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On Televising Pro Gaming

Zonk posted more than 8 years ago | from the better-than-magic-the-gathering-tournaments dept.

Television 44

GameDAILYBiz has a piece written by Sundance DiGiovanni, the founder of Major League Gaming, on why the time is right for televising Professional Gaming. From the article: "Back in the day I would usually begin by pointing out that until recently there had never been U.S.-based gaming leagues or competitive gaming events that were built from the ground up to be televised. I'd point out that video game tournaments had never really been what you would call "TV friendly" and that in order for the spectator value to translate to television you would have to treat competitive gaming like a sport. That would usually be the point where people would look at me like I had horns growing out of my forehead."

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It can be done. (4, Insightful)

MagicDude (727944) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396229)

ESPN broadcasts poker, spelling bees, and even scrabble. If they can be profitable, I'm positive video game tournaments can be too.

Re:It can be done. (1)

nuremon (791801) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396278)

ESPN broadcasts poker, spelling bees, and even scrabble. If they can be profitable, I'm positive video game tournaments can be too.

I know, they keep beating out the America's Cup (and Louis Vuitton)... They didn't even cover all the races last time. Obviously Scrabble is more profitable than sailing...

Re:It can be done. (1)

ClamIAm (926466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396410)

Obviously Scrabble is more profitable than sailing...

Not to mention all the hazards of professional Scrabble. You might get neck or lower back pain, maybe even a sliver from one of the tiles! I think it's obvious that the safety level of Scrabble makes it much more TV-friendly.

Re:It can be done. (1)

generic-man (33649) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396680)

Safety level? People can play indecent words like "lez" [sfgate.com] on television! Think of the children!!

Re:It can be done. (1)

ClamIAm (926466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14397978)

Well, with the success of "desperate housewives" and reality TV, that's probably how it beat out sailing...

Re:It can be done. (1)

Chemical (49694) | more than 8 years ago | (#14397238)

When you have to fill two networks with 24 hours worth of programming every day, everything qualifies as a "sport"

Re:It can be done. (1)

rawmule (744495) | more than 8 years ago | (#14398510)

two? try try 6 [go.com] .
ESPN
ESPN2
ESPN Classic
ESPNEWS
ESPN Deportes
ESPNU

The major problem... (3, Interesting)

Firehawke (50498) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396239)

...is that watching people play games isn't all that interesting to a non-gamer in general. There are only a few types of games that are fun to spectate: Prince of Persia-style games, for instance, can captivate an audience with slick stunts by skill.. but.. there are few games like that.

FPS type games aren't going to be interesting to an outsider, no matter how you dress it up.. unless, maybe it's something like Battlefield 2-- THAT could possibly work, being somewhat 'relevant' to even the common man.

Re:The major problem... (2, Informative)

AsiNisiMasa (910721) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396385)

I think that's what he means by saying it needs to be presented as a sport. Think about how many people pay ridiculous amounts of money to go see a pro-football game... They could much more cheaply see a college or high school game and probably with greater ease. The problem is, sports aren't actually fun to watch for most of the spectators. People like pro-sports because they feel connected to a team or to certain players and the outcome of the game actually becomes meaningul in that way.

As it stands now, which of the world's best gamers wins the most games doesn't matter to anyone at all, but if they each had fans then the competition between the resulting camps would fuel interest and spectation. Gambling would probably help get that going, as much as I would hate to see gambling over games.

Re:The major problem... (2, Insightful)

Golias (176380) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396695)

At a pro football game, I can see somebody run at near-olympic speeds across a field, and stretch his arms out to catch a ball knowing full well that he's about to get drilled right in the rib cage.

Sports competition pushes people to their physical limits, and when it is being played by people with exceptional physical limits, it can be compelling to watch.

I'm pretty damn good at playing Quake (if I do say so myself), and on a sliding scale of entertainment value, watching other people play Quake on TV, even world-class players, ranks somewhere between watching somebody write code and going outside to cut the lawn.

