8 Years, 450 Million (2020): Dota Builds Project Year-in-Review

This is the 8th annual Year-in-Review for my personal project: The Standard Dota Hero Builds. You can review the archives of the previous years here. Note that images may appear smaller than legible – click on them to get a closer look.

The Standard Hero Builds Project is a personal product of in-game Dota 2 guides that helps new players learn how to play their characters. Over 163 guides are created and routinely maintained with helpful tips and roadmap on itemization and skill recommendations.

It’s been long overdue for me to post an annual update about my hero builds project and this year has been a massive leap forward in terms of growth, achievements and discovery. 2020-2021 has also been the most mentally challenging and exploratory year (thanks to COVID) in understanding what I want to do, can do and what makes me happy both with Dota and in general.

Within this review, I will outline some key statistics, iterate on some established guide-making policies I outlined in 2014-2015, my new sponsor and talk about myself.

Stats

Regarding this year’s statistics, results were tracked up until 2021 despite this being a review of 2019 to 2020. Sincere thanks to my friend, James Hu, for helping me with managing the data and its results.

Year-over-Year Growth

Between February 2013 to May 2021, the guides have reached over 450 million subscriptions. Approximately 25 to 35 million new subscribers come in annually with individual guides like Phantom Assassin hitting 5.5 Million unique subscribers and the average across all 163 guides is 2.8 Million per. It gives me great pride to think that my guides are among the most subscribed resources on the Steam platform.

Market Share

From what we were able to simulate, approximately 89.64% of all daily Dota matches use one or more of my guides. The percentages represented show the likelihood of 1 to 9 guides simultaneously being used during any match. For reference, 2018 was 82.67% and 2019 grew to 82.96%. Key difference from last year’s findings is that we used global population data from Stratz to determine our findings. Previously, we relied on Dotabuff but they do not track all modes per hero-usage percentages (e.g. not counting Turbo or bot games), thus leading to a lower and inaccurate results.

Total Games Played

For every new subscription, we can assume a player at least viewed and subscribed to a guide once. However, subscriptions do not necessarily mean my guides are being played with regularly. This is where the ‘Games Played‘ statistic comes in as that would indicate active continuous usage of a guide (i.e: “impressions”). Since 2013, over 2.5 billion matches have been played using my guides. If you’re curious which heroes have the most played games using my guides: Invoker (69 million combined), Pudge (59 million), Phantom Assassin (58 million), Juggernaut (57 million), Sniper (54 million combined)

Thoughts

My guides are trusted by millions of people for billions of matches. I am both proud and intimidated of this reality. That said, I rarely think about it because the truth is that my unique position is a duality of both importance and insignificance in the grand scheme of a whole match. In other words, the choosing of my guides is a simple three-second decision for players, in a match that can last over 45 minutes of choices, strategy and challenges. However, my guides are the choice people go within that three second time-frame. This whole thought-process detracts from the bottom-line that this passion project can only continue if it comes from my own self-interest and not the interpretative importance for a video game.

These guides are a tool, similar to a bucket or a shovel. They will help a player dig efficiently, but the effort, planning and knowledge comes from the person themselves. For a more concrete example, I always say that if OpenAI can win against professional teams using my guides, either my guides are the greatest gift in Dota, or evidently, there is more to a win or loss than if someone is using my guides (or any guides for that matter). Regardless, the trust I’ve earned among my subscribers is something I cherish deeply and continues to motivate me into improving my work and service. Thank you for your trust and continued support.

Recognitions

From the Newcomer Stream to OpenAI to part of the Dota 2 Tutorial!

Thanks to Tora and the rest of the modding team, I am now part of the official Dota 2 Tutorial resources! In case you were wondering, that photo of me is over 7 years old. Lastly, my publishings regarding the Dota Esports scene received positive comments and appreciation from key industry groups. Also, my 2019 piece on New Player Experience Suggestions was also well-received.

I don’t know how many of my ideas were implemented in Valve’s “New Player Experience” update but I was so happy to see the game finally improved for new-coming players.

Welcome SteelSeries!

I am excited to announce my partnership with SteelSeries! I’ve known of and been a fan of SteelSeries for most of my esports career and gaming life: of the past decade:

  • My first gaming headset was a (red) Siberia V2.
  • Sponsored my favourite players and teams back in Warcraft III and StarCraft II (Grubby & Evil Geniuses).
  • I got to meet and interview Dendi in their offices in Denmark many years ago.

