EvE TV, a primer for game TV?

When I first started watching soccer, football for the rest of the world, I had no clue about the rules or the nuances of the game. I started out catching BBC America’s weekly recap/preview show and eventually started watching full English Premier League matches on what’s now the Fox Soccer Channel. The thing I liked most about the match commentators is that they didn’t feel a need to talk down to their audience. They would show the offsides, with a yellow line on the field, and sometimes give you a “obviously offsides”, or “close call” type comment but they just assumed that if you were watching you understood. The same with penalties, the most you’d usually get was something like “obvious penalty but I’m not sure it warrants a card” and it was left up to the viewer to decide what the actual infraction was.

As I said, I knew nothing about the rules of the game so you’d think that this kind of coverage would have been frustrating but in reality it allowed me to learn the subtlties of the game much faster. I had to watch what was happening, think about what the commentator said and try and relate the two to figure out what was going on. This kept me much more engaged in the match and I started to see plays developing. As a result I now find soccer much more entertaining than, say, American football.

This weekend I found myself experiencing that same engagement watching people play a video game that I have very little interest in actually playing myself, EvE Online. This weekend, and again next weekend, CCP is running a series of in-game PvP matches and they’re streaming live coverage of them over the web via a service they’re calling EveTV.

I know very little about EvE, I’ve tried it but it was just far to much of a spreadsheet simulator for my tastes, and I know even less about their PvP and these matches were not only PvP they were, apparently, high end PvP. So when I found the link and went to check it out I wasn’t expecting a lot.

First let me go over the rules, as I figured them out from the couple of matches I watched so these may be completely wrong. Each match consists of 2 teams with 5 ships each and is scheduled to run 10 minutes but the officials can extend that if they see fit. The winner is the first team to destroy all 5 of the other teams ships. Since this also appeared to be a tournament you wanted to try and protect your ships as well since you only got to take the survivors into the next round if you won.

Maybe I got lucky, the first match I watched was between two fairly evenly matched teams and as they were approaching 2 minutes left in the 10 minute time limit both still had all 5 of their ships. The CCP devs officiating the event said that if they reached the 10 minute limit still tied, or really close, they’d call it a draw – sounds like soccer right. Then in the last 2 minutes one team pulls some tricks out of their books and takes out 3 of the other teams ships, we’re talking from almost full health to gone in short order. So the officials decide to extend the time, it’s only fair that the team that pulled out 3 quick kills get a chance to finish off the others and get the win, so they added 10 more minutes. Less than a minute into this extended time they took out one of the two remaining ships leaving just a Raven (whatever the hell that is) with five other ships ganging up on it. The commentators didn’t seem to have a lot of respect for the poor Raven, they were talking like this would be over in less than a minute, but at the end of the 10 minutes of extended time the Raven was still hanging in there, shields above half and no physical damage. The officials decided to extend time yet again, they just knew that this Raven should be finished off any minute now. It took 5 ships and, easily, 15 minutes to bring down that lowly Raven!

They kept zooming in and you’d see these drones circling the poor ship with red beams locked on doing something…I think they were draining energy or something but it looked worse. You’d see torpedos coming in and these huge space explosions going off but when the flash cleared the Raven didn’t look like it was even scratched. You could see the shield bar dropping but it wouldn’t get much below half before it would slowly start to climb again. The commentators were dumbfounded, they couldn’t believe that this ship could take this much damage and just shrug it off. They were almost giddy with excitement watching this and, much like those early soccer matches, it started rubbing off on me.

In the end I watched a couple of different matches and all of them reminded me more of the slow methodical build up of soccer than the frenzied, fast paced, action of football. I found myself starting to see stratagies as they unfolded even though I still had no clue what the announcers were talking about half the time. In short I found it entertaining to watch, in contrast to most of the other competitive gaming TV I’ve seen.

For starters most of the competitive gaming uses FPS games, games that are inheriently much more frenzied and, most importantly, conducted in much tighter quarters. They also tend to use the players eye view, using the feed from one players monitor and switching between players. This is great for showing the action but doesn’t really allow you to see the stratagy of the game, they all look like a bunch of guys just running around, jumping constantly, and pressing the fire button. You don’t get to experience the subtlties of how they’re using the map to their advantage or they’ve learned a players tendencies and are exploiting them to set a trap. Stuff that I know is in there but is lost to the outside viewer. It doesn’t help that the commentators for these shows are more concerned with sounding all hip and cool than they are with the actual match and the strategy behind it. They focus on the “Boom-pow-up-the-middle” style of sports commentating.

So can competitive gaming be good TV? I think that EvE TV is showing that it can and I think that if these professional gaming leagues should try and learn from them.

First, don’t talk down to your viewers. Assume they know the game and the details of how to play so only focus on pointing out the strategies being employed and what you think of those.

To tie in with that let your viewers see the whole match, or at least a large chunk of it, at once. The first person view may be great for the player but it sucks for actually watching the game. I realize that they’re somewhat limited by the tools implemented into the games themselves so maybe developers need to look at giving them some tools if they want to make gaming into a sport. In reality I think they’d be better off not trying to televise Halo or Counter-Strike matches and start out showing an RTS. There’s a reason that StarCraft is huge in Korea, and it has multiple TV shows dedicated to it. The viewers can watch the game develop, they can figure out the strategies they can see the mistake that costs one side or the other the match when it happens.

I think that EvE TV has proven that competitive video gaming can be entertaining TV with the right combination of announcers and camera angles that get out of the way and allow the viewer to experience the match as a whole. Who knows, maybe Raid TV is just around the corner.

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