In 2016, two major news companies created dedicated staff for esports. With Yahoo’s and ESPN’s entrance comes an expected level of quality content, interviews and opinions that we see from their traditional sports departments. Up to now, that expectation has not been met, though there has been growth in story-telling from major team organizations as well as continued personal interviews in the League of Legends community. For other titles, unfortunately, the amount of analytical writing and insight has been sporadic. In particular, the lack of opinionated editorial, that goes beyond traditional topical discussion about the scene, as well as lack of in-depth match coverage is an essential missing quality in today’s coverage. However, the largest gaffe that esports news sites have yet to provide is on-site, in-the-now event coverage. The bar of entry for on-site event/match coverage is low and a key missing feature in the journalistic world of esports.
Despite the Mid-Season Invitational for League of Legends as well as DreamHack Austin occurring, only one site of the three are currently doing interviews and event coverage. To note that theScore Esports have been uploading their videos via their YouTube page.
There are inherent issues with most current forms of event coverage, specifically interviewers using those events as a means to talk about a player’s career instead of about the matches (what fans are watching the event for). And perhaps the reason for the lack of consistent coverage of esports events throughout all games is both due to cost and inability to gauge value or assure consistent viewership. During my time working in the journalist field, from the early days of StarCraft II , news curation for ESGN TV [2013-2014] and managing editor for an esports magazine at Aller Media [2014-2015], I firmly believed that the viewer and readership is strong for this type of coverage. That is if planned early and executed properly – with enough support from both staff at HQ and on-site. Below are some notes I have relied on in the past when planning event-coverage. Published content (both video and written) can range from six to five digits in hits. To reach these numbers, consistency in quality and rate of coverage (# of articles/videos) helps improve results.
When preparing event coverage for a variety of competitions, it is important to establish both expected budgetary costs for each event as well as for the year. This includes, but not limited to:
- # of events per quarter
- Flight and hotel accommodations for each event
- Expected # of crew members and necessary equipment (rented or not)
- Spending stipends
Most of this can be approximated as close as possible and altered accordingly as you get closer to the dates and figure the finer details. With some organizations, you also have to project the total runtime of all planned content and assume # a range of viewership (depending on the game, recognition of the brand to the community and value of content).
Planning an event
When it comes to preparing for a specific esports event, I start as early as a month in planning. First you need to figure out the Who, What and Why:
- Who: Determining your team to cover an event is important. The number of people should be decided before-hand depending how important the event is, what are the budgetary costs (sending 5 people to an event that is only a two-day competition [e.g. ESL One, a recurring event] may not be the most efficient use of your resources).
The number of people to send can range from 2 to 5 members with roles ranging from videographer, editor, host, producer and even social media. In the past, we’ve ran three-man crews with myself acting as Producer, Social Media and Business Relations to represent the organization and establish meaningful relationships. These relationships are important to confirm tentative interviews and to relieve the editor and host to focus on what matters: content.
- What: Content planning goes a long way to not only setting goals per day, per event; but also how you want to structure the type of content you want both in terms of atmosphere and duration per form of content. You must determine the following parameters for your content:
- Over-the-shoulder? Side-by-Side? Absent Interviewer?
- # of Interviews per day
- Duration: The longer the interview, the more you may lose your audience or having your interviews feel directionless or caught on smaller details rather than getting through to the subjects that matter. I generally run 5 to 10-minute interviews, with 12 being the hard-stop.
- Priority of subjects players, venue, fans/cosplayers/attendants, moments
- # of photos per type (see above), per day, per style (portrait, waist-up, etc.)
- Why: As you set up your team with a variety of responsibilities, you have to prepare your host for the subjects he/she can expect to be speaking to as well as the type of questions you want. As mentioned above, questions about the matches and strategies happening during the event are what I think the audience wants to know the most about, at the moment of publishing (during the event). However, that doesn’t mean your host cannot prepare ahead of time with some career/over-arching questions about the scene, teams, etc. This can be helpful for two reasons: 1. It gets your host in the right mood and knowledge of the key players and 2. It’ll help him/her have questions just in case there isn’t much to say about a particular win or loss for the interviewing subject.
Booking People, Places, Event PR
The PR teams for each event and publishing company can vary greatly. From Valve, who outright don’t assist (or allow) news organizations to work at their Majors to Riot Games who are more welcoming. DreamHack is hands-off when it comes to assistance in booking interviews (you have to go to the player’s lounge and ask talent directly) whereas ESL makes a strong effort to reserve time for them, though sometimes are unable to follow-through (it happens). One thing to know is that no matter the PR team, they cannot force teams, players or talent to do an interview if they don’t want to.
For these events, try and keep in close contact with the PR members. Be forward about what you want and make sure you confirm many times over before or during the event about X interviews you’d like to have. Not only do these PR departments get swamped with requests, but are also handling different areas of an event. While you may seem annoying (I surely was), you won’t get half the content you planned if you aren’t forward. Ultimately, they want to help you if it means more publicity and value during/after their event.
