essays and pithy thoughts

Fit for television

in glhf

I want to revisit the relationship between sports and television.

What touched this subject off, as a refresher, was the article on Sixjax referenced here. Was thinking about this on my commute in on Friday. I want to take a look at one response in particular:

Out of respect of the author… I am removing my “colorful opinion” about the article. I certainly don’t want anyone to STOP writing editorials in this space. And while there were things I definitely disagree with, calling the article shit wasn’t fair.

One of the MAIN reasons SC2 cannot work on TV is due to the massive “Block” structure that traditional TV follows. This is something that the article COMPLETELY ignores and makes it very evident that this person has no idea about the complexity of producing television.

It’s not about the numbers, it’s not about the popularity of the game, it’s about making it WORK on television. And if you CANNOT make it work on TV, then there’s no reason even trying to “prove” that there are numbers and/or an audience to support it.

There’s the “weak evidence” Mr. Dick claims we didn’t have. I worked on 300 live TV shows for Championship Gaming Series. I watched them RAPE Counter-Strike and turn it into something it’s not. Does Mr. Dick want SC2 to get the same treatment? Should we auto start players with 5000 min/gas so that we can ensure a BO3 would finish in 60 minutes (or rather 43 when you consider commercial breaks)?

If that’s what you want SC2 to become… then keep hoping it hits Television. Cause that’s what you’re gonna get.

I think this point could have been made quite well without namedropping. That aside, I’m still not completely on board with this sentiment; that putting an esport on television necessitates a violation of said esport. I’ve argued in the past that some games are more suited for spectators than others, but this needs to be considered from a different angle.

What should the role of television be in an esport?

The answer of television as a catalyst, that television would bring greater exposure to a game, thereby increasing audiences and demand and interest in a game, I feel isn’t the right answer. This categorization of television’s role would indeed leave a game more susceptible to the wanton modifications to a game that we’re arguing against, but it’s not the only way television and sports can exist. We’ve several great case studies on this very topic that stretch back hundreds of years…

Take a quick comparison between the growth of baseball and American football here in my neck of the woods. Baseball was thriving long before it got live coverage through mass media; the first World Series to be aired on radio was in 1921, decades after the sport had spawned a professional scene. Radio coverage served only to bolster and augment the game’s popularity, not to singularly drive it, and didn’t have a direct impact on how the game was actually played; and the same was true of television coverage some years later.

Football’s story is a bit different. Television’s mark on the game is so evident that it barely needs explanation; the format is practically tailor-made to be as commercial friendly as possible. There’s a specified number of play stoppages that must be made each half – ten – so that the networks can pay the bills. The two minute warning is a by-gone relic from the days when the official time was kept by a single official, stadium clocks may or may not have been present, and served as a much needed heads-up to competitors; today its only purpose is an ad block. I think, however, the best example of how television has football by the jock strap is the story of how the opening kickoff of the first Super Bowl was taken again because one of the networks was too busy interviewing Bob Hope and missed it.

Let’s look at another example; that of soccer. Forty-five minutes plus of straight run-of-play, no stoppages, no time for your silly fifteen second commercials. Yet…whole matches are aired quite frequently worldwide. This would not seem to fit with the television world view espoused above. Yet, there it is. This is where I think the argument breaks down that the block format is somehow gospel, there’s clearly instances in which that’s suspended to fit the subject matter.

With the CGS, it was trying to get out ahead of the game, by it’s own admission, it was way out in front of the demand for such content on television. That’s why they were allowed to twist the games around so heavily and mash them into that esports Frankenstein they put out; it was all in the name of trying to appeal to a broader audience, to try to create demand instead of fill a large existing one.

For baseball and soccer, television was not a means to the end of kickstarting a new sport. The esports faithful, fixated on the idea that seeing a game being played competitively on network television will somehow validate their existence, sees television as both the end and the means.

If an esport is to make it on television, it needs to be there on its own terms, and [insert game here] has a long way to go before reaching the sort of widespread demand that would prevent a producer from fucking with the core mechanics of a game. What it takes is patience, and that’s something yet to be exhibited broadly around these parts.