Hey everyone! With US Nationals all wrapped up, I thought I would talk about the part of the tournament that I’m most experienced with: the coverage. Although I didn’t get to catch much of the stream live, I’ve now watched every TCG round, thanks to Pokémon’s coverage archive on Twitch and their consistent re-broadcasting of the tournament. I feel that my two years of experience with live tournament casting (via On The Bubble) — as well as my dedication to watching as much Pokémon TCG as humanly possible — puts me in a knowledgeable position to write about this sort of thing. Furthermore, I served as a staff aid for this year’s Wisconsin Regionals stream, so I have a better idea than most about how the system works.
Firstly let me say that I write articles like these because I love Pokémon more than anything. I’ll be giving my honest, respectful opinions on the good and bad of this past weekend’s coverage, and it should be understood that any negativity comes from a place of wanting to see Pokémon coverage become bigger and better than it already is. I believe we as Pokémon fans all share that common goal, and I hope that any criticisms you have in the comments will be just as respectful.
There is no doubting that TPCi has hired commentators that know what they’re doing. There have been slight slip-ups in the past, but I truly believe that the cast of commentators TPCi is employing are some of the best possible choices (though the ensemble could always be improved … hint hint). They all seem comfortable in front of the camera, are knowledgeable about the game, and overall deliver a good product.
Particularly, I think the chemistry between Kyle “Pooka” Sucevich and Josh “JWittz” Wittenkeller is the best part of the production. They have been working together on coverage for a while now — and they are personal friends — and that is reflected in their commentary. I don’t expect either of these guys to be missing from the coverage booth at any major tournament for quite a while.
Additionally, it was great to see Josue “Crimz” Rojano back in the booth! He is one of the best commentators in the game, combining an intimate knowledge of the game with an electric personality, and I hope he continues to be given opportunities like this one.
After two years of streaming on my own, and my experience of seeing the technical side in Wisconsin, I have a huge appreciation for how much work putting on a stream really takes. The group that does Pokémon’s streams are all excellent at what they do.
The audio is always crisp, the cameras are high quality, the lighting and angles are exactly what you want them to be, and there are rarely any major problems to speak of. This is something that I feel is underappreciated by the community as a whole, as it’s difficult to understand how much goes into putting on a production of this scale.
There are three really impressive things going on here.
The first, is the player’s headshots. This kind of goes along with the production quality aspects listed above, as it takes a significant amount of work. Being able to see the players faces/reactions to the game adds a whole other element to the coverage that not every streaming group can provide.
Secondly, the card scans on the screen are essential for making sure that new players know what’s going on. Trading card games have such a high barrier to entry for viewership, and displaying the cards the casters are currently talking about is a huge step in the right direction.
Lastly, the #PlayPokemon tweets on the bottom third of the screen are phenomenal. From reading through social media over the weekend I know I’m in the minority in thinking this, but I believe that the tweets are important for adding another element of involvement to the audience at home. Pokémon has always been a game about friendships and community, and I’m glad that community has a way to participate in the stream, even if they can’t play on stage.
Pokémon tried something new for this tournament: standing interviews with both players just before the match had begun. In theory, these interviews are supposed to promote the players as people (which is a huge positive) and build hype for the match (also a positive).
However, in practice, these were a pretty big flop. There is a world of difference between sitting backstage being interviewed by Pooka after you win a match, and having to stand around awkwardly with your opponent while a predominantly VGC Pokétuber asks you what your plan for this round is going to be. Not only are most players going to want to conceal this information, but it is difficult for even the most open and charismatic person to give a good interview right before they start a tournament round.
While I think the execution was poor, I don’t think this is actually a bad idea. I think with a few improvements, a segment like this could be one of the best parts of the show.
Firstly, I don’t think talking to the players right before their matches is going to work. I understand that it’s supposed to be similar to a UFC press conference, but for the reasons listed above, I think it’s best to ditch this angle.
Secondly, having both players present for the interview isn’t great. It makes the shot awkward, and because there is only one microphone, it’s not as if both players can speak at the same time or truly have a back and forth.
I would instead like to see TPCi do a few pre-planned interviews with top players before the tournament begins. This can be done by contacting a handful of players a week or so before Nationals and letting them know that you’d like them to show up to registration early. I don’t think many players would turn this down, even if it meant losing an hour of precious testing or hangout time. I believe the overall goal of these types of interviews is to familiarize the audience with the players, and a system like this would certainly accomplish that goal.
If you’ve ever tuned into an official Pokémon stream, you know what I’m talking about. The handful of videos that are shot at big events like Worlds and Nationals, including soundbites of players saying where they came from, how they got into Pokémon, and answering other small talk-like questions.
