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02.08.2020reflections, cubing, landing

The Future of Live-Streamed Cubing

Before the pandemic, CubingUSA was already planning to expand live-streaming by recruiting a stream team for each regional championship happening in 2020. We were going to purchase equipment and attempt to improve the quality of livestreams for Speedcubing competitions.

Of course like all other plans, ours ended with the pandemic - It was pretty sad.

Most speedcubers know this - in its current form - speedcubing is anything but a spectator sport. Think about watching the Olympics, but instead of the best of the best, you have tens of thousands of participants competing. Some are fast, but many are much slower. The inclusivity of cubing competitions gives us this big problem of trying to create a good viewer experience while continuing to have such an environment. You may ask why it even is important to have a good viewer experience. After all, isn't cubing just a hobby? This is a fair question, and it leads us to a much larger debate on what you think cubing is. Personally, I'd like to think that speedcubing is much more than a hobby - and with the growing adoption of cubing in mainstream, we are seeing that happen. But the problem with the growth of cubing might be that we are not ready for it.

Cubing at Home started out because all competitions were cancelled. But from the start, the goal in our mind was to have a competition but also a good viewer experience. This meant focusing as much on a stream as it was on organizing an event. The online format helped us a lot. Remember the issue of too many slow competitors? Well, all of them could now compete simultaneously as we feature the fastest on stream. Each competitor has the satisfaction of competing, and viewers have the pleasure of watching Leo Borromeo get a 3.88. C@H has evolved over the past 4(!) months and has gotten much better than the first event where we under scheduled everything and had hours of delays. We have such a large team working on results verification, software, streaming and production.

Since the pandemic, many such online competitions have emerged. I'd like to think that Cubing at Home played a large part in embracing this format of competition + stream. The WCA Form lists dozens of online competitions. Online events like the Monkey League and Twisty Puzzle Cup have developed such fascinating formats for competitions, and have found a way to keep it engaging to competitors and viewers alike.

Obviously most of these formats aren't applicable to WCA Competitions, but that's not the point! Many cubers want WCA to have new formats that are more spectator friendly, like a head-to-head. I think those would be great additions, but they require time to consult and be added. In the meanwhile, are you just going to wait for new formats? Is that really all you, as an organizer/competitor/viewer can do?

When competitions resume, I encourage organizers to look at competitions as both a competitor AND a viewer experience. No matter how small you are, set aside some staff to stream the event, or to create good content. Have a head to head final, and find ways to encourage people to stay. Find ways to get non-cubers to come over. I'm not only talking about large championships, those are in good hands. But many WRs are broken at small competitions, many fast competitors have great solves and experiences at local events, and we want to showcase those as well.

Competitors, especially top competitors, need to embrace this as well. Make sure you recognize how much reach you have, and take advantage of it. It's especially important that you scrutinize organizers. Cubing at Home hasn't been perfect, and we've gotten a lot of feedback from top competitors about how they would like their experience to be. This is important, and you need to be vocal.

Viewers need to demand this. Ask your local community to work out on streaming more, creating more content and focusing on spectator experiences. Most cubers don't make any finals. We're here to have fun.

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