Improving Magic: The Gathering Coverage
Thursday, August 30th
As I awoke from my slumber, I realized that it was almost time to turn back on the Magic Players Championship. My anticipation for the event was relatively high, but it had waned quickly once I realized I didn't really care who won the tournament. I'm acquaintances with a lot of the people who were playing, but I didn't have as much of a rooting interest as I thought I would have. The emotional attachment simply wasn't there for me.
Friday, August 31st
Today was the first day of PAX Prime. I never had the opportunity to attend PAX before, but everyone I knew in Seattle was a gamer and had been gushing about the convention for months leading up to it. As such, I acquired a three-day badge with no knowledge of what to expect at the event and hopes of being swept off my feet.
And swept off my feet I was!
There were people everywhere! And video games! Lots and lots of video games! I'm not much of a gamer anymore€”that ship sailed when I decided I wanted to play Magic professionally€”but even I couldn't ignore all the cool stuff going on around me!
And did I mention the cosplay€
I met up with my friend Joe Timidiaski, and we had the following conversation:
Me: "What is something I cannot afford to miss while I'm here?"
Joe: "Do you play League of Legends?"
Me: "Not really. I know that it exists and that everyone loves it, but I watch it more than I actually play it."
Joe: "Follow me."
As I was following Joe up a set of escalators, I saw the following sign:
We finally made it to the room where the tournament was being held, and I couldn't believe my eyes. There were people everywhere, and they were going crazy! Bright lights and big screens helped set the mood.
To my left, a merchandise stand with a line out the door and around the corner.
To my right, a handful of computers for people attending the convention to try the game out.
The energy in the room was reminiscent of a sporting event.
And the match hadn't even started yet!
As the teams were introduced€”Counter Logic Gaming (CLG) vs. Team Legion (LEG)€”I was fascinated by the buildup of the matchup. (You can find that here. I'd start around 20 minutes into the video).
CLG was built as the favorite and LEG as the underdog. An interview between the two teams drove that point home further as CLG was rather arrogant and LEG quite humble during their camera time.
All of a sudden, I was hoping for LEG to win.
Wait a second. I don't even play this game. Why did I care who won?
As I watched the match play out, I found myself rooting against HotshotGG and the rest of CLG just like everyone else in the audience. We knew that CLG was the better team, but they were easy to root against. When LEG beat CLG in an incredibly close second game, everyone in the crowd€”myself included€”went absolutely berserk.
Game 3 was close for a little while, but CLG finally took control of the game and beat LEG, a team they were certainly better than. As I headed home, I felt a few emotions:
- Disappointment. I really wanted to see LEG upset CLG.
- Amazement. That second game between CLG and LEG was epic. I don't play League of Legends at all, and I could tell that what I witnessed was something special.
- Confusion. Why did I care so much about the outcome of a game I didn't play and don't plan on playing?
- Surprise. That match lasted three hours. It felt like it lasted 30 seconds.
Saturday, September 1st
I wasn't feeling the best, so I decided to stay in for the day. Having a three-day PAX badge go to waste wasn't ideal, but if I couldn't watch the coverage of the League of Legends North American Regionals in person, I certainly would watch it from home.
While the energy that I felt being there on Friday could never be duplicated, they sure as hell tried via broadcast. I could hear the audience cheer whenever anything important happened, but the most impressive part was the work of the commentators. League of Legends is a fast-paced game where a lot of things happen at once and not once were the commentators unable to keep up with the action.
Even better, their pace and their tone set the stage incredibly well. When things in the game slowed down, so would they. When an important battle was about to take place, you could tell through the tone in their voices. And when that battle finally commenced, not only did they elevate their commentary, but they were able to keep up with every important thing that happened during said battle and, more importantly, could explain why what happened was important.
It was impressive.
And so was this: 137428 viewers. And it kept rising.
So after watching for another hour or two, I posted the following on Twitter:
League of Legends has been in existence for 2 years and has 100k viewers. MTG has been in existence for 19 years and can't break 10k.
This statement drew quite the reaction, but I said it to do just that. Understand that I tweeted that statement for a very specific reason:
I'm incredibly passionate about Magic: The Gathering. It has given me everything that I have in my life. I met my best friends through Magic: The Gathering. I've seen the world because of Magic: The Gathering. All of my bills are paid due to Magic: The Gathering. I said what I said because I know as a community that we can do better and in order for our game to continue to grow we have to do better.
The responses came in so fast and furious on Twitter that I wasn't able to keep up with them. As such, I thought it would be easier and more beneficial to respond to them here to expand on my thought process and dispel a lot of common misconceptions.
