Looking for leaders

Earlier today Cassandra Khaw published a piece on eSports journalism entitled As eSports booms, journalists struggle to find acceptance – and paychecks. It’s a well written article and while I’m sure much of the discussion surrounding it will be about the money, I’d like to take a moment to recognize another subject Khaw brings up in the article:

Readers unhappy with the state of eSports journalism could volunteer as replacements for journalists they found unfit … eSports journalism really needs its rare, long-term veterans to “stick around” and provide tutelage to new writers.

The subject of tutelage when it comes to eSports journalism is often something that is overlooked. New journalists volunteer for organizations wanting to make a difference (as well as a name for themselves) and often have little to no experience working in eSports or writing to any degree. When these volunteers join our eSports organizations we don’t do a good enough job orienting them to our company, culture, policies, technical requirements, and industry information in order for them succeed. These volunteers need to know and understand how our organization works, what our writing policies are, how to use our CMS and other technologies, and who to work with to get content written. As a result, many volunteers often do not last longer than 3 months at a given organization. They feel neglected, left out, and yes – still not paid.

Being a senior journalist or editor means you have significant experience and skill at creating content, but not all of these individuals are adept at leading a staff. Building a successful organization requires leaders, not just skilled content creators. An eSports organization needs people to teach volunteers how you turn a breaking news tweet into a respectable 4 paragraph written story about that piece of news. Organizations should help volunteers navigate the various personalities and organizations within the industry to help them gain access to information and interviews. Most importantly, these leaders should strive to help the volunteer achieve their own personal goals. If you have someone who starts out writing the short breaking news articles, build them up. Work with them, and eventually transition them into more feature length content. When these volunteers see their own personal growth within your organization, they are more likely to stay and keep growing.

When I started writing in eSports almost a decade ago I was fortunate enough to work with some truly dedicated individuals who helped me learn not only how to write eSports content, but also how to navigate the industry and build relationships. When I eventually started to lead my own content teams at Amped eSports and ESFI, I tried to bring that same level tutelage to my own staff. Sometimes it was less than fruitful, and sometimes it was my fault. Other times, I got to see my staff succeed and go on to stay within the industry for years afterwards.

Poor leadership, regardless of the skill of those who may be on staff, is identifiable. High volunteer turnover and a small number of people producing the majority amount of the content are quick signs.

Some might argue these issues could be resolved by simply paying writers and not using volunteers. While I agree with that thought in concept, it still doesn’t excuse the industry from doing a poor job at teaching new volunteers eager to help and make a difference. Not every volunteer is going to turn into the next 10 year seasoned eSports aficionado, but the industry needs to do more to empower those looking to get there.

When I look at the current state of eSports journalism, I continue to struggle at spotting up-and-coming talent or seeing real progression within the industry. Maybe its because the scene is so big. Maybe its because people are indeed less motivated in 2014 than they were in 2004. Maybe its the million other reasons the people at the top of the industry give for volunteers being less productive than in years past. Whatever the reason, I simply don’t buy it. eSports needs more leaders and teachers. Its up to those who have the experience and knowledge to help nurture the new wave of talent.

Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.
-Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric (GE) from 1981-2001

No see, no buy

Yesterday afternoon a curious Twitter account called the NESL caught the attention of many people within the eSports Twitter-scape. Named the National eSPORTS League, the goal of this new organization is to “take eSPORTS to the next level & changing the way the community is managed, played, and portrayed – The next step in eSPORTS.” Over the next 6-8 hours many individuals throughout eSports tweeted at the account asking for more information or providing what I will call useful criticism. Some of this criticism centered around the branding problems of naming a new eSports organization extremely similar to an established brand (the National ESL). While that was definitely an issue (one that is apparently being fixed with a re-branding), what stood out to me was something else entirely.

Look, I’m all for new blood entering the scene and I think entrepreneurial ventures within eSports is an important thing, but this NESL (not National ESL) situation highlights one of the biggest problems surrounding companies within eSports today – marketing.

Now that may seem like an odd statement considering the fact eSports as a whole is essentially driven by a marketing and advertising effort, but within the industry there is sever lack of effective marketing and quality execution to follow. Let me simplify this problem to fit the current scenario a bit better.

Back when I was in graduate school, I had a marketing professor who worked for years at Proctor & Gamble (P&G). For those who are unaware, P&G owns just about every brand that you have in your house from Tide to Gillette to Crest to Duracell and everything in-between. P&G is considered a market leader in marketing and brand development. Back to topic at hand, my professor told us the most important thing he ever learned about marketing came during his time at P&G while he was still relatively new and working for one of their senior marketing staffer. This senior staffer used to tell him if he were to learn anything about marketing at P&G, it was this nugget – “No see, no buy.”

