Why I don’t play competitive games any more

This post is more of a personal one and contains a brief insight into my relationship with gaming and perhaps even perspective on why I enjoy esports more so than engaging in esports activities (competitive games).

The short-answer to my title’s question is because I realized I put too much emphasis and self-value on my achievements in games that ultimately hurt my day-to-day emotions and productivity. In other words, instead of seeking healthy routines to balance my gaming hobby, I often equated my pro-activity with my rank and gains in Dota 2,AutoChess, Overwatch, etc.

If I didn’t gain any new ranks or often found myself losing many games, I would feel my day was lost/wasted and get frustrated with myself, rage and attack my teammates for not meeting my expectations. Additionally, I found that when I was not playing, I was often obsessing about my rank and grew insecure about my public placement even though it has no real-world value, attachment or consequence. Lastly, I often felt that my desire to play games was not for the enjoyment of the gameplay but rather for the psychological feeling of succeeding in my quest to play stronger teammates and earn a ranking that I would be proud of.

Combined, I have 13,769 hours of total playtime – approximately 1.5 years of my life spent playing competitive games (more if we include other platforms/games outside Steam).

This is not to say I don’t play multiplayer or competitive games. I still enjoy Dota 2, Artifact, Dota AutoChess, Counter-Strike, Rainbow Six: Siege and more, but only unranked modes. I still heavily enjoy these games but my ability to detach from them at any point, with the understanding to realize that a loss or win does not persist into future experiences or outside the game alleviates me from a lot of stress, frustration and irritability that should not come from a leisure activity. I feel a lot of people also suffer from a similar obsession, where instead of seeking to expand their life, activities and day-to-day routines, they try to substitute it with progression a video-game that may lead them to getting frustrated and creating a unhealthy image about themselves. On the flip-side, there are people who do have healthy point-of-views of themselves and enjoy the challenge, additional emphasis in games due to persistent rankings and more – but not everyone. One areas I wish esports did better is educate its fans on the balanced lifestyle you should seek and maintaining a healthy environment.

As of recently, I’ve re-installed Team Fortress 2 and have ceased playing Dota AutoChess as I saw myself transform from someone who enjoys leisurely learning and playing a new game to waking up and immediately trying to gain ranks – ultimately deterring me from my actual work and responsibilities. With Team Fortress 2, I can casually stop and play whenever I want. And whenever I find myself getting bored, I make the active effort to do something pro-active with my day, such as writing this article or even exercising.

The truth of the matter is that I don’t actually need progression or ranked games to fulfill my enjoyment of playing video games. I just need to realize that I actually want to do more with my days than playing video games for an arbitrary rank that will never be good enough for me or the people who incessantly judge me because I do not meet their standards.

In my few years playing Dota 2, I’ve played ranked 3 times and reached several levels. But to others, it’ll never be enough and it’s a constant battle to realize that your pride is not dictated by the judgement or thoughts of others. Often times, the reasons they’re judging you is for their own reasons rather than an objective and honest opinion about your self-worth.

When I refer to judgemental others, it is often those who seek to tear down my personal projects like the Dota 2 Hero Builds. Who often label me as X rank (in a negative way) and not fit to publicly do something that no one else is pro-actively doing anyways (making popular hero builds for millions of users). It takes an active effort to forget about these people. That their active search to tear others down is more of a projection of their own insecurities. That someone who does (publicly) anything they love and enjoy, only reveals just how inactive or unaccomplished they are. This sounds like a ‘haters gon’ hate’ kind of rhetoric but it, too, is a projection of how I see my younger self. A time when I was full of anxiety (turned hate), concern of others, their work (instead of focusing my own lack of things to do/be passionate about). It was a time where I was in university, with a blank CV and the future scared me because I thought it was filled with endless uncertainty rather than opportunity to becoming anything.

From 2004 to now, I’ve been playing Dota 2 without really partaking in ranked and it hasn’t hindered my passion. In fact, my lack of a rank freely allows me to do as I please and at a rate I personally enjoy rather than indulging the idea that this is a job of which there is no full-time pay or support for. To summarize, as obvious as this may be, play the games you want at the pace you want. If you see yourself getting excessively violent, moody and angry playing a competitive game – it might be time to reconsider how you use your time and how you want to spend your life. No one really cares about your rank or your worth in a video-game except to remind you that you’re not worthy (and that is if you are doing anything remotely public that may affect them). I often think about exercising: the more you work out, the better you feel and appear (more or less) whereas when you play a ranked game in Dota 2 or Counter-Strike, you are not inherently guaranteed to go up in ranks. This is often a mistaken equivalency when in reality, working out and becoming more fit is equal to playing a ranked game and win or lose, you will have enjoyed the game or have learned from a mistake you made (which we sometimes forget to reflect on).

Esports is still searching for its identity

In 2013, I wrote how esports is not a sport but a competition with the make-up, values and even dedication of sports. My thesis was simple: “Overall, I feel that comparing eSports to professional mainstream sports can be a poor perspective that ultimately narrows potential and shapes it to be something it cannot feasibly become.

