What makes a successful esports media brand: Part 1

Over the years, many esports media brands have come and gone. For some of the older brands, they’ve achieved a status that cannot be imitated by new media seeking to penetrate the scene. For newer brands, they face an uphill battle to not only establish themselves in this growing space but also must find new ways to earn a sustainable business. The greatest challenge any esports media brand faces is having to prove its importance to an audience while also creating content about teams, organizations, players and games that are also creating their own content, but with more access, a larger budget and direct reach to their established fan-base.

Displayed are the many products and media brands I have personally worked or launched. From a TV studio in Babelsberg, Germany to a digital magazine with the prestigious Aller Media in Copenhagen to the international press site, Cybersport.com for Russian conglomerate Mail.ru and more.

For the past eight years, I have been a part of a variety of media brands ranging from being a news-writer for many esports news sites to launching an esports studio, publishing an esports digital magazine and launching live-streaming platform. With each iteration of a new media brand, I’ve come to recognize certain key points that make or break a brand and the recurring pitfalls new media sites are falling for. In this many-parts series, I will highlight key areas that lead my latest company, Cybersport.com and our sister site, Cybersport.ru to becoming the top-10 and top-2 most read esports news website in the world. Also, I will highlight what other, more long-time and established brands, like HLTV, Dexerto and JoinDota, are doing right.

Examining the current competitors


Let’s take a look at the current established competition.

Despite only covering one game (Counter-Strike), HLTV remains one of the strongest and most established esports media brands in the world. Not only have they received the respect and cooperation of esports tournament organizers, teams and players but they have achieved a unique community that has yet to be imitated by any other current media website. Their trifecta of being one of the first in spaces, having incredible and top-of-the-line statistics and an established community has greatly separated themselves from the competition.

 

Editor’s note: only a site’s internal analytics can accurately determine the monthly traffic their sites achieve. Data provided here are through third-party trackers that advertisers rely on to get a general scope of an industry’s readership and visits basis. The higher a site’s monthly visits, the less accurate the third-party data.

Media Brand Seniority & Perks

1. There’s a lot to unpack here as different sites have achieved different results for differing reasons. For part 1, I will not be able to go over all of it but we can highlight several trends that set one site apart from another. For example, how is it possible that Cybersport.ru is the second most-read website in esports media, especially for a site that is only in Russian? Are there that many esports fans in the CIS region? Yes, but also because Cybersport.ru is more than a decade old and before that, was part of the Virtus.pro brand name. Many esports medias that are at the top are there now because they’ve lasted the test of time and the esports waves of growth and reduction. HLTV, GosuGamers, Cybersport.ru are brands that have been around from the many ‘starts’ of esports. For the many that have survived the test of time, there are dozens that have failed. You can usually tell the age of a brand by the primary source of their userbase: direct visits. Being among the first sites that have penetrated the market also earns you a community since back then, there was more reliance on forums and communities to get your content as opposed to the now-curated feeds of social media and Reddit.com. TeamLiquid.net is an example of a community site that still generates 3.8+ million visits a month due to its age and organically grown community forums (and site features).

A demand for non-English speaking audiences

2. Another key trend to consider is the amount of non-English websites that generate a large user-base. Dota2.ru, Cybersport.ru, 99Damage.de, Readmore.de, Maisesports.com.br, these sites are published in languages besides English, indicating a real community that is looking to get their esports content elsewhere than on english sites. Esports readership is a mirror of esports viewership for tournaments, social media and more. That esports sub-culture and consumerism also mirrors a lot of market trends and focus to the mainstream gaming industry. Brazil, Germany, Russia are all very important markets for sales from game developers and publishers and thus this importance trickles down to esports as well. It goes without saying that these countries and regions also do not understand English very well, thus why audiences flock to non-English news and community hubs. That said, nothing beats the North American and English-speaking market and there are many esports media brands that have succeeded in reaching these audiences. Similarly to older brands that have penetrated the market, these non-english speaking sites are also doubled as a ‘community website’ where users can discuss, comment and blog about everything related to esports and the articles that are published. There is no Reddit comparison for non-English audiences and thus they rely on esports news sites for their community discussion boards.