The concept is as big as it is simple: No see, no buy. If your customers cannot see your product or service, chances are they aren’t going to buy it. This tenant is one I see many within eSports violating and my primary problem with this whole NESL situation. It’s understandable that when you are new within an industry that you may not have everything figured out yet or even have the resources, but you have to be able to demonstrate some value or at least the intention of value. Operating from a single anonymous Twitter account or email address and offering little information about the people or plans behind the business, outside cliche phrases such as “taking eSPORTS to the next level,” has probably done more harm to NESL than if they waited a few weeks and kept things under wraps until they were ready to show more.

The eSports industry has seen and heard too many of these cliches from the likes of CPL, CGS and others to bend quickly at the knees at every request without any substance behind it. The problem is really just that simple. No see, no buy.

And then esports happened yesterday

A day after the StarCraft 2 community was treated to the excellent (and I do mean EXCELLENT – you should all go read it now) piece by Duncan “Thorin” Shields on the career of SC2 pro Johan “NaNiwa” Lucchesi, the StarCraft 2 community went through another exercise of embarrassment. Sticking to his aforementioned plan to release content about various broken promises within the eSports scene, Richard Lewis of Cadred posted the first part of his series: The Land Of Broken Promises #1. Whether or not you agree or disagree with all or part of his article is irrelevant to me. What I want to bring attention to is the aftermath that ensued on Twitter following the publishing of this article:

 

 

 

 

 

The above is not even a drop in the bucket of the number of back and forth tweets that invaded many people’s timelines yesterday, but hopefully you get the idea of where this is going. This is an embarrassment of epic proportion on all fronts. For starters, most of the drama yesterday had nothing to do with the actual content Richard wrote about, but rather the actions and reactions of individuals surrounding the publication. This was mostly centered around Richard’s failure to credit photographs within the article and the use of a derogatory slur to describe one of his detractors. As someone who produces narrative content, this downright awful. If a piece of content garners more reaction to the actions and reactions surrounding the publication of the piece rather than the content within, you have failed in crafting a meaningful narrative.

Secondly, someone of Richard’s caliber and experience should know to credit photographs. Now perhaps some of the copyright holders were a bit angst in expressing their frustration, but nothing I saw warranted the berating that ensued. Finally, the use of any derogatory slur or term regardless of intent is simply wrong. For his part, Richard has apologized for the use of this language, but given how this apology comes a day later it lacks a certain amount of authenticity.

This incident is only the latest in a series of embarrassing back forth bickering that has occurred over Twitter and other mediums. While everyone likes to talk about professionalism in eSports and the scene growing, these incidents are a reminder of just how far the industry still has to go in order to reach the level many want it become. From an outsider’s perspective such as mine, the hilarity, immaturity, and downright foolishness of the entire situation across the board is appalling. These are the things that continue to degrade the eSports industry bit by bit, and given the penchant for similar situations to occur again, it almost makes you wonder how the industry even managed to get this far.

e-Sports needs less content & more coding

E-Sports is volatile industry. Ask anyone who has been in the business for any significant amount of time and they will probably tell you something similar, perhaps coupled with a painful story. For all the fun, excitement, and entertainment it provides, e-Sports as a whole is significantly lacking when it comes to sustainable business models. This means we see a lot more failure than success, and even in the success stories we see struggles to keep up. As a thought exercise, I created a list of companies within the e-Sports industry who are successful and have operated over an extended period of time. My thinking was to identify key parts of these successful businesses that separate them from others. The results were simply staggering.

Not only is there not many long-term successful companies in the industry, even the successful ones are hard to differentiate from one another on a macro level – they all are doing relatively the same thing. Trying to look past this fact, I came across a startling common point when looking at arguably two of the most successful companies in the business. This realization was that the core of their business, what drives their ability to attract users and generate revenue, is leveraged via the unique technology they have developed. These companies could quite possible be more appropriately categorized as technology companies (read not e-Sports companies) who leverage the e-Sports industry to generate revenue.

The first company I want to discuss is arguably the most successful currently operating within this space today: Twitch TV. Before you head angrily to the comments, I know Twitch does more general gaming than just e-Sports, but the fact is much of the platform’s initial rise in popularity and continued use is due to the e-Sports community. As most people know, Twitch is a DIYS live streaming platform and community specifically tailored for the gaming scene. Their revenue, like most within the e-Sports industry, is tied to advertising.

Where Twitch differs from most, however, is that they do not directly generate content. Rather, they have built this technology platform that allows other people to generate content and are able to leverage the content their users’ create for ad revenue. Obviously, this is not the only revenue stream for Twitch. Without knowing the intimate details, it would be fair to say Twitch also probably generates revenue via partnerships, their new Twitch Turbo premium service, and external funding (private, venture, etc.) to name a few. Most if not all these methods though, are predicated on their ability to develop and maintain their technology platform for increased user engagement (which leads to increased advertising revenue).