David Doyle € @DavidPDiddle
@CedricAPhillips Video games are also a LOT more exciting to watch than a Magic game. The gameplay is faster and more exciting.
Video games are more exciting than a game of Magic. I cannot deny that. In a video game, there are more things happening, the things that are happening are more interesting, and a video game is a lot easier to understand than a game of Magic if you don't have any previous knowledge about either topic. But I ask you to consider the following comparison:
League of Legends = Football
Magic: The Gathering = Baseball
Much like in League of Legends, in the game of football there are a lot of things happening at once:
- Players are running on/off the field to set up the next play.
- Linemen are blocking.
- Receivers are set into motion and then run their routes.
- Quarterbacks call out a play.
- Defenses adjust on the fly.
I'm fully aware that there are many more things happening, but the above are there simply to illustrate a point.
Much like in Magic: The Gathering, in the game of baseball there aren't a ton of things happening on the surface, but plenty of things are happening behind the scenes. Consider the two games in their simplest forms:
- In its simplest form, baseball is a game where a pitcher squares off against a hitter. The pitcher is trying to get the hitter out. The hitter is trying not to make an out.
- In its simplest form, Magic: The Gathering is a game where two people square off against each other and attempt to take each other from 20 life to zero.
Anyone who knows anything about baseball knows that a lot more is happening in the game of baseball than just pitcher vs. hitter:
- Lineup cards are set before the game to give your team the best advantage against the opposing pitcher.
- Teams use defensive shifts based on where a hitter typically hits a baseball.
- First and third base coaches call plays via signals to get their team an advantage.
- Righty/lefty pitching matchups.
Again, I'm fully aware that there are many more things happening, but the above are there simply to illustrate a point.
And as Magic: The Gathering players, we know that a lot more is happening in a given game than trying to take our opponent from 20 life to zero:
- Figuring out if your opening seven cards give you the best chance to win a particular game.
- How to sideboard in a given matchup.
- How to bluff something that you don't have in your hand.
- Trying to get the read on your opponent.
- Trying to figure out the metagame so you come to the tournament with a good deck.
Where am I going with this?
League of Legends and football are more in-your-face games. It's very clear when something good happens in both of these games (killing an opposing champion vs. scoring a touchdown), and when they happen it's incredibly exciting. Both of these games are easy games to watch for informed viewers or uninformed viewers like myself.
Magic: The Gathering and baseball are more methodical games. It's very clear when something good happens in both of these games (scoring a run vs. winning a game), but they don't happen in exciting fashion nor do they happen that often. Both of these games aren't easy games to watch for uninformed viewers, but an informed viewer should get a healthy amount of enjoyment out of their viewing experience.
For a viewer with no knowledge, football will always be more popular than baseball just like League of Legends will always be more popular than Magic: The Gathering because football and League of Legends are easier games to watch. My argument isn't that Magic: The Gathering should be more popular than League of Legends. My argument is that Magic: The Gathering shouldn't have 90,000 less viewers than League of Legends when Magic: The Gathering has been around for nearly two decades and League of Legends has been around for nearly two years.
Disregard Police € @Ffarqhuar
@CedricAPhillips The vast majority of people who play Magic don't care about streams or pro events. League of Legends more easily encourages that however.
Disregard Police (love your screen name by the way),
I don't disagree with you, and that's something that worries me. Riot Games has done a fantastic job of promoting the players, teams, and rivalries of League of Legends.
Wizards of the Coast has not.
If you watched the video I posted about the Counter Logic Gaming vs. Team Legion match, keep in mind that I knew nothing about either team prior to that match. It took a three-minute video package from Riot Games and their production team to create an emotional investment in that match for me. And that's the biggest problem with Magic:
We don't know anything about the best players in the game. And if you don't know anything about the best players in the game, why do you care if they win or lose?
Consider the following statements and questions:
- Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa is one of the best players Magic: The Gathering has ever seen. Outside of his hatred for White Weenie, what do you actually know about Paulo Vitor Damo Da Rosa?
- Conley Woods is one of the most likable Magic players in the world. Outside of his love to brew and win with terrible decks, what do you actually know about Conley Woods?
- Jon Finkel and Kai Budde are the best two Magic players of all time. Outside of that, what do you know about either player? How can you relate to either one of them?
Now consider the following:
- Marcus "Dyrus" Hill, a League of Legends player that I didn't know existed until this weekend, is well known not only for his skills in League of Legends but because he has a pet pillow.
- James "PhantomL0rd" Varga, a League of Legends player who streams, had such an emotional stream over the weekend that it reached the front page on Reddit.