The power of SEO for new brands

3. We’ve seen that older brands survive and have retained a readership that goes directly to their website. What about newer sites? The power of SEO is the greatest savior for top brands like Dexerto.com, DotEsports.com and RiftHerald.com. That last one, RiftHerald.com is a part of Polygon.com, a major mainstream gaming coverage news site that heavily relies on SEO to reach a large audience (40+ Million monthly visits). SEO is something the gaming industry heavily pushes towards, and it is becoming something esports is also imitating. Older sites have a community base that returns directly to their website for many years but for newer sites during the age of social media and Reddit.com, building a community can be a slow and sometimes waste of time. SEO helps reach audiences that you normally could not reach and the amount of work needed is significantly smaller than creating incentives for users to stay and chat on your website.

 

How to interpret Time Spent statistic

4. From 9 minutes to only 8 seconds, there is a huge fluctuation of how much time users spend on a website and there are a variety of factors that affect this. HLTV.org not only has a strong community base, but produces great content to justify returning to their website. In addition, their statistics is top-notch and a staple to the scene. For sites like EsportsHeaven, TheShotCaller, their time visited is less than a minute – ultimately revealing that not only are users not visiting their site, they are often viewing one article then leaving the site. This is why you can see their primary source of visits are from social media (where users only view and click on articles they find interests before returning to their social platform) or Reddit.com. If your site has a high visit rate but very low time-spent on the website, there is something concerning about your brand and advertisers will seek to find out what is wrong. Users who visit a site directly are more likely to spend time on the site as opposed to SEO or worse, social media.

…And More!

5. There is so much more to unfold in this list. Like, how does GosuGamers.net still manage to receive over 3.5 million visits a month even though they have no content in weeks? Which is better: sites that cover all games or sites that cover a specific game only? In future iterations of this series, I will continue to reveal more interesting tidbits about this list and the great media brands that continue to thrive in this esports scene.

The Reddit Mislead


The first thing advertisers do when they look to purchase ad-space on websites is to see what their monthly visits are. Second, they check what the sources for these monthly visits. If they see that the majority of your monthly visits come from Reddit or is not consistently established, they will avoid your website. If advertisers see that it comes from countries that are not strong advertising markets, they will avoid your site. This is common-sense for many people but for writers and editors, they misinterpret the interest of Reddit.com as being a dictation of what lives and dies in this esports industry. Like any audience, the content that users from Reddit enjoy is different than the content users enjoy outside of that community forum. For example, content that is unique (leaks, interviews, opinions) may garner a lot of interest from users on Reddit but general news will not as they may have already been informed of this information elsewhere OR it’s not as interesting as other, more unique content. However, the majority of organic visits for most established websites are from general news pieces.

You can easily determine how much content is being submitted for a news site by using the parameters: reddit.com/domain/THESITENAME.COM — some sites receive a lot of submissions from power users (users who are frequently active on a particular sub-reddit), some are submitted by writers. Regardless, your site’s majority readership should not come from Reddit as it will lead to an over-reliance on a very fragile userbase that can fluctuate.

The over-emphasis on Reddit is a common pitfall many new writers and editors fall for. Just referring back to the statistics before, we can plainly see that nearly all major popular sites do not rely on Reddit as part of their core readership. The main reason is similar to the logic behind social media sharing: users will continue to visit these social platforms for their news rather than directly visiting your website. It is common practice to use Reddit.com to introduce your newly-created media brand and the unique content you have to provide (interviews, opinions, breaking exclusive news) but all sites should seek to garner their own organic userbase for their general news. As mentioned previously, SEO is one of the new ways that new brands are breaking this space. Younger sites like Dexerto.com, DotEsports.com and InvenGlobal.com are all relying on SEO to establish an audience and recurring readership. This is especially important since they can no longer garner a traditional community like the older sites have done.

Your general news is the bread and butter for your site. It is the most consistent type of content you can create that will generate the majority of your organic readership. Showcase the sundae cherries interviews to your social media outlets like Twitter, Facebook and Reddit but don’t forget the ice-cream news for users who are looking to get all their esports content in one place. In esports, you will have very active months with a lot of content to write about and other periods where content will be slow and the availability of unique content can be limited (e.g: Christmas season, down-ramp from a major tournament season). During those slower times, you will not have much to provide to Reddit but your investors and supporters will expect a consistency in visit growth and content production. This is a common scenario where the focus on growing your organic user-base (through general news production) should be emphasized more than hitting record-numbers through artificial means such as submitting unique content on Reddit.com.

