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Interview: Video Game Championship Wrestling

Jan 31 2013

Bazza87 is not a professional gamer. In fact, he doesn’t even play the game he’s broadcasting — not in any traditional sense, anyway. He doesn’t use a webcam, he doesn’t chat with his audience over a microphone, and he doesn’t have fancy graphics or overlays. He doesn’t use any of the broadcast tools one typically considers to be a requirement for success.

What he has is Raphael from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles battling against Ganondorf from The Legend of Zelda. He has F-Zero’s Captain Falcon battling Proto Man of Mega Man fame in a Hell in the Cell match. He’s fulfilling dreams we never knew we had and has created a phenomenon on Twitch with his Video Game Championship Wrestling.

We recently spoke with Bazza about the explosive growth of Video Game Championship Wrestling, how his broadcast works and how he feels about the incredible fan involvement that defines his channel.

Twitch: For the uninitiated, tell us what Video Game Championship Wrestling is all about and how it came into existence.

Bazza: Video Game Championship Wrestling, or VGCW for short, is a virtual wrestling promotion using video game related characters instead of real wrestlers. It’s done using WWE’13 on the PlayStation 3 by taking advantage of the game’s amazing character creator.

Much like real wrestling, each show will have a number of matches per night and like the WWE, it involves silly, over-the-top story lines and has multiple championship belts: the VGCW Hardcore Championship being the top prize, followed by the Casual Championship. There’s also the Co-op Championship (tag team) and Gurl Gamer Championship belts.

I use WWE’13’s Create-a-Story mode to set up matches and cut scenes before the stream starts. Since all matches are strictly CPU vs CPU, there’ll be multiple branching paths in the story depending on who wins certain matches.

Like real wrestlers, the characters in VGCW will enter the ring to recognisable music. For example, Solid Snake enters to the Metal Gear Solid theme, and there will be a variety of battle music played during the fights to add more excitement.

The chat makes the stream what it is. Seeing everyone explode when a favorite makes their way to the ring, everyone’s reactions to something awesome that happened, it adds a lot to the experience.

This channel came into existence by watching a similar streams by a guy named Antraxo, but I wanted to try to do it myself, and thought I could improve on what I’ve seen by adding titles, story lines, etc. You can find YouTube videos of people doing similar things from as early as 2006.

Twitch: You mentioned that all the matches in VGCW are CPU vs CPU, meaning that you’re not actually playing the game and, therefor, can’t determine the outcome. Can you recall a time this caused a huge issue? Any potential rewrite drama behind the scenes?

Bazza: Yes, one such incident kicked off the very first plotline for VGCW completely by accident.

There was a six-man Money in the Bank Ladder match which, for non-wrestling fans, the idea is to place a ladder in the center of the ring, climb it and retrieve the briefcase hanging above the ring whilst preventing the other wrestlers from doing the same. Two of the six competitors were Zangief from Street Fighter and Little Mac from Punch-Out. Zangief won the match in about 20 seconds, since the AI of the other wrestlers couldn’t find a way to path around the ladder to pull him down. I thought that it was a shame for what could have been a great match to end so quickly, so I restarted the match and Little Mac ended up winning instead.

People were outraged that I restarted the match and claimed that I screwed Zangief out of what he deserved, so I decided to make a storyline out of it. The viewers hated Little Mac for winning when they felt Zangief was the true winner, so I decided to just go with it and turn Little Mac into a heel (wrestling term for bad guy) and make him align with myself as the “evil head of VGCW,” much like the WWE Chairman, Vince McMahon.

I’d use Vince McMahon to represent myself in the game and would do things to screw Zangief over. Ironically, Zangief was my favourite wrestler in VGCW. There would be an on-going feud between Little Mac and Zangief for about a month or two.

Twitch: If the outcomes are not pre-determined, does this make VGCW more real than actual pro wrestling?

Bazza: I guess it does! Any of the characters in VGCW has the potential to become the VGCW Champion, since it’s purely down to the AI. There isn’t any “face of the company” favoritism.

Twitch: Your channel is very unique in that the audience never sees or hears from you outside of the Baz McMahon persona. Was that a very conscience decision and how has it affected your ability to communicate with the audience?

Bazza: I like the Baz McMahon persona. Since he’s based off Vince McMahon he’s such an angry guy that I can sometimes get away with being grumpy!

I’ve never had an occasion to actually show myself on camera or even speak to the audience. I can understand that some broadcasters put a facecam up to show their reactions to the game they’re playing, but since I set up most of the event before the stream starts, most of what I do during the stream is DJ. I have thought about getting a headset as it’d be easier to communicate with the audience since the chat flies by so quickly, but people like to record my stream and put it on YouTube sometimes, so I don’t want to taint the video with my voice. If there is a demand for me to speak on the mic, then I will. I’m not shy of letting people hear my voice. Everyone likes a British accent, right?