- Tim Tebow, one of the most polarizing figures to ever grace a football field, is loved and hated for his religious beliefs. Whether you love or hate football, you know who Tim Tebow is and have an opinion on him as a person.
- As many of you know, I'm an avid basketball fan. I've been watching basketball since I was five, kept stats in a notebook beginning at the age of seven, and started demanding the sports page at the breakfast table when I was nine. During the 2011-2012 NBA season, I bought the NBA package and watched over 600 games of basketball. While watching those 600 games, I had four teams on my do not watch list: Toronto Raptors, Charlotte Bobcats, New Jersey Nets, and New York Knicks. Only one of those teams, the New York Knicks, made it off of my do not watch list. And that's because they finally gave me, and the rest of the world, a reason to care about them: LINSANITY.
Where am I going with this?
Give the people a reason to care and they'll watch.
David Williams € @dwpoker
@CedricAPhillips It's also a lot easier for a random to watch a video game and sorta get it, with Magic, they have NO clue, too much reading.
I agree that Magic is a very hard game to grasp if you have no prior knowledge of the game. There are a lot of things going on, and to someone unfamiliar with the game it's rather boring. Unfortunately, there aren't a ton of moments that jump out at an uninformed viewer that say "Hey this is important!" like a touchdown in football or a champion dying in League of Legends. But you need to understand something:
My job isn't customer acquisition, and I'm not trying to acquire new Magic players. I'm trying to get the millions of people who do play Magic to watch the coverage of one of their favorite hobbies.
Consider the following hypothetical:
Let's say that one million people play Magic: The Gathering (keep in mind that one million is a very conservative number). Of that one million people, let's say that 1% of those people are interested in tournament-level Magic and care about the results of a high-level tournament.
Quick math dictates that 1% of one million = 10,000.
10,000 is a number that was never broken for concurrent viewership when I was watching the Magic Players Championship€”the most competitive Magic tournament of the year.
Disregard Police € @Ffarqhuar
@CedricAPhillips League of Legends requires access/connection to the community in some way, whereas Magic is quite easily played in isolation.
Disregard Police (still love the screen name),
This is one area where I could not disagree with you more. League of Legends is a video game that is much better if played with a group of friends but can easily be played by yourself at any given time.
Magic: The Gathering, however, is a game that cannot be played alone unless being played on Magic Online.
With both games, you're likely to get more enjoyment out of playing with your friends than in isolation, but both can be played alone and still create happiness.
Gerry Thompson € @G3RRYT
@CedricAPhillips One is far more accessible
It depends on what you mean by accessibility, and even then, I don't think I agree with you.
Consider the following barriers of entry:
League of Legends = Low. Game is free to download.
Magic: The Gathering = Medium. Cards need to be bought in order to play the game in some fashion (online or in real life). It's up to the player how much they would like to spend.
Consider what it takes to understand the coverage of both games:
League of Legends = Low at the beginning. Harder to understand the further you go. The selling point is action over complexity.
Magic: The Gathering = High at the beginning. The incline tapers off rather quickly. The selling point is the complexity over action.
Consider what it takes to be good at both games:
League of Legends = A heavy time commitment. To play League of Legends at the highest level, you must commit a lot of hours per day to be the best at it.
Magic: The Gathering = A heavy time commitment. To play Magic: The Gathering at the highest level, you must commit a lot of hours per day to be the best at it
Consider what a monetary investment gets you:
League of Legends = Riot points. Riot points allow you to purchase champions, skins (different outfits for your champions), and boosts (allowing you to get experience or Influence Points faster). None of these things can be traded in at a later date to recoup some of your investment.
Magic: The Gathering = Cards for decks, entry fees into tournaments, etc. Your money can potentially turn into more money but at the least you can recoup some amount of your investment by selling the things that you've bought.
Both games have different types of accessibility but I would say that they're both very accessible games if you have an interest in playing either one of them.
Mark Schick € @markdash12
@CedricAPhillips @G3RRYT If you're suggesting the quality of Magic coverage prevents it from being as popular as League of Legends, I disagree completely.
I don't believe it's the largest factor, but I certainly believe it's a contributing one.
Consider the following two videos and tell me which is better in terms of professionalism, knowledge of the game/players, and ability to hold the attention of a potential viewer:
First Video = Finals of Grand Prix Columbus
Second Video = Finals of League of Legends North American Regionals
Keep in mind that I'm not here to cut down the quality of our coverage. My argument is that the difference in quality of Magic coverage vs. League of Legends coverage in terms of professionalism, knowledge of the game/players, and ability to hold the attention of a potential viewer is staggering.
