Thursday, 30 May 2013

Inflation We Trust

Today I witnessed an online conversation which sparked some very concerning thoughts. I'm not going to quote anyone or name names, but this is the gist of it. An individual initiates a public discussion about how he would best spend X amount of dollars if he had the opportunity. His choice was eSports, and he projected some loose ideals for public consumption.

There were two angles of reception.

The first - fellow enthusiasts who had different ideas about how they would approach the situation. They engaged the conversation and traded opinions. It was unfounded, but productive discussion.

The second - self-proclaimed veterans of the industry who shut him down pretty hard. His ideas were burned and his suggestions were belittled. He quite clearly didn't have a rounded appreciation for what he wanted to (theoretically) accomplish. He lacked planning and understanding. He wasn't aware of the logistics involved. So apparently that justifies attacking him.

Now here's the thing. The people who attacked him were nowhere to be found 2 years ago. Amongst the wave of enthusiasts who appeared on the radar in 2011, they have since attended some LAN's, commentated some games and even co-ordinated an online event here and there. Somewhere along the line, this translates into, "Spending the last few years growing the scene."

I'm in no position to challenge anyone on what they have or haven't done, but what this DOES highlight is that there is a distinct lack of transparency on the other side of the coin. In previous blogs, I've demonstrated financial transparency as far as teams and events goes. But when it comes to event management, commentators, etc - most of what we know about people and organisations is spread by word of mouth and absorbed via diffusion. The closest thing we have to a "directory" of stakeholders is Liquipedia, for those who take the time to update it.

Look at it this way. If I ask you who some of the more prominent commentators are in the StarCraft community, you'll say - Tasteless, Artosis, Day9, Apollo, Kaelaris, TotalBiscuit, etc, etc, etc.

If you asked me who the prominent commentators are in the League of Legends scene, I'd say... PastryTime and Papa... something? I can't even remember his name. It's not in my scope of interest. The name... MonteCristo also comes to mind. I think he does ProLeague or something. I dunno. The only reason I know of PastryTime is because his name was all over Twitter for like a whole year and I've had a few chats with him here and there.

So now this creates a problem. What if an enthusiast discovers eSports tomorrow, and asks me a bunch of questions on a very broad spectrum. I can't help him. I don't know all the answers, and they're not very well documented either. Finding good quality information in this industry requires a lot of time, networking and research.

So I'd like to fix this problem. Over the next few weeks/months, I'm going to be reaching out to those who have contributed to eSports. Whether it's running tournaments, social media, commentary, whatever. Doesn't matter. I want to touch base with all of you. And I want to build a directory akin to LinkedIn - dedicated to eSports. And if you see someone in the public eye and you're not really sure what role they've played in the industry, you can simply look them up in this directory and see a list of their contributions (note: I deliberately avoided using the word accomplishments, it's so frustratingly far out of context).

For people who read this and would like to take the initiative, feel free to e-mail me via and we can get the ball rolling. Ultimately, I'd like to present YOU to the industry in a very professional and transparent manner. Consider this your opportunity to build an eSports resume. All you need to do is provide me with a list of events & dates, followed by what your involvement was. Here's one of mine off the top of my head, for example:

August 10 - 12, 2012
WCS Australia & Oceania
- Developed a stream schedule & liaised with Blizzard, commentators & the ACLPro production team
- Co-ordinated the bracket and player management
- Stage commentary
- Player equipment & technical assistance
- Social Media (Twitter)
- Co-ordinated 4 qualifying events (ACL Melbourne Nationals, Brisbane Regionals, Melbourne Regionals, Adelaide Regionals)

I don't expect many people to actually read this and take the initiative, so I'll be chasing people down soon enough. All I can ask is that you please co-operate and take the time to provide this information because ultimately, it's for you own benefit and marketability!

Check back soon for updates on the project.

EDIT: Wow, overwhelmingly positive response already. So many emails! Could I please also ask people to submit a photograph? Thanks! <3

Friday, 10 May 2013

Armchair Experts and Sideliners

I don't know when it started happening.

Once upon a time, gamers were openly oblivious to the inner workings of competitive gaming (read: eSports). They didn't want to know, and more importantly, they didn't pretend to know. These days it seems like the smallest incident in eSports can prompt an avalanche of "matter-of-fact" statements from self-important experts. Whether it's a player joining a new team, an event being cancelled or a rumour about a commentator, people are quick to allude to having inside information - but of course, they can't divulge. They're sworn to secrecy on the details. Look at it this way. There are few secrets in eSports. I mean, all the best-kept secrets are leaked and announced far ahead of schedule. Typically if you think you know a secret, there's a very good chance at least 100 other people are in the loop as well.

So anyway. It's getting embarrassing to see how often we see "ROI" and "business model" thrown around these days. I appreciate that there are some gamers out there who are studying a degree in business/marketing... but come on. Really? Does this somehow unlock the mysterious gift to see the operational costs of organisations and people you've never even spoken to?

I guess the worst part is that when people are asked to provide sources, they cite anonymous Reddit comments as "public knowledge", which pretty much goes to show that if you repeat a lie enough times, it will inevitably become a truth.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm not claiming to know shit about anything. I'm as clueless and oblivious as the next guy. The only difference is that I've been around long enough to learn a few things.

Unrelated side note: Just saw this article pop up in my twitter feed. It's a pretty powerful article on sexism and objectification of women in gaming/online culture. We all know about it. We see it every day. But take the time to read and acknowledge the issue for what it's worth.

