This past weekend, November 9-11 2012, the first FFG World Championship Weekend took place in Roseville, Minnesota, USA. The event was streamed online at Justin.tv, and I watched quite a lot of the coverage.
The fact that the event, and especially the miniature games were streamed at all is an important one. Online streaming of miniature games is very rare, and the games that do feature in streams will set the pace for others that will inevitably follow.
This article isn’t a recap of Worlds as such, but is what I hope will be constructive criticism of the live online streaming coverage. There was a lot of good stuff, but quite a few things about the coverage could be even better with a bit of polish.
Choice Of Stream
Let’s start with the streaming service. When I saw that FFG had decided to use Justin.tv instead of Twitch.tv, I was slightly baffled. Twitch is basically the games side of Justin.tv, and has built up a reputation as the place to stream all sorts of games, mostly videogames but also tabletop games, too.
I posted on Twitter that FFG would get a lot more casual traffic if they decided to go with Twitch instead of Justin. Perhaps they wanted to avoid the danger of random people coming in and offering the usual braindead comments about wargames (“Playing with toy soldiers, hurrr…”), but that could easily be mitigated by choosing some trusted moderators for the channel to ensure the trolls aren’t fed.
FFG could also work with Twitch to get the next WCW into the Twitch newsletter, which would put the event on the game streaming map and increase the profile of tabletop games even more.
Lights, Camera, Action!
Let’s turn to the cameras used at the event. I’m not sure what kind of cameras were used, but it seemed that the camera pointed at the Dust Warfare table was slightly sharper than the others. This was good, because miniature games have to be broadcast in HD given that the minis are so small and there are lots of them on the table.
On the other hand, while watching the Dust Tactics final I noticed that the camera was slightly less sharp, and when the Living Card Games were on-stream it was hard to make out one card from another. I hope that, next year, every camera on site will be an HD one, and that FFG will partner with their streaming service to offer 720p+ streams.
The overhead camera used for some games (Dust Warfare wasn’t among them) was a great addition. Sometimes, it’s just easier to see what’s going on with an overhead view of the action.
I’m not sure if the community-made unit cards (such as Rodney’s or Felkor’s) were legal for play at Worlds, but if they weren’t, FFG should work with the Dust Warfare community to sanction them for play at next year’s Worlds. By “work with”, I mean things like checking for errors, or maybe sanctioning a set with a special watermark, only available from the FFG website.
The cards make the game play so, so much faster, and finishing games faster can only be a benefit to time-pressed organisers. Of course, by this time next year, more players might have memorised things like weapon lines and the vehicle damage table. Whatever decreases the amount of rulebook searching has to be a good thing.
Let Me Check my Schedule
The scheduling was reasonably good, especially given that so many games were played over the weekend. Even when the Android: Netrunner final overran to 4 hours long on the Saturday, FFG managed to bring the schedule back in line somehow.
Some events were switched around, which led to confusion among some people who joined the stream expecting to see their favourite game, only to either be told they missed it or that it’s not on for another hour. The solution would be for FFG to announce changes on their Twitter and Facebook accounts (and, on that note, ask for the @FFGWorlds Twitter account from the person who took it).
How Many Channels?
The point about scheduling leads on to what was probably the biggest problem with the live coverage: lack of channels. The entire weekend was streamed on only one channel, which led to several other problems.
For example, the Dust Warfare final was shown together with the X-Wing final, with the camera switching between them every few minutes. This led to complaints in the stream chat when one game was shown instead of the other, and made it hard to follow the game.
Next year’s event absolutely has to have more than one channel, given how many games were played at the event. This would massively help with scheduling, and would give FFG the freedom to show matches without having to skip around from game to game.
Stand Up To The Bullies
Leading on from that last point is the issue of “stream monsters.” This is a term that was coined in the world of videogames, and basically refers to the vocal minority in a stream chat room. You might not think that tabletop games have stream monsters, but you’d be surprised.
There was a particularly vocal group in the stream chat over the weekend. Whenever a different game was shown, they asked, repeatedly, when their game, which I’ll refer to as “Game X,” was coming back — how long until it comes back, why isn’t this Game X, and so on. Some of them even suggested that, because lots of Game X’s players were at the event, Game X should get more coverage than other games.
The problem wasn’t actually the monsters themselves. After all, FFG could just ignore the whiners and listen to more reasonable requests (and, to their credit, they did, several times). However, I got the impression that FFG let themselves be bullied by the vocal crowd.
At one point, two semi-final matches were being shown for Game X, one involving an extremely popular player, and the camera was meant to switch between them. The stream monsters successfully managed to get FFG to show just the more popular match, and forgo the other one. Not very fair on the players in the other match!
I’m sure that many people who play Game X are decent, respectable people, which is why I’m not naming the game because I don’t want to tar everyone with the same brush (let’s just say it wasn’t one of the minis games). But what happened in the stream chat, happened. I hope that, next year, FFG will stick to their guns and ignore the whining crowd. The weekend isn’t named after one game, so it shouldn’t primarily feature one game.
Your Commentator For Tonight…
The last point I want to touch on is commentary. Commentary makes a game so much easier to follow, whether it’s a videogame or a tabletop game. It brings viewers into the game, and helps them to follow along with what’s happening.
The Dust Tactics final was brilliantly narrated in the chat by Zach Tewalthomas, Dust Producer at FFG, and he also did a good job of keeping us up to date with what was going on in the Dust Warfare matches, especially when the camera had to switch away. But throughout the event, I wished that FFG could have set up a commentary booth with some vocal commentary. It wouldn’t necessarily have to be complicated, just an area away from the playing areas where two or three guys could talk about the event and commentate on matches.
Granted, more stream channels would require more commentators, and they’d need to find people who know each game well enough to commentate on it, but I’m sure some sort of compromise could be reached. Perhaps trusted community members could provide commentary (you’d be surprised at how many would jump at the chance), which would be an incredible way to involve the community in the event.
Also, the camera could be picked up once or twice during the event for a more informal “behind the scenes” look at what’s happening around the tables.
So Far, So Good
Overall, I enjoyed Worlds. As I said at the top of this article, streaming of miniature games is rare, and many people missed the significance of FFG streaming a miniatures game. With enough feedback, and a few tweaks here and there, next year’s event could be a great way to show everyone what minis gaming is all about.
But what do you think? Did you watch Worlds? What did you think of the stream? Post your thoughts in the comments!