On the flipside, esports can be something more because it taps into two pools of consumers and markets: mainstream gaming consumerism and live sports spectating (which has sales ranging from merchandise, celebrity culture, brand activation, media rights sales and more).

What I am alluding to is the concern that we (as an industry) are using sports as an expectation to what we expect this crossing of two sectors to be. Instead, we should continue to use the ‘sports’ comparison as a selling tool to better summarize what esports envisions for non-endemic brands. This was as much of a concern back in 2013 as it is now.

We call competitive gaming “eSports” because it summarizes and eases outsiders into the idea of e-athletes. Even if someone had no idea what playing video-games at a competitive level was or what it entailed, these tournament events are gaming expositions that help show the appeal of watching someone do something better than you (better technique, strategy, approach, etc). The importance of the atmosphere mimicking that of Football stadiums or Hockey rinks is the ultimate goal and titling eSports as a sport helps push the idea further.

Once we can all agree and accept that esports can be like sports but is better suited to accommodate and tap into both consumer markets (stated above), the better it can be established as a viable market for investment without the disclaimer that investors may not see a return for the next 5 to 10 years. In addition, it can also provide more liberties for developers to be involved in esports without having to follow the current regiments and expectations esports companies, pundits and experts are pushing for. Some vocal pundits and experts are ready to dismiss certain forms of esports platforms, styles and approach because it does not fit an established tradition narrative that esports is

Esports does not return on investment

In general, esports does not return on investment. It is often a general public’s misinterpretation that large investments must mean the company is doing well and on-track to make a return but often times it is a doubling-down in hopes that these brands will become profitable and more importantly, an established brand for (if and) when the esports sector becomes an multi-billion dollar industry. That expectation stems from how esports is being sold to investors as a sports comparison as well as its heavy dependency on the gaming industry, which has been on the rise for the past decade and generating more revenue than most other entertainment industries (on par with the global box office)

NRG and other major brands have pulled in some great and amazing people to their brands for the hopeful future of a successful and established esports industry. Now everyone must manage their brands for the long-haul and continue to compete with other majorly-invested teams and organizations.

So in reality, nearly everyone agrees that esports has potential and that agreement is spreading to mainstream markets, members and brands. There is profit to be made but not enough to justify the massive amounts of investments being made. These investments are actually made to not only explore the reach and potential of esports for companies but also to help them expand into markets they would either be unable to reach within a reasonable time-frame. For instance, with ESL’s newly-found investment with MTG, they sought the value of media rights and sales while also creating events in regions they had only attempted once or twice before (Asia/Oceania). The results and profit margins have been mixed.

Esports can be just marketing & community engagement

Ultimately, my goal in this piece is to remind everyone the reality of the situation and to remove any sense of gate-keeping some pundits have in framing companies’ attempt at esports as being poor or unjustified when in reality, everyone is trying new things to justify their continued involvement in esports.

This goes for everyone, including game developers. Riot Games loses tens of millions of dollars running the LCS each year. In recent years, they have sought to cut down on a lot of extraneous costs to further justify running the circuit despite League of Legends, as a game, dipping in returns year-over-year. When the LCS was launched, it was just an exploratory idea no different than what Fortnite and Epic Games are attempting now and what Nintendo has in mind.

Nintendo always focuses more on its community and audience rather than setting the bar in terms of prize-money and thus, legitimacy of their scene. This is just one of the many ways developers are approaching competitions, penned as ‘esports’, as part of their marketing and community engagement.

All these developers are just exploring the value of esports to further emphasize, distinguish and invite traditional players to their product. A perfect example of this is the fact that a new Call of Duty is released each year despite these annual releases being a deterrent to the sustainability of their esports scene as a whole (instability). Another example is Fortnite and Nintendo hosting events that may not be the strictest form of esports by today’s expectations (items on in Super Smash or releasing a new weapon in Fortnite the same day as the tournament). Some of it is due to inexperience, other reasons also include that esports does not take precedence to the priority of mainstream gaming markets and consumers. Everyone knows this but we sometimes forget that esports is simply a subculture to mainstream gaming.

Conclusion: the goal should be justified sustainability

Esports’ identity is in flux because its viability and potential for all companies involved (tournament organizers, sponsors, investors, game developers, players and more) has not been definitively explored to its fullest potential. As esports goes through its growing pains to eventually settle on its marketplace, it’s important to avoid criticizing brands who take a risk and rather seek to better understand how to make that approach the most viable and most importantly, sustainable for the long-term. Esports may become this professionally-driven and international industry or it may become a localized affair of friendly competitions with part-time pro-gamers who are also finishing their degree. Esports may be a blend of both of those and I think it’s important to be realistic about its eventual path.

Lessons from Esports Start-ups: Part 2

During my nine years in esports, I’ve worked for over 13 esports startups across six titles and alongside nine national work cultures. I’ve experienced a lot of personal successes, professional failures and lessons. Although the products and services we have put out had a varied probability of success, I often found that there were lingering issues or concerns that ended up deeply plaguing the company and the members involved.