Sites like DotEsports, Dexerto.com and JoinDota all create unique content but they do not prioritize it over general news. The way you also write about your news heavily affects its interest to its readers and in future iterations of this series, we will highlight the different ways to write your news to garner the most interest from your organic user-base.

Conclusion & Part II


In an attempt to keep this article short and sweet, I’ve cut this series up into several parts. In conclusion of Part I, examining the landscape of esports media highlights the merits of retaining or acquiring older esports media brands, expanding a brand to different languages to engage otherwise unreachable brands and the emphasis on making your general news SEO-attractive and less on polishing your unique content for your social media platform and trophy case. What’s truly set the most read sites from some of the much smaller brands is consistency in content production, quality of features and

In Part II, we will examine different media sites, common features your site should include, the high cost but importance of writers and brand identity as well as highlighting efficiency in content versus readership.

5 Years, 350 Million (2018): Dota Builds Project Year in Review

This is a continuation of last year’s article, “4 years, 275 million“, 2017’s “3 years, 170 million“, 2015’s “2 years, 100 million” and 2014’s article: “1 Year, 40 million: Dota Builds Project Overview


**some images may appear smaller than intended, click the images to see their full resolution/detail

I am now celebrating 5 years (and a half) of the Hero Builds Project since I started back in February, 2013. In February 2013, I was just finishing my university degree and really had no idea what I wanted or could do. Here at the end of 2018, I’ve moved over 8 times to 5 different countries and been a part of many unique start-ups. If I wrote in 2016 to 2017 that those were the most prominent years for the project and myself, I would say that 2017 to 2018 was considered the most difficult and enduring for me and the project.

Within this review, I will provide some statistic detailing the impact the project has had in public matches, an outline of the work involved to maintain the project for all these years as well as concerns and future of the project.

275 Million to 350 Million Subscriptions – A Year of Statistics


There are  two statistics I want to display for this year. In the previous years, I would display the project’s growth, projected subscription numbers and comparison to other guide-creators. Each year, I felt that these statistics only echoed what most people have already assumed: the project is continuously growing and continues to be popular.

The final question I wanted to answer regarding this project is the following: “What impact do the hero builds have across all public games in a day?” or more accurately: “What are the chances that at least 1 of my hero builds will appear in a match?”


From what we were able to simulate, approximately 82.67% of all matches use one or more of my guides. The percentages represented show the likelihood of 1 to 7 guides simultaneously being used during a match. If interested in the data, I keep a public record of all data for reference and interests and welcome everyone to verify or further research the data available. Feel free to contact me regarding the data.

My long-time friend and data scientist, James Hu, did a Monte Carlo simulation to determine the amount of 82.67% of daily games have at least one or more of my guides. This is his comment on the matter:

