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

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

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

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.

Wednesday, 10 April 2013


Paleontology or palaeontology (pron.: /ˌplɪɒnˈtɒləi/) is the scientific study of prehistoric life

Sounds like a reasonably accurate approach to an "About Me" section, right? Heh.

If you already know who I am, feel free to skip this whole section and move on to the next blog. Otherwise, this might help shed some light on why I feel entitled to an opinion among this swirling ocean of differing views.

Well, truth be told. I'm not that old. By societal measurements, anyway. But when you've been actively pursuing something for 13 years of your life and watched as 3 generations of enthusiasts come & go, you can't help but feel weathered. 

I'm 28 years old. Making reasonable progress towards 29. At this rate, I anticipate a safe arrival. 

In 1999, a 14 year old who went by the online ID of "VVoLF", discovered competitive gaming. It was this niche phenomenon which existed almost exclusively in South Korea, as teenagers and young adults would face off on a stage wearing 70's-esque space suits in a game of StarCraft. I wanted to know more, but information was difficult to come by. These were the days before Reddit, TeamLiquid, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and even Google. My Altavista searches didn't yield tremendous results. 

It was around this time that I discovered my passion for graphic & web design. I was always looking for excuses to put web sites together, so I created a site called "SCABC" - The StarCraft Australian Community. The focus of this site was nothing more than social. We provided an avenue for StarCraft players to hang out and discuss this game they were all passionate about.

One thing lead to another, and with the release of the Brood War expansion pack, I naturally migrated the community to a new site - the BWABC. The infamous "Aus-1" private server was established somewhere amongst all this, and BWABC quickly became the stepping stone to Aus-1, where the very best of BWABC would aspire to face the likes of clans like DaG, MT, crap and many more.

The next year happened very, very quickly. Somewhere along the line, I met Joel / Fester, who noticed I'd been running a lot of tournaments at BWABC. He asked me to come on board with the WCGC - the World Cyber Games Challenge, which was a kind of "dry run" at running a "Cyber-Olympics" event. It wasn't advertised very much because they just wanted to do a practice run. My role was to develop competitive rule sets and brackets for the StarCraft events because there was no precedent for this sort of thing. I interacted with the community to ensure we used the proper maps, and developed the fairest format/bracket.

It was a huge hit. 1 year later, we launched the first official World Cyber Games event. All throughout the year I was bouncing back and forth between high school and flying around the country for events. As soon as I finished school, I packed a suitcase and flew to Sydney, so that I could work more on WCG via iStarZone HQ. I discovered that running an event of this magnitude was practically a full-time job. Even in the off-season, there was so much to do. Web design, articles, asset management & preparation. Sponsor & peripheral acquisition, and lots of content, planning, blah blah blah. I spent my 9 to 5 working in the office downstairs working on WCG, and then I'd work the graveyard shift in the internet cafe upstairs. I honestly don't remember sleeping much. I don't recall being tired either. Man, I miss my youth.

Anyway. I moved on to WarCraft 3 when it was released, and co-founded two incredibly successful websites - (now and (no longer online). The former was where I met so many awesome people such as JacziE, Bunny, KidArticA, DemusliM and so many more who went on to work at Blizzard, SK Gaming and become professional gamers. was also founded at the same time.

I took it upon myself to build a competitive scene for WarCraft 3 in Australia, and co-ordinated numerous national & international championships such as WCG, ACON4, ACON5, CPL, ESWC, the Blizzard Worldwide Invitational, IHS Games and countless smaller online & offline tournaments. I also ran numerous events & coverage for Halo and Counter-Strike on behalf of CBN Media, Pantheon eSports Sydney Gamers League & iStarZone.

From 2005 onwards, there weren't many opportunities for competitive gamers in Australia. "eSports" (as it had started being labelled) was starting to dry up. A lot of companies had invested a lot of money and through the process of trial & error, they weren't satisfied with the ROI. Not to mention the global economy was on it's way straight to hell. By the time 2008 arrived, the only events I was operating were DotA tournaments for a bunch of high school kids at a local LAN cafe. We'd gone full circle.

I accepted that the short-lived trend of eSports had all but fizzled out, and eagerly anticipated the release of StarCraft 2 with all my fingers and toes crossed. In 2010, we saw an immense resurgence in the global eSports scene - bigger than ever before. Opportunities were as boundless as ever. It was time to start fresh with a new generation of gamers, a new title, and a new ID.

