Wrecking Balls into Polystrene Walls
In two year's time, will you be proud?
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This article was originally published on GameSpot's sister site onGamers.com, which was dedicated to esports coverage.
“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.”Albert Camus
I often refer to eSports as “our world”, or “our little universe.”
I’ve always felt that we’re a microcosm of the bigger, real-life world, only magnified. The fact that our world exists primarily on the internet only seems to magnify it further.
If eSports were represented, say, by a planet, it would be Earth in its infant stages - prone to natural disasters, unstable, a bunch of kind-of humans stumbling around trying to communicate, yet persisting still. Still alive, still beautiful, with the potential to become something bigger.
It’s an endearing vulnerability. There is indeed, as some say, beauty in chaos. It’s an environment in which innovation and creativity can thrive, and is rewarded organically.
A few years ago, I was watching this fundraising stream for TeSPA, the Texas eSports Association. My mate Ryan Rushia was on it. Before he was a world-travelling teacher with a hot Diablo-cake-making girlfriend, he was a very active player for Complexity. He’s also one of the first friends I made playing StarCraft 2.
TeSPA had tiers for their fundraiser - donate a certain amount, you could get anyone on the stream to say whatever you wanted. Donate a higher amount again, you’d get a TeSPA t-shirt.
Despite living on noodles and whatever alcohol was on sale that week, I decided to donate to the point I’d get a t-shirt.
Despite living on noodles and whatever alcohol was on sale that week, I decided to donate to the point I’d get a t-shirt. I also made Ryan say something embarrassing. I think it may have been to say with a lisp “StarCraft Broodwar is the best RTS game ever created,” because that was a thing we used to say to each other a lot, due to Brood War elitism being rife at the time.
I waited for a few weeks for the t-shirt; I was excited because it had a probe on it and I like probes. Weeks passed, months passed, and nothing arrived. Nothing ever arrived.
The rapid growth of eSports over the last few years is exciting, there’s no denying that. It feels like we’re on the cusp of something big. It’s volatile though. There’s vague mainstream acknowledgement in publications like Forbes, the New York Times, large sponsorship coups from companies everyone knows, record-breaking investment and viewership numbers.
Yet we’re also subjected to unprofessional public bitch-fits, pro-players acting like children in beauty pageants, personalities sometimes forgetting why we’re here, forgetting that it’s not all about them.
I mean, it’s all a bit weird. The public theater of it all is a double edged sword.
Due to us being kind-of-there-but-not, fundraisers are a thing. There’s been a lot of talk about Kickstarters and fundraisers in the eSports community recently, almost entirely negative. Which I understand. Sort of.
The crowdsourcing tactic seems to be something people are either for or against on a fundamental level. Those against say things like, “If a business or a project can’t make it with its own money, it won’t make it, nor should it ask for money to make it, because it will fail.”
I think that’s probably true 90% of the time.
But not here, not for us. Not entirely.
Most people who work in eSports do so at a loss - very few are paid at all, and if they are, it is not enough to support themselves full-time. We are all (mostly) functioning members of society with jobs, families and obligations. If a dude with a wife and kids has the passion and the talent to contribute something to the eSports community and needs a little help financially to make it happen, I want it to happen. I have an income, I can contribute, so I do.
The Criticisms to Come
The criticisms surrounding fundraisers seem to fall into a categories - lack of updates, the speed at which donation tiers are met, the speed at which the final product is delivered, and - in the case of Pizza.gg - was there really a benefit from participating anyway?
These are understandable criticisms, some more so than others.
Let’s start with an easy one - Pizza.gg. Which, funnily, is not a fundraiser, so I’m not sure why it’s lumped into all this criticism, but we’ll run with it anyway to make a point.
When some of the rewards to the community from the Pizza.gg promotion were slow coming, all of a sudden it seemed like everyone was an expert on how you can always get 50% off Papa Johns pizza if you internet hard enough. It was inferred that the community was “used” to get tangible numbers of for Papa Johns and the participating eSports organisations.
To that I say the following:
Yeah? And? So what?
