30 Days with the WWE Network

On September 2nd I decided that since I’ve never watched a wrestling program in my life that I would subscribe to the WWE Network. Jeff Gerstman talking about wrestling every so often planted the idea in my head but when Dan Ryckert joined the bombcast it drove my interest over the edge. My main problem was spending $60 because the only available option was signing up for a 6 month plan which was all that was available. Well checking in on it last month I found that they added a new option at $12.99 for a month to month program. I decided to sign up and knowing ahead of time that I would want to write my experiences with it. For 30 days I engulfed myself in what I would believe to be an abnormal amount of Wrestling. From the weekly show to the Pay-Per-Views to the Video games I wanted to have a firm grasp on what I can say is one of the weirdest things I’ve ever experienced.

For the $9.99-$12.99 price tag you get practically everything put onto tape owned by the World Wrestling Entertainment Inc. These programs can be viewed on practically everything you own as long as you don’t own a windows phone. All 4 current major systems, PS3, PS4, 360, and Xbox One has a dedicated app you can download to watch the Network on. In addition iOS, Android, and of course a browser on a computer can also access the entire network of content. There’s an extraordinary amount of content available on the Network which would take seemingly a lifetime to actually watch it all. It seems that almost every PPV that the WWE put on (in addition to the other wrestling promotions that WWE has absorbed) is available to watch on demand in addition to most of the weekly shows, but the further back in time the more likely there is to be holes of available episodes. In addition to the typical programing they also have a couple different offshoots like Total Divas, which seems to be a Real Housewives of Wrestling type program or NXT which is a reality show where they find new talent for the main programs. Watching all these things I can say that any wrestling fans should be a subscriber to this program but for everyone else I have a few observations to be made about wrestling and how I feel about it coming to it from a clean slate, and then a more general review over the services and games I played.

Wrestling as Entertainment

Does anyone take this seriously?

Hearing that the main thing to watch is Wrestlemania I decided to watch the very first Wrestlemania and it’s pretty apparent from the start that it’s rigged. The idea that these men can go through all this punishment but still have this rhythm of fighting is ludacris. The camerawork and angles frequently show whiffed blows and impactless swings to remove the viewer from the engagement of the match. What I found to be fairly interesting is that the old stuff looks way worse than the modern stuff even though this era of wrestling is looked upon quite fondly. The first Wrestlmania had Cindi Lauper as a manager, Muhammad Ali as a match official, and Mr.T as a competing wrestler. It’s crazy that if this was an official sport that these people would have this kind of relationship and placement. This same generation of wrestling is considered to be the most authentic and believable era of wrestling somehow. People refer to the acting used in wrestling as Kayfabe. This term encompasis the acting from the performers in how matches turn out to rivalries and personalities used inside and outside of the ring. During this time it was presented as 100% real and the wrestlers never broke Kayfabe at any point, even acting like their character out on the streets apparently. People seem to look back to this with a fondness like it’s the golden era. In 1989 Vince McMahon revealed that Wrestling is scripted in front of a New Jersey Court in order to avoid paying competition fees. Since then Kayfabe is mostly only used on stage at this point. Even though it was never publicly admitted to be fake before this time it still doesn’t make any sense to believe matches are authentic. I’m sure this isn’t news for anyone but wrestling is fake y’all, and it’s stupid for anyone older than a child to believe it isn’t. On this alone wrestling isn’t worth... wait... That guy just choked slammed this guy in dedication for Vladimir Putin?

The WWE does an amazing job entertaining its customers and I can wholeheartedly recommend that Wrestlemania XXX is worth watching because of how balls out it goes. I was actually captured by the outlandish events that were happening. The theatrics and staging of this event is rivaled by none and only exceeded by an opening ceremony at the Olympics. Millions and Millions of dollars are spent producing this and other live events with Wrestlemania XXX being the pinnacle achievement of the company. Even with the fact that it’s publicly admitted to being fake, when I watched this event I was strangely engulfed in this scripted world and was thoroughly entertained. It’s a strange balance struck between over the top stories and keeping it grounded enough for people to buy into it while actively watching it. There’s the physical factor with the actual competition and a mental factor with characters, plots, and rivalries. The key factor for watching wrestling is a suspension of disbelief over what’s occurring and buying into both of these factors. The physical extremes of what these performers do is very entertaining in and of itself. Being tossed around and the acrobatics used are certainly not faked and these people are accurately labeled as athletes. The matches are complemented with storylines on a smaller level of personal rivalries and/or winning streaks and on a larger level of wrestlers even feuding with management of the organization over placement inside the company. Vince McMahon who grew WWF/WWE over the past three decades with the creation of characters and story threads is still essential for creating this balance. He’s even listed as a business risk in their annual business report stating that his sudden departure would adversely affect their ability to create characters and storylines. The spectacle of it is the defining and primary draw of wrestling.

