The Thin Corridors of New Content

When it comes to content-creation, half the battle is getting it out there and the other half is keeping it alive. Using common grounds to promote your idea becomes challenging when everyone else relies on the same community watering holes as you. Successful self-promotion of your content is both a finicky and difficult area to achieve in a saturated scene with a very skeptical community. It’s even harder to bolster your name if it isn’t in a convenient form of media. The hurdles of content is due to the community’s narrow interests, available free time and the amount of overabundance of the same entertaining material. To explain, the uphill battle in this niche interest is funneled by the convenient format the community enjoys the most (videos over writing) as well as the subjects they like the most (established champion over unknown with potential). The reason for this is the common rule of liking what you know and wanting to see more of what you like.

[Click to enlarge visual]

So your first obstacle of getting your content out there is latching yourself onto someone the community knows, likes, and is familiar with. A good example of this is ChanmanV’s Pro Corner who keeps flowing good content with some big names, though I’m not sure he has the reputability to do a show with lesser names and still maintain a strong viewer count.

The other problem is personal weight of one’s name, it matters. Does anyone remember JoJoSC2News? This guy pushed out tons of content about a variety of people ranging from Robert Clotworthy, James Lampkin (Kennigit) and even David Ting (IPL). Those are some great and interesting people who had some amazing things to say. However, no one knew who JoJo was nor did he aggressively self-promote himself. The other problem is that he has no influence or reputability within the scene. Kennigit’s video about Boobs, Framing Shots & Esports has about 13,000 more views in only a few months. This a difference of one’s name and reach; how one’s ability to be recognized can affect the flight of one’s content.

So for relatively new content-creators, they face two major challenges. For the iconic and established members, they are approached by a different set of challenges, both are summarized here:

  • If you’re trying to make a name for yourself, you have to constantly flush out new, quality content with established members that the community recognizes/knows/likes. This is a question of endurance and consistently finding ways to reinvent yourself and your show. Let’s not forget that you have to find something that no one else is doing, and then keep that constantly changing and expanding. Being new, being innovative and keeping doing it despite rocky starts.The possibility of guests, the popularity of your original show or how long you can do it are not guarantees to increase viewership.
  • If you are someone the community recognizes (but underachieving), your challenge is to remain relevant. To periodically push out material that reminds everyone that you’re still just as analytical/entertaining about the game as those who can still mechanically achieve it. I want to say that being at the top and remaining up there is easier than starting from the bottom up but I think that would be presumptuous. Then again, was there as much saturation of content in nearly all forms as there is now? I don’t think so, but there were also less possibilities or technology to do as much as we can do now…

[Click to enlarge visual]

The diagram above is just a quick mock-up of how both sides’ challenges lead to similar end-goals, the start of one’s career is similar to a show hosts’ start of his webshow. For the host, the longer he is consistent in his content creation, the more his relevance and popularity to the community increases, so long as no mistakes are made (note the occasional drops; due to changed scheduled times, less popular guest, gaffes). For the community member, the longevity of one’s career extends more for each material released periodically (once in awhile). Their relevance and popularity also increases or decreases depending on similar aspects as the new content producer.

What’s unfortunate is that people who do come up with new and unique ways to reinvent what’s been done, often go unseen and miss their chance. For example, MLG’s “NFL” chalkboard-post-game analysis is actually a pretty cool concept. But, CecilSunkure did this last year (2011) in July, he just failed to capitalize on such a good idea. So what we’re seeing is “namesake” (public recognition in one’s name) and reach (how far and wide does he reach a general audience). MLG and CecilSunkure had the same idea, one year apart: MLG has the reach to take advantage of it and CecilSunkure didn’t have the time or dedication to follow-through and really publicize his idea.

On the community side of this predicament, they face the trouble of pushing away redundant subject matters. For example, there are a lot of interviews where the interviewer has a rare opportunity to talk to some of the big names, but don’t really take advantage of the chance. You’ll see this after events: Three or four organizations will “chat” the same people and ask the same questions. The community has no way to filter these overlapping interviews unless they watch them all. This causes the community to end up sticking with interviewers they know to avoid watching repetitive content. So, on your side, content-creator, how do you get your interview to stand out, especially when you really hit something that no one else has. Here’s an example of said conundrum: SirScoots Interview; look how many people interviewed this intelligent, insightful and experienced man. The best ones, in my opinion are quite low in terms of views: D-Esports and WellPlayed.org. Even EdwardStarCraft has more hits and the reason(s)? Better timing of when it was posted? Not as long? Better microphone? It could be any number of things, different interests fills different folks.

