Tournament coverage is one of the biggest areas of growth for competitive Magic these days. Earlier this year, Wizards of the Coast announced that they would be reducing the number of Grand Prix tournaments with official coverage. The rationale given by Helene Bergeot was that, “2016 will be a year of refocusing our efforts and refining what makes our events into things you won’t want to miss, either in person or through our coverage.” One of the Grand Prix tournaments left without coverage was the upcoming Standard tournament in Minneapolis. Rashad Miller of GGs Live would like to try to fix this gap in the coverage schedule.

GP Coverage Kickstarter

On March 26th, Rashad launched this KickStarter campaign to bring quality coverage to Grand Prix Minneapolis. It’s only been one week (at the time of writing this) but the campaign is off to a slow start. There are 21 backers who have pledged a total of $811. Rashad is looking for $20,000 to fund this operation which will include coverage of all 15 swiss rounds and the Top-8 single-elimination bracket. On-screen talent will include Marshal Sutcliffe, Brian David-Marshall, and Eric Froehlich.

Obviously the community has a lot of questions. $20,000 is a lot of money for something the community is used to getting for free. Most of the campaign rewards involve some level of acknowledgement on the live coverage. A few rewards are more tangible in the form of playmats and other tournament swag. So to learn more about where the money is going and just why the Magic community should get behind this we got in touch with GGs Live founder and coverage veteran Rashad Miller.

Rashad Miller

Hipsters of the Coast: Hi Rashad, let’s get started. Can you introduce yourself and your role with GGs Live and a little bit on what it is GGs Live does for Magic coverage?

Rashad Miller: I’m Rashad Miller and back in 2009 the only time you could actually see live streaming Magic was the Top 8 of Pro Tours and Worlds and things like that. At the time the streaming of games was starting to get popular and pick up steam because I would be watching mostly Street Fighter tournaments, this was before League of Legends and some of the other games that have taken over eSports, and as I’m watching Street Fighter tournaments I’m thinking, “why can’t Magic have this? Why can’t Magic have the same thing?” Two weeks later I cobbled together a stream for a local PTQ Top 8 in August of 2009. From there I went on to do other PTQs, and then my first Grand Prix. Eventually I got hired on by Star City Games to stream their Open Series, which is now handled by SCG Live which I was the director of for half a year. At that point Wizards of the Coast was ramping up the amount of Grand Prix tournaments and wanted the coverage to continue at a high level. I was getting support from some local shops and tournament organizers to help so that the operation would pay for itself. But Wizards didn’t want it to stop so they footed the bill for a couple years until they created the official coverage team for Grand Prix events in 2013. So that was what GGs Live did up until then, but since then it has been on the back burner since I’ve been involved with the official coverage team for Grand Prixs which took up most of time and now I’m doing some side reporting and other tech stuff with them at Pro Tours.

HotC: What was your takeaway from Helene Bergeot’s announcement earlier this year about the changes to Grand Prix Coverage?

RM: My first thought was that it’s a shame these events are not going to get the coverage that we’re used to and that I feel they deserve. Immediately I started thinking of ways I could try to redo what I had done before, which was to create content for these events where the content doesn’t exist. Obviously, back then it was way different from right now because there are different expectations from the fans and from Wizards of the Coast. I’ve actually been thinking about this Kickstarter idea for a long time. I had ideas for it before there had been cutbacks to the official coverage, just in case something like this happened or any other opportunities came along. And once it happened I thought it was chance to get the community involved in creating the content that would otherwise be lacking this year.

HotC: What is Wizards of the Coast’s expectation for coverage quality?

RM: I would say that I don’t have their exact list of criteria but I can say that if someone wants to do coverage for one of these events they have to go through an application process with Wizards of the Coast. You would need to present a plan with who your commentators are, what kind of equipment you have, and what type of setup and your basic plan for that show. Organizations like GGs Live and Star City Games and Channel Fireball who have already done coverage for Wizards of the Coast are kind of waived through most of that process because of the levels of coverage they have shown they already do. So what I can say is that they’re at least expecting what has been delivered by one of those three companies in the past. Cutting back from that would not be what Wizards expects.

HotC: Do you think there’s a higher level Wizards is working towards or are they happy with the level of coverage quality and that’s what we should expect for the near future?

RM: You always want to improve. I don’t think that anyone is ever completely satisfied with where they are. There are challenges with trying to accomplish more without the same amount of people and staff at larger events. If I were to compare a Grand Prix to a Pro Tour staff-wise, a Pro Tour has, for example about 100 people while a Grand Prix has six to eight. That’s a huge difference and the average Magic player or fan doesn’t know what it takes to put on a production at the Grand Prix level or the Pro Tour level. So seeing a sticker price put on an event makes them ask themselves, “are we really getting that much when we watch an event?” If you look at it from the perspective of cutting down a 50-person team down to six or eight people, you’re getting a lot more than you should expect. Until budgets are changed to make Grand Prixs larger which would elevate the price I already have there then the price would go up. I’m trying to put my mind into a corporate-budgeting mindset, not just doing it for people who want to watch Magic.

HotC: Would you say that the cost of staff is the driving force behind the budget, or is the logistics and operations cost driving the price tag up?

RM: If you look at the Kickstarter, the amount of the budget that goes to compensation is way less than half. The amount that picks up airfare, hotel, plus internet, you know internet is the biggest price tag. Convention centers have a monopoly on whether or not you can get on the internet, so they force you to spend thousands of dollars to have internet for the weekend. Sending people to events is not cheap and you’re not looking to send the cheapest person to fly, you want the right people for the event, and if it’s someone from Seattle going to New York, that’s not going to be a cheap flight. Those are various costs and they need to be budgeted for and each person brings along that cost and their own compensation. Once you get that number and multiply it by the number of Grand Prixs you want to cover it doesn’t scale very well. The internet fee at least doesn’t go up if you bring more people but the more people the more expensive it is because you have to fly them there and have them sleep somewhere.

