The acclaim rushed in for the Dallas Stars immediately after the team pushed out the tweet at 1:07 ET last Thursday afternoon. Its contents were simple: A 44-second video with no accompanying caption. Ultimately, the instantly recognizable graphics were designed to do all the talking.
It was a level from the 1985 NES classic Super Mario Bros., only with a pixelated Tyler Seguin replacing the famous video game character. Seguin — who has flourished into one of the NHL’s best centres during his five seasons with the Stars — sidescrolled his way through the level, fired pucks at NHL team logos, defeated Bowser and, finally, was awarded a new contract extension.
It was an unprecedented way of informing the world that the Stars had locked up the real-life Seguin for eight years with an average annual value of $9.85 million.
Immediately, social media exploded with praise. Some news outlets pondered if it was the greatest contract reveal in sports history. Hockey writers and fans rushed to tweet their best puns, often revolving around Seguin collecting a ton of gold coins, just like Mario himself.
The video was entirely the work of Jonathan Maniet, a digital content producer and editor with the Stars. The 22-year-old, a recent graduate from the University of North Texas, had just become a full-time employee with the team after spending last season as an intern.
The following is an oral history of the groundbreaking Twitter moment, told by Maniet and others.
BRAD ALBERTS, Stars president: This goes back really to last year. Our executive group made a major shift in how we handled our social media. We wanted to create specific content and be different. We needed to go out and get people who could do it and so we did.
JONATHAN MANIET, Stars digital content producer and editor: The original thought came from a summer creative project that we were given. They had our department create videos that reflected our personalities, just to create something different that you don’t believe you would ever really see from an NHL team’s account on social media. That’s where I got the idea from. Turning Tyler Seguin into Super Mario. The first video came from there.
ALBERTS: They created something similar in the summer that got some attention.
MANIET: Fans were commenting on that earlier video, thinking it was a contract extension video. Our social media team came to me and said, ‘You know what, why don’t we give ’em what they want?’ and ‘Let’s do a second video.’ I said, ‘OK that sounds good.’ We put it together and it was ready [if and when] Tyler was ready [to sign a contract extension].
ALBERTS: We’re always having to sell the game down in Texas a little bit different than people do in Canada. Especially when our team isn’t winning. And so, we’re always coming up with ideas to be different. The summer is long when you don’t make the playoffs. So, trying to do things to get people’s attention is what we’re shooting to do.
MANIET: I had some footage of Super Mario Bros. gameplay on my computer and thought, ‘You know what, I should use this.’ … I had two older brothers so when I was a little kid, I always watched them play video games. I wanted to do something that paid tribute to what I grew up doing. [sidebar]
MAXMILLIEN ROSENBERG, former CFL social media and content manager, who has also worked as digital media manager with Toronto Argonauts: There is just a nostalgia appeal that is undeniable. Lots of people have a memory of playing video games when 8-bit was the best you could get so it brings them back to those days. Vintage has a certain appeal to everyone.
MANIET: I took it into [Adobe] Photoshop and, frame by frame, I cut out Mario from the level and then I cut it down to the length that I wanted and took it into After Effects and created my own Seguin character, animated it and then plugged it into the video. It was a bit tedious. It took about a week or two to get it down and perfect to where I wanted.
ROSENBERG: Not everyone can do an 8-bit. They have to be thought out and it’s the intricacies and really making it true to whatever cartoon/video game they are spoofing on that make me personally love it.
RAJU MUDHAR, Toronto Star reporter with extensive experience covering the gaming industry: It was a really smart use of social media combined with the seemingly never-ending appetite for retro games. You have to give kudos to the very savvy Stars web/media folks.
ALBERTS: Creative genius … it was brilliant. We had no idea about the reaction we would get from it and clearly, the social media world loved it. Jonathan gets all the credit.
CHRISTOPHER DOYLE, director, partnerships/head of sports at Twitter Canada: They’ve hit the sweet spot for a Twitter announcement video here. It’s short and snappy, under one minute in length. It tells a story. The video is so creative, it stops you as you browse your feed, and you’re guaranteed to watch it more than once.
ROSENBERG: They did it to make a major announcement. Usually the hockey/football operations and communications team may control process there. You get the standard press release, social graphic move but being able to make a big-time announcement in a unique way is great. When I first saw it, I assumed it was just some off-season fun … wrong!
DOYLE: The audio is also an underrated part of this video. The sound effects are instantly identifiable.
MUDHAR: Classic Mario audio. A little eerie in their choice, but the music takes you back. Really, the only thing that would have made the thing better was if it was playable.
DOYLE: It’s one of the best team announcements I’ve seen on Twitter.
MANIET: One of my friends sent me a screenshot of ESPN Sportscenter retweeting it. I’m glad everyone is noticing it and the words ‘Dallas Stars’ is getting out there on all these different accounts. That was the goal of the video.
ALBERTS: Tyler loved it as well. Everybody was laughing and thinking it was great. That day was a good day for Tyler Seguin.
The original Super Mario Bros. game was released in Japan on Sept. 13, 1985. In an act of pure coincidence, the Stars video dropped on the same date, 33 years later.
ALBERTS: I did not know that. That’s awesome. That’s a bit of irony for sure. Does Jonathan know that?
MANIET: No, I noticed that someone shared it and put that stat out there. And I thought, ‘Wow, what tweet serendipity that was.’ And good timing on Tyler’s part too, I guess, without even knowing. Hopefully Nintendo liked it too.”
MUDHAR: Mario is a gaming icon and hasn’t gone anywhere … These classic games are still really easy to play, and Nintendo keeps releasing it on newer platforms and with micro-consoles that work with modern TV. The original is an enduring game, because of the care put into it, and is the basis for the entire platforming gaming genre.
[When reached, Nintendo declined to offer comment on this story]
The Tweet blew up and the engagement numbers offered strong evidence: As of 9 a.m. the next morning, it had amassed 907,000 video views, 6,700 retweets and 21,500 likes.
DOYLE: It raises the bar for sports team social accounts, because the genius is that it pairs a breaking news event — in this case, announcing a new contract — with a highly entertaining and fun piece of creative.
MANIET: That wasn’t really the intent — to try to one-up other teams. I wanted to do my job and try to make something that Stars fans and the team and organization could be proud of on social media.
DOYLE: We talk at Twitter about the planning that goes in to owning moments in real-time, and this is a great example of that. It’s also insanely shareable. You think of a typical contract extension or announcement, in previous years, there’s maybe a photo and some text. This is instantly shareable because it’s so unique. That’s the brilliance.
ROSENBERG: The hardest part can be both getting buy in from the communications, marketing and [team operations]. You need the heads up to make the video, you need the news to not get leaked, and of course, you need a [fire] video guy to make it all happen. The third part can be the hardest thing to find.
ALBERTS: We’ve set ourselves a high bar. We’ll absolutely be trying [to top it], that’s for sure. There’s no doubt, we’ll be talking about it.
MANIET: I’ve got a few ideas. We’ll see how it pans out.
DOYLE: What’s surprised me most are the number of fans who’ve replied along the lines of, ‘I hope your graphics team is being rewarded for this.’
MANIET: I’m just doing my job. My job is to create content that people will like. I’m glad that people like this video.
ALBERTS: [Laughs] He’s going to be taken care of very soon.
(Featured image design by Drew Lesiuczok/Sportsnet)