Why Porn and Games Don't Mix

Should professional gaming tournaments accept offers of sponsorship from pornography sites?

Last month, North American pornography production company Brazzers, owner of around 30 hardcore pornography sites and one of the largest players in the online pornography network, expressed interest in sponsoring the competitive fighting game scene. The news was met with mixed reaction in the fighting game community, whose public image has fallen under close scrutiny in recent debates surrounding the treatment of female players.

While public personalities like Evo tournament co-founder Tom Cannon and TwitchTV outreach manager Ben Goldhaber both spoke out against the idea of a company like Brazzers taking up sponsorship of the competitive fighting game, it was veteran fighting game player Joe Ciaramelli who first came up with the idea and approached Brazzers about its potential. While no form of sponsorship has yet been announced, Brazzers' director of special events, Rob Steele, made it clear that the company is investigating all options, including the possibility of hosting its own Brazzers-branded fighting game tournaments.

So what's wrong with a porn production company, whose sites include the likes of Big Tits at School, Hot Chicks Big Asses, and Teens Like It Big, sponsoring a competitive video game tournament?

The problem is not with Brazzers, the sites, or pornography in general. The problem is with identity. The professional gaming scene is first and foremost about community, a place where age, sex, religion, or race matter less than the games themselves. It's an all-inclusive, all-embracing arena that aims to celebrate video games and elevate their status in mainstream culture. The pornography industry stands in complete contrast to this. Bound by legal and ethical restrictions, pornography is exclusive. It does not strive for mainstream recognition, nor does it seek a higher cultural status. By engaging in a professional partnership with a pornography production company, the fighting game community runs the risk of alienating a large part of its current--and potential--audience, and distancing itself from the mainstream.

Ciaramelli was not crazy to suggest Brazzers as a fighting game championship sponsor in the first place: professional gaming sponsorships are hard to attract, and Brazzers has both money and status. From the perspective of many pro gaming teams, sponsorships form the backbone of the scene, providing a level of financial support without which self-sustainability would prove impossible. Tony Trubridge is the managing director of Team Immunity, one of Australia's most successful multi-game e-sports teams. The group is currently sponsored by a number of high-profile companies, including Intel, BenQ, and Antec. Trubridge says part of the problem in attracting sponsors to the competitive gaming scene has to do with convincing people that playing games is a viable career path.

"You must be open, honest and have good negotiation skills in order to convince prospective sponsors that you are able to harness their support and channel it into a tangible return--this is the point at which many people fall over and claim defeat," he says.

This is why sponsorships are so crucial in the professional gaming scene: the rising costs of organising and running competitive events means e-sports communities have to work harder to attract larger audiences, something that is becoming impossible without financial backing. For their part, sponsors are demanding more competitive ways to showcase their brands.

"Many events, festivals, and competitions are now nonexistent due to lack of sponsorship or have suffered as a result of an ever-changing market in which brands are looking at different and unique ways in which to expose their brand to consumers," says Shannan Quinn, director of music and sports partnerships at global media and marketing company Mindshare. "Gone are the days where clients will pay $100K to have a logo on a music poster. Brands now demand a higher return on investment."

The way smaller communities with less mainstream reach can get around this is to offer sponsors something they can't get from any other partnership. This is where professional gaming communities can have the upper hand.

"When sponsoring anything from an individual to a huge event, sponsors will look first and foremost for the correct brand fit and will always partner with an event which reflects their brand values and strategy," Quinn says. "Many brands would kill for a positive image [in gaming], and some spend millions of dollars to ensure this is the case."

But while the right sponsorship can lift a sponsor's brand image and improve the status of the sport or event being sponsored, an uncomplementary partnership can damage reputations on both sides.

"Anything related to pornography has no place [in e-sports]," Trubridge says. "In my opinion, one of the major reasons that e-sports and gaming in general has become so popular is that it breaks down barriers. Any support by the pornographic industry would splinter and harm an already developing community."

"There is no doubt that if a team accepted sponsorship from a pornographic company they would be very limited in what additional companies they can or cannot work with--they would almost exclusively need to direct their efforts to the porn industry."

Neidel Crisan, who runs fighting game community-focused site IPlayWinner.com, believes that while gaming sponsors don't necessarily have to have a direct link to the industry itself, the best kind of sponsorships in the professional gaming scene come from sponsors who understand the nature of competitive gaming.

"Complexity and Evil Geniuses are good examples of sponsors who take care of their players and help them get to many different tournaments all over the world," Crisan says. "Both of these sponsors have a long history in the competitive gaming space and I think they 'get it' a lot more than some others."

While choosing to remain silent on Brazzers' intention to sponsor future fighting game tournaments, Crisan believes the professional fighting game scene has been doing well enough on its own without help from sponsors.

"We've been doing this for about four years now and have put together some great events, broadcasted to thousands and thousands of viewers and experienced some great fights with little to no sponsorship involvement whatsoever. Sponsors can be a great help but aren't necessarily required to have an amazing event."

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1 comments
SiriusSteve
SiriusSteve

@ WCK619 business goes both ways. One company sponsors another. One gets money, the other gets publicity/advertising. It's mutually beneficial; they're supporting each other. It's really pretty simple.