Gerry Thompson € @G3RRYT
@CedricAPhillips People watch what they're interested in. If you never got hooked on magic, why watch? It's not as easy as poker
Again, I'm not trying to acquire new Magic players. That's the job of the customer acquisition department at Wizards of the Coast, and from the looks of sales figures and tournament attendance, they've been doing a fantastic job of that. What I'm talking about is getting the players who have gotten hooked on Magic to watch coverage of the game they're hooked on.
Some have made the argument that the formats for the Magic Players Championship weren't interesting, and therefore it was a poor tournament to hook people in with. I beg to differ:
- Cube. A format so polarizing that everyone has an opinion on what the best decks, best cards, and best strategies are. Cube is so popular among both the professional and casual crowd of Magic players that it destroys the economy of Magic Online the entire time that it's playable on the program.
- Modern. While not a perfect format, Modern is rapidly growing in popularity as the powers that be figure out what should and should not be banned. If the format was as bad as some people propose, I promise over 1,000 people wouldn't have showed up for Grand Prix Columbus to play it.
- M13 Limited. Grand Prix Boston-Worcester had 1,841 people in attendance to play what many consider to be the best Limited core set of all time.
People are clearly hooked on this game.
David Kleppinger € @DrKlep
@CedricAPhillips @meddlingmage It's harder to stream important Magic events than important video game events. Video games have a leg up.
I agree with most of that statement. Video games are certainly easier to stream than live Magic, especially if the video game was designed with streaming it in mind. That being said, consider the following facts:
- Poker is a game where concealing information is king. As a viewer at home watching a poker tournament, I have access to all of the information for every single hand.
- In the game of football, not only are there cameras all over the stadium, but we have the technology to get every single camera angle imaginable in case a coach opts to challenge a questionable call to ensure they get it correct.
- Players play the game of football with a microphone on. Seriously.
Now consider the following:
- In a game of Magic, rarely do we have an idea what is in one player's hand, let alone both.
Keep in mind that I'm not advocating anything mind-blowing here. But when I hear arguments that hand cams aren't possible and glare issues aren't fixable, all I can do is shake my head as I watch seven different angles of Calvin Johnson catching a football in triple coverage, fourteen different replays of Blake Griffin dunking over the NBA's finest, and instant replays of the most important parts of a League of Legends match 90 seconds after they happen.
It's 2012. Almost anything is possible.
Ian € @Kirblar024
@CedricAPhillips @fffreakmtg It takes about an hour to finish a lot of matches. Most people can't do that kind of time investment.
Consider the following:
- The average length of a game of League of Legends is 45 minutes.
- A round of Magic: The Gathering is 50 minutes.
- The average run time of a film is 90 minutes.
- The average run time of a football game is 180 minutes.
People will stay put if you give them a reason to.
Lauren Lee € @mulldrifting
@CedricAPhillips @fffreakmtg What number would be "not a problem?" Even 15-20k seems small compared to League of Legends, Poker, or Starcraft 2.
Truthfully, I'm not sure what number would make me happy, but I'm almost positive that concurrent viewership would have to start and stay above 10,000 viewers for me to be pleased with the direction we're moving in.
What I am sure of is that under 10,000 viewers watching the sixteen best players in the world duke it out is not an acceptable number.
Ryan Grebe € @wobwobwobWUT
@CedricAPhillips You have to make it a spectator sport and really push that in marketing. Make large tournaments open to large watcher.
That is the first of many solutions. The energy in the room at League of Legends North American Regionals was out of this world, and while I don't expect Magic players to duplicate it, I do believe that something similar is possible. The first step is to not only make Pro Tours open to the public again but also to encourage people to come watch the action.
I understand that comparing League of Legends to Magic: The Gathering isn't exactly fair because they're relatively different games, but I feel that their goals should be the same: to build an emotional attachment so that when players tune in to watch a tournament they have a reason to watch. As it stands, I feel that Riot Games has done a fantastic job of that while Wizards of the Coast has not.
I understand that solutions are not easy to implement, but ignoring the problem is going to leave us exactly where we currently are. And I think most will agree that where we currently are is not an accurate representation of just how great our game is.
In life, you only get one opportunity to make a first impression. When Joe led me to the room where the League of Legends North American Regionals was taking place, Riot Games had one chance to impress me, and they blew me away.
What fantastic work these gentleman have done.
Now consider my final question:
If you told one of your friends who played Magic: The Gathering to turn on Magic coverage, would they be blown away by what they saw?
Thank you very much for your time. I look forward to any and all feedback that you choose to provide. If I got any information that I presented as factual incorrect, I apologize in advance.
Cedric A Phillips