The second company I identified was ESEA Entertainment. ESEA has faded out of the spotlight for many since the rise of the RTS and MOBA genres and the lack of a successful team based FPS (prior to the release of CGS:GO). Similar to Twitch, ESEA has developed a technology platform (their premium client) which they use to run leagues, ladders, anti-cheat, gather game statistics, and more. This technology drives ESEA’s operations and its premium subscription creates a solid revenue stream that isn’t solely based on advertising and sponsorships.

My purpose for highlighting these two companies is twofold. First, to highlight they are operating successfully, but in a different manner than most of the e-Sports industry. And second, to call attention to the realization that we as an industry need more technology. We pride ourselves for our progressive thinking that video games can and should be viewed as sports, yet we are woefully lacking in the support technologies for managing leagues, running live events, coordinating team operations, and more. Sadly, most of the businesses within the industry easily fall under the “content creator” label in which they produce some form of content and try to earn revenue from the content they produce. Not only is the industry over-saturated with this type of offering, but many of these content creators’ operations are severely lacking compared to their “real world” counterparts. Don’t believe me? Here are two simple exercises for you:

1) Go to your favorite league, show, team, website, etc. that produces content and evaluate how accessible their content is across different device platforms. Most these producers have horrendous multi-device support – if at all – compared to similar producers within “real” sports.

2) Again, visit your favorite league, show, team, website, etc. and evaluate how accessible their branding/logo assets and guidelines are to the general public. Needless to say, I wouldn’t hold my breath – most simply don’t have these assets and guidelines available.

The simple truth is the e-Sports industry isn’t nearly as progressive as we like to believe, and one of the major areas in which we are lacking is our technology. We need more coders, designers, and engineers building technology for e-Sports and less of a desire for the same cycle of monotonous content production outlets.

Looking back at Twitch and ESEA, despite their operational stability both companies face their own challenges. As previously mentioned, ESEA needs to find a way to expand its operations in an age where the team-based FPS genre is not dominant.  Meanwhile, Twitch has struggled with changes in ad rates, partner payouts, and an inferior European network compared to their North American counterpart. But perhaps what is most egregious is Twitch’s severely lacking mobile development, especially on the Android platform.  Although they have recently promised a renewed commitment to Android development and even opened a new beta program, it seems extremely odd that a content delivery platform such as Twitch wouldn’t be more focused on mobile accessibility across the board.

To that end, I decided to spend a few hours of my own time over the last few days to create a concept design for a new Twitch android application. My approach was simple: design a basic framework for a Twitch application which could handle substantially more functionality. You can find my concept designs below. In conclusion, I’d strongly implore those looking to get involved within the e-Sports industry and those already working within it to think about the things I’ve mentioned here and ask yourself if you could benefit from better technology and operations.

The following are simply concept designs and I have no direct affiliation with Twitch TV. Any logos, assets, brands, or other materials used below are copyright their respective owners.

Click here to view large version.

twitch_layout

Restarting the Blog (again)

I once again find myself in the position where this blog has become neglected for over a year now; how did that happen? Well, it’s a long story so I won’t bore everyone with the details, but the good news is things seem be winding down to some sort of regularity in my life (finally) and I’ve decided it’s time to get back on the horse and get this blog going again.

Besides getting actual content back in this space, there will also probably be a few changes regarding the layout of this blog. Nothing major I imagine as I am currently way too busy to work on a completely new design, but a few tweaks here and there would do this blog good. Next, let’s discuss content topics. The majority of content on this blog will probably remain eSports and design related. I also may throw in some sports stuff during baseball season when I get the itch.

As for myself, I recently started a new job working for a design consultancy in center city Philadelphia. It’s a very interesting change as the work is entirely internal business operations focused and not marketing or communications. Outside work, I continue to play games in my spare time and I’m currently looking forward to the release of the upcoming MMORPG Wildstar Online from Carbine Studios. (Fingers crossed for a beta key soon?)

Unfortunately, I don’t get to watch nearly the amount of eSports content as I used to, but I like to stay abreast of current events nonetheless. For those that might be wondering, I don’t see myself getting back directly involved in eSports despite it being something I want to return to in some capacity eventually. Given the state of the industry and how I perceive things (and who knows I could be wrong), 2013 seems to be looking like a year of transition and change given the release of HotS and maybe DotA 2 coming out of “beta?” Oh, and who knows what’s going to happen within the FPS genre with CS:GO, Firefall, Planetside 2, etc. etc.

That’s really all I have right now and kudos to those of you who made it down this far. I’ll leave you guys with this – until next time.