Within this two-part series, I will draw upon my experiences to highlight common mis-steps startups approach esports, their businesses and some common pitfalls in their operations that ultimately lead to their downfall. This article will be more anecdotal and qualitative than quantitative. It goes without saying that what I may say is true for the businesses I worked with but may not be applicable to all current, past or future businesses. It’s recommended you take the lessons and advice listed here and critically think about how they apply (or not) to your work and experiences.

In Part 1, I drew upon three example companies I’ve worked with to highlight controlling investor expectations, key communication lines with your investor to manage expectations and sensible budgeting to ensure short and long-term viability within this volatile industry.

In part 2, I will talk about internal factors that can hurt a brand more so than how it projects itself, and its successes, to be.

Company Atmosphere & Infrastructure

Beyond the circumstances and communication you have with your investors, some common struggles I’ve experienced with start-ups range from creating a good company atmosphere to an understandable staff infrastructure. From 10 employees to more than 400, it is very common to see company communication lines dissolved or remain poorly enforced over time as leaders get focused too hard on their goals and not so much on maintaining the mood of their offices.

Company atmosphere is important, that goes without saying. In esports where salaries may be lower (depending on your region) and your staffing is much more tight-knit, that company atmosphere can help distinguish your company and compensate the difference in benefits or salary ranges that other companies are offering. However, company atmosphere doesn’t just mean group-activities or pizza lunches every month but rather more towards having leadership with the appropriate experience that managers and coordinators can learn a lot from.

I often ask in my interviews with companies on what a person working with them could learn from working in this company, with their leadership. Their first answer is experience but in reality, that experience is only valued if it has lessons the person can draw from, techniques or systems that can be introduced to the staff or contacts/relationships that a staff member would normally not be able to get. Simply put, your leaders must be able to grow their staff to become specialized individuals. I feel that in esports, people often highlight their experience as justification for their role when, in reality, that experience implies what mentoring, connections and education you can provide to newer members in the field. Leaders with appropriate experience and attitudes heavily affect the type of employees that surround them and ultimately compose your company’s environment. Here are some leader examples I have personally experienced:

  1. Executive staff were often not present in their own company offices. For example, the CEO did not live in the same country as the residing company or staff but was often flown in regularly.
  2. COO fired volunteer staff because some members’ other volunteer projects competed with a potential brand partnership.
  3. Executive leadership was not able to communicate with the majority of their staff due to a language barrier. They relied on translators to speak on their behalf. Connecting with the executive leadership was difficult, leading to many staff members have little faith in his words during harsh times.
  4. Multiple overlapping leaders gave conflicting orders and reasons, leading to staff members feeling deflated and unequipped. This created a frustrated atmosphere that disassembled the brand.
  5. Leader was not permitted a decent budget to hire expert staff members, relying on assistants to help on projects that were beyond their depth and ability. The leader often used a lot of their time to assist these assistant instead of fulfilling his intended hired responsibilities.

For leaders, having a staff team that can provide more than just ‘bodies’ to a task can mean reducing the amount of time for your product/service to come into fruition, ultimately lowering your operations cost and meeting client or internal expectations of delivery.

On the flip-side, having too many leaders with not enough specialized team members can lead to a lot of discussion and little action or little ability to fulfill actions without confrontation between involved leaders. An ideal infrastructure scales in accordance with the brand’s services or platform but also relies on specialized employees to help deliver an end-result.Too little expert infrastructure

For many esports brands that are receiving large rounds of investment and scale without appropriately looking at how to optimize their current staff may often find redundancies in their workmanship that can slow a task rather than hasten its completion.

Awareness versus Actual Success

Something I see a lot with recent brands, especially during the live-streaming competing brands and fantasy betting platforms is the PR cycles with actual very little results to display. You often see these sites tout around their CEOs, making large or redundant opinions without much news cycles regarding the actual success of their brand.

Despite numerous press releases and appearances by the CEO of Azubu. The actual performance, revenue generated or value of the live-streaming platform and brand was declining quickly. This is not a unique situation that many company will encounter.

Gathering a lot of awareness for a brand to compensate for its actual successes often has a reverse effect within some gossiping business circles. They can often perceive the projection you’re setting and if not, your staff members may undermine you by speaking honestly (yet with frustration) to colleagues within the industry about the decline of their brand.

Seeking PR Exposure for your brand without being able to actually deliver a desirable product is something so basic and yet so many brands try to continue marching on in their business cycles without actually executing their main goals and services.Critical of the current competitors to dismiss their success before you’ve even launched

Lastly, before launch of your company or brand, it’s heavily recommended not to talk down about the current company. Nor is it wise to use the failings of another company as a justification to start a competitor, especially if you are unable to match or mirror the qualities and value that the leading competitor has. I often found myself among circles of people criticizing other established brands before they, themselves, have launched. Be wary of the tone you are setting up internally and the perspective you are spreading within your team, you will find yourself often obsessive about how much better you are than another company, when in reality, they have achieved so much more than you can in the first few years after launch.