Given that we know that how many games are played daily (dota.rgp.io), how many games are played for each hero (Dotabuff.com), and how many games for a specific hero use a Torte de Lini guide by day (available in-game), we can then get an estimate of how many games have at least one person using a Torte de Lini guide. This was calculated by using a Monte Carlo simulation method. While it could theoretically be calculated to exact precision given that we have the percents, there are a possible 81,572,506,886,508 possible team combinations, which is an unrealistic amount of calculations required for very little upside. The Monte Carlo simulation created teams of 10 different heroes, based on play rate and calculated the probability of that person using a guide given the numbers provided. This was then run 100,000 times and stored. Across multiple tests, the percents were fairly stable. So the Monte Carlo simulation shows that roughly 17% of games have no one in the game using a guide, but in the other 83%, at least 1 person uses a guide, which is a pretty remarkable number.
To semi-validate this data, given the numbers we have, it seems like roughly 15% of all games use a Torte de Lini guide, which means that 85% of games do not. If we take that basic assumption given all heroes are picked equally, the probability of a game having no one using a guide is .85 ^ 10 or 19.68%. Not too far off from what our Monte Carlo simulation shows, so the results look fairly reasonable. So even though only 15% of games played on any individual hero uses a Torte de Lini guide, the combined probability of among 10 people, at least 1 person using a guide is around 83%. Some assumptions are made that are not representative of the real world. Heroes were selected at random, whereas more realistically, you would assume some level of team composition. There is also the assumption that players will use guides at random, whereas the truth is probably less skilled players use guides more often than skilled players. So realistically, more than 17% of games will have no one using a guide, but there is no better way to calculate this skill based guide usage.
On March 12 2018, Dota Plus was released. There was a personal and public concern that this project would be hindered or slowed due to the inclusion of the automated service. However, when I reviewed the growth in subscriptions and data, I am still earning approximately 5.5 million new subscriptions on a monthly basis. This has been the norm since May 2014.
The large bump in 2017 is the release of patch 7.00. You can determine where the release of Dota Plus happening around February of 2018. Other big spikes on this graph are due to the release of a new patch or the population interest in the game which has a strong influence on the rate of growth in the project’s subscription.
On average, for every hero that is picked in a game of Dota 2, there is a 23.03% chance that the player is using one of my hero builds. For heroes like Naga Siren or Beastmaster, the statistic was as high as 50 to 68%. In addition, I collected the lifetime matches played statistic from the top 10 guides. Out of 1,605,684,445 lifetime guide-used matches, 85% were by my own guides (1,357,244,780); a 12% increase from 2017.

Achievements & Challenges


Beyond the statistical achievements for the hero builds, there has also been a nice bump in publicity. I’ve been awarded my third year of /r/Dota2 MVP awards including ‘MVP Community Figure”, “Most Educational Post” and “Honourable Mention for MVP Redditor”

I’ve also done some nice press pieces with podcasts like The High Ground, interview with Spectral Alliance as well as PCGamesN. In every interview, I try to be as personal and honest about the project, my character and life.

Lastly, the mention of the OpenAI bots being scripted to use my guides was a very fulfilling moment for me as it highlighted that this project has been involved with nearly every facet of the scene. I even had the chance to meet them in-person during TI8 and I cherish that moment deeply. Over this year, I met many great and admirable people who professed their enjoyment for my guides. It’s always a surreal and happy feeling to think back on those times and it is one of the greatest reasons I continue this project. One time, on my return flight from an event, a professional player, and now personal friend, tapped me to ask for an autograph. It turned out his friend was a fan of my work and asked him to get my autograph. I’m usually too embarrassed to tell pro-players and casters how great they are and here I was digitally signing something to someone (for his friend) who plays my favourite game at the highest and incredibly skilled level. During The International 8 party, Liquid’s MinD_ContRoL told me to add magic wand to all my guides – it turned out he also used or currently is using my guides for some heroes. At another point at TI, I met a Valve employee, now friend, and his entire family that play Dota 2 together with guides (so adorable!). Talking to him, his wife and seeing their family all enjoy The International together was an incredible sight. These are the times I think about a lot and continue to smile about in disbelief. I take pictures with almost everyone who comes up to tell me they like or have used my guides and I love just talking shop about Dota with them. When I first started playing DotA, I was a young kid who repeated secondary school twice – a failure. I had no purpose, direction or self-esteem, I hated myself but could only tell people how much they sucked, an attempt to disguise my own confessions as unnecessary hate towards others. This project and the subsequent people I’ve met by following my passion has really changed who I was ~15 years ago.

Meeting OpenAI was a highlight of the year for me. I am a huge fan of the work they are doing.

In terms of work challenges, I’ve made a variety of changes to the project to reduce the workload. Changes such as no longer doing bi-weekly public statistical posts and summaries, reducing the amount of day-to-day reviews as well as retiring many builds from the project that no longer suit the current meta. In Feb. 2018, IceFrog announced he would be making patch changes every two weeks. This change was a heavily toll on my life as it demanded me to be more readily available throughout a month but also spend more time observing and determining what ramifications these changes had hero builds (both skills and items). The resulting updates made to the guides were only a marginal increase of about 270 across 6 months.