Many parts of my career have been connected with SteelSeries and now, my passion project inks a new chapter with them. SteelSeries has been an active supporter of Dota 2 events, pro-teams and players for years and I’m honored to have my passion and work for Dota 2 directly trusted and supported by SteelSeries.

Process & Policies

Every year I publish approximately 40,000 changes to the guides. That does not include the hundreds of thousands of changes revolving around tooltip texts nor the work in re-checking guides that remain updated (and need no further modifications). Lastly, since January 2020 (approximately 75 weeks straight), I have been providing weekly announced updates and changes to my hero builds to ensure consistency and pro-activity in keeping them updated. You can view them on my twitter:

Evidently, these announced changes don’t make note of the hero builds I’ve reviewed and found no changes to be made. These are only the ones I’ve found changes needing to be made.

Guide-Updating Process

I have assumed for too long that people knew how these guides were created and maintained. Though I announce weekly changes, the work is constant and daily. To summarize, these guides should be viewed as a product/service and I am the manager and researcher of them. I get feedback from pro-players and active guide-users, watch replays and pro-matches, play-test the guides, review builds based on statistical patterns from databases and then implement key changes routinely. It’s a system that strives to reach a standard of acceptance while fitting the high-level expectations of a large and varied audience. Like the manager of a restaurant, I actively eat and try my own food (recommended builds) and let the chefs (high-level matches and meta) determine what should be on the menu (guides). In terms of feedback, it’s been sparse for many years now and so I have to actively search on message boards for contributory criticisms and suggestions.

One thing I will note is that sometimes stats websites can be inaccurate or slow in their summaries compared to the meta. Even on Dota2ProTracker, Dotabuff or Stratz; what’s recommended is not always reflective of the ideal way to play the hero in that it lacks context of the match(es) it is drawing conclusions from, or worse, it is not noticing a new trend of talent choices, synergy or itemization until more data comes in. There is a manual process I spend significant time to, ideally, avoid the pitfalls of over-relying on statistics without proper meaning behind the results. This is why feedback and outreaching communication is key. Lastly, play-testing guides myself helps tailor them more comfortably for the average player (myself being one of them) in areas like mana management and sufficient regen. during the laning stage.

Reviewing 2015 Guide-Making Policies

I realize that the policies I wrote in 2015 are probably not known to today’s audience. For the most part, most of these rules set in place for the guides still remain since:

  • All guides aim to be updated within the first 48 hours if a large patch is released. After that, a second, more thorough, update is passed across two weeks. This original schedule was due to public pressure but now its become an obsessive habit.
  • Hero Builds are constructed under the assumption that the player is performing well.
    • Situational Tab alleviates potential challenges and adversities if the player is underperforming.
  • Maximum of six items per slot (Extension, Situational, Core, Early Game) to reduce burdening the player with too much choice and to emphasize the more popularly strategic items.
  • Tooltips avoid repetition from the main descriptor and contextualize the item’s goals or its synergies with the hero.

New Policies

For the most part, these policies aren’t new – I just never explicitly mentioned them in my annual reviews:

Dual Core Builds
Monkey’s Core Build includes both BFury and Maelstrom setups.

Dual Core Builds in one guide are still relatively popular to maximize the offerings for players in one guide. When a standard playstyle is diverging into two styles, I split a guide into two Core builds to provide structure to the player whether they’re having a ‘good’ game or need something specific.

For some heroes, their Core Items are always the same but their late-game choices are split into two camps for players to consider.
Instructional Tabs

In my 2015 post, I outlined that the Core section of a guide typically consists of mandatory purchases while the Extension section consists of situation-dependent items in the late-game. It only took me six years to realize that this is not immediately clear for new players. The tab titles now reflect how each tab should be read and considered. It’s small, but the effect is massive and instructional.

Furthermore, I’ve included more information in a guide’s titles like “Pos 4” or “Middle” to help orient players to the correct role or lane.

