We have used real-time, in situ spectroscopic ellipsometry (SE) and infrared reflectance (IR) to study microcrystalline silicon (μc-Si) formation in reactive magnetron sputtering (RMS). μc-Si growth occurs at high hydrogen partial pressures and moderate substrate temperatures. We use IR studies and SE studies of film growth on rough surfaces, respectively, to show that these conditions lead to high hydrogen coverage of the film surface and high effective surface diffusivity. The interface region is amorphous and its thickness decreases with deposition rate. For a fixed growth flux, we observe a 30% decrease in the deposition rate of μc-Si relative to the amorphous interface region. This could be due to increased etching or decreased sticking coefficients during microcrystalline growth.