This month, contributing editor David Lumb explains the highs and lows of Syfy's book adaptation The Magicians, while senior news editor Richard Lawler digs into what he likes about professional Overwatch competition.
There's a juicy heresy in Lev Grossman's 2009 novel The Magicians and its two sequels, which subvert the cozy magical power fantasies in Narnia and Harry Potter. The core of that cultural skewering carries on in the SyFy show (loosely) adapting Grossman's books. I binged the first two seasons (currently on Netflix) while in the feverish throes of a nasty stomach bug, which is an adequate metaphor for the show's take on beloved childhood magic. Strip away the sentimentality and show the cruel realities of life-altering magic and you'll arrive at a different truth about humanity. In this case, the show stares unflinchingly at a world where people use spellcraft and sorcery for selfish ends and quick fixes, which has devastating consequences.
It's not a perfect show; it falls into subplots that do little for the story and less for the characters, but it's the only media chipping away at the assumption that magic would be benevolent and liberating. Sometimes the most seductive shortcuts have crippling costs -- perhaps just for everyone around you. Are they worth taking, and what would that say about you? The third season is almost over, and it's getting farther away from the source material, for better and worse: A straight adaptation of the book trilogy would've been a lot more concise and preserved the emotional body blows. But what can I say? I enjoy watching these characters finagle solutions to problems they created trying to fix other things. New viewers can blitz through seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix, while the third is available on SyFy's website -- though I'd recommend watching it on a streaming provider app to avoid the finicky web player.
Senior News Editor
With motorsports seasons opening, March Madness at its peak and NBA action barreling toward the playoffs, I've been oddly obsessed with a different competition: Overwatch League. While I'm only just now diving into the world of eSports, millions more have plunged in already, across a number of games.
I've tried to watch a bit of eSports before but never got hooked. Games like Dota 2 and Street Fighter are a bit too fast and specific, while eRacing never matched the appeal of real-world action. Overwatch's focus on teamwork and roster of varied characters eventually pulled me in as a player and, suddenly, as a viewer.
The work Blizzard has put in to make the game more watchable, with floating cameras and team-specific colors, helps a lot. While combat can occasionally be confusing as the camera jumps from one first-person perspective to another, there are enough replays and breakdowns between matches to help a novice keep up. I'm not as sold on many of the commentators, who occasionally opt for speed over clarity in their broadcast. Still, they seem to be settling in -- in the league's second stage (recently completed, with stage 3 scheduled to begin Wednesday), I noticed more time taken to educate viewers who might not know everything about team composition, strategy or what a particular buzzword means.
Its first season is only halfway through and, besides the action happening on screens, we've seen it match or exceed other leagues with player issues of nearly every possible type. Simple things like teamwork and management don't come so easily to some squads despite a demanding practice and competition schedule, leading to roster changes. Players have been suspended and even cut for breaking vaguely defined rules, racism and personal scandals. Blizzard has to do more about the "toxic" behavior that feeds some competitors and viewers -- the live chat with each game is an unreadable mess -- but outside drama isn't always a bad thing when you're trying to build a brand-new reputation.
The only trouble now is that I haven't picked a favorite team. Watching eSports means tracking teams and players across social media and their own regular live feeds in addition to the scheduled games. As previously mentioned, it also opens up opportunities for players' behavior to get them in hot water. I never thought I'd see anything more viewer-involved than people calling golf tournaments to report rule infractions, but in this world anyone can be screen-shotted or have a video clip taken to show exactly what they've been doing. The New York Excelsior's triumphant stage 2 victory and the Shanghai Dragons' underdog status as a winless squad (plus the addition of the skilled Geguri) have them near the top of my lists so far.
"IRL" is a recurring column in which the Engadget staff run down what they're buying, using, playing and streaming.