  • Total guide changes from February to June 2017: 1,777
  • Total guide changes from February to June 2018: 2047

For the player-base using these guides, the changes were gradual and almost indifferent to the previous patches For the producer (myself), it meant a larger consumption of my time since feedback had significantly dropped, patch updates were subtle and there were a lot more competitive matches I needed to watch and track to keep up with changes in the meta.

I have always been open about my work and progress in updating the hero builds. Over 32,000 changes were made across these years. 2018 has had significantly less changes than others because I will not be doing my annual review of all the item, skill and hero textboxes.

As noted before, feedback about the hero builds has significantly dropped. The drop in feedback meant that my effort needed to compensate for the lack of communication heavily exhausted me. A reoccurring frustration I would face is passive blanket criticisms. I would often have to read countless put-downs about the project, specific guides or my character to decipher if the user had a legitimate issue or was simply voicing an opinion. Often times I would message the user privately to ask what they specifically didn’t like about XYZ build only to find out that I had rectified their complaint months ago. Other examples would include the user not realizing that I had two guides for a hero or that a build was meant to be a reflection of the current state of the meta (or my attempt to do so) and I could not deviate from this effort to include what they thought was good (or bad) for a hero. This back-and-forth was very challenging on my mental fortitude and connection with the community. After my AMA 9 months ago, I stopped responding to comments or discussions across social platforms and after The International, I stopped making announcing guide updates beyond my social media. The rate of my involvement with the vocal community has no effect on the growth of the hero builds.

Lastly, I responded to bugs and issues users had when making hero builds for the past two years (at the launch of the Hero Builds System). I ended this outreach when Dota Plus was released and users were mistaking issues with the service with my own personal project. Instead, I offered assistance with users who were looking to make their own collection of hero builds for the community and I continue to offer my advice, expertise, thoughts and warnings to those wanting to make free hero builds in-game

Hiatus


For the past 5 1/2 years, I have never stopped providing Hero Build updates to the best of my ability, efforts and love for the game and community. Over the past years, I have created over 158 hero builds and applied 32,542 changes, garnering 350 million subscriptions and an estimated 1,357,244,780 games. Many don’t remember when the guides first launched but it was riddled with server-crashing bugs that would delete user’s guides and work. It went unfixed for 3 years until 2016 and then a new system replaced it in 2017 (which I enjoyed a lot in building). The system and the project has come a long way since then and your undying support was and is the reason it’s still around today.

The dev.dota forum topic I made to compile all the issues from 2013 and onward.

Starting in December, I will be going on hiatus until March 2019. I will be exploring other areas of my life and experiences to see what I want and can do more both in terms of my career (this was always just a personal project) and in my life. For the past 5 1/2 years, I have never stopped providing Hero Builds to the best of my ability, efforts and love for the game and community. Thank you to those who supported, used or provided good criticism to the project and the guides involved.

update Feb. 4, 2019: I have closed down the project until further notice

4 years, 275 million (2017): Dota Builds Project Year in Review

This is a continuation of last year’s article, “3 years, 170 million“, 2015’s “2 years, 100 million” and 2014’s article: “1 Year, 40 million: Dota Builds Project Overview


**some images may appear smaller than intended, click the images to see their full resolution/detail

It’s now been 4 years (and a half) since I started the Standard Hero Builds Project. Actually, by the time I get around to finishing this, it’ll be 5 years come February (2013-2018). Last year is considered to be our most prominent year as the project became even more integrated to the client and as it offered me a lot of opportunities and recognition that outshadows everything that happened in 2016.

2017 is another step forward in the project, but in turn, it’s also brought on more publicity and public scrutiny than it’s ever faced before.

For those new to Dota 2, Hero Builds are an in-game guide system for users to learn on how to play a hero. These guides suggest in what order a hero’s ability should be leveled, which items and in what order should be bought and guides can include tool-tips to give contextual value on how best to use a hero’s set of items or abilities throughout the game. This 2013 integrated feature has been useful for many new players along with other Valve-released tools including the ‘coaching’ feature and a robust tutorial system. This project was created to establish and maintain a ‘standard’ way of playing each and every hero in nearly all roles or forms.