Starting, Early and Core are all sequentially recommended while Situational Items are to per-scenario substitutitions, including or after a player’s Core Items purchasing. Extension is per every player’s choice with no priority ordering.
More Core Items for More Extension Items, but Less Overall

I have started moving key late-game items into the ‘Core‘ tab of the guides. Not only were these late-game items purchased more than any other item but usually they are purchased after the previously recommended Core Items. I’ve also reduced Situational Items for most guides as they obfuscated key items that players would be usually considering. However, with more room on each tab, I’ve added alternative boots choices (previously I did not do this).

Overall, this transitioned the guides to being less of a menu of choices and more instructional for a larger part of a player’s match. This also opened up more room for Extension Items recommendations like Aghanim’s Shard without breaking my ‘max 6 items per tab‘ policy. I am unsure if players have noticed this shift but it may feel limiting until I re-populate some guides appropriately.

Annual Text Revisions

As announced across community channels, I do an annual text revision to re-align any missing information (or misinformation) of the guides’ items and ability tool-tips. That’s about 4,700 items, 650 abilities and 260,000 words written. With each iteration, I re-check for inaccuracies, tighten language and add more context to an item relative to the hero’s function.

I am not sure if I announce the changes every year, but the work is definitely done on an annual basis and takes me about 3-4 months of daily work.

Future Considerations

There are two more areas I am considering of adding to the guides for more value:

  1. Luxury Tab: With the introduction of the Aghanim’s Shard and my hard-cap of 6 items per slot, I am thinking of bringing back the ‘Luxury‘ tab to further segment late-game items and even more situational late-game alternatives.
  2. Hero Play-style Instructions: The one thing the guide cannot do is tell players how to play their hero. But what if I included a snippet of information in a tooltip as a reference guide? This could prove useful for players in fully grasping the full-range of a hero’s abilities and what to do for each aspect of the hero’s role and capabilities.

If you’re reading this and actively use my guides, let me know this would be of interest to you.

Could even include a YouTube link here for further elaboration.

Personal Thoughts & Future

Over the years, I’ve come to be more selective with who and how I communicate. More importantly though, I’ve come to the conclusion that, like everything else in life, what I do and say should be for my own (mental) benefit rather than in convincing others’ minds/opinions. When providing a service to others, it can be conflicting to prioritize yourself while also being accommodating.

Playing Dota with a Purpose

Although I’ve played over 8,300 matches and given over 10,000 hours to Dota 2, I have long stopped playing to exclusively win. That’s not to say I don’t play every match with that same determination but rather there are alternative goals such as testing guides, learning a new hero, meta, etc. that are my focus. Long ago, I’ve realized that putting too much emotional stock in winning leads to more frustration than satisfaction. Given I grew up playing DotA as a custom game in Warcraft III, with no ladder in-place at the time, I continued that mindset by just not getting involved with ranked, Dota+, event modes or the annual TI battle passes. My stance is that by avoiding long-term progression systems, my feelings stemming from a match ends with its result. Any feeling to play more is not tied to an obsession to unlock an item or reach a higher rank. Instead, it’s based purely on the idea of my enjoyment of the game and the matches. I cannot change how I am affected by these systems so my only option is to self-preserve. To add, by including other goals like testing guides or learning heroes, I de-emphasize the importance of winning with other takeaways. In a sense, I am enjoying Dota only for Dota.

I’ve found that anonymous mode protects me (and others from me). I noticed a lot of interactions tend to be a mixed bag of positive and negative emotions (both initial and subsequent). By completely removing all receiving communication, my emotional investment in each match is reduced and I opt out of the psychology of Dota where enemies and allies goad one another. I still communicate what I can on my end, but I put the onus of being muted on others.

This opting out has helped limit my day-to-day consequential moods. When I lose, I can just stop playing rather than feeling obligated to grind when unhappy or dissatisfied (which, in turn, affects others by my own frustration). Personally, I do not possess much curiosity about my personal skill-level, and exploring new hobbies instead increases that disinterest to know. All this said, testing guides still leads to a lot of losses and I still lose my head in certain moments. Learning to deal with that and recognizing problematic behavior takes time even with the ideal environment. No matter how much I grow, it will always take a conscious effort and maturity to step back from a heated moment and let go for the benefit of your well-being and of others.

