"Our pitch was how do we take this multi-billion dollar industry that dwarfs television and film combined and makes it something that should be huge and should be amazing?" said Michael Agbabian, one of the executive producers of Sci Fi's new reality competition show "WCG Ultimate Gamer." Agbabian further explained that video gaming "has always had the perception that it's not going to be interesting to television so WCG (World Cyber Games) and Samsung and everybody allowed us to create this format that brought video games to a spectacle level."
In the "WCG Ultimate Gamer" series, 12 gamers live together in an LA loft and compete in a variety of challenges that will bring the winner $100,000, the ultimate Samsung electronics package and the honor of being the face of WCG at events around the globe including the 2009 Grand Final in China. Besides Agbabian, fellow executive producer Dwight Smith and hosts Hannah Simone and Joel Gourdin talked to our Jim Halterman about the new series and how the drama in the series is not limited to only the game playing.
With seven male contestants and five female, was there are difference in the competitive streaks? "I actually think that the women on our show are quite competitive and in fact quite fierce in their wanting to win," said Agbabian. "A lot of them have that drive because I think the gaming community is predominately males so I think the fact that they are women and they're sort of at the top of their game, no pun intended, I think that they really want to prove something. And I think on this show they're hoping to do that."
Fellow executive producer Dwight Smith explained that the casting process was a little different than the usual reality competition show. "We did a national casting call and we had open auditions in cities across the country and solicited people through gaming sites and through different gaming organizations," Smith said. "And they were tested on various criteria. Obviously personality is a huge part of being cast on a reality show but on this particular show skill was also extremely important. So they were put through multiple rigorous gaming tests where they were tested in their skills and abilities at games in all different genres. Because our show was looking for the best overall gamer we tested them in multiple genres at different times. They were put through a pretty tough test and we also reviewed a lot of their gaming backgrounds; a lot of them have are professional gamers, they have won many tournaments and titles and things like that."
Despite the skills needed to get the top score in a variety of games, the "WCG Ultimate Gamer" series is about much more. "I think people are going to be surprised at how much reality plays out in this series," said Agbabian. "It is a show about gaming certainly but there's a lot that happens on the reality side. And not only in terms of like strategy and alliances and love interests and all that stuff but it really starts playing into the game play itself in terms of like outcomes of certain episodes. I think it was quite eye opening to see 12 gamers in a loft and literally by day three just stuff was happening. I mean, it was just like - it just blew up."
Host Simone marveled at the way that gaming has grown in not only popularity but as a way for players to make a good living. "A lot of kids are told 'Put down the video games and go outside!' And now the contestants that we had on this show can make careers, a living wage, playing video games. And it was incredible to witness people at the top of their game especially when they get into Samsung Stadium and one of those people is going home and they are really pushed to perform and to show their best. The level of skill blew my mind."
Simone added that the usual perception of gamers would also be challenged when watching this new series. "This is a show that completely breaks down all the misconceptions and stereotypes around gamers and really shows how they can be so strategic and really work their personal relationships and build on their technical skills because they want to win. At the end of the day when you play a video game there's nothing for coming in second."
The perception of gamers was not the only challenge with this show. Smith explained that there was also a preconceived notion that watching people play games would not make for compelling television. "When we sought out to create this show we really thought to completely break that perception. And I feel like we did it; I feel like we changed a lot of things in the show that you would expect from a video game show. We made these large-scale physical challenges. We made playing video games a spectacle. We have Samsung Arena, which takes gaming to a whole new level where they're playing, you know, video games on these 20-foot giant screens. So it was really kind of taking a perception of what video games is and kind of blowing it up into something that was an exciting spectacle."
WCG and Samsung also had some involvement with the creating of the series, as Smith said. "Obviously they had some goals that they were looking to achieve by being involved in the show. But for the most part they really kind of let us be as creative as possible and really kind of deferred to us and said, 'you guys have a vision here and we're going to allow you to really just kind of achieve it.' So for us it was a pretty exciting experience to kind of be given that latitude by them and that trust to realize our vision. And I feel like at the end of the day the show we initially created is the show that we shot and is going to air."
Simone also said that people who are looking for the drama found on other reality shows will get a healthy dose of it from this unlikely source. "I'm a reality TV junkie," she confessed. "I'm completely, completely obsessed with reality TV shows [and] the amount of reality that plays out in this show with romance and with conflict and with alliances and with strategy pulls you in." While there are some romantic entanglements that are part of the show, Simone also explained that some of the characters have heartfelt back-stories as well. "We have a young mother of a little girl that really needs to win this competition and it will change her life. And she fights every single day for, you know, different reasons."
Gourdin, who shares hosting duties with Simone, had thoughts on his very attractive partner on the show. "She is the hottest nerd you will ever meet in your entire life. The girl is so bright and so clever and I can't even tell you. She is so authoritative on our show and I just hope that everybody gets a chance to see how funny and awesome Hannah is."
"WCG Ultimate Gamer" premieres tonight on Sci Fi at 10:00/9:00c.