Re:The major problem... (1)

Meagermanx (768421) | more than 8 years ago | (#14397066)

I agree. I watched part of MTV's match between Fatal1ty and... that-other-guy, and I saw a video of a Korean Starcraft tournament, and I was nonplused.
The shooting was just too pointless and fast-paced to keep up with, and the Starcraft match was just a Terran rush.

Honestly, the only gaming feats I enjoy watching are speedruns and fighting tournaments. With a fighting game you get to see the skill, recognize the ability, you don't have to keep track of everything on two different screens, and it looks cool even to spectators who don't know what's going on.

Re:The major problem... (1)

Pxtl (151020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14400069)

I think the fundamental problem is that Deathmatch (and even worse Instagib) are pretty dull to watch. A good CTF game, on the other hand, would be far more entertaining. Personally, I think UT2k4 Assault or Bombing Run would rate tops for spectator sports - the action is almost always concentrated in one place, so it's easy to know where to point the cameras.

Re:The major problem... (1)

tsm_sf (545316) | more than 8 years ago | (#14397259)

I'm pretty damn good at playing Quake (if I do say so myself), and on a sliding scale of entertainment value, watching other people play Quake on TV, even world-class players, ranks somewhere between watching somebody write code and going outside to cut the lawn.

Yep, although I think that some non-FPS games might be a little more entertaining. An expertly controlled "flying camera platform" over one of the epic Hillsbrad battles in World of Warcraft actually sounds like fun. Dennis Miller's brand of color commentary might actually be appreciated by the fanbase, too.

"That gnome was owned quicker than Kunte Kinte on a fast-forwarded PBS special!"

Re:The major problem... (1)

Corbu Mulak (931063) | more than 8 years ago | (#14398370)

Am I the only person in the world who actually likes mowing the lawn?

Re:The major problem... (1)

Prophet of Nixon (842081) | more than 8 years ago | (#14400168)

I dunno, I like digging holes though. There's just something hypnotic about simultaneously making a new hole and a new hill.

Re:The major problem... (1)

dootbran (467662) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406475)

Yes! Competitive Lawn Mowing! Up next on ESPN 8, The Ocho!

Re:The major problem... (3, Interesting)

ClamIAm (926466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396388)

You mention FPS, and I started wondering: what would the TV rating be for something like Quake, where there's tons of blood and gibs flying around? Sure, they could bleep out the "FUCKING NOOB!" expletives, but would they have to mod the game to get the rating down to TV-PG or something?

Also, I think that "spectator" tools would help a lot in making gaming more TV-friendly. It would allow commentators to show where players are on a level and such. Because usually, if you don't know the game yourself, you don't have any idea what's going on. I downloaded some high-profile CS match (some Euro clans), and since I don't play CS, quite a bit of it was lost on me.

If you look at TV poker, I think it helped a lot that they show all the hole cards and explain the rules at the beginning of the show. This is a lot harder for videogames, as a lot of them have many more variables, like weapons/items, levels, and so forth, in addition to the strategy.

Re:The major problem... (4, Insightful)

MagicDude (727944) | more than 8 years ago | (#14397293)

Because usually, if you don't know the game yourself, you don't have any idea what's going on.

I would cite Iron Chef as an example of how you can present an obscure event in an exciting manner which is accessable to everyone. I've never had fois gras, caviar, truffles, homard lobster, or matsutake mushrooms, but whenever they break out those ingredients during competition, I know some pricy quality stuff is going into the dish. I think the same thing could be done in starcraft matches, as long as you have commentators who are high energy and aren't putzes (The worst thing they could do is get "gamer" commentators who are like "woah, that move was gnarly. Wicked awesome. Blah blah blah"). The commentary should be informative without being condescending or confusing. So they could be like "Sam is building a nuclear silo. That has the ability to do 1000 damage to all units and buildings within a 20 meter radius of targeting. Looking at Bill's base, our estimates show Sam's optimal strike point would be here where Bill's detector tower perimeter has a hole." and have a graphic showing the feild of coverage of the missile turrets and what the damage feild would be and such. The viewers don't have to know everything about the game, as long as you explain the important parts that make the game interesting. They do the same thing with poker, when they explain how one player has the unbeatable hand so you know to be interested on whether the other player will call or fold.

