December 6, 2007

Note: I originally wrote this under the impression that it was Eric Shanks attending the press conference, but it was actually Steven Roberts, the director of New Media and Business Development for DirecTV. This has no practical change to the article, and I decided to make this note instead of editing the original post.

The press conference wrapped up about two hours ago , and I wish every person could have been there. On second thought, it was a pretty small room. I know gamers, and I’ve come to learn they can be “thrifty” regarding their deodorant use. Maybe it’s a good thing everybody wasn’t there.

But, I do wish you could hear the messages from the conference. If only there were some way I could relay them to the masses.

LD is drinkin' the yellow-ish Kool-Aid provided by the CGS. I believe!

Oh, hello there, Mr. Blog.

Before we get to specifics, I have to mention the tone, because it was, to put it simply, encouraging and inspiring. If you look at the concerns from the community, we can safely condense them into two thoughts:

1) The CGS will fold after a season or two
2) They’re more concerned with how a game looks on TV than how a game plays.

The “guests of honor” at the conference were Andy Reif, the Commissioner of the CGS, and Eric Shanks, the Executive Vice President of Entertainment for DirecTV.  They made a concerted effort to address both of those points in their original speeches, and during the question-and-answer session that followed.

I'm going to make this as clear as I can. If you distill their message down to its most basic components, it would be, “We’re in this for the long haul, and we’re going to keep making changes that balance the integrity of the competition and making a viewable, exciting product for television.”

Shanks, in particular, emphasized those. He mentioned that the CGI (Championship Gaming Invitational) was a “proof of concept” for the CGS. If you’ve watched enough Mythbusters, you’re familiar with the term. In this instance, the CGI proved to them that they could, in fact, turn gaming into a television program.

When you think about it, the connection is fairly obvious. The sneaky part was the CGS Qualifier at the Bridge. They tested the concept of broadcasting live there, and they found out it was, in fact, possible. I don’t remember making that connection at the time, but he talked briefly about the crowd reaction, and the quality of the experience, and said it proved to the CGS that they could broadcast games live.

I don’t know about you, but I take heart knowing how seriously they’re taking this. I’m not sure why these things aren’t already common knowledge. I think they’re great indicators that they’re going into this with their eyes open. They’re doing the research, testing the product, and they’re not going to be completely surprised if they lose some money for the first season.

They made that last point abundantly clear, as well. They stopped just short of directly saying, “We expected to lose money for a couple seasons, and we don’t care. We did our homework, we did the research, and this is a long-term commitment and investment that we’re willing to make.”

In some ways, their media background helped fuel that viewpoint. The entertainment industry is always looking for the next big thing, and it’s financially prudent to invest in a long term project that could turn into something like ESPN has in the X-games (which is a comparison they made).

That’s in stark contrast to the venture-backed leagues and competitions eSports. (They didn’t state it specifically, but it seemed like this was a reference to the CPL, given their recent problems.) Those organizations typically feel pressure to produce profits quickly, within twelve to thirty-six months. But the CGS isn't trying to build a one-hit wonder. They really want to build a sport that they can market, and broadcast, for years to come.

The other part of the equation is, “How far will they go to make a game exciting on television?”

There can’t be an exact answer, obviously, but they’re highly aware of the community’s reaction to their products. Believe it or not, when you post on the forums, even during the live broadcast, they’re reading it. And, they even mentioned that they changed their programming during the broadcast after reading feedback.

Basically, the message regarding games is that they’re going to try everything to see what works. Counter-Strike is the perfect example, actually. The original plan was to broadcast CS exclusively in the first-person perspective. They junked that idea as too difficult for non-cs players to follow. But they freely admitted they went too far in the other direction, and included too much third-person view.

I mean, what more can we really ask for? They’re not going to get it right the first time around. It’s completely impossible. Barring that, isn’t the next best thing “trying to get it right, and admitting when they’re wrong”? I certainly think so.

There’s more to come about other things mentioned during the conference, but I want to emphasize this point one more time. If you don’t support the CGS because you think they’re going to run at the first sign of trouble, or they’re going to completely ignore the community and listen only to the Benjamins, I can accept that view, even though I disagree with it.

And, more importantly, if you had been at the press conference with an open mind, I think you’d disagree with it, too.