Having said that, even after confirming the possibility of interviews (no guarantee) with a PR team, you should start contacting teams directly in regards to possible interviews. This is to secure interviews, despite any unfortunate scheduling complications that may arise but also due to the players themselves who can be too moody or disinterested in talking. I’ve also learned that some teams will outright not talk to you depending who you represent. For example, TSM refuses all media interviews (with small exceptions) while Cloud9 will not do interviews by companies that conflict with their sponsors. Knowing this will save you a lot of headaches, but also help evaluate if attending an event is worthwhile or not.
When requesting interviews (before the event), there is an order of confirmation to ensure you get what you want. Avoid contacting players directly for an interview. They may be your personal friend, but they have one job at the event (to win) and you may end up undermining the player-manager in the process. In the end, it’s about balancing long-term relationships and knowing who makes the decision-making.
Sometimes, the player-manager will not give you a straight-answer on whether you can get an interview with a player or not. Don’t give up! Just puah further. At Aller Media, we were a recognized brand in the Nordic Region, making contacting sponsors (SteelSeries, Logitech, Razer) sometimes the easier route. Sponsors want the exposure of their brand and the teams they support out there via media outlets. There is no reason why you cannot reach out to the sponsor to receive a more definitive answer. Even agencies such as Good Game, can be a better alternative route when the player-manager is unsure. Nevertheless, keep in good contact with the player-manager, as he will be your contact on-site and can follow-through after receiving confirmation from affiliated parties (sponsors/agencies) but remain persistent in what you want.
Now with your double-confirmed and booked interviews via event PR teams as well as directly with those teams, you are ready to set off for your event!
Depending on the person, having questions prepared ahead of time for review can be ideal. These questions should be mixed alongside those the host has prepared to ask the player or talent about the match or event itself. A nice mix of questions can keep the interview interesting for the viewer and also avoid your host being redundant or questions that focus on too small of detail.
As a last note: when booking your hotel. Try and book at the same one as the players or event staff. This can lead to fluid scheduling where you can strike out one or two early pieces of content with key talent before the event and ultimately have more time on-site to create more video-content. Also, it makes networking much easier and in some countries, the after-parties happen at the hotels directly.
At the event
As you depart, make sure your team back in HQ is aligned with when and how the content will be presented in regards to social media, uploaded videos and content strategy. For example:
- Video content should be embedded into the website with a summary blurb
- When shared via community sites and social media, ensure you share the URL of the website containing the video as opposed directly to the source video page
- Rely on Social Media for on-the-ground visuals and tagging
Establishing alternative types of content is an efficient way to use your time before, during and after an event. What you will realize, when waiting for interviews (each post-event day) is that most interviews occur either after a team is finished playing for the day or is eliminated. Leaving your team a lot of time with nothing to do between matches. In the past, we remedied this by not only interviewing people not directly involved in the matches, but also creating alternative content such as post-day summaries, predictions for the next day and highlights. Examples include:
- Before an event day
- (previous day) match results, predictions and highlights
- Venue Tour
- During an event day
- Discussion Panels
- GoPro Style partnerships with team
- Documentary footage
- After an event
- Raw recordings of any press conferences
- Event Summary (crew travel to arrival, highlights of key interview moments, crowd and venue shots, etc.)
ESL One Frankfurt video from Alliance and player, Loda, was always a favourite of mine. It requires no effort, almost no budget and offers a tremendous amount of infotainment for the user. It lets the fans at home get a feel for what it is like to be a player and be at the event.
- In the past, I have seen many producers or reporters flat-out abandon their team to hang out with pros or their friends rather than stick with the team. Even during the off-hours, for the sake of future working relationships, it is ideal you stick with your team and build them up to have as many relationships as you do, rather than to seek out your own fulfillment and interest. It goes without saying that during the event hours, all members should be near or in communication and not loitering around. There’s always something to do, even if the cameras aren’t rolling.
- When it comes to deciding who you want to be your host, I found that choosing someone new, but who is enthusiastic and earnest to work is better than someone who is recognized and has their own brand. On the one hand, if your new person is not meeting expectations or getting the right atmosphere to how you want to do your event coverage, then your audience won’t take and will dismiss your brand/content. However, if you choose someone with experience, the cost can get much higher and should they leave for a better gig, their established audience may depart as well.
- Use your host to note down key times in the matches of when something large happened. A lot of VODs for matches come out later in the night, making it difficult for the editor to screen through hours of matches and footage just to use as B-Roll for a video. Since your host is watching the matches regardless, he should note down the time a key action sequence happened and help give context for the editor, who may or may not be familiar with the game.
Planning costs on a both monthly and annual basis can help not only sort the budgetary expectations for the future, but also help breakdown costs associated with travel and paying for your freelance staff.
When it comes to content, your published works should achieve consistency in quality and complementary of the event for viewers at home. With the right team and execution your content can fill a gap that has long been evaporated since the earlier days of esports. As more companies get into this space, the desire for current content sites to set themselves apart will be high. While the initial interest in your event coverage may be low; to organically grow an audience and fill a void that needs further emphasis can yield a return after attending only a few events and building up the right team to represent your organization.