Live-Streaming & Content-Creation

Whenever I do anything in my free time, I do it with a purpose to achieve multiple goals at once. In 2020, I started streaming my Dota matches more frequently. With streaming, I achieve multiple goals:

  • Meet like-minded Dota players and get community feedback.
    • Embrace a more socially-forward and less anxiously awkward personality to larger groups.
  • Openly test hero builds and display the process to update them (and its challenges).
  • Fill a lot of free time during COVID, especially when I live in a foreign country, where I don’t know too many people.
  • Use it as an outlet to express frustration when a match goes poorly (and/or I play especially bad).
    • especially useful as those who complain and flame in-game tend to worsen their teammates’ experiences.
  • Grow marketable content-platforms for further sponsorship interest/expansion.
  • Personal development, research, and exploration in light of new health situations
Since I started streaming in Feb. 2020, my channel’s followers and total views have jumped 52% and 40% respectively. Streaming still remains a part of my free-time (like Dota and the guides) and not a priority in view of my other projects. Because of this, CCV remains low and requires more effort on my part.

Lastly, in the past year, I’ve finished over 50 different single-player games, learning a lot about different genres, gameplay types, game design and writing narratives. It’s been fun to explore and experience this with a tight-knit group of friends, viewers and community. I really enjoy the aspect of player behavior and how games orient, model or improve behavior in the game. This enjoyment lines up with the hero builds, where finding the optimal approach to teach and help players learn how to play Dota, within a limited scope of inflexible guides, is both a challenge and passion.

Life & Future

Professional Work

In terms of professional work, it has been an investigative year of determining what I want to do and what industry I want to continue to work in. After 2019, my affairs were wrapped up with StarLadder and marketing for the PUBG Europe League and CS:GO Major: Berlin. In 2020, I completed my consultancy of the GosuGamers.net sale – the second acquisition in my career. For 2021, I’m continuing to provide strategic leadership consultation in gaming and esports for new brands, investors, companies and executive headhunting firms. The biggest challenge has been understanding what role I want to be in long-term, as my ambitions have always been in the goals of a product or service, and not in specific responsibilities or job titles. My current conflict is that I want to be integral to both the creative process in shaping something (a game, platform or other) and I want to give my expertise to a sound business/marketing strategy for the organization. From my initial findings, only start-ups offer this much job-role fluidity. For 2021, I’ve been asked to help fund-raise for a start-up outside gaming and esports as well.

PUBG Europe League schedule and standings explained
A Return to Education

On top of the sponsored guides work, live-streaming, guide play-testing, fund-raising start-ups and my consultancies, I started re-examining my education and interest in new learning skills. Below is an outline of what I’ve explored or am currently learning since 2020.

  • Video Editing: I’ve been using my Twitter & YouTube to test some basic editing and understanding Adobe Premiere. The announcement video is one such example.
  • Completed 14 certificates and certifications in digital marketing and SEO to round out my professional knowledge.
  • Piano: I have always loved but was intimidated by this instrument. I had learned Clarinet, Trumpet and Saxophone as a child but they were of little help when getting accustomed to piano.
  • Currently completing my Executive MBA: A two-year diploma for working professionals to certify what my professional experience aligns with the traditional education of the business world. By 2023, I hope to have completed this fourth (and final) diploma.
  • C# & Unity Engine: I spent a few months understanding these areas before losing interest.
25 years later, I am still that multi-ethnic kid of a refugee restarting his life and future one last time.

Conclusions

My Hero Builds project remains a star in my sky that I look up with pride. However, I am no astronomer and I cannot spend the rest of my life looking at that gaseous glimmer, hoping my world sticks around to admire it. This past year, I’ve tried to paint some new lights to look up in wonder and soon explore. This is my launchpad to a balanced and satisfied life, staying occupied and in search of the new. Sincere thanks to the friends, fans and supporters that continue to guide me through thick and thin.

Dedicated to my friend and mentor, Oleg Kogut. You are missed and thought of everyday.

Omega League paid up to $500,000 to teams for exclusive participation

WePlay! and Epic Esports Events present: OMEGA League!

*This article is a follow-up of the previous article: “Omega League: revenue share between teams & tournaments”

A few weeks ago, I released insights outlining that teams were sending revenue share RFPs to various tournament organizations from the start of the COVID-19 season (after WePlay expressed interest in revenue share with teams after Mad Moon). While most tournament organizations agreed, including OGA, WePlay and ESL, the new Omega League is different. Usually, tournaments are proposed and organized by a tournament company, Omega League is organized and pitched by a collective of EU teams.

