The media within eSports is a hot topic right now. It seems everybody’s discussing the differences between the independent and more corporate-based sources of — and I’ll use a word that I’ve always hated as somebody writing about video games — journalism.
As a bit of a background, we’ve just launched our site here at IH SC2. We’re an offshoot site of Ironhammers, a site I started up a few years ago to write about PC games. Beginning as a personal blog for me to share my thoughts and opinions about the latest releases, it soon evolved into something different as we entered into the world of games “journalism”, monetisation, public relations officers and what is, quite obviously, a far more corporate world than the one eSports is currently living in. That said, I felt I’d learned many vital skills that I could apply to writing about something I love more than mere video games; StarCraft II. Hence, the new site.
To the topic at hand, though. Launching this site has gotten me thinking about eSports media far more deeply than I had before. Then, Michael “Zechs” Radford’s quality post, entitled Character Flaws, appeared over on ESFI World. Tackling the subject of eSports media, he begins only his second paragraph saying, “To be blunt, e-sports coverage is too nice.” A consequence that everybody discussing the subject can see very clearly. One that stems from many different things, many of which are discussed in the article. Many of which are also problems within traditional games journalism.
One of the big problems everybody brings up, however, is the idea that journalists or media sites are afraid at being negative. A fear born out of not being invited to cover the next event a company holds, or not being able to get that interview with a top player should you write something negative about them. Geoff “iNcontroL” Robinson also brought this factor up on an episode of StarCraft II discussion show, State of the Game. But I feel this is an issue that spreads far wider than eSports, and one that journalists of any kind have to overcome.
A common case, one that I’m extremely familiar with given my history, is that of dealing with games publishers. It’s widely known that publishers send media outlets free copies of their games for review purposes, or invite them to play early previews of games. It means we would often get a game ahead of release, to allow for a release-day review, or to write an early preview based on pre-release builds. It also means we can cover far more games than an outlet with limited revenue could if we have to go buy them. But, do you really think we’ll still get these privileges if we had written a stinking review of a company’s game? There are reports far and wide of entities being “blacklisted” after being negative about a video game — and should we just buy a game,not being able to publish on release-day really hurts said entities viewership.
But there’s a solution in unity that keeps this in check. The maturity of games journalism means that, if a game is genuinely bad, it’ll receive poor reviews across the board. It’ll also, almost by default, have sales numbers that reflect it’s quality. Which I feel is also true of eSports events. I don’t have the revenue numbers available to me, as I might in games journalism, but I’m fairly certain that the people in eSports who deliver the best content likely also have the most revenue. But when a poor product goes out, the company needs to bounce-back in order to survive. In the general gaming world, this isn’t going to be achieved by blacklisting the whole world’s gaming media because they’ve been criticised by them. The same goes for general sports media too. A big baseball team isn’t going to benefit from refusing hold interviews with a national newspaper. And if you think Lady Gaga’s publicist isn’t going to send that next press release to a big magazine because they published a picture of her in “that awful dress” last month, you’ve a very closed mind indeed.
Of course, as I stated, this is all a natural by-product of the industry’s maturity. eSports is young, so I’m by no means suggesting we’re at a point where this is a feasible solution for us. It’s a symbiotic-like reliance from both media and industry that makes this happen; they need each other to both remain alive. We’re not there yet, and we won’t be until there’s enough competition within both parties’ livelihoods to make that happen. It’s a natural occurrence that comes from nothing but a lengthy period of time.
But I’m going to suggest that there’s another issue amongst the eSports media that has yet to be addressed. Perhaps, also one that comes hand in hand with the grass-roots nature of StarCraft II and the very short time-period that it’s been here; journalists aren’t just afraid of damaging their relationships with teams or events. To be in the business of writing about the game at its young age means that — as I do myself — you’ve got an adoration for the game. A deep-set yearning for eSports to grow. To see it reach heights that Blizzard would never have dreamed of when they set about coding those first few lines that began the game’s long gestation.
Could this be the real cause of eSports media being too nice? Does anybody who has the sheer heart to spend many hours of their free time writing about something for very little or no pay want to present a negative image of eSports in their work? Or is likely they want to be producing content that says, “Hey, world! Come look at this awesome thing we have”? Again, I feel this will evolve alongside eSports’ growth. Some may even say that blaming the media’s issues on the media the itself ‘loving the game too much’, is the ‘too nice’ answer that leads this train of thought right back into the beginning of itself. Which perhaps is also true, but is this truth so bad?
Do I feel we need to discuss the issues with media criticism? Sure. Do I feel that, for the greater good, the media must eventually step out of the ‘nice’ box and criticise those that require it? Of course. Do I also feel, however, that all of these things will instinctively evolve at a rate equal to that which StarCraft II as an eSport is accelerating toward? Well, to that, I would answer in the positive also. As media, players,managers or event holders, we’re all sharing the burden of StarCraft II’s success because of one thing: we’re all fans that want to see this thing take-off. Are we really that upset that we’re all being a little more friendly with one another in the game’s infancy?
Be honest and be critical, by all means. But, if you think we’re being too nice, remember all those times you’ve heard players, casters and even outsiders say, “this is the nicest community I’ve seen.” We don’t want to lose that just yet, do we?