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Our favorite video game? That’s easy. The Purple Row Sim

In this interview, we go behind the scenes with the Purple Row Sim Rockies

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Since we don’t actually have baseball (yet), Purple Row has attempted to create its own reality with our MLB The Show 20 Purple Row Sim Rockies.

Spoiler: They’re not having a great season (25-34), but we’ve found it’s a way to keep baseball in our lives. I visited with Ben Kouchnerkavich about what it takes to put together a Sim Rockies broadcast.

Sim Coors Field

Purple Row: Can you tell us a bit about your background in broadcasting?

Ben Kouchnerkavich: I’ve always wanted to do it in some capacity. Meteorology (weather) was my passion beginning with elementary school and into my first year of college. I broadcasted the weather in high school and for Central Michigan University’s News Central 34 during my freshman year. However, it became apparent to me that I was not able to handle the math for meteorology. I had a negative experience during my time at CMU—I began suffering from panic attacks, I felt very alone, and I didn’t feel good enough to be there. I took a year off school to do some soul-searching.

Let me just say, there is often shame associated with taking a gap year. Countless voices told me I’d never go back to college, let alone graduate. And guess what? I did graduate (virtually) last month!

As for what I did after abandoning my meteorology dreams? I really like baseball. I’ve been writing about it at Purple Row for about two and a half years (and tweeting about it even longer)! We’re also a little over a year removed from our first episode of the Affected by Altitude podcast, which gave me my first opportunity to lend my voice to baseball discussions.

I was very excited for this spring as I had the opportunity to get my first play-by-play experience broadcasting for Wayne State University’s softball team (that’s where I graduated from, by the way). Unfortunately, all spring sports were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. My only opportunity to get play-by-play experience was gone!

PR: How did the idea for the sim come around?

BK: About the same time I found out spring sports were cancelled at Wayne State, Major League Baseball was canceling spring training. I don’t really remember exactly how it came about, but I thought it would be fun to simulate Colorado Rockies’ games on MLB The Show 20 and to incorporate my play-by-play to gain experience.

We also had new writers coming aboard at Purple Row (some of whom applied specifically for game coverage), and this seemed like a way to get experience for them as well.

PR: What goes in to making a sim? What’s the process for creating a game?

BK: The process has changed. For the first few weeks, I broadcasted the “gameplay” live from my PlayStation 4 (it’s important to note that I’m not “playing” the game; the computer is while I watch) to YouTube. I would then download the YouTube video to my channel and sync it with audio that I recorded using GarageBand. After syncing in iMovie, I would upload as a live premiere to YouTube, so that everyone could watch the initial broadcast at the same time (with the game starting at the originally scheduled broadcast time from the regular season schedule). After the premiere, the game remains available on YouTube for anyone.

For the first game, I edited the audio ridiculously precisely. I edited out every stretch where there was even a second where I wasn’t speaking. (I thought the crowd noise and sound effects from The Show would come through clearer.) I quickly realized I didn’t want to spend six hours editing audio and noticed that the audio levels did not sound significantly different with those edits.

There was an annoying issue where my audio and the video would not be perfectly in sync. I would have to watch the entire broadcast again to make sure my audio and the video were in sync because it would go out of sync at unpredictable times.

After the first few weeks, YouTube changed its policy and no longer allowed the downloading of live-broadcasted videos. As other SB Nation sites are also doing their own simulations (though I believe we are the only one to add our own play-by-play), I asked how they were downloading their videos. Rob Rogacki at Bless You Boys said that he saved the video clip on the PS4 (the PS4 is technically always “recording” in the background and will save a video clip if you ask it to) and then uploaded the clip to YouTube, which it then allows you to download. The only problem is video clips can only be one hour long, so I would have to upload three innings at a time. However, the great news about this method turned out to be that my audio and the video were always in sync, so this ultimately ended up being a better way to edit.

PR: What’s your philosophy as a virtual GM?

BK: I’m doing my best to leave my personal decisions out of the GM process. If it were me, I would orient the lineup differently and make more transactions. But from the moment we started this, I wanted to replicate what actual Rockies baseball would look like as closely as possible, so we can feel like we’re still experiencing the actual regular season.

I had an idea of what I thought the roster would look like. If my Purple Row colleagues disagreed with my first iterations, we’d discuss it, and then I’d take to Purple Row Twitter with a poll to see what the community had to say. When I thought I had it all figured out, Nick Groke of The Athletic published an article where he listed players he saw as “locks” to make the team. He included Tyler Kinley as a “lock,” which I had never considered. That created a crunch in the bullpen, and it reached the point where we felt that designating Bryan Shaw for assignment was the most realistic scenario, which I never thought was a possibility entering the season, but I became convinced. I also solicited some beat writers for their thoughts.

