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2016, Competitive Magic Coverage, and You

2016 is right around the corner, and while the thought of foil Tarmogoyfs in our stockings and neatly wrapped booster boxes under the tree keeps us busy, changes to how we watch Magic are coming next year. While many people work their schedules around which SCG Opens and Grand Prix they'll be attending, more of us spend our weekends filling it with Magic coverage of those events. While having an event or two to watch almost every weekend has become the status quo for the past few years, it seems as though that may be changing. StarCityGames has released their full schedule up to the Season One Invitational in April. Wizards announced their full coverage schedule on Tuesday. There are definitely some trends emerging.

Wizards, One Weekend, One Broadcast

Wizards's coverage this past year was the definition of inconsistent. European Grand Prix coverage continues to be some of the better Magic content they've release, highlighted by an up-and-coming coverage team. In contrast, the North American Grand Prix and Pro Tour coverage leave something to be desired.

Wizards released an announcement about their 2016 coverage plans last Tuesday. While there wasn't a lot of detail, there was plenty to take away from it.

In 2015 Wizards often would hold multiple Grand Prix across the globe on the same weekend. While the 2016 schedule increases the number of multiple Grand Prix weekends, it looks like split weekend streams are gone. They are being replaced by one broadcast, which covers the entire weekend of Magic. While I assume this broadcast will cover one event with game coverage, I expect them to somehow highlight each Grand Prix during the stream. For example, they now have the ability to record games from a European Grand Prix and use them as filler for downtime during a North or South American Grand Prix. This change would remove the awkward down time broadcasts often suffer from. 

The announcement also notes some new faces will be joining the booth in 2016. Commentating is an area players have expressed dissatisfaction with and a changing of the coverage guard shows Wizards has been listening. With the move to one coverage stream per weekend I expect this change to be some sort of combination of the European and American stream teams, with perhaps a new face sprinkled here and there. 

These changes also comes with a doubling down of coverage on premier level events. An emphasis on the Pro Tour and surrounding events, namely Grand Prix, is coming for the new year. This change is made with an effort to increase Wizards's ability to align major set releases with compelling player storylines. What does this actually means for us? I'm not sure. We'll have to wait for more details. In theory, it should allow us to watch more tournaments where a constructed format is still in its infancy and in flux, allowing more cards and decks air time. This change also applies to limited Grand Prix, where we have shiny new drafts to watch and discover.

These changes are not all upside. While the coverage is becoming more focused and streamlined, we are getting fewer games of Magic. We are only getting 18 event streams this upcoming year, with only 11 of 49 Grand Prix's receiving true coverage. This draw down is a significant cut in the amount of coverage we were used to, and the change in philosophy could have several different implications to what Wizards is thinking and what it could mean for coverage. In the end however, the ratcheting in quantity of streams leads to a higher quality experience.    


Star City Games and the new 'SCG Tour'

The StarCityGames (SCG) Open Series has been a lynch pin for Magic streaming for every non-Pro Tour weekend the last few years. Last year SCG made the switch to two-day main events, which was a controversial decision in of itself. It seems to have paid off. SCG events now have a Grand Prix-feel and rival them in play experience. They continue to have the best coverage in Magic. Good production values, knowledgeable commentary, and decent down-time makes them the most watched Magic stream every weekend.

With 2016, SCG has revamped their whole series. The changes affect players a lot more than viewers. A move to a primarily East Coast (US) based series and the removal of points for small events for the Players' Championship makes the SCG Open much more personal. While Wizards coverage focuses on the cards themselves, SCG's changes should allow them to focus more on the players. We may see more player storylines than we have in the past. While the changes make it more difficult for non-established players to battle their way to the top of the newly branded SCG Tour, anyone who's a viewer should love this change. The battle for SCG Tour points should play out over coverage every weekend, instead of being hidden in small IQ's around the country. SCG has also released their schedule through mid-April. While January looks like what we've come to expect from SCG, with tournaments every weekend except a pre-release weekend.

Other changes include SCG taking a few weekends off, with the month of March getting only two events, one of them being a Grand Prix. While this isn't a major change, it does mean we'll have fewer weekends to watch Cedric and Patrick do their thing. Granted, I'm sure they'll enjoy a few extra weekends off.

Standard continues to be the focus of the SCG Tour, although perhaps not as much as we are used to. With Standard as five of nine Open weekend main events in Season One, the most played format will continue to have plenty of opportunities on stream. Modern looks to be a larger part of the SCG Tour Series with three main events scheduled for Season One. In addition to more main events, Modern will be paired with Standard at every SCG Invitational. This pairing will bring some stability to the dual-format tournament, which alternated between Legacy and Modern for the past year. With the rise of Modern, it appears that Legacy is getting the axe. Showcasing only one Open main event and no appearances at the Invitational this year, Legacy will need to find a new champion to keep the format from falling by the coverage wayside.



How This All Affects You, the Viewer

All in all, I think the changes being made by SCG and Wizards are net positive for coverage. While we don't know the details of the Wizards changes, they seems to be headed towards higher quality content. There will be fewer games of Magic to watch, which is a risk. However, the quality of official streams needed to improve, and I think these changes will give Wizards the tools to do so. If we have to miss out on a few extra games for that to happen, I'm on board. In the end they could end up making things worse, but things needed to change after what was given to us this past year.

For SCG's changes, not too much is going to be changing. They will continue to put out a high quality stream. More often now, you'll know the players in the Players' Championship hunt. Perhaps now we can root for players we enjoy more, instead of their decklists. While I don't particularly like there being fewer weekends with SCG events, I can see the reasoning behind it. By cutting a few streams out of their schedule, SCG and Wizards will be competing head-to-head for viewers less often. The increase in viewership numbers per broadcast is something both parties can look forward to. This change could result in a higher overall budget, more sponsorship, and more visibility. 

I expect other major streams like Channel Fireball and TCG Player to continue to offer their own streams, but with he same frequency and quality as they have in the past year.

Fans of Legacy are continuing to lose coverage of their favorite format. I can understand where tournament organizers are coming from. Legacy sells much fewer cards and product than any other widely broadcasted format. It still hurts to have less high quality Legacy coverage. With SCG taking a bigger step away from Legacy, there is room for another organizer to step in. 

Magic is an ever evolving game, and the coverage needs to evolve with it. Tournament streams are being viewed more and more each passing year. With it comes the increased amount of value and effort needed to keep people watching.  Any change comes with some amount of risk, and while none of these changes are particularly high risk, there is still the potential for failure. The exact direction these changes take us won't play out for a few months. I believe Wizards and StarCityGames are putting themselves in a better position to improve in 2016.

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