Black and White: About Livestreams

Joe Frankino

5/24/2017 11:00:00 AM
 Comments

The World Championship Qualifiers are a few weeks away, and as players are beginning to finalize the decks they're going to bring to the big dance, now seems like a good time to talk about one aspect of recent events that gets players talking post-tournament: the livestream.

Broadcasting from the event is a fairly recent phenomenon and it's a great tool to get fans involved with high-level competition without having to travel. While written feature matches and other types of coverage are still integral, a lot of players find videos to be the easiest wayt o keep up with the action. Being on the other side of the camera, I think there are a few things that could use some clearing up.

This week on Black and White: fixing some misconceptions about the livestreams you see at YCS's and World Championship Qualifiers!

My History With Livestreams (and Yu-Gi-Oh!)
To my knowledge, the first Yu-Gi-Oh! event to be streamed on the internet was the 2012 World Championship from Japan. The next event with a livestream was the 2013 World Championship, which was in Las Vegas and happened to be the first livestreamed tournament I was involved in.

While I wasn't technically a part of the World Championship Judge staff – so I couldn't answer any player questions in an official capacity – I was still involved in the production of the event. In the first few livestreamed tournaments, the information displayed for the viewers was keyed in by production staff working behind the curtain. As the production staff didn't play the card game or know which cards did what, they depended on someone else to feed them current Life Point changes as they occurred.

At the 2013 World Championship that someone was me. So while I wasn't a part of the judge team, I still had an important role to fill.

The next livestreamed event was the 2014 North American WCQ in Detroit. The role was the same; stand on the stage with a headset and feed info to the production staff when Life Points changed. There was a dedicated Feature Match judge at the table to address questions as the players had them, so once again I didn't perform any official judge duties at the tournament.

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Ash Blossom & Joyous Spring131153
Set Maximum Crisis
Number MACR-EN036
Level 3
Type Tuner/Effect Monster
Monster Zombie
Attribute FIRE 
A / D 0 / 1800
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

During either player's turn, when a card or effect is activated that includes any of these effects: You can discard this card; negate that effect.
- Add a card from the Deck to the hand.
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The next event was the 150th YCS in Columbus Ohio in 2015, and that was where the current system used for North American events was first implemented. From that event going forward, two people would operate tablets, keying in Life Point changes and keeping track of both players' hands. I don't remember how the decision came about, but it was decided that since I had the most experience with that role I'd continue to do it, and I was paired up with another judge who was trained on the tablet's operation and picked it up right away.

Fast forward two years, and here we are. While I haven't been to every event with a live stream, I've been to enough of them to know how the logistics work.

Livestream Duties
A judge assigned to the livestream is considered a Feature Match judge; they're not assigned to one of the usual teams – Floor, Paper, or Deck – but are instead their own team that's way smaller – usually only three judges. A typical round for a livestream judge goes like this…

- If the coverage team knows which table or player they want to feature, they'll communicate that to the judges. If not, the judge will grab a copy of the pairings and get them to the coverage team ASAP so they can make a selection. Once the coverage team has selected a match, one judge goes to find the players at their table before they start while the second judge goes to pull their deck lists from the deck team. The lists are sent to the coverage team to assist during the broadcast.

- The players are situated on the stage with both feature match judges and are advised about the cameras, the microphones, and other logistics specific to the livestream.

- The round is played normally with stoppages for things like the input of starting hand info and Life Point updates. Any time that the judges have to stop the players for is added back as a time extension, to ensure that players get their full 40 minutes.

- Once the match is over, the players are escorted off the stage while the other judge returns the deck lists to the file and plugs the tablets into a power source for charging.

This is all straight forward, right? Sure. But actually doing the thing is harder than it looks.

Common Misconceptions And Other Nonsense
First, because you're on stream, appearance is more important than it usually is – which is already important. Unwrinkled pants and judge shirt, all black everything, and being properly groomed is a must since you'll be on camera.

Second, while one may think that sitting down while judging is easy, you're also under the bright stage lights for every round. It's not pleasant, but it's easier if you stay hydrated.

In the two years of doing this as a judge, it took me a while to realize this, but the biggest conclusion I came to after watching various streams is this:

It's impossible to properly table judge a match and operate the tablets at the same time.

When you're a table judge without a livestream, you'll have all eyes and ears on the match. There won't be too many infractions that slip by: LP errors, illegal activations, and other unfortunate events that can happen during the normal course of play. As a judge, you're obligated to address an infraction if you notice it. The trick, of course, is noticing the infraction in the first place.