For years, team organisers have lamented at how difficult it is to get actual numbers from tournament organisations, to approach potential sponsors with eyeball numbers. You stood up and were counted. You put your code in and ate some glorious American pizza. You gave organisations an idea of how many people were willing to part with a small but not-insignificant amount of money in support of your favourite team, while at the same time showing a not-insignificant mainstream American company the numbers that can be achieved from the eSports community.
GREAT. YOU DID GOOD. Aren’t you proud to be a part of that? I would be, if I were an American able to participate. Alas, I know not the true taste of freedom.
As for the tiers being met in a timely manner in this instance, if you step back, you’ll see Team Liquid and EG did their SC2 team-captain swap in a rare lull of tournament/broadcast obligations. I do not believe, by any stretch of the imagination, they were forced into delivering due to community backlash. It was too well-orchestrated, too well-planned.
And it was great - I mean, I enjoyed it. Didn’t you enjoy it? Those statements from Garfield and Nazgul were the stuff of legends.
The other criticisms are more broad and, thusly, can be addressed broadly.
People who donate to projects should be treated as shareholders. Donating to an organisation or an individual is an act of trust, and should be respected. I mean, if there are any practical lessons to be learned here, this is probably it in a nutshell. Regular updates on the progress and status of the project should be standard. The journey of the Smash Brothers documentary series is a perfect example.
I think we can all agree that the due respect required towards the people who donate is sometimes overlooked. This needs to be addressed in the future.
I wish there was more to say than that, but there really isn’t, and that’s part of my point.
There are, indeed, enemies among us, but they are few and far between. Not to get all tinfoil hat on you guys, but everyone has an agenda, whether it be to get money out of you, get your eyeballs onto a broadcast, or clicks onto their article, for good or for ill. I guarantee you 99% of these people believe they are doing the “right” thing.
We are a fragile ecosystem, but an ecosystem regardless. After all the negativity around fundraisers, just days later, the creator of the SC2 observer UI Gameheart, Ryan Shutter, reached his goal from crowdsourcing.
It was seemingly an organic response to the storm of negativity - every action has an equal reaction, as they say.
I was moved by this probably more than I should have been. I don’t want to be a part of a community where innovation is discouraged, where talented people are too afraid to ask for help with something that will move us forward, or give us something useful or creative or informative.
This is not to say that people who fail to deliver on promises after asking for financial assistance from the community should not be held accountable - of course they should be. If people are out there who are actively taking advantage of the community, actively swindling money, I want those people called out more than anything.
But it’s important not to Miley Cyrus wrecking ball into polystyrene walls.
It’s important to react appropriately to what we’re presented with.
Unless people are using the money to buy cocaine, fancy cars or solid gold toilets, crucifixion is not appropriate. If all the money goes towards the project, they are doing, fundamentally, the right thing, even if they’re doing a lot of little things wrong.
We are evolving. We are learning.
Check Yo'self Before You Wreck Yo'self
A musician I follow on Twitter recently tweeted something fairly simple - “hate sells”. It’s true everywhere, for everything, mainstream media and beyond, and glaringly true for us.
We have a tendency, as a community, to fall into a vortex of hate and believing the worst of people. It’s very easy to be angry. We’ve all been guilty of it at some point, because it is the reaction that requires the least amount of thought, and is the most cathartic.
But we need to be careful. The SC2 community in particular is becoming defined by its incredibly negative attitude, and it’s not a reputation I’m proud of at all.
I know what I’m essentially asking is for the internet to calm down, which is an act of folly. But, you know, I feel like I have to try.
As writers, we have an obligation to you to present fact, to not fall into witch-hunts, and to point out the true evils and, equally, the true beauty around us. And it is beautiful - LoL Worlds, SC2’s WCS finals in Toronto, TI3. This is what we all work towards, what we’re all really about.
It’s important to never forget.
A few years after my TeSPA donation debacle, I was watching the second LoneStar Clash. It was an amazing event.
In that moment, I wasn’t thinking about the t-shirt I never received.
I was thinking about how proud I was that I had contributed to this organisation in their infant stage, and how proud I was that it had grown into something amazing.
I didn’t do it for me, after all. I did it for them, for all of this. For us.
Image Credit: TeSPA Flickr, StarCraft Wikia
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