HotC: So what lead you to Kickstarter as a funding source?

RM: There were a lot of ways to try to raise the money, and Kickstarter is the best way to crowdfund it. There were other thoughts and I worked with the TO for this event to get coverage. This will be the first Standard event of the year without coverage. We thought about getting some kind of corporate sponsorship. Wizards of the Coast still wants to work closely with content creators on the Grand Prixs, so any corporate sponsors need to go through approval similar to the coverage plan itself. Those guidelines were made public at Grand Prix Paris [Ed Note: GP Paris took place March 19-20] at a conference for all the tournament organizers and a lot of this information was shared there. I think Kickstarter is a good solution for not only getting funding but trying to get the fans involved and give them an opportunity to get something from the Grand Prix as well as create this content, but other than crowdsourcing and corporate sponsorship I don’t think there’s another good solution.

HotC: Do you think that now that there’s a process in place that we’ll see more corporate sponsorships in the future?

RM: I think it’s a definite opportunity both for corporate sponsors and for tournament organizers. I’m sure that the TOs will be getting in contact with sponsors either for live streams or some other product at the event.

HotC: So when should I expect Target to be sponsoring the World Cup of Magic? Is that the dream? Wizards relies on its own marketing money to fund the Pro Tour and the Tournament Organizers pay a large expense.

RM: I would imagine that there’s already conversations about that happening over in Renton right now. I can’t say that we’ll see something at the upcoming Pro Tour but I feel like it’s not something they haven’t been thinking about and that there isn’t something already in the works. At least there’s probably a plan there to assault the corporations for their money.

HotC: How deep do you think the corporate sponsorship rabbit hole goes?

RM: It’s hard to tell how far corporate dollars go and how much they’re willing to spend. If they see there are eyeballs on their product, then that’s all they’ll care about. If these deals start to happen and the numbers match up then it will keep going.

HotC: Do you think the kind of numbers for League of Legends would be a good comparison for Magic in terms of potential sponsorships?

RM: Can I make a confession? I’ve never watched League of Legends. I get the question though. Most of the streams I watch are Magic streams or Street Fighter streams, both of which have very few corporate sponsorships. The fighting game community is pretty much self-reliant as well. They’re actually very proud and they don’t like to ask for money. But Magic has a lot of money and uses it to promote their own things.

HotC: Is Magic an eSport?

RM: If you look up the definition of eSports you have to say no. But, the fact that it is a game you can watch on the internet with the same demographic makes it easy to lump together. The same people are watching all these things. I think eSport is probably not the best way to describe a lot of these games but it’s the term we have. It’s really not a sport. These are more mind games than they are sports. There is some physicality sure but these are all thinking games. Think first and react later. If you were to make a more accurate description of that I would happily throw Magic in with it.

HotC: Does poker fit into the same group?

RM: I think it’s a little harder and poker would not fit exactly. If you drew a Venn diagram there would be some overlap but I think there’s too much variance in poker.

HotC: What is the next big thing you would want to see in Magic coverage, ignoring the financial constraints. If you had a blank check, for example, what would you do with it?

RM: My ideal Magic coverage would be non-stop Magic somehow. I would somehow rearrange the tournament structure so that there is less downtime. There would be more Magic action happening. It’s not really feasible with the way the tournaments have 100s of people and you need to consider that their experience needs to be the best as possible. But if you were to augment the way rounds work to fit a better streaming schedule it would be awesome for coverage but it would make for a worse experience for the participants. A utopian Magic scenario would make this work for both halves.

HotC: Do you think coverage of multiple tournaments at the same time on one stream would work. Today when Wizards covers multiple Grand Prix events in the same weekend they are different streams. Could you achieve your goal by combining them?

RM: I like the idea of being able to switch more seamlessly between matches at the current tournament. If you start jumping between different tournaments, it’s hard to keep the narrative straight. If you’re watching a tournament and following along and then you see a match from a different tournament it isn’t fair to either event. All events should be streamed so you can watch what you want to watch whenever you want. You don’t get highlights from one football game while watching another game. It wouldn’t be fair to either event, but it would be great if every tournament had a stream on some channel.

HotC: Do you think you’ll try Kickstarter again for another event in the future?

RM: When I was looking at the schedule of events that wouldn’t have coverage I picked ones that I thought would be worth Kickstarting. If this one is successful then I’ll definitely try the next one. Depending on the response of this Kickstarter I can evaluate what everyone wants and what is expected from a crowdsourcing campaign.

HotC: Diversity is a big priority for Wizards. What can be done to improve the diversity of the streaming on-screen talent.

RM: I would say the talent is becoming more diverse. If you look across all of the companies that are providing coverage of these events, and I consider myself kind of diverse. We have Gaby Spartz coming on and I think that now we, as in the Magic community talent pool, is pretty diverse. I like where it’s going and I like where it’s at now.

HotC: Is there a large enough audience to support coverage of more events? What would you recommend to people who want to get started in this quickly-growing industry? Is there potential for people to build their own operations like you did with GGs?

RM: I do think there is potential for more coverage operations. The biggest challenge is getting the equipment needed to make a quality product. Also, coverage doesn’t need to me pigeon-holed into match coverage…there are many stories to tell from an event that don’t take place in the feature match area.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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