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.

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