China National Games Uses Fake Crowd Noises (Table Tennis)
Table tennis fans got to watch the best players in the world play at the China National Games last week. Fans watching on TV around the world were virtually teleported to Xi’An as joined the crowd as it cheered on every point and ooh-ed and ah-ed at every long rally. Or did it?
The China National Games are held once every four years and are basically the Chinese domestic equivalent to the Summer Olympics. They are a big deal, as even Chairman Xi Jinping himself attended the opening ceremony. Given the spotlight of the event and that table tennis is the national sport of China, event producers were likely highly motivated to show high levels of enthusiasm and patriotism among the spectators.
As indicated by the title of this blog post, we argue that the event’s TV producers were able to display these high levels of enthusiasm by faking the crowd reaction on the TV broadcast.
We present evidence that overwhelmingly suggests that the crowd noises used on the TV broadcast of the table tennis event at the China National Games did not originate from the crowd or the arena, but were instead digitally added onto the TV broadcast.
We argue that this was done with the intent to deceive the TV audience into believing the crowd was more excited than it actually was.
While this may all seem extremely obvious in retrospect to those who are aware, to the best of our knowledge, we are the only table tennis blog or media outlet to have documented this. This is the first of a two-part series on irregularities regarding the fans shown on the TV broadcast.
Claim: Crowd Noises on the TV Broadcast Were Fake
Watch the point below from the women’s singles finals (sound on, of course):
You can hear the crowd ooh-ing and ah-ing as the rally goes on (although not totally in sync with the shots of the point), and after the point ends, they all chant “Wang Manyu Jia You” (translation: “Let’s Go Wang Manyu!”) to encourage the players (shortly after the clip ends, you hear some chants of “Sha Sha Jia You” as well). This would suggest a very large, excited crowd.
In fact, the crowd must have been extremely excited for Wang Manyu as they even cheered for a missed serve and a net ball pretty loudly during the women’s singles semi-finals:
It also must have been the fans in the back cheering on these anti-climactic points, since in the two points in which Chen Meng misses her serve, literally nobody in the background of the video is clapping.
Not only was the crowd excited for the women’s singles finals and semi-finals, the crowd was equally as rowdy for the women’s singles round of 16 matches. Let us take a look at how packed the stadium was while they were chanting “Wang Manyu Jia You” during the Liu Fei vs Wang Manyu round of 16 match.
Oh, the stadium is actually very empty. Perhaps all the fans are behind in the camera? An alternate camera angle shown in the next section below shows that the crowd behind the camera for this match is equally empty.
A crowd that is equally as excited for the finals and the round of 16, a crowd that is equally as excited for a rally and a missed serve, and a crowd that sounds like a packed stadium even though the stadium is full of empty seats? This all seems a bit suspicious.
However, there is still a minimal bit of plausible deniability here. Perhaps the arena acoustics and microphone set-up are configured so that only a few fans are necessary to create the sounds of a crazy audience. And a video of the final day of competition shows the audience is indeed relatively packed (more on this in Part 2).
If we take a closer look at the round-of-16 matches again, we can see some very convincing evidence that the crowd noises on the TV broadcast are almost certainly fake.
Watch the point below between Liu Shiwen and Gu Yuting in the round of 16. Note how Gu does the funky sidespin shot with her backhand at the beginning of the point. After the point ends, the crowd starts cheering for Liu.
Now watch this clip of Wang Manyu and Liu Fei warming up in the round-of-16. The Liu vs Gu match can be seen in the background. Note that Gu does the same backhand sidespin shot in this video, so it is the same point as the one shown above.
Notice that in the Liu Shiwen video, the cheering starts after Liu Shiwen wins the point. However, in the Wang Manyu video, the cheering starts before the point finishes. Why would the crowd cheer before the point ends? More importantly, the audio of the two videos of the same point are out-of-sync. This strongly suggests that the crowd noises are not organic noises coming from the arena, but digitally overlaid on the TV broadcast.
Even after Liu’s match has ended, it still sounds like the crowd is cheering her on, which makes little sense as that chant is typically an encouragement between points, not after the match has already ended:
However, everything makes perfect sense if we assume the TV producer was too lazy to look at the background of the video during the match warm-up when overlaying the Liu Shiwen chants.