How Omega League came about

Back in early Summer, teams set out to look for a partner to start a league. The proposal asked for a minimum of 1 million prize-pool and inclusion of a minimum of 10 team organizations: Na’Vi, EG, Alliance, Nigma, Liquid, NiP, OG, Secret and later on Virtus.pro, FlyToMoon. The goal was to have a league during the prime days of where The International was intended to be. This league would also serve as a case-study for more sustainable Dota business esports ecosystem as mentioned in my previous article.

While this proposal was sent to a number of organizations, WePlay and Epic Esports Events [EEE] (the makers of Epicenter and part of ESforce Holding) were keen to execute this league and sought to share costs. The Omega League agreement for this league event expects a 10% revenue share where all generated revenue from the tournament (sponsors, media rights deals, betting and more) is split: 90% to the tournament and 10% among the founding teams. Additionally, the proposal seeks a $500,000 as minimum guarantee payment to the founding teams. In other words, to execute this league, a $500,000 payment is expected to be made to the teams organizations (50,000 each).

To note, it is confirmed that Omega League paid an amount to teams to exclusively participate in the Omega League. Though the final agreed amount is not publicly confirmed, it leans towards approximately $500,000. Additionally, EEE, specifically, is expected to directly pay the teams but it is not confirmed if WePlay is making contributions to this payment fee.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-12.png
On Gorgc’s stream, it was noted that OG were now co-organizing the tournament. It was never clarified publicly how the teams involved were co-organizing. The reality is that they (with other major EU teams) are the ones proposing the tournament structure, prize-pool and invited teams while WePlay and EEE (Epic Esports Events) execute and seek sponsors.

The Terms

Though the finalized agreed terms are subject to the change, what was proposed by teams are these main points:

  1. 10 teams agree to exclusively play in this tournament for a duration of 1-2 months
  2. A minimum 1 million dollar prize-pool (Omega League is $650,000)
  3. A minimum guarantee payment of $500,000
  4. If tournament/league hit their KPIs, teams will endorse the tournament organizer for DPC events to Valve
    1. teams will also prioritize the organizer over others during non-DPC events
  5. Possibility of a second season if DPC does not kick off

In my original article, I discussed the strategic goals & outcomes for each party to create the Omega League. Now with new information coming to light, it is increasingly clear what each party seeks out of this partnership.

  • For WePlay, it is a shot at larger events, leagues and potential revenue/sponsorship they are currently not reaching.
  • For Epicenter & ESforce, it is a stronger likelihood they may receive a Major event, guaranteeing a profit to help them survive another year. Additionally, it gives RuHub much needed viewership since the Maincast take-over of ESL/DH events.
  • For teams, it goes without saying that it off-sets some of the costs they don’t earn back in Dota while also leveraging their influence to seek a more equalized esports industry.
OMEGA League Europe Immortal Division - the main course is served
The initial list of invited teams are evidently the founding partners for this event, each receiving approximately $50,000 each in a minimum guarantee.

To re-iterate the current situation for team organizations involved in Dota:

For teams, this is the first step towards a sustainable future for Dota. At the moment, teams are nearly powerless compared to the stronger influence and involvement they have with League of Legends, Counter-Strike and other games (not saying it’s perfect over there either). Teams earn about 10-20% of all prize-revenue but can pay up to 400,000+ (or more – pre-COVID) in player salaries on top of lodging, food, visas, services and more. To add, Dota players are less willing to do sponsor-related activities compared to players in other games, causing sponsors to look elsewhere for cooperative opportunities (e.g: League of Legends, streaming, etc.). This causes an uncomfortable position for teams where they cannot capitalize on the success of their Dota squad for future sponsorship. Teams earn nearly nothing from that success and depending on the level of success (or lack of) of their roster, a team can lose their entire brand power in Dota if the roster dissolves or moves on.

August 10, 2020
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With the DPC system now officially undecided, season 2 Omega League is very likely to happen. Competing tournament organizers now seeking to fill the rest of the calendar year will now be considered second to the Omega League. If the priority system was tiered into two between DPC and non-DPC events, it has now split again with the inclusion of the Omega League as a priority for teams.

