Crowdfund a fan

There are better ways to spend money on esports than backing yet more marginal content.

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This article was originally published on GameSpot's sister site onGamers.com, which was dedicated to esports coverage.

Sunset's piece published here a short time ago is about as good an overview of and defense of crowdfunding within the esports scene as can be written. It indeed hasn't been a complete wash on the crowdfunding front within esports. It's difficult to sidestep the conclusion of the piece, wrapped in an appeal to the community-lover that anybody who's been around longer than a minute has buried down deep.

Still, I think we can do without.

People who donate to projects should be treated as shareholders.

This is the one part of the piece that stuck out to me, where the main shortcomings of this model were briefly acknowledged. I stood mainly on this point back in September when I wrote on the topic of crowdfunding at the frenzied peak of this debate. I argued:

Esports audiences need to demand a more square deal, where they’re paying for a finished product rather than subsidizing risk, where they’re acting as consumers rather than as underwriters.

It's a fundamental premise of crowdfunding sites and efforts: you as a backer enter into the arrangement with essentially no assurance that you'll see anything from your backing, and no means of recourse if things fall through. You can't get much further from the notion of shareholders here, who can demand answers from their investment because it's their skin in the game, and who can band together to effect change in the venture they own a small piece of.

The sort of project that crowdfunding efforts are best suited for are ones that have a well-defined completion point, and it's where the shareholder metaphor also meets its end. This is even explicitly stated in Kickstarter's project guidelines:

Everything on Kickstarter must be a project.

A project is something with a clear end, like making an album, a film, or a new game. A project will eventually be completed, and something will be produced as a result.

The things we're treated to in esports through crowdfunding (whether on Kickstarter or otherwise) are things not related to the foundation of the scene, designed to take root and grow opportunities for players or build opportunities to attract larger audiences over the long term. What we receive from esports crowdfunding campaigns are ephemeral products that provide a one-time blast of interest, if even that, and nothing in perennial benefits. TeSPA seems likely to be the single exception to this, but they worked outside the confines of Kickstarter.

As a result, I find backing these sorts of things as positively wasteful.

The most charitable treatment I can give crowdfunding in general is that backers are paying in advance for a product they might see at some undetermined point in the future. That's not to say it's wrong to back Yet Another Goddamn SC2 Documentary's Kickstarter campaign when it comes around, if you genuinely want to see the promised film. But let's not pretend these isolated content production projects are having the effect of growing the esports ecosystem. Keep your stories of your friend's cousin's grandmother "totally becoming an esports convert" after seeing Nerd Chills II: The Quest for 600 APM - they're the exception to the rule that these projects speak to those who are already faithful.

Regarding other forms of crowdfunding, like the Pizza.gg effort: while it's important to show numbers and appreciation when a large marketing budget comes ambling up to our doorstep, I'd argue it's equally important that the response is authentic and not inflated by irrational esports crusading. If it would require every last esports follower to buy a Papa John's pizza for them to take a continued interest in sponsoring esports (which it doesn't seem like they have), then we're probably still not large enough to provide enough value for national brands that aren't in electronics or caffeine.

And that's OK. There's still lots of work to do.

My point is this: if you really want to have an impact on the scene with a wad of cash, do something different. Instead of tossing it at the next documentary with a flashy trailer, crowdfund some beverages and snacks, and toss a party for the championship rounds of a big tournament. It's through these sorts of shindigs that fans are created. If you manage to create even one more new fan, you'll have contributed more to the scene than any short-lived crowdfunded content project ever has.

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