The videos are high quality and I understand what they’re going for, but I don’t think many viewers actually enjoy them. If you’re an experienced player, you’ve seen them a million times and they’re not exactly what you’re interested in. If you’re a new viewer, the only benefit you get from them is experiencing the Pokémon community, but at this point you’re probably more interested in just watching the games.
This is a problem that I think requires tackling from two directions. Firstly, I think these sorts of videos could be pretty cool, if done right. I would like to see more attention paid to either top players, groups of friends, or other charismatic individuals. We all know that the Pokémon community is incredible, and there are way better ways of expressing this than interviewing a Senior Division player dressed in a Bunnelby costume.
For instance, take a look at this photo that was uploaded to the Pokémon Facebook page over the weekend:
A focus on things like this — true celebrations of Pokémon culture and community — would go a long way in making these types of videos more interesting to just about everyone. I’m sure there are a lot of fun, interesting group dynamics like this one happening all around the tournament that almost no one gets to see.
However, I realize that creating these types of videos takes is exponentially more work. Not only am I asking for something of higher quality, but it would also require a camera crew to spend all day shooting and editing, meaning that they often wouldn’t be ready for showing between rounds and during coverage breaks.
My solution to this is for Pokémon to start showing previous matches between rounds. There can be a lot of downtime on streams, and I would personally rather watch matches that I may have missed than to watch the same promo videos over and over again, or just a “We’ll Be Back Soon!” graphic. This is an improvement that would require very little additional work and allow for these promo videos to be of a much higher quality and less repetitive when they do make it to air.
In sports, there are two roles that commentators generally fall into: play-by-play and color. The play-by-play commentator is supposed to relay what is happening on screen by describing the plays and offering some strategical input. The role of the color commentator is to help fill airspace when plays aren’t being made, and to provide background information and banter. This is a winning combination because both commentators know their role and get to play on their strengths, ultimately creating an easily understood, entertaining production.
Unfortunately, this is not always the case in Pokémon coverage. Typically, both commentators will simply remark on the same things, sometimes each playing both roles, and taking turns letting each other speak. This is unfortunate because we often times do not get the whole illustration of the match, and neither of the commentators are truly able to accentuate their strengths and express themselves.
This is probably the most easily fixable of these problems, as it just takes experimentation and time. As I said above, I think Kyle and Josh work very well together, and I don’t think it would take too long for each of them to fall into one of these roles, overall creating a better product for everyone.
The other commentators may have a tougher time doing so, but through practice, adding new commentators to the mix, and the existing commentators studying what their roles are supposed to be, I truly believe this is a goal that could be accomplished with relative ease.
I hope you enjoyed this look at the good and the bad of coverage as it stands today. I would love to hear what you have to say in the comments, as I believe the best way for coverage to improve is for the community as a whole to speak its mind about the kinds of things it wants. I would love for this article to spark a lengthy discussion, and am particularly interested in the opinion of anyone for whom this was their first viewing experience.
Six Up, Six Down: National Enquirer Follow-Up
Two weeks ago, I posed some questions about Nationals that I thought would interest the community. Let’s see if my predictions were correct!
Question 1: Will the Lysandre’s Trump Card ban prove effective in reducing the number of M Rayquaza-EX ROS 76 and Seismitoad-EX decks at the top tables?
My Prediction: Eh, sort of.
What Actually Happened: I think this lands somewhere in the middle. While I was correct in thinking there would be fewer hyper aggressive versions of these decks, both Rayquaza and Seismitoad were all-stars of the tournament, with Seismitoad taking home the whole thing.
Question 2: Will Chase Moloney maintain his near-perfect three-year record of top cutting events?
My Prediction: Yes.
What Actually Happened: DING! The Kid took home the crown in another impressive victory.
Question 3: Will the significantly decreased prize pool reduce the attendance of US Nationals?
My Prediction: No.
What Actually Happened: The attendance actually rose slightly! This was not a great shock, as attendance typically increases from year to year.
Question 4: With Tropical Beach announced as a prize for side events, will we see a significant drop in the card’s value?
My Prediction: Yes.
What Actually Happened: From what I can tell, there were a lot fewer Tropical Beaches awarded than I, and many others, had originally thought. Such a small number added to the circulation is highly unlikely to have any real impact on the price of the card.
Question 5: Will we see another lesser-known player win the US National Championship?
My Prediction: Yes.
What Actually Happened: The exact opposite! Jason Klaczynski took home the gold, further widening the gap in the Greatest of All Time race (hint: he’s leading).
Question 6: Will the outcome of Canadian Nationals have a profound impact on the US Nationals metagame?
My Prediction: No.
What Actually Happened: It’s difficult to tell what went on in the minds of the winning players, but from speaking with my friends and other top level players, it was clear that I underestimated how much of an impact Chase’s win would have on the metagame. I was definitely wrong on this one.
That’s a solid 3-3 record for me, meaning it’s just about time to drop and go have lunch. How did you do?
Thanks for reading!