WePlay Operating at a Loss

WePlay has been one of the best Dota event organizers in recent years. Their spending on cutting-edge technology, set designs, and providing top-of-the-line accommodation has made everyone happy with their involvement. That said, their profitability metrics have been at a loss each quarter. Operation and production costs per WePlay event is an estimated ~$1-1.5 Million and their revenue for Omega League is below 500,000. For Omega League, the cost could be more, accounting for human resources & studio rental (to note that some production costs are split between ESForce & WePlay). Their streaming rights deal with Chinese platforms is about $200,000 and sponsors have outright said that the sponsorship costs are too high (their current sponsor pays between 15 to $20,000). In terms of betting, they’ve accepted a $100,000 offer.

For WePlay, this is a necessary loss to demonstrate how their product stands out from the rest (not just in Dota) but also to garner favour among casters, players, teams and ultimately developers (Valve). In short, it’s theorized that it’s a territory move to outlast competing TOs.

For teams, the minimum guarantee is to compensate for the obvious lack of actual revenue generated from the rev. share agreement (approximately $30,000 or <10%).

Conclusion

The exclusive information provided here and from the previous article are still with the same goal.

This article purely aims to inform audiences about the current business inner-workings within the Dota 2 scene. If Valve draws decisions based on what fans and players call for, then the only solution to a better Dota scene is to inform that public of the struggles, growth, success and challenges esports faces.

The Omega League is a step for teams to generate revenue for a game that faces a systemic challenge of finding a reliable ecosystem. It is also a demonstration of trying for consistency in quality, production, story-telling and business collaboration. If you compare Dota to the games that teams are moving towards: PUBG Mobile, League of Legends and Rocket League, you see a consistency of exposure, potential and results (whether lost or not).

August 10, 2020

If you are having trouble how to interpret this information as good or bad, it is purely a systemic effect of COVID and the DPC system. There is no clear solution to the DPC circuit’s current situation and writing the possibilities would require a whole ‘nother article. Having worked and spoken with broadcasting studios, media, commentators, sponsors, teams, players and tournament organizers, there are a wide-range of issues that continue to plague this esports scene. With other publishers showing more willingness to cooperate with esports businesses and people, there is hope for Valve to be more committed to the esports scene. However, my personal point-of-view for a publisher is, once you’re involved in any way to esports, you cannot step back without a causing repercussions. For Dota, it’s not a question of money to improve the scene, it’s a difference of perspective and infrastructure. If Dota esports is marketing, it still works. If Dota esports is a business eco-system, it’s suffering.

As of right now, teams and TOs are working similar to Valve: year-to-year, short-term. If we hope for long-term sustainability, we must start thinking, planning and cooperating on real goals – whichever those may be.

additional reading

Omega League: revenue share between teams & tournaments
Corrections on article: “Dota 2 Majors are not guaranteed profitable events”
Dota 2 Majors are not guaranteed profitable events
Dota 2 New Player Experience Suggestions

VENN – Review: More TV on Livestream

Recently this week, VENN launched with a host of content and programs revolving around gaming, popular streamers, talent and entertainment. From news segments to Let’s Plays, deep-dive discussions on fitness training, sexuality and cosplaying, VENN hits as many fanbases as it can.

I’ve taken the liberty to watch every single show on VENN to learn more about its content, style, appeal and challenges it faces. My main interest was to see how VENN differentiated itself from previous iterations of gaming channels/platforms such as GINX, G4 and my own project, ESGNTV. Secondly, I wanted to provide feedback of its content experience both as a consumer as well as a producer stemming from my media background working on streaming platforms, esports TV studios, digital esports magazines and press publishing companies.

ESGN: Neuer eSport TV-Sender startet global von Berlin aus | TopFree.de
Despite its controversies, my time at ESGN & ESGN TV brought a lot of experience and understanding in how much work and collaboration is required to host, shoot and produce a live-streamed professional show. If only I was paid for the last few months of it…

Announcement & Launch

When VENN made headlines across a variety of major news outlets, the goals of its content was three parts:

  • Founders Ariel Horn and Ben Kusin created VENN to fill in the gaps in esports and gaming content that they believe came about as publishers focused on keeping up with industry demands” – CNBC, 2019
  • Unlike with traditional TV networks, Kusin said he and Horn know how to make gaming content that younger audiences will enjoy.” – LATimes, 2019
  • The first and biggest goal is to create content that you love. Our focus is entirely on supporting and lifting up creators. We hope to do this by giving them the tools to buff what they already do and take it to new heights. We’ll be asking y’all how we’re doing so never hesitate from giving me feedback at arielhorn on twitter.” – AMA, 2020

