Michael Cavacini

An award-winning arts and culture blog.

My WWE ThunderDome Experience

On the August 21 episode of SmackDown WWE launched ThunderDome, a state-of-the-art set, video boards, pyrotechnics, lasers, cutting-edge graphics and drone cameras, within Orlando’s Amway Arena. Both SummerSlam and Monday Night Raw took place in the WWE ThunderDome, and I found it to be a brilliant concept because it’s a way for fans to visually be present in the arena using technological means. It is the perfect way to engage the WWE audience on a deeper level, while also intriguing fans who may have not watched WWE for some time. Despite the hefty investment WWE had to put into this, registration is completely free. I have to applaud WWE for making this a free service, as they could have easily charged fans even a nominal amount to attend. I registered for WWE ThunderDome for the August 24 Monday Night Raw and received confirmation that I was in. However, I never got a link to join. This issue affected many other people as well. Nevertheless, I registered for the August 28 edition of SmackDown. Not only did I receive confirmation, but I got a link to join! So, what was it like in the WWE ThunderDome? Read on for my thoughts, including photos and videos from my point of view.

I registered for SmackDown on Wednesday, within the first few minutes I was able to do so. Therefore, I got a “call time” of 7 p.m. for Friday night. People get different call times, depending on when they register, and registration for Raw or SmackDown usually sells out within an hour or less.

The day of the event I received two emails. One was a checklist of how to have the best WWE ThunderDome experience. This included information about what device to use, how to make sure your internet speed is optimal, how to position yourself in front of your device. Obvious stuff, but it might be useful for some. The other email was my link to the show at 7 p.m., along with some additional information.At 7 p.m. I attempted to join. I was met with a screen that said not to refresh the page because it was checking for availability. Well, after a few minutes of nothing happening, I did what everyone online said to do: I refreshed the page numerous times until I got in. It worked! I got in, and I was met with the opening of 205 Live. This show is taped before SmackDown and it airs afterward on the WWE Network, I believe. It was a short and fun broadcast that got me warmed up for SmackDown.

Vince McMahon wondering how I got into the WWE ThunderDome.

I got booted out before SmackDown, which is to be expected. They told me in numerous emails that sometimes fans are rotated in and out to accommodate others. So, I clicked my link again and refreshed the page until I got back in. I never got kicked out again. I made it through the entire episode of SmackDown without any issues.Before SmackDown started, an announcer’s voice came bellowing through my computer telling me and others to get pumped up for SmackDown. He gave us recommendations for what to do and what not to do, while getting us energized for the live broadcast that was about to take place. What I found really interesting was the massive time delay between the broadcast on my computer, where I watched the show, and SmackDown on TV. This isn’t totally surprising, as networks typically require this to censor out any offensive language or things of that nature on the fly.

The show itself was great! It was really cool being part of the virtual WWE audience. I never thought I’d be attending a live wrestling event from my couch, but 2020 is full of surprises!The audio quality was almost perfect, but there were moments where it sounded a little rough around the edges. As for the video streaming, it was solid during SmackDown. However, during 205 Live it was struggling to keep up. Also, the feed is not HD. That said, the picture quality is still good. Considering this is all free, I have no complaints.Many of my favorite WWE Superstars were part of the show, and Mr. McMahon himself opened up SmackDown. As a lifelong fan, I was very excited to see Vince kick things off.This was an interesting SmackDown because it’s the go-home show before Payback, a PPV that is taking place exactly one week after SummerSlam. It’s highly unusual for a secondary PPV to immediately follow a major PPV, but these are exciting times.SmackDown ended with a shot of Roman Reigns and Paul Heyman together backstage, making fans wonder if Roman is now a “Paul Heyman guy.”After the broadcast came to a close, the announcer thanked me and everyone else for being part of WWE ThunderDome. Overall, I had a great experience. One of the best elements of pro wrestling is the live atmosphere. In a time when in-person live events aren’t possible or advisable, WWE has found a brilliant solution. A genius way to engage fans and provide them with a free service that offers great value. I wanted to take part in this not only because it’s cool, but because we may never see it again once the pandemic comes to a close. I’m glad to say I was part of the experiment known as the WWE ThunderDome, and I’d happily do so again.

WWE ThunderDome Press Release

WWE® DEBUTS THUNDERDOME™ AND ANNOUNCES RESIDENCY AT ORLANDO’S AMWAY CENTER

WWE ThunderDome™, featuring a state-of-the-art set, video boards, pyrotechnics, lasers, cutting-edge graphics and drone cameras, will take WWE fans’ viewing experience to an unprecedented level beginning this Friday, August 21 on FOX, kicking off SummerSlam® Weekend. This spectacular production at Amway Center marks the start of WWE’s residency where live events, all without fans physically present, will take place weekly for the foreseeable future.

With the debut of WWE ThunderDome at Amway Center, WWE will virtually bring fans into the arena via live video on massive LED boards, and it will be complemented with The Famous Group and its proprietary technology, for every Monday Night Raw®, Friday Night SmackDown® and WWE pay-per-view event. Starting tonight, fans may register for their virtual seat to be part of upcoming shows by visiting www.WWEThunderDome.com or at WWE’s Facebook, Instagram or Twitter pages.

“Our longstanding partnership with WWE continues to yield exciting events and indelible memories,” said Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer. “While the global pandemic continues to create challenges for everyone, it has also led to new opportunities. We’re grateful to be a part of this history-making endeavor.”

“WWE has a long history of producing the greatest live spectacles in sports and entertainment, yet nothing compares to what we are creating with WWE ThunderDome,” said Kevin Dunn, WWE Executive Vice President, Television Production. “This structure enables us to deliver an immersive atmosphere and generate more excitement amongst the millions of fans watching our programming around the world.”

“This extended residency is a first for both WWE and Amway Center and it couldn’t come at a better time,” said Orlando Venues Chief Venues Officer Allen Johnson. “With numerous live events happening under our roof, this opportunity allows us to welcome WWE’s passionate fans into the arena remotely for truly one-of-a-kind entertainment.”

“As WWE takes residency at the world-class Amway Center, we have reimagined our live event experience for today’s environment,” said Brian Flinn, WWE Chief Marketing & Communications Officer. “In partnership with The Famous Group, we will virtually bring our fans back into the show and recreate the interactive in-arena atmosphere that has been a staple of WWE events for decades.”

WWE Event Schedule for August:

Friday, August 21: Friday Night SmackDown®, Amway Center, 8 pm ET on FOX
Saturday, August 22: NXT TakeOver® XXX, Full Sail Live, 7 pm ET on WWE Network
Sunday, August 23: SummerSlam, Amway Center, 7 pm ET on WWE Network
Monday, August 24: Monday Night Raw®, Amway Center, 8 pm ET on USA Network
Wednesday, August 26: NXT®, Full Sail Live, 8 pm ET on USA Network
Friday, August 28: Friday Night SmackDown, Amway Center, 8 pm ET on FOX
Sunday, August 30: Payback®, Amway Center, 7 pm ET on WWE Network
Monday, August 31: Monday Night Raw, Amway Center, 8 pm ET on USA Network

WWE’s residency at Amway Center will be an ongoing partnership for the foreseeable future and Raw, SmackDown and pay-per-view programming will be produced on closed sets with only essential personnel in attendance. Additionally, WWE administers health and safety protocols for talent, crew and employees concurrently with each production, including PCR testing for COVID-19, physical distancing and wearing face coverings.

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