First of all, we'd really like to know where all the money is coming from, because this event certainly wasn't cheap. We know they had some big name sponsors last night (Mountain Dew, XPS, Xbox 360, DirecTV, IGN, etc), but did they pay for all of it? Will they be funding the whole gaming season? According to the folks we talked to last night, this production alone cost a million dollars (rented crane, multiple cameras, live streaming, flatscreens galore, and a partridge in a pear tree), plus once you factor in the cost of hosting an event at the Mansion, providing food and drinks for 500 people, parking, shuttles and hiring Bunnies and CGS girls ... you've spent a pretty penny. But will it all be worth it?
Watching this live at the event and on the screens everywhere, it was actually pretty impressive. The hosts were on the ball, the commentators (including Fatal1ty) had their patter down ... pat, and it managed to look a lot like coverage of the NFL draft. The production value was evident in everything from the set to the on-screen graphics and team logos. The first round pick was also a gamer girl, Vanessa (of the PMS Clan), who went to Kat Hunter's San Francisco team. Although we're not sure what to really make of this, since every team had to pick one female DoA4 player. It might make for good press, but what about gaming by merit alone? You can check out all of the draft results here, and you can also stream or download the video of the draft here.
Even though the draft was so slickly produced, it underscores the fact that no one has nailed down the real problem with professional gaming -- how do you make it exciting to watch people play video games? MLG has been trying the same thing, but the televised Halo matches we saw them produce were awkward and the commentary seemed forced. Covering the live gaming is a nightmarish snarl of wires that has to be figured out in order to have mass appeal, although showing highlight works to some degree. Plus, there needs to be some easy way to educate the non-gamer audience about each game they feature in these competitions.
The second problem is, how do you make it exciting to watch the gamers themselves? People watch professional sports because of the larger-than-life personalities you encounter there, and both CGS and MLG are trying to emulate that model, but it's going to be difficult to pull off. Gamers, and we're including ourselves here, are generally just normal everyday people from all walks of life, and when you're holding that controller in your hands and mashing buttons, there's not a lot going on. It's not like the commentators will be saying, "Check out the wrist move that Kietzmann just pulled off!" Sure, there's a fair amount of trash-talking going on in some games ... but is it fun to watch someone staring at a screen while punching buttons and flicking sticks?
It couldn't have been juxtaposed more clearly for us yesterday. In the morning we were at a screening of Chasing Ghosts (a lot more on that later), which is a documentary about video gaming in the early to mid 1980s. At one point, a huge gaming event called The Electronic Circus was planned, and would feature expert video game players traveling to 40 cities in North America to show off their mad Pac-Man and Frogger skillz. Sadly, it was canceled five days in for low attendance.
Is that what will eventually happen to professional gaming? We aren't sure yet. We're not saying it can't be a success, but right now it seems like the mystery money is going to funding big events like this to raise awareness of ... something that hasn't been figured out yet.