MLG Winter Championship: The View from my Couch
Note: A number of the features described here are only accessible to those who have purchased the viewing pass for the event.
The advent of accessible high-quality content streaming is one of the linchpins of the esports renaissance of the 21st century. Therefore, it stands to reason that any tournament worth its salt is going to put a lot of effort into creating an entertaining stream for their viewers at home So far this is more often than not the case; engaging casters commenting on thrilling games between recognized and fearsome players is essentially 99% of what makes a tournament must-see entertainment, so the biggest concern so far for creating the online viewing experience has been keeping the stream stable so that everyone can follow what’s going on. Like I said, that’s the majority of the work, but now that we’ve more or less got that in the bag, it’s time to start fine-tuning the experience.
This past weekend was the first chance in far too long that I’ve had to sit and watch almost an entire weekend event from start to finish. As much fun as it would have been to spectate in person, I’m glad I had a chance to try the online route, because it gave me a chance to see all the nice touches MLG has added to their stream.
As far as the stream quality itself, I found it to be rock solid all weekend. I was frequently watching at the “Ultra” quality level, and had absolutely no interruption or viewing troubles. Watching on anything other than “Low” quality was passable, but the higher levels (Ultra and Ultimate) were among the best quality I’ve seen in quite some time.
Most tournaments are using Twitch.tv for their streams, and that definitely offers an advantage in terms of viewing accessibility and promotion. However, MLG’s choice to work on their own platform gives them a way to tailor the stream-viewing experience to the specifics of their tournaments. Anyone who has been to an MLG event can attest to how hard it is to keep track of matches. You rely on a combination of player sightings, the massive white board that contains the bracket, and the internet to figure out who is playing so you can catch your favorite players. On the MLG Steam, you can keep the schedule open alongside the stream window and watch as it updates to let you know who is playing, when the matches are happening, and what stream they’ll be on.
When you finally decide what to watch, you choose from the list of streams (which also update to display what match is being played on the stream you’re choosing) and drag it into the viewing window. There are some options here as well for viewing multiple streams at once, but to be honest I didn’t need to use any of them. Watching more than one stream at a time drastically reduces the size of each window, and since you can only listen to the audio of one stream at a time, I didn’t really find any value in being able to view more than one match at once (who can keep track of it all?). The exception was the picture-in-picture option, which I used to watch one stream but keep an eye on another one if I was waiting for a specific match to start. Other events have made better use of multiple stream viewing (e.g., providing player perspectives in addition to the main stream with commentary), but unless MLG finds a better way to take advantage of that option, I don’t see myself using anything other than the occasional PiP.
Overall the viewing experience from home was great, and I was pleasantly surprised by all the options and information I had available to me directly in my stream window. There are still some kinks to work out -- fixing the somewhat glitchy stream controls is a high priority, as is reducing the slightly intrusive ads surrounding the free stream – but MLG has made strides in setting itself apart from the crowd when it comes to spectating online. If other large scale events work on implementing similar systems, it will substantially lower the barrier of entry for even the most casual spectators, allowing more people to drop in on the middle of a weekend-long event and not miss a beat trying to follow the action.
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