*additional reading: USA Today, PRNewsWire, Variety

At launch, the network launched seven shows (eight if you count Sushi Dragon’s segments separately) ranging from daily news (The Download), Game Shows with Contestants (Dare Package) and Talk Shows (Guest House, VENN Arcade Live, Grey Area, The Sushi Dragon Show). Shows range between 45 minutes to almost 2 hours and host a variety of guests ranging from streamers, musical talent, celebrities and more. At launch, the platform boasted over 30 hours streamed, 24,000 hours watched, 245,000 unique viewers and a 7K+ peak concurrent viewership (though this peak has long been surpassed by now)

Feedback

Overall, VENN has a strong established repertoire of content, varied hosts, tapped markets and interests, and broadcasting overall has been smooth. The set designs are immensely different from one another and set the tone of what to expect from each show in terms of energy, vibe and atmosphere.

Having watched each show, I have found most of them to be entertaining. Personally, my favourite shows are the following:

1. VENN Arcade Live: Lively stage design, nice variety of hosts and good rotation of content keeps the show fresh and lively. The stage design feels much tighter, close-knit and comfortable as opposed to other shows where it struggles to fill some empty gaps of spacing. The hosts are professional, amicable and play off one another for the most part. The rhythm of the show maintains a consistency in content, conversation, pacing that is close to traditional television live shows. As one form of feedback, I’d recommend creating pre-recorded scripted game introductions for the games they’re about to play to guide the user into better understanding what is going on when they play.

2. Grey Area: If it were not for COVID-19 separating the guests and hosts from being near each other, Grey Area would be at the top of my list for its overall relaxing vibe, comfortable hosts and laid-back topics. Since corona is still on-going, the stage feels a bit empty and heavily spaced apart. That said, compared to the other shows that can occasionally feel similar in their tone and conversation, Grey Area comes across mature, or rather, the hosts speak with an experience that they’ve been around the block socially and professionally. One point of criticism is to perhaps start pre-recording the calls to ensure no technical difficulties (which has occurred numerous times on the show already).

3. Looking for Gains: This is the only show that creates pre-recorded content outside the studio and it really helps set it apart. Its interaction with audience members adds an element that justifies it being live. What really carries the show is Cash, the host, who has a relatable story, good charisma and can easily play the personality for two people. Where other show-hosts feel a bit stiff, Cash, alone, keeps the vibe of the show uplifting and energetic. For feedback, if the show was more hands-on beyond exercises, ranging from cooking or healthy lifestyle choices, it’d help expand the variety of each episode rather than nearly 30 minutes of work-out routines. Additionally, it would help the stage design feel more involved rather than just a backdrop.

Honorable Mention: The Download: Overall, The Download is a relatively safe ‘news cycle’ show that promises consistent content and discussion regardless of the day. Some episodes, the show feels stretched as news is definitely on the low side. The hosts are good presenters, keep the flow going and offer all sides of a discussion. There’s no real complaints about the content but I also feel it doesn’t innovate itself differently from other news shows in the gaming media sphere so it becomes: why watch VENN’s The Download over someone else?

All the rest of the shows have merits and bring something appealing to the table. Not all of them have found their moment or direction yet, but in time, they can really distinguish themselves from the rest. One caveat I have to mention is that I have watched “The Sushi Dragon Show” twice and though I don’t completely understand it, I do see the appeal of it for an audience.

Criticisms

Of course with any newly-launched product, VENN has some key points it needs to address to not only set it apart from its predecessors, but also to maximize the platform it’s trying to be on. From a product standpoint, I see VENN as everything but more polished. It’s a content-creator show-platform network being produced and broadcasted on… a content-creator show platform (Twitch, Facebook, YouTube). Some of their shows are similar to what we see on Twitch, YouTube, from media giants like IGN and more. The concern becomes, what will they do to distinguish themselves from what’s already established and secondly, what will they create to set themselves apart and round out their planned 24/7 content line-up.