75,167 people in attendance at Wrestlemania 30

In addition to just wrestling on the Network there are still the aforementioned reality shows and documentaries. I can’t say that any of the reality type shows like Total Divas has any sort of appeal to me and as expected I didn’t get any enjoyment out of them. I will say that I was unexpectedly more entertained by the documentaries they by the wrestling itself. The WWE Network exclusive show Monday Night War was fascinating with it’s description of Wrestling in the 90s and its infamous Attitude Era. This was when I was told not to watch wrestling because I was too young and at the same time, too young to disobey my parents. It’s presented as a completely factual documentary over an industry of lies. Because of this sharp contrast theres a constant lingering effect after every statement which challenges the apparent validity of the events. As a whole seeing McMahon talk about him running his actual business creating storylines and characters, breaks the 4th wall in a way that left me in limbo between reality and belief in the product. This was a weird pleasurable mindset like another layer on top of everything where even watching a documentary has a game like feel to it. I believe it to be absolutely unique but akin to something like the old PC game Majestic. I would say that I enjoy found footage films or movies that are presented to the viewer as authentic, more than most people would. Movies like Series 7, V/H/S, and Blair Witch with the budget constraints and cheesy writing they consist of, still entertain me with that closer sense of reality then you get with most movies.

I fully believe that my enjoyment in Wrestling is just being in on it. The act of Wrestling while intense, does start blurring together after watching so much. It’s pretty much a fact that someone will go through an announcer table or be thrown against the steel steps next to the ring on a big match. The only thing that becomes important is what happens between the matches and even that starts to lose it’s shine. I think watching Wrestlemania annually would be pretty great because that even is definitely the apex of the stories and production, in addition to being a good chunk of time to have the physical act of wrestling kind of reset in your mind. I would have to say that most of the audience for Wrestling is in on it with the company having a seemingly good relation with their customers since they get away with crazy product placement and promotion such as the absolutely fabulous $9.99 music video for the WWE Network that plays between matches. It genuinely sounds like a giant “in” joke for fans and I don’t think that labeling the WWE audience under some sort of “stupid” banner applies to most people. I would advise anyone to at least check out the latest Wrestlemania and a couple episodes of Monday Night War. It’s probably not for most people but I don’t think there’s any harm in finding out for yourself.

WWE Network and Games

The WWE Network is a great deal for fans of Wrestling because of its live streaming of PPV events runs at a 80% discount in comparison to purchasing just the PPV at retail price. The logic being that one person will purchase a PPV and then have friends over to watch it. By providing this service instead of getting $50 from one person and then have so many people watching at that one purchase point, you get $10 from each of them so if that one person would have 5 or more people over, they now make more money from the event. This is truly one of the best things to happen to a business because in addition to hopefully them making more money from the users they also offer a unique service to the customers at a great value. Hopefully other business will adopt this model because it really is a perfect deal for both the customer and company.

While the value offered is worth the price of admission the user experience without a doubt can be improved. It’s a good framework but there are sharp edges with incorrect links and problems running on certain browsers. For my current setup with two monitors I had to use Internet Explorer to watch the Network. Firefox will not stay full screen with two monitors and Chrome at time of writing will not run the media player used. The most aggravating part of actually using the service is logging in. I’m frequently ran around the offical WWE site and the Network subsite. I had to end up using history to get to the actual Network page after logging in to allow browse and view after my login times out. Aside from that the interface is basic but it functions fairly well. The largest problem with content for the site is that the weekly shows Raw and Smackdown are delayed due to contracts with standard television networks.

Viewing the networks on consoles is a fine experience but they aren’t quite as nice to use as Netflix is. I found some weird problems getting it to work on Xbox one but after initially getting it setup I didn’t have any problems from there. Testing it on 4 systems the PS4 ended up being the main system I used for streaming. The same goes for the iOS and Android versions. No major problems but it’s not quite up to the standard of Netflix or other Streaming apps that has the years of experience which improves the UI over time. The phone applications also have a “Second Screen” setting where it would have social media plugs, quizzes, Polls, and info about people currently performing. I don’t know if this functions fully during the weekly shows because I never watched them live but during the PPV that played the month of my subscription it was actually useful.

I rented or purchased 2 wrestling games, WWE 2k14 and WWE All-Stars. As a very dedicated fighting game player I can say that neither of these games are that good but outside of that WWE All-Stars is actually pretty fun but kind of shallow. If they did made another All-Stars I would probably buy it because what was there was enjoyable since everything was taken to cartoonish proportions. WWE 2K14 while packed with content was just too stiff and slow for me to have any fun with it. They are pushing the game to make it look just like the show but there are too many sacrifices they make to force the gameplay to the speed of the show.

All these together actually placed Wresting in a positive light for me. Not one that I would constantly partake of but I think I’ll tune in for Wrestlmania from here out. It’s kind of similar to the Fighting Game Community. I’ll watch weekly tournaments or Ranbats on Twitch and there are in jokes and players that people associate with for one reason or another. Personalities, being a face or heel, and the style of play can be direct comparisons to Wrestlers. It’s not exactly the same but it might be that is why I was so open to it.

This guy is also pretty neat

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