Full Coverage, Part 1

(I desperately wanted some sort of punny title to this entry, but couldn’t think of a good pun that didn’t involve women’s attire, which didn’t seem apropos. Perhaps somebody can suggest something I missed.)

This is the first of what will eventually be (at least) three parts about coverage. In part one, I’m talking to you, the watch-at-home spectator.

Obligatory caveat, for those of you who haven’t already read the About page. I don’t work for Wizards of the Coast, and I don’t speak for them. All of this is my personal opinion/observation/speculation. That said, I might not be the one grinding the sausage, but I know a thing or two about brats.

Here’s my unfiltered coverage FAQ for the viewers at home. We hear many of the same questions or complaints, over and over and over again, and these are the answers that I believe most of my co-conspirators in coverage would like to tell you, if they weren’t too busy producing coverage or being too polite to tell it straight.

Before we get started, let’s agree on one thing. You’re going to say “wait, shouldn’t you just be able to do that if you just changed the software to do this, or if you just wrote something to do that?” I concede, in advance, that this is often true. That’s true about many problems in life. However, there are lots of things to do, only so many resources, so this is more about how things work than how they could work. Prioritizing the things that WotC might invest in, next to everything else they’re trying to do for Magic at large, is beyond the scope of this exercise. When I tell you how the software works, shake your head all you like, but take for granted that that’s what we’re working with. Deal? Great!

Q: Why does it take so flipping long for the pairings/results/standings to get up on the coverage site?

Obviously, this can be done faster. I believe, in fact, that SCG coverage actually does it faster. It is not hard to imagine a system in which the software running the tournament uploads the results as you go to some consumable form (e.g. web site). That’s not the system we have. Also not hard to imagine a system where it does so at end of round, which is also not the system we have. Remember, this thing was written back in the days where 600 people was a lot and coverage meant a guy writing a tournament report after the fact.

What we do have is an end-of-round export to a file, which then needs to be put onto a web site of some sort. Well, you can also imagine a system by which you’d have some sort of quick direct upload of that data directly onto the site that viewers can view – this is what SCG does (AFAIK). The WotC site is still not like this. I honestly don’t know the inner workings of how their site goes, but their system requires a producer at WotC to process and post on our behalf, and that same producer is posting everything else that is going up on coverage.

So we’ve got now, export from software -> scorekeeper handoff to producer -> producer processes and posts to site. The scorekeeper can be busy. Internet at the site can be spotty. The producer can be busy. Or someone can just forget. And suddenly, boom, long delay. Yes, we realize it’s frustrating. It’s something that’s harped on as something to be sure we’re doing as reliably as we can. But still, within the confines of the system.

Yes, this could be done better … nope, not gonna get into it. Remember, you promised.

Q: Why is there so much talking, just show us another match already!

We actually have matches going all the time that we could show you, we just think it’s funny to show you talking instead to make you squirm. Or reruns. Or web videos. Or anything other than those matches, because you can’t always get what you want.

No, seriously. Most of the time we’re not showing you a match is that there isn’t a match to show you. There’s two reasons for this.

First, there is a specific feature match table that is rigged up with all the infrastructure needed to bring you the match on video coverage. There’s no way to guarantee that the match that is being shown is the one that goes the longest. So if it ends early, that’s kind of the ball game. “Well why don’t you just move another table in?” It’s pretty darn disruptive to ask a table to move their match. I’ve seen it done before, it’s pretty nasty on the players involved, and coverage already messes with player flow enough as it is. “Well, why not just have more feature match tables with the right setup?” You’ll note that the Pro Tour does this, relative to Grand Prix, but it’s expensive and time-consuming to set up, and even so, no way to know that the match you start on isn’t the one that runs the longest of those. “Well why not just take the cameras mobile?” Well, tables on the main floor aren’t really spaced for this to work well, and there’s also computers and staff involved to bring all the information to the people broadcasting. And wireless is often not good enough to support this at the site anyway.

Secondly, maybe there just aren’t any matches to show. When the last match for a round ends, there is a real turnaround time to getting the next round started. You have to handle standings (if applicable), and pairings, and people have to find their seats. And shuffle. And deal with mulligans. This takes real time, and while we spend a lot of effort to minimize this time, at best, it’s still a measurable amount of time. So there’s nothing else to show you, unless you want to sit there and stare at people shuffling in silence, and even there you’re still dealing with some between-round down time.

Q: Why can’t we get the life totals updated all the time? Or when we’re peeking in on another match?

Players are keeping track of their life themselves, there’s no way for them to input their scores directly onto the overlay. Somebody on staff has to watch for and manually relay the life total changes to production in some manner such that the graphics get updated (sometimes this is through a graphics producer, sometimes this is direct, depending on the event). See all the possible error cases that can happen with posting stuff – a similar chain exists here. And when the Pro Tour does a live look-in on another match, that infrastructure isn’t in place to just grab the current scores and update them. This is something that was complained about enough at PT: BNG that I wouldn’t surprised if some evolution happened, but … damn, broke my own rule.

Q: Damn, this deck looks awesome, why is there no deck tech on it?!

Well, the deck owner has to agree to do it. And have time to do it between rounds. And it has to fit in the production schedule. Not at all a given.

Then why not at least give us the decklist?

If you were playing that deck in the tournament, how would you feel about all your future opponents taking a look at your decklist before you started playing?

But it’s Sunday, they aren’t using them anymore!

Have you tried typing a few hundred decklists before? I have. It’s not an instantaneous process.

Q: I knew that. Why are these coverage guys so dumb?

They’re really not. Not a one of them doesn’t draft themselves a mean draft deck. Sometimes mistakes happen, like in just about any broadcast (go trolling for people complaining about bad football announcers, or refs, and you won’t have to look very long …). But more to the point, they’re not necessarily talking to you. Yes, I know, you’re awesome at Magic. But the broadcast is for everyone. Even that kitchen table player who thinks, “hey, neat, maybe I should try this FNM thing.” In fact, especially for them. The coverage has got to be approachable and understandable for them in order to serve the purpose of expanding the reach and interest in the game at all levels. Sometimes the banter will involve basic questions as an excuse to get the information into the stream. That doesn’t mean the asker is dumb. It means they’re doing their job. If you’re too good for the commentary, then pat yourself on the back for being in the upper echelons of players, and feel suitably complimented. Then try and show some understanding for the people that someday you’ll be playing against and fueling the growth of the game that you care about.

Q: Why can’t you just tell me my buddy’s result when it’s done, you’re clearly typing them in as you go.

The software doesn’t have any systems for reporting live as we go. Anything like this requires somebody to manually process and watch for those results, and if we do it, you probably aren’t the only one asking. That said, at the Pro Tour level, if you ask in CoverItLive or in Twitch Chat, there’s an OK chance that I’ll help get you that info, because we have some extra staffing and bandwidth. At your average Grand Prix, though, it’s just too much process to handle with the staff at hand. It’s your buddy. Ask them to text you.

Whew. That’s the obvious ones off the top of my head. I’m sure I missed some. Stop complaining, try asking, and I’ll answer for you as best as I can. Just remember the rules.

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