During the Wings of Liberty beta , I threw a few hundred dollars around to help generate competitive interest for Australians. This trend continued throughout the launch of the game as I offered my time and money up to numerous organisations in an attempt to plant the seeds of competitive gaming in Australia once more. Throughout the first year, I was running/covering events for CyberGamer, Team iCHOR (my old WarCraft 3 team), SC2SEA and WCG. Jumping back on board with WCG 10 years after I first started working for them was heartwarming at first. I quickly discovered that the company operating it was like so many before them though. Inexperience, disconnected and unprepared. Another WCG trainwreck ensued, but I did everything I could to make it as positive as possible for everyone involved.

I actually just wrote an enormous paragraph about some incidents that have occurred, before I realised I was going on one hell of a tangent. This is supposed to be a mundane history lesson, so I'll re-visit that stuff in a later blog.

In 2010, I ran the Invitational tournament, which was 100% online. I was running it between two separate computers in two different rooms in my house. The whole thing was basically me running back and forth between rooms taking map vetos, inviting and hosting games. I used my housemate's account & PC to run half the event, whilst using my own for the rest. It's kinda funny 'cos my housemate received a shout-out for helping to run the event on the official page. He was ecstatic, and he had no idea what he was being thanked for. Seriously, look it up. His name was "Beepy", in memory of the robot who dies in Nier (spoiler alert).

In 2011, I operated my own event: Dox Cup. Nothing too exciting, just a SEA event to remind & reward people that there was a reason to continue playing the game in the off seasons, and to gauge interest in participation. I threw in $500 of my own money and it was a pretty fun event. Later in the year, I got on board with co-ordinating my 4th Invitational. This one was hosted offline, at an internet cafe in Sydney. I had the pleasure of meeting my long-time friend JacziE, and one of the Blizzard_au guys named Nick O'Shae. He's really cool. At the end of 2011, I hosted my ultimate experiment: Dox Cup #2. $2,500 from my own pocket, a sweet list of international participants going head to head with the best in South East Asia. The event was cool and all, and the games were great. I showcased Maynarde to the world for the brilliant commentator I knew he could be. But the point was really missed, and the money was wasted. I was prepared to host a 3rd Dox Cup in 2012 with an even bigger prize pool, and offline components, but after seeing how hard this failed to meet my expectations, I was hesitant. (I'll go into detail in another blog)

I got on board with the ACL, formerly known as the "Australian Console League", to bring StarCraft to a new level of prestige in Australia. After operating their 2012 circuit on the Gold Coast, Sydney and Melbourne along with a dozen or so online & offline qualifiers, it became apparent that I couldn't keep up. My professional life was suffering because I wasn't able to commit to ACL 100%. I kept taking days off work so that I could manage and prepare these events. I decided to run the GameSpot Pro-Am, and after the World Championship Series, I announced I'd be parting ways with ACL. It was time to focus on my job and get my professional life in order.

I took one last day off for EB Expo, as I had agreed to be a guest speaker on the GameSpot eSports panel & help out at the GAMECOM booth. That was the last straw though. I arrived back in the office the day after EB Expo and discovered that I'd been fired. My $112K/a career (which I'd spent 6 years building) was down the drain. More on this in another blog later.

Two weeks after EB Expo, I took my StarCraft 2 team to MLG Dallas for the experience of a life time.

Now it's 2013, and I have a lot of stories to tell, lessons to share and mistakes to admit.


I know what you're thinking.

"eSports Dinosaur? What the hell?"

I was trying to come up with a title for the blog. I'm not a huge fan of unnecessarily dressing up a product. It's just a blog written by one irrelevant individual, nothing fancy, nothing special, nothing glamorous. It is what it is.

I tend to spend a lot of my time venting frustration in whatever direction is convenient. Sometimes it'll be towards a group of friends on Skype, who don't really care for what I'm rambling about. Sometimes it'll be my girlfriend, who is great for conversation, but ultimately all she can do is empathise and agree that sometimes, things are simply wrong in the world no matter how right you want them to be. Sometimes I'll even conduct an entire conversation within my own head (most commonly on the train to and from work) whereby I anticipate all of the possible responses and solutions to my own concerns, and follow them wherever they might lead. Y'know, it didn't seem very weird before. But now that it's in text... that's a pretty strange thing to do.

Anyway, psychological evaluations aside, I have a few objectives with this blog. Here they are, in no particular order. I do suspect that over time, I'll end up adding more things to the lists. Because I freakin' love lists.

1) To share these thoughts, concerns & ideas with a wider audience. Although I doubt the reader base will be particularly wide.
2) To elaborate on the issues I regularly raise on Twitter, Podcasts and whatever other avenues I frequent, and constructively document the resolution path to each one.
3) To hear what you have to say. Am I right in thinking we are facing some simple, fundamentally damaging issues? Or am I seeing things the wrong way?
4) To express thoughts and feelings on people, organisations and topics I haven't felt comfortable airing in other public avenues.

Join me on this journey and hopefully we both learn something!