And then came the Thunderdome (Or is it Thunder Dome?). Last Friday, WWE debuted a concept called the Thunderdome, which is a loose translation of “they moved into a real arena and have a bunch of digital fans who look scared stiff watching the show from home”. This has been the main selling point for WWE TV since last Friday with SmackDown and now we have seen a little bit of it on each show. That isn’t enough to warrant a full on opinion of the thing but since when have wrestling fans waited to make their full, completely educated opinions known at the drop of a hat?
First and foremost, the place is big. I mean it should be right? The NBA’s Orlando Magic play there and it has hosted several WWE events in the past. It was the home for all of the WrestleMania 33 weekend events and, aside from some overpriced food, it was a rather nice experience when I was there for several shows (and a guy named Harry was the first person to recognize me so it’s kind of a special place on a personal level).
I know “it’s big” isn’t much of a selling point but when you’re the most powerful wrestling company in the world, it looks pretty bad to be running everything out of a not that well lit building that looks like it has a smaller capacity than my middle school gym. The arena now looks sleek, well lit and modern, which is what something like this should be. WWE is supposed to be on the highest level in wrestling and if that is the case, it needs to look the part.
Pretty snazzy look:
The size can help in other ways too, as the arena is going to allow them to do some other things. Assuming they have the run of the place (and after this week’s Monday Night Raw, they apparently have the room to move Raw Underground inside), there are various other locations that they can use rather than the arena, the place where they store the other ring, and the general backstage area of the Performance Center. Given how WWE tends to operate, I have no reason to believe that they will use much more than their basic locations, but that has been a problem for years, global pandemic or no global pandemic.
Then there is the biggest deal of them all: the fans being around. Now this is one where your response may vary and it isn’t something I’m even going to begin to try to sway you on or off. The digital fans aren’t exactly the most thrilling concept in the world, but they are a heck of a lot better than sitting in front of empty seats like the Performance Center shows had featured.
At its core, wrestling is a form of live entertainment. You have to have some kind of feedback for anything to make sense or to know if what you’re doing is working. You’ve seen a match where the fans don’t care and something needs to be shaken up a bit. Unfortunately you’re also probably used to matches where the wrestlers are going to go exactly by the plan they have made no matter what because they have no idea how to listen to a crowd or think on the fly out there, but that’s another long rant for another several times.
The point is you need SOMETHING to tell you how things are going. Even if it’s just the number of people applying to be in the crowd. Let the wrestlers know that something is getting through to the people so they can make some adjustments later on in their matches. What is working? What isn’t working? What is making them look straight at the screen with whatever the appropriate response is now? What is making them wonder why their cat looks at them like they owe them money?
You can get something out of fourteen people and a parakeet named Snapple but you can’t get anything significant out of a bunch of people who work for the company and are there because it’s part of their job. The digital fans are helpful, even if they seem scared to death to be there half the time (and given the amount of terms and conditions they have to follow to be in the crowd, I’m surprised they’re that relaxed) and there might be a bit of a delay. The point is they’re fans and not employees, which can go a long way.
At the same time though, there are some downsides to the idea. We have currently had three shows there (no, 205 Live still doesn’t count) and while it is still a great visual (other perk: the thing just looks cool), eventually it is going to lose some of that charm. I’m not exactly expecting WWE to remodel the place or change much about the presentation down the line, so the novelty is not going to last all that long. It’s a case where you need to enjoy it while you can, because at some point you’re probably going to stop thinking it looks all that great (assuming you do in the first place, which you should, because the thing looks great).
I’d call it an improvement:
The same is true of the name. Aside from the lack of Thunder (great, now the theme song is stuck in my head) and the lack of a dome (it’s an arena), the whole thing doesn’t exactly live up to the hype. It’s just another arena which looks like any of the regular ones that WWE would run in a regular year with digital fans. I get the idea of wanting to give it a snazzy name and that’s all well and good, but it’s not like this is really some kind of game changer, at least not beyond getting out of the building they had been in since the whole insanity started.
The final, and biggest, problem of them all is the most obvious one: the Thunderdome is just a set. It is the same wrestling with the same wrestlers and the same creative minds behind it is as it was in the Performance Center. This week’s Monday Night Raw was apparently rewritten with about forty minutes to go before the show went on the air. Sure it was on a bright and shiny new set, but it still had the same host of problems that have plagued WWE for years. You could probably write a book on what needs to be changed in WWE today to make it work, and a big location change wouldn’t make the top seventeen.
And on the big stage:
This has been the case for a long time and is the same situation that a lot of wrestling promotions have found themselves in. How many times did you hear that TNA would be better if they got out of the Impact Zone? Well they did, and it was the same show that had failed people over and over again for years. It has gotten better since then, and a lot of that has to do with the complete overhaul of the company, to the point where you would barely know it was the same thing. Getting out of the Performance Center isn’t going to solve WWE’s problems, but it will give you a bunch of new lights to look at.
There are a lot (ok maybe not a lot) of good and bad things about the Thunderdome. The good outweigh the bad for the most part, but it still isn’t some completely new way of life for WWE. There is still way too much television and the shows feel like they go on for days instead of hours, the writing still feels like it was slapped together with the technique of a dollar store Lego knockoff and we’ve seen these people fight time after time.
All of that is true and will be for a long time, but at least they look better now and in a business that is so based on the presentation, getting into the Thunderdome is a good way to go, but don’t expect much more than a loud sound without much substance behind it. In other words, like it or not, it’s 2020 WWE.
Thomas Hall has been a wrestling fan for over thirty years and has seen over 50,000 wrestling matches. He has also been a wrestling reviewer since 2009 with over 5,000 full shows covered. You can find his work at kbwrestlingreviews.com, or check out his- Amazon author page with 30 wrestling books. Get the latest and greatest in professional wrestling news by signing up for our daily email newsletter. Just look below for “GET EXCLUSIVE UPDATES” to sign up. Thank you for reading!