As we stated before, people like what they know. This means relevant characters from 2011 or even 2010 remain in the spotlight while no webshow wants to pick up up-and-coming players. I reiterated this on Reddit a few weeks back on how no webshow wants to promote:

“There’s no show or anything to promote up-and-coming members or players [besides Nanman’s show which hasn’t been recently]. However, we just keep seeing the same people we saw in 2011 and even those in 2010 , relevant or not. It stalls a growing scene that is ever-changing, increasing, evolving. What was a foundational tournament or organization back then (WCG) is no longer so and thus you have new groups of aspiring organizers come and some go. But this change isn’t necessarily held true for people, so it makes it tough for newer people to fit in, to have a uniqueness that doesn’t overlap with a wide cast of amazing current members; and that really sucks for those trying.”

My solution was to ask Blizzard to start showcasing these people:

“I really think this is where Blizzard comes in, if shows like “Real Talk” and “Live on Three” bring in unheard names, they lose ratings and dip in priority for the average E-sports follower (potentially). There’s just no real reason or personal gain for them to go out of their way to find new people (they may want to at some point or another) when the established professionals net them views and hits that they need to maintain both relevance as well as interest. Blizzard is in a perfect position to have everything to gain by promoting new names (similar to when they made an article about female player Ailuj) and showing the rewards of being an E-sports contributor.”

There’s no one to blame about these circumstances between community interests, priority of shows and the main draws towards people’s curiosity. People just do what they like and this subculture is built around entertainment. It’s only natural that people follow their own personal enjoyments and stick with them.

The general underlining problem is that there are a lot of hurdles and aspects you need to commonly overcome to make your content stand apart. The traditional method is an approach that still holds true for the majority of those who started at the bottom, for those who are at the top and for those still trying. That in of itself creates an over-abundance of similar formatted content and with similar people (players, casters, major key leaders). Think of interviews, how many interviews have you seen of one particular person? How many of them do you remember that underlined something new about that person? How did you locate that particular interview? That’s the final exam for a a content-creator: you need to answer those questions for the audience and apply them to your work.

Dependent Journalism & its Constraints

When it comes to deciding how I would start the series, I had two paths: the thin line of self-promotion or the in-betweeners known as E-Sports “Journalism”. E-Sports journalism has been a steady growth since its Counter-Strike days and has evolved into being both an outlet to get the right story and an outlet to see iconic people give a couple of words in interviews.

I’ll be writing about E-Sports Journalism mainly because of its coexistence with everyone in the scene. Writing in E-Sports is a thin line of having to be both reliable for the community, but not flat-out objectively crude when reporting some of the darker parts in competitive gaming. When I thought of writing my own content, I thought of the associated liberty that goes with it. When writing your own opinions, you can either rely on the editorial and publishing works of major media sites or go solo, uncensored. Here’s an example of what I mean:

A few weeks back, I wanted to write a piece about Team X, I chose a shock-title being: “Why everyone hates Team X“, I don’t personally hate X, but they were my base-line to expand on the idea of the importance of story and story-telling. The idea was solid, but if I do implicitly paint X negatively, I either hurt the site’s reputation or fans don’t read the site because of the piece. The trade-off isn’t worth it for them. These dilemmas of hurting no one, but trying to please all are what E-Sports journalist sites face almost every day. The lack of open criticism and public denunciations is due to two major aspects that really crush diversity in E-Sports news media as well as sprouting different opinions.

E-Sports Journalism cannot be Independent. What that means is that criticism about specific people or organizations becomes unsafe waters. Typically whenever someone does have something critical to say, they either glaze over particulars, specific situations or simply don’t mention names. The reason for this is because most news sites rely on personal networks within other organizations to get their news like when ESFI broke the news about RGN Gaming shutting down, he [Brent, CEO of ESFI World – smart and level-headed man] found this out through Frank [CEO of VT Gaming/ReIGN – works for IPL now]. In order to obtain these kinds of exclusives including interviews, quotes and more, news media sites must tread lightly when it comes to news about other organizations. This is because in E-Sports they all rely on announcements from other organizations to get their hits and views. You won’t see many sites ‘leaking’ information because the team website also needs hits and page views for marketable purposes. If you do leak it before them, you gain hits in the short-run, but you miss out on future inside information [like Check-Six disbanding, which ESFI got the exclusive on]. So the question becomes, how do we become critical of others with these social restraints? Well, the community  label of pitchforking often sprouts up and this is a side-effect (in my opinion) of the above situation as well.