Today we celebrate reaching over 275 million (275,124,726) subscriptions across 157 guides. This article will take a look at the relevant statistics of our growth, discuss the project’s accomplishments and thoughts on the future as well as lessons learned.

170 Million to 275 Million – A Year of Statistics


In summary, this project has gained approximately 105 million new subscriptions since last year. Since the release of patch 7.00/7.01 which launched the new hero build UI (and will then expand the Hero Build Creator system to an in-game version). Growth has jumped from 5 million a month to 7 million a month.

In October 2013, we started with less than a total of 5 million. 4 years later, the project has attained 275 million with the likelihood of reaching approx. 370 million very likely by next year (2018). Depending on how the game remains revitalized and innovated, growth can range between 70 to 100 million in the span of a year. 2017 ushered in massive changes that highlighted how outdated some guides were and promoted newer, more accurate, guides.

 

Last year, we were proud to have hit 2 million unique subscribers for the first time in a specific hero build. This year, growth for individual guides have been remarkably higher than in 2016. What took two years for the Sven hero build to go from one million unique subscribers to two million, it only took that same build one year to reach three million. Furthermore, since Dec. 2016, three more guides hit three million unique subscribers.

Lifestealer (Jungle) was the original guide to first hit one million and two million subscribers. However, its growth rate has slowed in comparison to the new top three guides that currently dominate the chart: Sven, Phantom Assassin and Juggernaut. Typically builds about Core heroes (Carry) have more subscribers than support builds. Currently, the most popular support build is Crystal Maiden (2.39 million subscribers)

Every single Hero in the game (114) has a build with 1 million subscribers (except the newly-released Dark Willow & Pangolier). The average subscribers for a hero build has jumped from 1.16 million to 1.75 million. Competitors also show similar growth from 64,000 to 2.02 million (EDJE), 134,000 to 459,000 (greyshark).

The old pillars of abandoned competitors (Greyshark, Purge, eXplosion) have been overtaken by more prominent and faithfully-consistent guide makers such as EDJE and Ez MMR.

Lastly, with the release of a new statistic by Valve, we can now see how many games a guide is used across 40 days. For example, for Slark hero builds (2):

  • 453,246 games are played using a Slark hero guide on a daily basis (top 10 guides used)
  • Of that total, 85% (386,000) of those games are played using the Slark builds from this project

In the future, I would like to learn how many Slark games are played daily and compare that to how many of those games use a guide. This would highlight how influential (or not) the guides are to the game.

In my findings, about 73% of all games that use a hero builds, use the project’s Standard version (including Jungle) with heroes like Lone Druid, Tiny, Silencer, Lifestealer and Troll Warlord boasting a claimed percentage of 88%.

However, I am a bit skeptical as I’ve been told that 800k to 2 million games are played daily, yet total # of daily Invoker games using hero builds are 811,848 (32,473,920 total).

Achievements and Challenges


 I consider this year to be the most fruitful in terms of progression for the hero builds. From applying talent additions from Patch 7.00, building the new Hero Build Creator system with Valve and retiring some outdated builds that no longer reflect the meta, the expansion and transition of the Hero Builds to three different systems has made this year incredibly challenging.

  • Expanded the Hero Builds catalog from 150 to 157 Hero Builds
  • Repurposed 11 hero builds (skills and items)
  • Begun live-streaming testing and build update sessions to demonstrate process
  • Stream-lined or removed outdated tool-tip descriptions
    • Items that were no longer part of the guide still retained their description in-game, I’ve hunted and removed them all
    • Additionally, I’ve reduced my workload of writing item/ability descriptions by repeating applicable tooltips for items that share similar utility on multiple hero builds
  • Worked together with Valve on creating the new Hero Build Creator in-client system
  • Opened a public Discord server to further receive feedback and discussion

A lot of the implementations made in 2016 are still maintained today: patch changes are still accounted for, the hero builds title system has kept its new title system (now includes “roamer” as a title class) and /r/HeroBuilds is still a source for archives and serves as a feedback hub.

Working with Valve directly on a new guide system took a few months of discussion, planning, feedback and Q&A testing. It was a wonderful process that reinvigorated my love for the game and hero builds. Visiting their office and meeting some of the team members was a fun and exciting experience.