On the same token, part of making these games interesting to the public is to reduce the amount of boring work in the game. Thus, they should start each player off with a moderate cache of resources and a handfull of troops and the basic buildings. You need to get to the action quickly to hold a TV audience's attention. And then add in little twists, like the "secret ingredient" in Iron Chef, things like "flier's only" or "reveal map and no fog of war" or "operation cwal engaged".

Re:The major problem... (1)

ClamIAm (926466) | more than 8 years ago | (#14397999)

On the same token, part of making these games interesting to the public is to reduce the amount of boring work in the game.

Hey, that's what editing is for, right?

Re:The major problem... (1)

Shadarr (11622) | more than 8 years ago | (#14397469)

"The major problem is that watching people play games isn't all that interesting to a non-gamer in general."
Who says it has to appeal to non-gamers? As the guy in the article points out, there are 20 million "hardcore gaming households" in the US. Whatever that means, the point is that gamers are no longer a tiny niche minority. An entire generation has grown up with the Playstation. You don't have to package it in such a way that housewives and NASCAR dads find it interesting, you just have to make it watchable.

Re:Dude! Celebraty LAN Party! (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 8 years ago | (#14397805)

FPS type games aren't going to be interesting to an outsider, no matter how you dress it up.. unless, maybe it's something like Battlefield 2-- THAT could possibly work, being somewhat 'relevant' to even the common man.

What would sell this to the common man if they had celebreties that would scream and shout while playing... I hear Robin Williams likes Battlefield 2 and he likes to play as a Sniper [joystiq.com]

Re:Dude! Celebraty LAN Party! (1)

Pxtl (151020) | more than 8 years ago | (#14400098)

Or do a Halo tourney with Julia Roberts. [salon.com]

All these games have the advantages that the action is slower (and easier to follow) than normal DM, and the team-sport objective-oriented games of CTF are more entertaining to follow than the frantic mayhem of DM.

Re:The major problem... (1)

dootbran (467662) | more than 8 years ago | (#14406459)

Not only are the vast number of games not interesting but, as G4 showed, gamers don't watch TV, they play games. It might be interesting to see what tactics some team might use on a game of Assault on Zanzibar but can 4 2 minute rounds really capture attention the same way a Basketball game does?

Also, remember that a great deal of sports are athlete/star driven. Sure I'm from Detroit and a Pistons fan but I also like most of the players and admire their physical ability to play the game. Is there anything that would really make one player's style stand out from another's to someone not already intimately familiar with a game? Could a gamer really be a star to non-gamers?

Starcraft in Korea (2, Interesting)

AsiNisiMasa (910721) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396415)

I've heard rumors that games of Starcraft used to be (maybe still are) televised in Korea. Can anyone confirm/deny this?

Re:Starcraft in Korea (1)

aendeuryu (844048) | more than 8 years ago | (#14397164)

Yeah, they are. You can even go to some malls in Seoul and watch them play live. That's how some of the shows get their live audience... they get people who are in the middle of shopping and give them some Starcraft to watch for a while.

You wouldn't believe the number of girls who watch it live, too.

I can see it now (2, Funny)

Pluvius (734915) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396479)

"See your favorite gamers whine about spawn campers and call each other n00bs weeknights at 2 AM, only on ESPN 8, The Ocho!"

Rob

Re:I can see it now (1)

Golias (176380) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396718)

You read OSM, too?

Re:I can see it now (1)

tepples (727027) | more than 8 years ago | (#14397457)

See your favorite gamers whine about spawn campers

Better yet, see your favorite gamers' characters sing songs around the spawn campfire.

Uh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14396563)

Exactly who the fuck wants to watch OTHER people play video games? I mean, it's bad enough to be a video game addict yourself. Now you're going to watch sponsored teams play??

Re:Uh (1)

masterzora (871343) | more than 8 years ago | (#14398429)

I know. Nobody wants to watch other people play games! That's why televised sports are such a failure! Oh, and don't even get me started about televised poker!

