Friday, 12 April 2013

eSports doesn't grow on trees

Lastnight my girlfriend & I were on our way to the airport to pick up her parents, and I had a bit of time to think while I was in the car. Among other things, I contemplated the irony writing a blog (at work) about how I sacrificed my career in 2012. Probably not the smartest move. This is one of my biggest challenges though. There isn't enough spare time in each day to make any progress with eSports. My usual work day begins at 6:00AM, and by the time I get home, cook dinner & eat, it's usually somewhere around 9:00PM.

This leaves me with a very limited opportunity to squeeze in any "eSports work" (I put that in quotes because it actually sounds ridiculous, I'll revisit this later). I can either commit 100% of my 'leisure' time, or try and make time during the day. More often than not, whenever you receive an e-mail or a tweet from me, it's because I'm on my lunch break at work, trying to cram in as much as possible.

The struggle is (especially these days) that I care more about eSports than my job. My job is important. It sustains me, my girlfriend, and my team.But all it is to me is a means to an end. It enables my true passion, to a significant detriment. Self-sufficiency and sustainability are very key elements to operating any eSports organisation. Whether you're running teams, events, or even flying solo (ie. Grubby), one capital investment can only take you so far. And when that dries up, you'd better hope that you have -
a) Successfully built a contingency / supplement (ie. Additional sponsors/investors)
b) Unlocked the secret to self-sufficiency.

Now it all sounds very obvious, but let's just focus on (b) again for a second. For someone like Grubby, that eats up a lot of time. You need to find the time to play the game, and continue improving. Despite popular belief, this means a lot of time spent OUT of the game as well. Studying replays, watching streams, discussing theory with like-minded individuals. Then you need to find the time to market yourself. Any sustainable operation needs numbers to spin the wheel. That's why you see Grubby engaging the community so actively. He's like, the ultimate eSports ambassador. But that's not all. Being famous and successful is only two-thirds of the pie. Or cake. I like cake better.

Becoming a brand ambassador is actually really time consuming. You need to source contacts; typically the marketing department of an organisation. Then you send off e-mails with proposals, backed up by lots of impressive stats and figures which demonstrate a convincing ROI. Most the time, you just get ignored. They don't even bother responding to your e-mail. (Well, in my case, anyway. I'll write another separate blog about this later. This is actually the subject that prompted me to start this blog series in the first place.)

When you eventually get through to the lowly marketing guy, he needs to pitch it to his boss, who needs to discuss it with his colleagues, and this whole internal marketing process is completely out of your hands. You just have to hope and pray that the guy trying to sell your "product" to the company knows how to do it right.

So you've successfully convinced this company to adjust their marketing budget to include you/your event/your team. But they're cautious. This is an infantile industry without much of a precedent. They're not gonna commit to a large figure on day 1. You need to start small, ask for a minuscule amount and spend 6-12 months building your rapport with that organisation. You need to report back to them at regular intervals with stats demonstrating your value to them. If you've played your cards right, they're gonna be overwhelmed by the actual value of the sponsorship. And now it's time to actually start reaping the benefits.

So as you can see, there's a lot of "shit kicking" involved as far as establishment goes. You need to (grossly) under-sell yourself to begin with, just to overcome the necessary trust boundaries. And I mean, there's nothing wrong with that, right? If the shoe were on the other foot, would you blindly commit your valuable time/money/resources to someone who might sound promising on paper, but doesn't walk the walk? That's not even business, it's just human nature.

But this is a fundamental process a lot of gamers/organisations are struggling with. There is a lot of greed and self-entitlement in eSports. It's all "Me, me, me" and "Now, now, now." More often than not, we see ambitious ventures of confident individuals/organisations full of promise, only to dissolve within a few months. Because they don't have the foresight or patience to overcome those first few hurdles. People see others around them succeeding and they want a piece of the... cake. They study a 3 month-wide industrial snapshot  and don't understand what separates them from their peers.

A large number of ambitious eSports enthusiasts who popped up in 2011 (and that right there is another blog topic for another time!) decide they want to emulate the success of Evil Geniuses or Major League Gaming. They know what needs to be done, but they expect to move from A to Z in a matter of months. They're oblivious to the years of "shit kicking" (as described earlier) these organisations have already striven through to get where they are. (Let's just choose to ignore the MLG sustainability issue for the time being)

I could write a lot more on the subject but I think for the most part, I'd be unnecessarily delivering the fatal blow to a battered horse. You get my point. It's an exhausting process I've been part of so many times. Everything from online communities and team leagues to WCG and ACL. It's a hard challenge to overcome. It generally requires a ridiculous amount of capital before you even have a product worth sponsoring. And if you played your cards right, you somehow found the time to actually engage prospective partners somewhere along the way. But this is all very Utopian. Because it's hard enough to keep up with the logistics of running an event/team, let-alone carting yourself around the city/country/world to present your product to companies. And you might say, "Well why not just get some help? Why not just pick up a marketing guy to do that for you?"

Well, there are a lot of challenges right there. How can you be sure that your product is being marketed adequately? You can't just go to an external marketing organisation and trust them to sell "eSports". The industry/product is so young and un-developed that it's very hard to sell without intimate knowledge. I mean, look at the plethora of marketing organisations who have attempted to pick up eSports events and run with them. TLS/WCG, anyone? And besides, you've invested so much of your own time and money into it. You're gonna be protective of it. You're not gonna let anyone else represent it. Another problem is nobody does anything for free. I mean, back in my day, everyone was a volunteer. These days, you see people wanting to be paid for fucking everything. A few days ago I heard that PastryTime (Australian League of Legends commentator) is now charging for his services. I haven't actually chased up confirmation, so if this is incorrect, I apologise. But if it's true, then this is a perfect example of the wrong way to proceed in this industry.