 

With the new Hero Builds creator system, we were able to make changes that helped promote new guide creators and up-to-date guides while de-emphasizing the popular but outdated versions. Other features were also implemented to make the build-creating process easier for the end-user versus what the web version previously offered. Thus far, there has been an increase in guides being implemented but the number is still in the lower digits: 3-5 maximum (including my own). Nevertheless, the direct communication with Valve on bug issues and fixes has been stupendous and extremely appreciated.

In terms of challenges, the amount of feedback versus the amount of changes needed to be made is widening. Usually, I will receive feedback about 4-5 suggestions every 15 to 30 days whereas changes being made are about 20 to 100 every two weeks. For 5 years, the project has been open to constructive criticism and feedback but over time it has become mostly reliant on my own (limited) understanding, which needs extra effort and time to form. Not being particularly above-average in playing Dota 2, it can be very difficult for me to grow accustom to playing and learning some heroes, especially when each patch completely changes how a hero is played, built or the meta shifts in a different direction that I need to learn and understand.

In 2016, 4,371 changes were made. 2017 almost doubled with over 8,228 changes – but the amount of support in terms of feedback has steadily declined.

 

Future and Motivations


As always, I remain motivated by the kind and generous words of the people who reach out to me on a daily basis. Any time I start to feel bitter, skeptical or frustrated at the efforts needed to update the builds, I go back and read the hundreds of comments, posts and messages I’ve received by people who express their thanks. Just to know that I’ve impacted them in a way that they felt compelled to thank me is incredibly flattering. Making a positive contribution to a beloved game of my life is an incredibly rewarding experience.

I spend a lot of time reading comments and opinions about the Hero Builds, it serves a reminder of who are using these guides instead of an arbitrary number. A lot of good feedback discussed among peers, so I often spend time reading or interacting with the community via Twitch chat, Reddit, Discord servers and Steam Community. Even if someone’s suggestion doesn’t make sense, it may spur on an idea that could totally work. With that in mind, I try to gather as much info as I can.

 

Having said that, finding the time to test hero builds and update them has been increasingly challenging. Mixed with my career, I find myself  generally working 11 hours a day, on top of monthly business-travels and weekend work when necessary. In view of these circumstances, starting 2018, I will no longer be testing the hero builds on a regular basis. Unintentionally for 9 months (2016-2017), I was in the middle of relocating and did not have a computer available to me. No guides were tested during that period and the amount of criticism neither rose nor diminished. I found that in general, the player-base mostly accepts what is presented without much vocal criticism (either they adjust it to their liking or simply use a different guide).

To summarize:

  • Growing responsibilities in full-time job and desire to have a personal life has lead to less available time to frequently update and test the hero builds.
  • Increased # of patches, meta-shifts and # of guides (from 110 to 158) demands more time investment on my side.
    • Reduction in recurring public feedback causes me to have to do more research, playing and testing to better understand heroes I am not familiar with.
  • Paid incentives to long-time contributors did not keep current contributors nor invite new ones to stay for extended months.
    • Previous long-time contributors from LiquidDota mostly refused any amount I wanted to paypal them. They are still free to claim their percentage of the Patron support but as of 2018, the project was terminated due to lack of continued long-time contributors.
    • Patron funds are still tracked and not privately used (there is no need to).
  • Exit plan of either transferring ownership to another guide creator or a dedicated team shows no optimistic route for long-term longevity in consistent quality, updating and information reporting.

The issues with the Hero Builds is a very recognized thing as even Purge makes comment about the difficulty in monetizing this sort of content versus the amount of time it takes to keep them updated (both the preparation and the practice). For the future, there is no set determined path or roadmap in regards to the project. Its continuance is still determined by my interest in the game and my ability to maintain it. Having more feedback or support reduces the amount of day-to-day focus on it. Many people have asked if I considered bringing on someone to take over the project full-time. Sadly, there have been no outstanding candidates that have come forward as the position would require years of significant dedication and the willingness to do it for free. I considered using the paid incentives system of long-time contributors to find a hopeful candidate, but they’ve mostly stopped from making suggestions on a regular basis.