Seriously, as long as it's done well, people will watch anything.

To see pros/experts play the game (1)

Retired Replicant (668463) | more than 8 years ago | (#14402526)

Why do you think so many people like to watch golf or tennis on TV instead of playing it themselves, or playing a videogame version of it? Watching a real professional play the game at a much higher level than you can yourself is inherently interesting/fascinating to a lot of people.

Of course online gaming will be televised (4, Interesting)

ExampleUserAccount (763086) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396717)

From an article on Korea and the popularity of Starcraft [hankooki.com] :
On July 22 last year, 16,251 fans gathered at a baseball stadium in Pusan for the All-star game. At the same moment, around six times more people packed Kwanganni beach in the port to see another professional competition _ the online game ``Starcraft.''

Of course online gaming will become a spectator sport. The question is when will it happen? How will producers make it compelling and fun to watch?

The games themselves will need to be modded for spectators with extra cameras, slow motion replays, avatar close-ups with specially modelled expressions.

And the players will need to be larger than life, their games will be perfomances, their interactions with teammates and other teams will become storylines on the "field" and fleshed out by what happens between games. Rivalry, comraderie, tradgedy will all be played out in this new world for the amusement of TV and online viewers.

If baseball, golf and spelling bees can be spectator events then online gaming will eventually eclipse them all. The producers just need to figure out how to make it work.

Re:Of course online gaming will be televised (1)

ENIGMAwastaken (932558) | more than 8 years ago | (#14396789)

Think about it: The Spelling Bee makes it onto ESPN. I actually watched it one time (Caught the end). And you know what? It was actually kind of compelling. The chick that won that won got these easy ass words that I could spell (Anglophile, in the 23rd round? Wtf?) and the other kid got these crazy fucking words (Cortile. What the fuck?). It was actually sort of interesting. Now I don't think they pro-gaming will be huge or anything, but I think it will gain and maintain reasonable spectator numbers. What really needs to happen is a game that captivates a large amount of people (Halo or GTA or something like that), that can also be spectator friendly. Say in Halo 3 you can watch professional Halo matches over X-Box live. Something like that, with a popular game and good spectator appeal could be pretty big.

Battlebots (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | more than 8 years ago | (#14397241)

I don't have cable TV anymore - do they still show BattleBots? Is that type of stuff profitable?

Re:Battlebots (1)

Corbu Mulak (931063) | more than 8 years ago | (#14398393)

They canned BattleBots but brought over Robot Wars from Britain or somefuckingplace. At least, the announcer has a brittish accent. It is pretty much the same, except they have some more traps and ref bots and stuff.

I'd rather play (1)

TheCarlMau (850437) | more than 8 years ago | (#14397834)

Doesn't this defeat the purpose of games? Video games give me a chance to be in the movie.

I would rather play a video a game than watch it. Then, after I die (like I always do in the first few seconds), I'll watch.

Re:I'd rather play (1)

Sefert (723060) | more than 8 years ago | (#14398624)

Though I agree, strategy games (apart from the obvious like chess) really benefit from good commentary. Someone who can do a strategic analysis to make one *really* appreciate the skill behind the players during a game brings a new light on it. I never used to watch kickboxing til I took up the sport. Still don't watch it much or anything - but I get a new insight on it when you get to see it through other people's eyes.

Good idea (1)

Sv-Manowar (772313) | more than 8 years ago | (#14398677)

Well with Starcraft in Korea being huge enough to almost become their national 'sport' I'd say there is a good market in televised game tournaments, I for one wouldn't mind watching a well played tournament of Counter-Strike or other stuff and I'm sure many other enthusiastic gamers wouldn't and I could see it becoming quite popular.