Once you become aware of that the crowd noises are a product of mediocrely-produced TV-editing, it becomes quite hard not to notice. The most noticeable ones are the unnecessary cheering on missed serves or lucky shots, and the heavy audio clapping when the audience in the camera background is clearly not clapping. As the event moves past the round of 16 and the matches are all featured matches with replays and multiple camera angles, the production quality improves, and the errors become less glaring but still noticeable. We take a look at a couple other fun errors.
Ma Long Fans Must Be Very Passionate
A stray chant for Ma Long (who withdrew from the men’s singles event) can be heard at the 20 second mark in the video-clip below of Xu Xin’s quarter-final match. Ma Long fans must just be very passionate to cheer for him in an event he is not even playing in.
Liu Shiwen Fans Are Passionate and Courteous Too!
The singles events were typically broadcast one gender at a time (i.e. all the day’s women’s singles matchess played first and then all the men’s singles event were played next). However, in the middle of the Xu Xin vs Liu Dingshuo quarter-final, Liu Shiwen chants suddenly started breaking out even though Liu was not playing a match.
Liu Shiwen fans must also be extremely passionate to encourage her on in an event she’s not even playing! Moreover, they must be extremely courteous to stop cheering for her right when Xu Xin serves! As an added bonus, the audience goes nuts for an edge ball at 10-4 after the point ends.
Liu Dingshuo Becomes An Overnight Sensation
As mentioned above, by our count there were zero Liu Dingshuo chants during his quarter-final match against Xu Xin. However, during his finals match against Fan Zhendong, Liu seems to have some hard-core fans.
This begs the question: where are the audio for these chants coming from? While Liu Shiwen and Fan Zhendong chants could conceivably come from something like a previous year’s China Open or World Championships, where did the audio for Liu Dingshuo chants come from? The audio apparently did not exist before his quarter-final match against Xu.
Unless organic Liu Dingshuo chants suddenly burst out during the semi-finals and finals, it seems that the Liu Dingshuo chants were likely pre-recorded in a studio. If that’s the case, how many other chants that we’ve heard are simply digitally recorded and how many are “real”?
Fans who have attended a pro tour event anywhere in the world will know that certain top-tier stars like Xu Xin and Liu Shiwen are stars in the true sense of the word, meaning that they bring out passionate fans who will cheer for them. But for lower tier stars, are there really that many Gu Yuting and Wang Chuqin stans out there, or are all those chants just recorded in a studio and digitally laid over?
Why Did They Do It?
Fake crowd noises have been used in other sports leagues such as the NBA and MLB. However, these leagues have been quite open about it, and the noises were blasted in the arena so that it would in principle be less awkward for players to play in silence.
On the other hand, we were not able to find any other media acknowledging the fake crowd sounds in table tennis or the China National Games (granted, internet sleuthing in Chinese is beyond our domain of expertise; we are happy to acknowledge that this section is totally wrong if someone finds such a public acknowledgement). Moreover, based on footage of previous China National Games, this appears not to be a pandemic-related tactic, but something that is often done. Camera cuts to certain fans yelling “Jia You” (see the “Ma Long” video above) are clearly intended to suggest that these crowd noises are coming organically from the crowd.
Based on the above facts, we strongly believe that the intent of these fake crowd noises is to deceive the TV audience into believing the spectators are significantly more excited than they actually are. As we mentioned earlier, the motive for such a deception is clear: to make table tennis events and the China National Games appear more lively than they actually are.
Of course, fake crowd noises are not the end of the world, and the tournament was still quite entertaining despite the distracting fake sounds. Fake cheers and laughs are a common tactic in reality TV, and viewers of the China National Games may be best served watching and listening to the audience reaction as an entertaining reality TV experience rather than an accurate live sporting event experience.
However, as the saying goes, “Reality TV is not reality.” Knowing that the crowd noises are fake, what other parts of the China National Games may have also been fake?
Part 2 will be released on Thursday, September 30. Please note that Part 2 may be more hypothetical in nature and the evidence will not be as strong as the evidence presented here.
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