In case you missed it, the WWE tried something new with their ThunderDome concept. The idea is that fans would be seen watching and reacting to the show. The layout also allowed them to use better lighting, add new effects, and overall improve the production value of the show. So, was it a success or failure?
Well, the truth lies somewhere in between. If you tuned in expecting some long-lasting effects that would reshape the way you view the current WWE product, you were probably massively disappointed. It’s still the same ole show but now its wrapped in a much prettier paper. What we got, instead, was a different way of watching the same ole same ole which was just slightly different enough to keep your attention but not different enough to convince you that wrestling is back. Wrestling isn’t back, because there is absolutely nothing that compares to the roar of a real crowd.
The problem, if I had to name only one, is that everyone who was on camera was asked to be alone. Alone. They were also expected to react to the show the same way they would if they were actually there – IE not alone. That is as ridiculous as it sounds. Obviously, there are people out there that hoot and holler in their bedroom while streaming the show on whatever tiny device they can, but realistically, people just sit there when they’re alone and it shows. 90% I watch wrestling – or any sport – I’ve got a phone in one hand and my other hand is switching channels between that show and Frasier. Every screen was just a zombie staring back at me while a match was happening in the foreground. The most distracting part was that we could hear crowds reaction despite not a single person on camera reacting which made it apparent that WWE was piping in reactions still. The end goal is to not have to do that, theoretically, so we’re not there yet.
If the goal was to make the show feel like it had a soul that was clearly missing when the paid Performance Center trainees were the audience reacting to each event like robots, then this was a failure in every way possible. At least with the trainees we saw real people reacting in a realistic way, even if it was 120 minutes of blatant shilling. In this version, it was so lifeless that it may as well have been a Smash Bros character select screen. No one was reacting in the way an audience of people would react because they weren’t an audience of people. They were one singular person watching from the comfort of the edge of their bed copy-and-pasted 100 times. The piped in crowd reactions tonight were barely different than a handful of trainees reacting.
The obvious solution would be to not restrict people from watching solo. I’m not sure why the WWE chose to go this route, but I have two theories: Either they were trying to limit it per person in order to get the most ratings as possible, or more than likely they were making sure that each person was responsible for their own actions and no one else. After all, if I pay money and I’m responsible for the stream, but my friend shows his sack on live television, then all the legal/financial responsibility falls onto me. Imagine, however, something more like WCW Nitro Parties. People would react to the show when they’re surrounded by actual friends. I’m spitballing here, but all I know is that what they’re currently doing failed tonight. Was it worse than the PC trainees? Not at all. Was it better though? Not really. Maybe barely. I’d consider it a lateral move more than anything. It has potential, but it just didn’t move the needle yet.
On the plus side, ThunderDome did bring back some much-needed production value that the show has been heavily missing. Raw and Smackdown were starting to look more and more like an ROH taping with slightly more money thrown into it. I’m a sucker for elaborate entrances, so if there’s one thing that the ThunderDome exceled at, it’s that. They went a little overboard with the laser lights, but if that’s the biggest complaint, then it succeeded. I half expected WCW’s Kronik to make their way down to the ring. The Fiend’s entrance is better when less produced, so it was odd when they started things out with his entrance, but everyone else went in the right direction.
There’s something about viewing WWE from their standard “hard camera” angle that improved things. One complaint I always had about their PC shows is that it appears as though the arena is a tiny box, which it likely was. The hard camera side angle shots that were taken from a distance in the ThunderDome went a long way in showing how enormous the arena is, once again. It’s one of those things you don’t realize you’re going to miss until its gone. It’s just a shame that once you look past the wrestling ring you saw a bunch of bored webcam ghosts staring back at you. When I blink I still see their faces.
I’m not a fan of their new 3D CGI stuff they’ve been doing for a couple years now. It always looks ridiculous but its even worse in an arena that’s purposely designed to look like stuff shouldn’t be crammed inside it, especially a fake screen hanging from the ceiling. It’s a dome that purposely encompasses the size of a slightly smaller than normal arena. Just put it on the titantron and stop being weird. I’m really nitpicking here because they were doing this before the ThunderDome and before the coronavirus stopped fans from coming in, but I never liked it and they’re still doing it. Still, I’m sure other people think its cool so I’m sure it has its audience – It just isn’t me.
The faces around the arena gave wrestlers something to look at when they cut promos and that was pretty evident. I do like when wrestlers look into the camera during promos, but not every split second like they were in the PC. It was never more apparent than during a Drew McIntyre promo, who draws his charisma from the audience and specifically the wrestler he’s cutting the promo on. When he was solo in the PC with no one to look at but the camera, the promos dragged on awkwardly while he did the best he could to keep an imaginary audience’s attention. I’m looking forward to seeing McIntyre cut a promo in the ThunderDome just to see the difference, as he’s the one that stuck out the most. It’s minor, but wrestlers need to look into the audience sometimes. Its another one of those things you don’t notice until its gone.
So, did the ThunderDome succeed? Well, they tried. There’s this philosophy on the internet where any time someone tries you have to praise them, but that’s not the reality of the situation. Sometimes, people try, and it has no effect. Sometimes they try, and it harms the product. In this case, they tried, and it seemed mostly lateral. I’m not going to praise them just for trying something new. The real thing we must be thankful for is that this is clearly something they’re committed to and that tonight was just a trial run. Theoretically, it can only get better from here. Ryan Satin thinks the ThunderDome will get better when it gets the “right kind of fans,” but I think that’s being way too optimistic. The fans are not the problem and the people we saw tonight were not the “wrong fans.” They were put into an awkward situation and expected to act in a way no normal person would act – energetic and hyped while completely alone. To be honest, I don’t think it’d be much different if they did the ThunderDome with zero fans. I’m looking forward to seeing how they plan on improving upon tonight’s experiment. More importantly, I’m looking forward to when this pandemic is over and wrestling can return to its proper form – Until then, Welcome to WCW Thunder… Dome!