More Live to feel LIVE

The most glaring part of VENN is that it is truly live and you know this by some of the rough edges each program sometimes faces: quiet moments that break the momentum, hosts a bit lost organizing a game as it isn’t already set up, guests unfamiliar with the game they’re playing and, of course, technical difficulties. Most of this can be fixed with editing and with time as for some, it’s only their second episode. The real underlying issue is the fact that each segment feels live for its fault and not because they take advantage of the live aspect. Questions or on-camera invited audience members are all things that can be done recorded live. Sometimes, polls, chat or even questions can be asked live on air but it is definitely not a focal part of the show nor is it really leaned except for a portion if not small mention between portions of a show. VENN feels live for the sake of being live.

One Bag of Content

VENN heavily relies on its hosts and guests to invite an audience to watch. The content itself is not new, it’s only the hosts and guests that give it a newness. That is an additional pressure for the on-camera leads who may not be used to a ‘tv-esque’ setting. To add, VENN has 4 talk-oriented shows leaning in a variety of directions but again, relying on the hosts to distinguish themselves from one another.

I assume with time, more varied content will be released but with that said, I already feel like gaming is secondary to the gaming people involved with each show. This may come down to preference but even if gaming is secondary, to watch two different shows play Fall Guys three times feels repetitive.

For so many genres of games, types of news and releases, I am hoping that VENN diversifies their content and games to capture everything in the future. Singleplayer games are great medium to generate discussion (as one talks and the other plays). Esports of course has a lot of buzz, talk and an overabundance of experts who can speak regularly or appear as guests. Console games also offer a different feeling when playing alongside one another than two people talking but staring at their computer screens. To see the same game three times in a row (twice on Guest House and once on VENN Arcade Live) signals to me, as an audience member, that games are a secondary thought to a network that centers its identity on gaming. Whether true or not, an expansion of ideas and content formats needs to be explored further.

Another Round of Polish

A small area I’d like to mention is that each show could use more graphics throughout the show. Either to better introduce guests, organize key information or simply to help provide additional content and trivia that guests or hosts did not get around to talking about.

On occasion, shows can feel a bit flat/stale when the same three camera angles are routinely gone through per segment. Especially true when COVID-19 prevents people from being more lively and personal with another due to distancing obligations.

Thirdly, I am unsure how much of each show is scripted, especially when it comes to topics or point of discussions on The Download or Grey Area, but from an outsider’s point-of-view, interactions and conversations could be stronger if arguments for/against, or answers to a question were articulated and formulated better before-hand (and subsequent responses can be ad-libbed for a more natural engagement).

Lastly, the website can be better utilized to highlight your hosts as well as your shows. As of right now, the homepage feels very large and redundant when it can be more jointly used as a community hub and promote its hosts more outside of the shows content.

GUEST HOUSE GUEST HOUSE GUEST HOUSE GUEST HOUSE GUEST HOUSE GUEST HOUSE GUEST HOUSE. New episode? Rerun? Who’s invited?

Conclusion

To conclude, I think VENN has a lot going for it. I also thought that GINX had a lot going for it as well as well as ESPN’s original plans and G4Tech when I was a teenager growing up. With VENN currently in beta, another studio launching in New York and very likely more content ideas being produced, I hope to see VENN thrived in areas that I, with ESGN and other previous networks like MLG, ESL and more, didn’t succeed in. I agree with Ariel Horn’s claim that there is plenty of room for VENN with today’s gaming-viewing audience. However, I also feel that creating high-quality shows are not enough to distinguish itself from a competition that multiplies with new stars and creators on a daily basis. VENN is a host of content that is hosted by a platform that hosts more content.

Since its launch, the channel network has earned 3+ million views. VENN is also on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and soon Vizo, Stirr and Xumo (according to their site).

For my colleagues in Europe, no one has heard of or even looked into VENN. The content production cycle for VENN will be key in that not everything needs to be a massive hit but as a network, you need to hit every idea and fill your slots with respectable audience sizes. Focusing purely on the NA region when gaming, esports and the culture itself is global feels like a missed opportunity but for businesses and advertisers, North America has always been the focus and I respect that business decision. I will personally keep watching VENN but look forward to when it brings more to the table.

I do not know what success looks like for VENN but I am aware of the challenges once VENN succeeds at a certain level. I’ll probably save that for my next piece as first, we need to see VENN grow.