Recently, we’ve been getting contacted by many organizations seeking to acquire the subscriber-base (without understanding that they’re in-game) or looking to sponsor, brand or advertise their product in-game via the Hero Builds (which can be done via the Overview function which permits HTML/Imaging). I’ve been hesitant on this front because of the reputation of these companies and the amount of impressions/views these brands would get (in-game, if valuable at all).

 

Recognition and Thank-yous


Last year (2016), I wrote about this newfound recognition and how it has served a lesson to me to be more mindful of my presence:

If I was overly-critical towards someone in-game, it would persist past the game and try to demonize me as some two-faced person (rather than a person who does get mad when we lose and excited when we win). If a new patch hits and I did not update the guides by their expectations, the amount of spam and private messages received would range from begging to rude demands and threats. There is a lot of expectation for me to be a public model citizen and I suppose that comes with this newly-found recognition. I do not make a living off my personality, project or appearances – yet I have this new responsibility I was not prepared for and maybe selfishly felt I do not owe towards others. I don’t think it’s something I can rebel against, but I will be taking active measures to improve my public conduct.

This year, this recognition grew an even larger role in my life. For starters, I got to attend and be a part of The International 7 broadcast team. You can read about my experience here: Working at The Dota 2 International 7 event. Working in the US has also allowed me to make contributions to my retirement (I currently work in Europe), which is a major step towards stability in my life.

Working TI7 has been a dream come true and connected me with people I would have probably never had the chance to meet before or ever. I made so many friends and connections that and really helped built my confidence.

But before that, I had the opportunity to meet SirActionSlacks and appear on a broadcasted segment at the Kiev Major. As you can probably tell, I am more of a behind-the-scenes kind of person. But after this segment, I had a lot of inquiries about when was the next time I was going to be on a broadcast. Evidently, I did not appear in any more segments or panels because I am naturally not a personality. I firmly believe that all credit people attribute to me (as someone notable or interesting) should actually be going to Jake (Slacks) who is able to contextualize people (in an entertaining way) even when they’re the least comfortable. On-camera and off, he compensates for your shortcomings and either shares or takes the spotlight depending on the person’s comfort level. I dedicated a guide to Jake because I found his personality, both on-camera and off authentic and memorable. You can test the SirActionSlacks’ Omniknight build here: it will remain updated and in his name until the end of the project

People often say to me “I loved you in that Slacks segment, which was hilarious”. However, I’ve yet to watch any of my few moments on broadcast. I prefer the memory of being in that moment than the end-result, whether better/worse than experienced. I also think that phrase shows just how important Slacks is in making context entertaining, regardless of how integrated the guests are (or not).

 

Additionally, the amount of press interviews reached an all-time high, ranging from Polygon’s Flying Courier to GosuGamers to Monster Gaming! I’ve never received such awareness of my brand and work in years and it’s been very surreal to be interviewing about myself and the project. I am hoping to do more in the future and appreciate those who took an interest in me.

 

DopaTwo gave me a small cameo in his Terrorblade video!  

 

As for the result of this recognition, it has not changed much in my work or who I am. I believe people care more about my project than who I am as a person, which is both great and unfortunate. It means that doing more than this project is very difficult to draw exposure/interest through my social media channels but it also means I can still focus on what I want to do and the project can remain a passion project rather than a forced full-time career at the cost of appreciated friends/fans.

 


This completes the Year-in-Review for this year. One thing I do want to mention is the generous Patrons of 2017. Sometimes I am slow or late with rewards or follow-up on discussion when in my Discord channel and they have never complained or mentioned any doubts in their support to this project.

The amount of people who continue to support me has been amazing. There have been people who have been supporting me since the project’s Patreon launch in December, 2015 and I try to credit them every time I make a post about the Hero Builds, try to show the world how amazing this group of people are. Now with my livestream and Discord server, I can talk to them daily about Dota 2, life, games and more. I always wanted to have a small community of my own and now I have it, surrounded by great and supportive people. It’s been great and there’s nothing I would ever trade this for.

 

Michael ‘Torte de Lini’ Cohen


Twitter: @TorteDeLini

Patreon/Torte

/r/HeroBuilds

Dota 2 Hero Builds Hub

Discord: Spaghetti, Meet Balls