nothing to do with the game itself. It is 100% about the narrative of events and players, and this NEEDs to be the focus for content and event producers starting right now if players hope to grow the scene. I found the videos that CSN, AskJoshy and others produced for MLG Dallas to be excellent – I hope they continue to advance it, and increase their production values through editing, lower thirds etc.
This promotion has nothing to do with the actual fight – it's about the narrative/story of the fighters. This kind of emotion and narrative is what event producers should be striving to create online and on IPTV in the future.
So back to the Article
There is a reason MLG is no longer on ESPN. I don't know what it is, but MLG is no longer on ESPN. Would Starcraft 2 help? It's doubtful considering the size of the casual Halo base compared to Starcraft2. Our community is a global one - in Canada i didn't even have access to MLG's broadcasts on TV.
The author ultimately draws many flawed comparisons between existing Television and live internet streams. He comments on the viewership of Starcraft events/leagues versus the viewers on Fox Soccer channel and similar "niche" markets...This argument is flawed because Soccer is the most popular sport on earth and has a potential viewer base of hundreds of millions (World Cup?). The author has compared the very minimum that a Soccer channel can hit to the very maximum that Starcraft 2 broadcasts are hitting. He has compared one of the strongest television sports broadcasts to an industry that has only experienced television failure....
Good luck in your Venture Capitalist meeting.
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