Twitch: There’s a lot of setup involved with VGCW, from creating the story scenes to booking the matches, even selecting theme music for the characters. What does that process look like and how long does it usually take per episode?

Bazza: A lot more time goes into this than people realize. I don’t create the characters myself, I either download them though the community creations section or one of the fans offers to make a character for me. Since the WWE’13 servers are so awful, it could take a whole frustrating hour just to try to download one character.

Creating the story for an episode can take anywhere from one to three hours, mostly because of the loading times. I have to create the matches, edit all their specific settings individually, browse through all the cut scenes until I can find the one I want (That alone can take a long time), then I have to enter the text for the cut scene using a PS3 controller to select each letter… it’s a nightmare. I try to keep the text as short and to the point as I can.

Twitch: Video Game Championship Wrestling seemingly exploded overnight on Twitch. What online communities have you been a part of prior to Twitch, and has the viewership surprised you in any way?

Bazza: The viewership was a huge shock to me. The first night I ever did this I got about 50 viewers. I remember telling my friend Tim, “Mate I got 50 people watching me yesterday, I’m going to do it again tonight and see if I can get 50 again.” Then the viewer count climbed and climbed until I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I think my highest viewer count so far has been 3,200 people.

The only place I advertised this stream was on /v/, 4chan’s video game board, but I stopped advertising there since it brought a group of people that would intentionally flood the chat. Through word of mouth there were threads posted about my stream all over the place: Something Awful, NeoGAF, Reddit, GameFAQs and probably other places which I’m not even aware of. So a huge thanks to the people who made threads in those communities.

Twitch: Your audience is extremely engaged. Not only does your chat fly at a mile a minute, but they’ve put together a very comprehensive wiki for all things VGCW, and there’s a YouTube channel dedicated to doing commentary over the matches. What are your thoughts of the fan creations and do you have any suggestions or hopes for their next big project?

Bazza: I owe a lot to some of the fans, especially a guy named Bryn. He’s made most of the graphics and banners, he made the VGCW Wiki and a Google document that keeps track of the show. Without him the stream would have looked quite bland. He really made it seem more amazing. I feel really guilty when people make things for me since I don’t really have anyway of compensating them for their work. I just hope they know how much I truly appreciate what they do for me.

Twitch: There was also a bit of controversy from your fans when you gained your Twitch Partnership, claiming you “sold out,” amongst other things. Were you shocked to hear this? Did it make you rethink anything about the way you broadcast?

Oof! I was thinking a lot about whether to partner or not, I didn’t want to upset the fans because if there’s no one watching then there is no VGCW. But after thinking of a way to do it as unintrusive as possible, I decided to go for it. The goons at Something Awful were really supportive of it. A lot of people told me I deserve to make a little extra cash for it. The first stream I did as a partner had the highest view count for the past few weeks, so it couldn’t have been too bad! I think most of the people calling me a sell out are just saying it in jest.

Twitch: Clearly, you’re a pro wrestling fan. When did you originally start watching, do you still do so, and what are the main inspirations that you draw from it?

I watched WWF as a kid during the Hulk Hogan, Randy Savage, Roddy Piper era. I had VHS tapes of Survivor Series and Summer Slam, wrestling toys, posters and all sorts of stuff. I lost interest toward the end of the Attitude Era and didn’t watch for around 10 years or so. I got back into it recently because my friends and I watched when we were younger, and when we heard that The Rock and Undertaker were going to be at WrestleMania, we decided to buy the PPV and stay up watching it. Then another friend showed me the CM Punk “Pipe Bomb” and my interest started to build. I’ve been a wrestling fan again for just under a year now.

The main inspiration I draw from it is that back in the WWF days where the wrestlers would wear brightly colored, super hero style clothes. All these video game characters like Mario, Guile, Ganon… they look very reminiscent of that era. We all know wrestling is “fake,” and it doesn’t get more fake than watching a video game version of it. So I thought “Why take it seriously?” and decided to put some silly story lines in it.

Twitch: With the recent news of Take-Two (2K Games) potentially purchasing the WWE license from THQ, what are your hopes for a next-generation wrestling game? Do you see yourself sticking with WWE’13?

Bazza: I could go on a long, long rant about all the flaws of WWE’13, but that’s not what this interview was for. In short, yes, I will probably jump to the 2K game the first chance I get.

Twitch: Do you have any closing thoughts for the Twitch community?

Bazza: Yes, a huge, huge thanks to all the people who continue to watch my stream regularly. If you’ve never seen my stream before, give it a try, most people say, “It sounded stupid at first, but I couldn’t stop watching”. Special thanks to Bryn, TheTOH, Ancara, Comeback209, YinPanda and anyone else who I may have forgotten.

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