Let’s look at the editorial listings for three news network sites of E-Sports (Cadred.org, ESFI World, D-Esports) and see what they’re featuring:

ESFI World (top-left), Definitive E-Sports (top-right)
Cadred.org (bottom-left)

All three of these websites are starving for editorials/opinions. ESFI World has been going more forward with their work, Cadred as well, but I wouldn’t be satisfied yet. The reality of it is that most criticisms don’t need to mention names to get their point across. I’m not telling these networks to go out of their way to burn bridges for a small increase of website hits. But even if they were intending to, the thought of naming names could cost opportunities and incriminate yourself. Everyone is seeking to grow and keep as many connections as they can, so sometimes being bold with words ends up having the world depict you as brash. The upside to these restraints of current journalism is that you get a lot of interviews and promotions instead of negativity.

But, let’s say a news media site does get a pretty juicy story from a reliable source: do you think the source will be named? Unlikely for both the reasons above as well as the fact that that person puts himself at risk for minimal reward (not everyone wants to go out of their way to inform the public). This leads us to the exceptions and their unique career situation:

Welcome to Live on Three. You have Marcus Graham (DJwheat), Scott (SirScoots) and Rod Breslau (Slasher), self-made men who sacrificed and realized all they could do for years and years [and earned where they are now]. SirScoots is my favourite amongst the three and someone I also respect for both his expertise, confidence and having the balls to say what needs to be said. James Lampkin (Kennigit) as well has been becoming rather open with some of the persistent issue this scene has been back and forth on. The beauty about Scott, James and Joshua Dentrinos’ (FXOBoss) position is that they’re seated very comfortably. They’ve created long-standing relationships that give them room to breathe and speak freely (almost). This, along with their attitude, gives them the rare ability to really get to the issue about certain people, organizations and problems. Granted they’re not ridiculous or excessive with accusations, they know when to not get involved, to stay in their own end of the world or formulate it as a general lesson to listeners. But every once in awhile, when they know they have the knowledge and supported evidence to say something, they will say it and that’s commending.

However, when other people do it without the right credentials, shit hits the fan. Journalists and news sites don’t have this rare ability and neither do their writers independently, not yet. Let’s use a personal anecdote:

Mark is a flat out liar.

He specifically told EG that he was in talks with Dignitas and threatened numerous times to transfer him to Dignitas if we did not meet his terms and/or meet them by a certain time. So either he lied on this show or he lied to EG during the negotiations. So either the viewers cannot trust him, or those he does business with behind the scenes should be wary. Neither is good.

On top of that, this is the same guy that used to praise me personally, called me Yoda Master, more times than I care to count, used to say he loved how “real” we are on Live on Three etc. The minute we are no longer buddies (because I realized that he was not to be trusted and was a bullshitter and a liar) he goes public with “I swear too much and therefore our show is damaging to the growth of esports.” What a crock of shit. I may say things people do not agree with and I accept that, but I have zero patience with liars or hypocrites. He is both.

This is something SirScoots said back in August about Mark, Quantic’s CEO. This shows a great difference between someone with confidence about what they’re saying, plus how comfortable they are in their position. Now compare that to someone (like myself) still striving to work with a reputable organization or team. If I were to say similar things or tell my own bad experience with Quantic Gaming, it’d look bad. It’d hurt the organization which still has a lot of good in it. It’d hurt the players involved who are living their dream thanks to this organization. So while I may get my egotistical justice served to one bad experience, it puts a lot of people out of work and out of options. Ultimately, it also hurts my reputation, or whatever illusion of it I feel I might have. Plus, would everyone believe me 100%? Unlikely, there will be skeptics and rightfully so. I don’t have the trust and credibility of the community to say what Scoots can say and that’s mostly because of how new I am (like many, many others) to the business than the more experienced. The point being is that current journalist websites don’t have the same public recognition that these long-time contributors have. In addition, their fields are not journalism and they don’t rely on the news of others in order to earn their livelihood.