It's perfectly acceptable to be compensated for your time and work in the real world. However, in an industry so deep in the red like this, it's just greedy. I understand that he's a big star, and deserves to be paid. But hey, so do thousands of other volunteers in the industry. If someone OFFERS to pay you for your services, then by all means, be my guest. But don't actively expect people to pay a ridiculous fee for you to sit at your computer and talk about a video game. It's selfish. Hell, it's disrespectful to the industry. People like DJWheat provided such a service to the industry at a detriment to himself long before the modern generation of eSports had touched a keyboard.

So anyway, back to my point. In over 10 years, I've rarely come across a reliable volunteer. The ambition and passion people people demonstrate tends to evaporate pretty quickly when they discover how unrewarding eSports can be. And can you blame them? You have players and commentators garnering fans & praise left and right, while the guy behind the scenes isn't even acknowledged. I gave the following example on a SEA Podcast a few weeks ago. Do you know who Metallica is? Of course you do. Do you know James Hetfield? Probably. (He's the Metallica front-man.)

Now answer me this. Do you know who Metallica's manager is? Who their agent is? Who co-ordinates their travel and itinerary? Yeah. Now the difference is, these people stick around because they're getting paid; they're not volunteers. In eSports, the same model doesn't hold up. The other frustrating part is that MOST people get involved with eSports because they want the (perceived) fame and glamour. It's something they can do from the comfort of their bedroom (for the most part) and reap validation.

Volunteers are a dying breed in eSports, especially as commentators/personalities/players become more and more successful. So whilst the industry appears to be developing, it's actually taking two steps forward, and one step back. I know that's a very general statement, but it's mostly true across the board. There are bound to be exceptions across the industry, but not necessarily within StarCraft.

Anywho, I've gone on a bit of a tangent. These are all blog topics I'm happy to cover at a later date. If we travel back in time 3 or 4 paragraphs, I was highlighting the fact that even if you do manage to kick the mandatory shit, it's hard to ensure you've ticked all the right boxes along the way to obtain that mythical sustainability. I might need to expand on this further in a future blog because:

1) This single topic has become ridiculously long. I'm actually really bad at staying on topic when writing. I'll often branch out in twenty different tangents, then have to do a shit load of editing.
2) I have to go and pick up the Nv guys from the airport in less than an hour, and I'll be heading to sleep after dropping them off at their hotel. I don't want to hold off on publishing this blog for another day because I've got more to say. If I did that, I'd never release anything.

So I'll just leave it there for now, and share with you - the shit kicking journey of Nv. I just want to preface by saying that I could have managed this budget much, much better. But hey, it was my money so I was comfortable with trading affordability for luxury. I'm less inclined to do this with other peoples' money though. Also note that my own flights & accommodation were never factored into the team budget. This was at my own expense.

ACL Sydney 2012
FLIGHTS - Pinder, deth, Dox - $501
FLIGHTS - mOOnGLaDe - $255
FLIGHTS - YoonYJ - $185
ACCOMMODATION - 2x 3BDR - $696

APL Sydney Showmatch 2012
FLIGHTS - mOOnGLaDe - $230

ACL Melbourne 2012
FLIGHTS - mOOnGLaDe, Dox, Livibee - $814
FLIGHTS - YoonYJ - $273
FLIGHTS - Rossi - $246
ACCOMMODATION - 3x 2BDR - $1,431

IEM Cologne 2012
FLIGHTS - mOOnGLaDe - $1,695
ACCOMMODATION - mOOnGLaDe - $293

EB Expo 2012 (Olympic Park is very expensive)
FLIGHTS - mOOnGLaDe, JazBas, Dox - $1,218
ACCOMMODATION - 3x 2BDR - $2,986

IEM Guangzhou 2012 (This event was cancelled, still haven't received refund from ESL)
FLIGHTS - mOOnGLaDe - $1,370
ACCOMMODATION - mOOnGLaDe - $846

MLG Dallas 2012
FLIGHTS - Rossi, deth, Dox, mOOnGLaDe, YoonYJ - $7,795
ACCOMMODATION - 3x 3BDR - $3,225

MISC 2012
Hoodies, web hosting, taxi's, consumables, event entry fees etc - $2,600

* The accommodation notes above won't make sense, I haven't specified how many nights they're for. Sometimes they're 3 nights, sometimes they're 5. Just roll with it.
** I could have saved a LOT of money if I really wanted to. For example, we didn't need to stay at Olympic Park for EB Expo. We could have stayed in the suburbs and caught trains/taxi's in. But I value the comfort of the players, and being able to stay at the venue is very important. I maintained a reasonable balance for flights though.
*** All of this came out of my own pocket. I was reimbursed $2,500 by GAMECOM, and they paid for Andy's trip to IEM Poland.
**** As a result of this capital investment, GAMECOM has provided us with an EXTREMELY generous deal for our 2nd year.
***** 15/04 EDIT: I copy/pasted the whole list from a spreadsheet which lists all of my expenditure for 2012. In the spreadsheet, there is an additional column which didn't make it into this blog. I just need to make it 100% clear that Livibee paid me back ($282) for the flight to/from ACL Melbourne in 2012. Apparently this confusion has caused a lot of drama.

Gotta head to the airport now. Shall write again tomorrow.

10 comments:

  1. This is a great insight to what actually goes into building up an eSports team, and I applaud and commend you for writing it, Dox.

    Re: Players/casters demanding money.

    Whoa. Just whoa. There are very few in Australia who I feel have the following and branding to be able to demand payment for their services. It's surprising how much ego can make things go astray.

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  2. Honestly, I don't know what to add. Well written, looking forward to future blogs.

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  3. Thank you so much for sharing Dox! Fantastic insight. Look forward to future articles.

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