I've Said It Before... (1)

Tickenest (544722) | more than 8 years ago | (#14399763)

The #1 problem with televising a FPS (which, honestly, is what we're talking about here, as opposed to televising a RTS or sports game) is that there's nothing to focus on. If you're watching a ball sport, you have something to focus on-the ball. If you're watching a FPS, you have nothing to focus on. Sure, you can follow one player, but what if he doesn't see much action? You can follow the flag, but what if it gets locked down? So do you watch the middle of the play area? Switch around all the time? I just don't think it's compelling. And I mentioned ball sports up there and dismissed Madden, but I don't think that people would watch a whole game of Madden (or baseball, hockey, whatever) repeatedly. Sure, there's Madden Nation on ESPN, but that's a novelty more than anything else, and it covers much more than the actual games. Yes, they watch Starcraft on TV in Korea, but...that's...Korea. I'm not making a judgment about Korea, but the culture is just much better suited for this sort of thing for some reason.

It's still not ready.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14400576)

the time is right for televising Professional Gaming.

No, it's not. There are several problems with professional gaming...

1. People can't relate Games don't hang around too long...especially in the US. How long is a game popular for? The FPS that has held the most interest in the public eye is counter strike...but even that has it's popularity cut into by whatever the 'fps of the year' is. How many gamers have actually played counterstrike and can enjoy a match played on a high level? I know plenty of gamers who haven't played the original counterstrike, if they've played any version at all.

People can turn on the world series of poker and watch a game they have at some point played a variation of. People can turn on basketball to watch a game they can play in their backyard. Their barriers of entry are simply buying a basketball, or a deck of cards. Entry barriers for video games are higher (even if they aren't that high..)

2. The most popular Genres don't translate Right now, the most popular competitve genres I can think of are FPS games and Fighting games. Both often degenerate into players using the lowest common demoniator to win. One overpowered gun in a FPS game leads to everyone using it. One overpowered tactic in a fighting game leads to players abusing it all tournament long. (Think roll cancel, bo rai cho in MK:Online, unblockable CC in Street Fighter Alpha 2, etc).

3. Game sequels are too radical In normal competitive sports, you can turn on a game/tournament one year, and do the same the next and any rule changes are minimal. When a sequel to a video game comes out, it's often a radical departure from the original when it comes to high level play. UT is very different than UT2k3, Street Fighter 2 ST is much different than Marvel vs Capcom 2. The end result is players can only relate to the version they played.

4. The money isn't there yet I played in fighting game tournaments and a few FPS contests in the late 1990's and won plenty of small tournaments (ie 20 person) and prizes (anyone remember heat.net?). Where is the money to convince me to play a crappy FPS again instead of world of warcraft? :)

Still some problems to overcome (1)

Retired Replicant (668463) | more than 8 years ago | (#14402406)

I have watched the television show "Arena" on G4 off-and-on over the past few years. Here are the problems I have noticed:

  • Too many different games and too many different levels make it hard for players and viewers to become familiar with strategies.
  • Using complex maps in which it is difficult to see where players and flags are in relation to each other. It would be better to use simpler, more open maps to help the viewer orient to what he is seeing on the screen.
  • The players featured on the show change too frequently and are not really that good at the games they are playing. This should actually be easy to overcome.

These points can't be emphasized enough. When you watch pretty much any sports game on television except for golf, you are watching the game played on a standardized playing field. The standardized playing field does not detract from viewer interest. In fact viewership would decline if the playing field changed from game to game, because both players and viewers would not get a chance to develop and become familiar with strategies which elevate the level of play. Also, you are normally watching the same home team play, so you become familiar with the player names and strengths/weaknesses.

IMHO, the way to successfully generate viewership for televised mutiplayer computer games would be to feature a game mode like Bombing Run in UT2004, and keep to a single, simple, wide-open map so viewers can tell where things are happening. You would need to establish franchise teams in various cities (or maybe various countries) to generate local interest and give fans an incentive to root for one team over another.

Pro-gaming as a sport? (1)

Dr. Molf (586917) | more than 8 years ago | (#14403877)

Gaming will be a sport the same day that professional wrestling is included in the Olympics.

Random Thought (1)

Infe (52681) | more than 8 years ago | (#14407257)

Random thought :)


I can see Andy Kaufman if he were still alive to day making a show about gaming, and have it only show FF7 Chocobo Breeding.

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