So to summarize: 1. E-Sports Journalism is not necessarily independent.

  • This prevents both leaks/news before the team/organization wants to release it.
  • It halts incriminating accusations or issues, thus leaving the public uninformed.
  • Featured news starts revolving more around promotion and positive outlooks than negative ones.

2. E-Sports News Media Sites are not self-sustained.

  • This means that personal relationships with team owners and iconic members are important to be maintained and cannot be tarnished by independent criticisms.
  • People of seniority are more reliable for realistic perceptions of the scene than news media sites (of course, it’s all personal opinion nonetheless).

It’s a bit ironic to see E-Sports news media sites become restrained in what topics they can and cannot cover, but for iconic members unrelated to that field, have the capability to speak a hard truth. As the scene continues to evolve, a separation of dependency may occur that gives these websites more liberty rather than reposting the latest splash of news that hits the community.

The Solo Trail – Unbeaten

I’ve probably rewritten this introduction hundreds of times. Each time I did, it said too much or too little about myself or the basic goals I wanted to outline with this page. Let’s just start with general information about myself: my name is Michael Cohen, I am a 23-year old Sociology and Professional [information] Writing student. I have been contributing to this subculture we all love called E-Sports for only two years and while that may not seem like very long, I’ve done my fair share of work and contributions.

The short version of my credentials?

  • Manager of 5 pro gaming teams (50+ professional players)
  • Writer for 9 E-sports websites (5 team sites + 4 organizations: 150+ docs/articles)
  • Organizer or Contributor of 11 community events (74,000 viewers/attendants)
  • Some video-editing for one or two organizations, nothing big, just twitch.tv highlight-editing, presentational writing, etc.

Sounds impressive, at least to me it does and it fills my entire two-page CV (seriously, I had to remove some minimum-wage jobs I had done in 2006-2008 to fit it all), but the first lesson you have to learn when you want to get anywhere in E-Sports is to learn to dedicate yourself to a few organizations over a long period of time (which I haven’t done, so I am being patronizing from the other side). It doesn’t take a math wizard to see that if I’ve done all of this in two years, it means:

  1. I Juggled a lot of jobs simultaneously (Writing, Organizing BarCrafts or a tournament, managing players)
  2. I left a lot of solid organizations and went to a new one soon after (many reasons for this one)
  3. I learned quantity may not necessarily mean quality work and while I like to think I did a pretty damn good job managing players and writing articles, someone who only does one of those jobs at a time will improve faster and will have a stronger connection with his peers.

So that’s that and I’d be lying if I was satisfied. I got to work with some awesome people and on the flipside; with a lot of organizations that have made me bitter. Over time the facade of working to “help Esports grow” quickly diminished. I think anyone who tells you that they’re doing something “to help/grow Esports” isn’t being entirely truthful. Anyone who does their job(s) unpaid and purely out of passion are doing it both for the sake of their eagerness to matter in a populating scene as well as to help their organization. That’s not necessarily bad as I soon learned when writing this series, but I noticed that E-sports grows through everyone’s contributions. So using that utilitarian statement to recruit new volunteers or to discredit any accusations of malice is counter-productive in the grand scheme of things. Interpret it how you will and I’m sure we could even widen the range of people who bullshit with the buzzword(s) “Growing Esports”.

I’ll answer the foundational question I wanted to answer from the start:

Why are you starting your own space?

I was listening to the suggestions of several friends and I finally started this space after I hit a dead-end in my endeavours in E-Sports. I’m at a point where I am not really affiliated with anyone and now’s a better time than ever to do some opinion topics. Doing my own content meant I would be alone and would work around my own initiative, drive and interest. However, it also meant that I may do something that requires more work than I thought and I would be on my own. It meant that the community reception can be more direct and harsh towards me personally and my views as I would not be backed by some credible organization as when I was writer for some. In the end, this series that took me about a month of writing, editing, verification and re-writing will really be everything I’ve learned, observed and felt throughout my time. I started out with three pieces and ended up going to ten. All of them delve into inspecting the five perspectives of the scene: teams, tournaments, players, spectators and contributors. Ultimately, it aims to really take a strong look into the many issues that inhibit the StarCraft community and E-Sports culture.

*[to note that all future posts will be recorded by my own voice and available on youtube or mp3 format for your convenience]