by Meg Floyd
I am going to preface this report by saying that, as a general rule, I do not enjoy watching broadcasts of sports. However, the Swordfish Livestream was different. Maybe it was because so many of us have gone to Swordfish, or because many of us know the crew behind the event and had high expectations of what they would pull off. The members of Göteborgs Historiska Fäktskola—known more widely as GHFS—organize and host Swordfish, an event in Gothenburg, Sweden which has gotten bigger and better every year. This year would be no different.
In the weeks leading up to the Swordfish Livestream, there was an electric current of anticipation crackling online, especially among those who for various reasons were unable to be at the event this year. Swordfish itself was bigger than ever this year, with over 220 attendees and over 150 competitors in various events that included everything from wrestling to longsword. Organizing the event was an international effort among several countries, including—but not necessarily limited to—Sweden, the U.S., and the Netherlands. Everyone had a favorite fighter (or three) they were rooting for in the finals, so we awaited the airing of the livestream with baited breath.
The livestream this year was at the most basic level an ambitious undertaking. Not only would the crew be providing worldwide live coverage of the largest HEMA event held in modern times thus far, they would also be implementing a cutting-edge software program called the HEMA Tournament Manager to act as an interface for viewers to see who the fighters were and what each fighter’s score was. The HEMA Tournament Manager was executed as a joint Dutch-Swedish venture. The design and execution team was made of up Maarten Kamphuis, Jogchem Dijkstra, Youval Kuipers, and Mattias Ryrlén. It allowed viewers to interact and interface with tournament happenings in real time in a way that has not been accomplished previously, which was one of the marked appeals of the livestream experience this year.
Part of what made the livestream experience different than simply watching tournament videos on YouTube or online was the high level of viewer interaction. Scott Hellroth and Matt Galas provided blow-by-blow commentary, as well as introducing the event and interviewing prominent members of the community at the event. Notable interviews included Anders Linnard, founder and head instructor of Göteborgs Historiska Fäktskola, Scott Brown, founder and head instructor of Sword To Sword, and Jacob Norwood of Maryland KDF. These interviews touched on some of the broader issues at the heart of HEMA, such as where the sport has been, and where it’s going. Hearing from notable figures like Linnard, Norwood, and Brown added an inspiring touch to the livestream. Interviews with winning fighters from each round kept the pace up between matches as well, my personal favorites the interviews with the winners of Women’s Longsword, Märta-Sofie Geijer, and winner of the Open Longsword, Dennis Ljungqvist.
As with any complex, coordinated undertaking involving technology, however, there were bumps in the road along the way. The livestream did get off to a slow start, as it did not begin broadcasting promptly at the advertised time, and technical issues with sound and visuals were not completely resolved until after the first two finals rounds had played out. However, once the kinks had been worked out, the broadcast went off without a hitch. The level of finesse and skill in most of the finals matches was extraordinary, and they kept this viewer, at least, on the edge of her seat. The most technically pleasing fight to watch, certainly, was the saber final between American Jacob Norwood and Swede Johan Lundby.
An additional perk was the live, streaming chat just beneath the livestream window at Qrodo’s website. There was a lively, occasionally ribald conversation that started before the broadcast began rolling at 17:30 CET (12:30 EST), and went on until after the finals had ended. This gave viewers the ability to cheer for fighters and lent a sensation of actually being there at the event, cheering for fighters, with other people. It also kept viewers’ interest up and entertained during the few moments when the broadcast stumbled from technical difficulties, which overall was a positive addition to the experience. The only difficulty with the chat was that the login fields were labeled in Swedish, which some international viewers may have had trouble figuring out at first.
The structure of the finals was set up very well, alternating between a weapon tournament final followed by finals for each wrestling tournament weight class. This effectively enhanced and highlighted the presence of wrestling at the event, as unarmed tournaments are something many would like to see more of at large HEMA events.
Another of the great bonuses of the livestream format was the exposure of many new fighters heretofore not widely known on the international scene, especially among the wrestlers. A positive highlight for me was seeing some of the great fighters coming out of Poland currently. While HEMA has been booming in Poland for years now, I had not previously been exposed to many of the excellent fighters from there until watching them on the livestream. Seeing fresh-faced fighters in tournament finals is always a treat.
Overall, I think the Swordfish 2012 Livestream was successful in its goals, and was a generally positive, entertaining experience for viewers. My only real regret was not seeing more of the semi-finals—hopefully one year we will reach the point where it is possible to televise entire tournaments from start to finish. However, that says a lot about the quality of the Swordfish livestream this year—the only thing I didn’t like about it was that there wasn’t more of it! While I deeply regret not attending Swordfish this year, watching the livestream was the next best thing. Besides, it was nice for once to feel the rush, but skip the bruises.
You can view the livestream here: http://qrodo.se/livesports/swordfish-2012/