Migrating back to the point (or somewhere close to it, anyway) - for whatever reason, people have invited me to be part of numerous Skype/Facebook/E-Mail groups between Event Managers and Team Managers. These groups are supposed to provide a unified communication platform for key figures to help progress eSports forwards. Why should 10 smaller organisations run about tripping over eachother with their own hazy objectives when they can work together for the greater good?

Unfortunately this is all very utopian. In the last 2 years, I've never seen anything productive emerge from these chat groups. As over-used as the phrase is these days, the term "circlejerking" truly does apply in most of these scenarios.

Every time I see someone flashing their title of "Executive Director" or "Chairman" or CEO" in eSports it drives me mad. A very high number of these people aren't even representing physical entities. Me included. Nv is not a registered company. It's just something I created in photoshop last year. Why are people so eager to inflate their own importance in an industry of volunteers?

I recently witnessed an individual who applied for an Assistant Manager (lol titles) role with an international team. He was brought on for a week or so, then dismissed because his attitude/skills/experience were lacking. Within 48 hours, he applied for another team, citing the previous team as his resume. Without question, he was added to the management of one of the worlds' most reputable and successful eSports teams.

Within 12 hours of being added to this new team, he was already badmouthing and acting (overly) condescending to other teams' managers in one of these Skype channels. When veterans of the scene challenged these comments, he rode the coattails of his new-found position to justify his attacks - suggesting that "everyone could learn a lot from him if they just shut up and listened." He went on to credit himself for the success of a player who has been on the team 2 years before he joined.


It's now been over two weeks since I started writing this blog, so my train of thought has derailed significantly. I've deleted a lot of stuff 'cos I wasn't sure where I was going with it. As strange as it may be, the announcement of Greg "IdrA" Fields being released from Evil Geniuses yesterday sparked quite a lot of "relevant" discussion in the aforementioned group chats. Everyone was quick to justify EG's decision by fabricating measurements of "Net Gains" vs "Net Losses" for having IdrA on the team. I highlighted that once someone starts e-mailing your sponsors, your hands are tied. You can only take one course of action, otherwise you risk losing that sponsorship contract. (See the whole Orb scenario. Pitchforks are a powerful entity.)

The responses took me down a very educational path. In a group conversation with over 120 global team managers, the vocal majority had absolutely no idea what they were talking about. The words "I assume" came up a lot. People actually suggested that e-mailing sponsors does nothing at all, because "Sponsors are in touch with the community. They follow tournaments/players very closely and pay attention to what they're investing their money into."

Now before I continue, I just have to say two things.
1) A high number of CheekyDuck supporters sent a LOT of angry e-mails to our (Team Nv's) sponsors. This was a very difficult challenge for us to overcome. It doesn't matter that the allegations were fabricated and retracted.
2) Our sponsors don't go around reading ridiculous drama threads on Reddit and Team Liquid. They operate their business and divide their marketing budget between whatever campaigns might bring the widest exposure. Duh. Everyone knows this. But they sure as hell don't sit around watching streams, reading Reddit and staying 100% informed.

There are exceptions of course. Companies like Tt eSports; with a very obviously defined market; have community managers postured for this purpose. But in most cases, your sponsors won't even be able to tell you the 3 races in StarCraft 2. The guy who signs all the money over from Plantronics sure as hell doesn't understand a damn thing about the game. It's not his job. His job is increasing sales and marketability. So when he receives numerous e-mails saying stuff like, "My friends and I will not support or purchase anything from your company in future. You want to know why? Because you support and sponsor Team Nv which are a bunch of liars, cheaters and thieves. Most of which is their "self-promoting" manager Derek "Dox" Reball. He destroys reputations of other individuals, he lies and does not uphold contracts, and most of all he frauds his team and sponsors of valuable sponsorship money", you can imagine how he might start to reconsider where his money is going. It doesn't matter if it's true or not. The fact is, they're losing prospective sales and something needs to be done about it.

So we can safely assume EG generates about 14 bajillion times more traffic than Team Nv does. Which means 14 bajillion more angry e-mails. This is something sponsors cannot ignore. In my case, you do what you can to defend yourself from the allegations and clarify the situation with the sponsor, and you hope for the best. But sometimes that's not enough. Sometimes you can't convince them to turn a blind eye. It might have worked for me, but it sure as hell didn't work for IdrA. And that's really unfortunate.

Now I don't really want to talk much about the IdrA situation. Everyone has an opinion and none of them really matter. It's his life, his dilemma and none of us are in a position to judge. But I will say this. Repercussions were necessary - yes. I personally feel like removing him from the team was over the top, but on the flipside, this sort of behaviour would not be tolerated in any other professional environment, so it's hard to expect otherwise. If the decision was ultimately EG's, I'd feel a little more comfortable about it. But knowing that they were pushed into it by the community is disappointing.

"We do ourselves a great disservice when we let the bitter opinions of others 
mingle and subvert our own thoughts."
- Dodinsky

So anyway, when you're trying to write a blog in short bursts over the course of multiple weeks, it's pretty difficult to maintain traction. I had a lot I wanted to say about all the self-proclaimed marketing experts in the community, but I honestly think I can wrap it up here. Following on from that group conversation regarding IdrA, sponsors, etc, people started to suggest that sponsors want the most bizarre information from the teams/players they support, such as the Age and Sex distribution of their fans, their spendable income distribution (what), and which of their products are making mothers angry (what).

I was so grateful when someone from our own community stepped in and asked the question:

"Does anyone here actually run a sponsored gaming team? What are your experiences in sponsor relations? Or is all of this just theory and speculation?"

Not a single person replied, the conversation dissolved immediately.