PR: Why do you think the Purple Row sim has done so poorly compared to other sims?

BK: Honestly, it might be because we’re trying to replicate the actual rosters and lineups as much as possible. The Rockies are having a bad year in our simulation, no question about it, but they’ve been fun for much of the season. They had a 10-game losing streak (and lost 14 straight at Coors Field), but outside of that, they’ve hung in there. There have been some clutch hits (they’re 5-0 in extra innings, all on the road) and plenty of close wins. I really think there’s a lot of potential here. It’s been odd to see how much better this team has been on the road overall.

Would we perhaps get more viewers if we manipulated the attributes of the players to make the Rockies better or if we made the team better through trades? Perhaps. But I wouldn’t feel right about it. I want to make this realistic. I want us all to experience the closest possible thing to actual Rockies baseball while we wait for its triumphant return.

PR: Do you select the uniforms, and have you considered trying something a little more daring?

BK: The uniforms are left up to the computer. I did think it would be interesting to use the throwback uniforms David Dahl used when he was participating in the Players League, but again, it’s the computer’s decision.

Sim Dinger

PR: What’s been the biggest challenge?

BK: It was largely working around YouTube being extremely NOT user-friendly. At the beginning, it took a significant amount of time to edit but now only takes about an hour, with an additional half hour to export and then about an hour and a half to upload to YouTube. I initially exported videos in “ProRes” quality, but these would take an entire day to upload to YouTube. I experimented with lowering the quality to “High” and eventually to “Medium” and realized the quality actually didn’t suffer, so this has saved me a lot of time. A lot of troubleshooting went into this. The more I write, the more it puts into perspective how many setbacks I’ve had with this project. I suppose it makes it all the more rewarding when things actually do work out.

For a time, to attempt to increase viewership, we also uploaded premieres to Facebook. At the beginning of each premiere, Facebook and YouTube both have countdowns. Unfortunately, the countdown clocks were about 90 seconds off. So, if the YouTube video were set to premiere at 7:15 PM MT, I eventually realized the best way to get them both to begin at the relative same time was to set the Facebook premiere to 7:17 PM MT.

Getting people to watch has also been a challenge as it seems like demand has decreased as the simulation has worn on. We had great numbers on Opening Day and also one of the early games against the Dodgers. Putting the games on Facebook didn’t really increase the number of viewers, so I’m not sure we have a means of extending our reach. I try to improve the product with every game.

For now, rather than broadcast every game, we’re broadcasting the first game of each series and the final game if the Rockies are going for a sweep, There may be exceptions for situations like major league debuts, which we did when Ryan Castellani made his sim debut.

PR: What have you found most surprising and/or rewarding?

BK: I think it’s been both surprising and rewarding how accurate the game has been. I was surprised at the slow start many Rockies hitters got off to—Trevor Story in particular. Even as I write this, Story has still been struggling to hit .250, though he does have very good power numbers. Ryan McMahon’s power has been impressive as he’s been among the league leaders in home runs for much of the season—and he’s giving Nolan Arenado a run for his money in terms of the team lead.

A Sim RyMac Jack

I was surprised to see how poorly the starting rotation has done as well. While it looked like a potential weak area for the Rockies entering 2020, I didn’t think we’d need to send both Germán Márquez and Jon Gray to Albuquerque due to poor performance.

And finally, Tyler Kinley has been really good—far and away the best reliever on the team. He’s been so good he’s taken over in the closer role (though that’s due to Wade Davis being dreadful and Scott Oberg being injured). Still, for a guy I wasn’t even considering to make the team until I read Groke’s piece on “locks,” Kinley has been fun to watch, and I certainly hope he at least comes close to replicating some of his success if/when the actual season gets underway.

Another note on Kinley: He’s even earned a special nickname from me, ”Must See Kinley.”

PR: Is there anything you’d like to add?

BK: If you haven’t watched a game yet, all I ask is that you give it a chance. If you want to experience watching in real time, Renee Dechert, Becca Guillen, and Sam Bradfield are always live-tweeting on the Purple Row Twitter account, and you can tweet along as well using the hashtag #PurpleRowSim. You can also watch the whole collection of previous broadcasts on my YouTube channel.

If you have watched, thank you so much, and I hope it has been a worthwhile experience for you. I’m doing this so I can get broadcasting experience, yes, but I’m also doing this for you because I want us all to enjoy the season together like baseball never left us.

And finally, if you know an employer who’s looking for a play-by-play baseball broadcaster, let them know, would ya?