A judge watching any other match without intruding on said match will likely catch 95% of whatever infractions occur, assuming the judge is familiar enough with the cards by sight and doesn't need to read the text to know what they do.

For a livestreamed event, as much as viewers and players at home may think otherwise, judges are not equipped with a heads-up display that blinks red and raises alarms when a card is improperly played, or moved or whatever. If something slips by, so be it. That same thing would've happened if a judge wasn't sitting there and if none of the players caught the Mistake, it would've happened at the table regardless. While having a Judge there to catch Mistakes and administer penalties is nice, it's not a guarantee and shouldn't be depended upon to catch all errors, especially with how complex the game has become over fifteen years.

Now, add in the fact that operating a tablet routinely takes a judge's attention away from the cards and the players for several seconds at a time. Whenever a card is added to the hand, that's a few seconds worth of input. When a card leaves the hand, that's a few more taps, and when Life Points change that's a few more taps too. That all adds up. If I had to estimate, I'd say that 25% of my time at a livestream feature match is spent looking directly at the tablet. That means I'm literally not watching the match in progress. If an infraction happens while I'm looking away, I'm going to miss it.

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$26.00
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Master Peace, the True Dracoslaying King131141
Set Maximum Crisis
Number MACR-EN024
Level 8
Type Effect Monster
Monster Wyrm
Attribute LIGHT 
A / D 2950 / 2950
Rarity Secret Rare
Card Text

To Tribute Summon this card face-up, you can Tribute Continuous Spell/Trap Card(s) you control, as well as monsters. Unaffected by the effects of cards with the same card type (Monster, Spell, and/or Trap) as the original card type of the cards Tributed for its Tribute Summon. Once per turn, during either player's turn, if you control this Tribute Summoned monster: You can banish 1 Continuous Spell/Trap Card from your Graveyard, then target 1 other card on the field; destroy it.


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Something else I learned while being a coverage writer is that the primary duties of being a reporter take precedent over my game knowledge. When I'm doing written feature matches, I'm concerned with writing down what happens. If I happen to catch an illegal activation, I'll inform a judge, but I usually won't have the luxury of mentally processing what's happening in front of me before my fingers are typing words.

The same goes for a livestream judge. The main concern for a livestream feature match judge is not maintaining the game state; it's the operation of the tablets which update the on-screen info that the viewers see. If the LP count or cards in hand isn't accurate, it removes the audience from the experience and makes for bad viewing. As the whole point of a livestream is to make the game accessible to people who can't be at the event, a positive viewing experience is the priority for that particular member of the team.

So the conclusion I came to is this: the tablet operator has to be someone knowledgeable enough in the game to know popular card names and how to update the Life Points seamlessly, but the tablet operator can't be a judge. We may be wearing Judge shirts on the stage, but we can't perform both tasks at the same time.

Popular Criticisms
A big argument that I see regarding live streams is that “Konami needs to get better judges.” Most of these criticisms are the result of illegal activations or other infractions that the judge didn't catch. I spoke about this before; if a judge isn't looking at the field for 25% of the match, things are going to slip by. No amount of training or skill can allow a judge to look at the field and a tablet screen at the same time, so “getting better judges” isn't really the problem.

“But if they're not guaranteed to catch misplays, why have judges up there to begin with?” Good question! Hopefully this will be addressed in the future. Because realistically, the tablet operator only needs to be familiar enough with the game to know when Life Points change and when cards are added or removed from the hand, and can easily recognize cards from a quick glance. There have been times when players were running foreign cards and I had to ask the player to pause while I tried to remember from the picture and the ATK and DEF stats what the card was. Whoever's doing this has to be able to recognize cards without asking the player for a confirmation because that will obviously tip off the opponent.

And that's no bueno.

And the last big complaint I've seen is that Konami doesn't have livestreams at every event. For that, I can only say that there are sometimes outside factors that prevent a stream from happening. For example, the production team isn't in-house Konami staff, so if they're not available on certain dates, then a stream can't happen. It's unfortunate but them's the breaks. Or, hypothetically, if a venue would charge too much for internet, that would be another possible deal-breaker. Basically, there's a whole bunch of things that have to work exactly right for a stream to happen, and sometimes they just don't come together.

If you have any questions about stream things, card interactions, tournament policy or game mechanics, send me an e-mail (one question per e-mail please!) to askjudgejoe@gmail.com and your question could be answered in a future edition of Court of Appeals!

-Joe Frankino


Joe is a Yu-Gi-Oh! judge and player from Long Island, New York. You can read his non-TCG writings over at http://crazdgamer.com and view his video-game related streams at http://twitch.tv/crazdgamer.


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