The release of Dota’s 6.82 patch cheapens current competitions

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An important aspect of being a business professional in the sport industry is ensuring that nothing cheapens the competition. This is vital if you want to keep integrity within the sport.

In the big four professional sports there is always a time in the off-season where the owners and player unions battle it out over rule changes. If the way the game is played is going to change, it will happen at that time. For example, one off-season the NFL changed rules to protect defenseless wide receivers; the rule completely changed the way defenses had to approach defending the pass.

Imagine this rule being changed during week 8 of the regular season. All of a sudden your star linebackers and safeties, who made a career out of laying out wide receivers that run into their domain, are no longer as valuable and your team has a gaping hole in the defense.

This is basically what just happened when Valve released the 6.82 patch during the day yesterday. The patch was so big and game changing that it was named and got a nice micro-site. The major objective, Roshan, was completely moved. The map got new pathways that would change certain aspects of the game. Some heroes had major changes done to them. Basically it was a completely different game, especially at the highest levels of play.

The problem here is that it came out right in the middle of a couple very important competitive events: Starladder X Qualifiers and i-league. In the Starladder X American Qualifiers (CAUTION SPOILERS) Na’Vi US and Sneaky Nyx Assassins were in their first game of a best-of-3 when the patch dropped. The match decided which team went on to face Evil Geniuses for a chance to go to Kiev and fight for a prize pool totaling $250k and still growing.

So after the series started out on patch 6.81, the second game had to be played on patch 6.82 which no one had played on. Since the patch introduced such sweeping changes it meant that players were basically playing a very important match in a completely different game.

The game between Na’Vi US and SNA where they had no clue what they were playing.

Here is the thing, if Starladder were paying attention to the community, which they probably were, they would have known the patch was coming out that day. No one was sure exactly when it would drop other than it would be soon.

After looking at schedules, it would have been wise for Starladder to push back every game a couple days so teams could learn the patch. The admins could say they needed to stay on schedule but the last thing you want is for fans to discredit victories because a team got “lucky” by beating a better team that didn’t respond to the patch as well as they did. The competition loses integrity when teams are forced to play in an atmosphere (a new patch) in which they aren’t comfortable.

IMBA TV’s i-league LAN is also currently going on in China. First place will go home with close to $100k, meaning that it is a big deal for the Chinese teams. Of course, there was nothing i-league could do here because they were tied to a venue and players living in hotels. So this catastrophe is actually on Valve. If Valve, or any developer, cares about the integrity of their competitive scene then they wouldn’t make major changes in the middle of a big competition. Valve could have pushed the patch to Monday.

Developers and tournament organizers need to be cognizant of what is going on in their game. Developers need to respect major events. Tournament organizers need better crisis management and to space out schedules to account for things not in their control like patches or DDoS attacks.

How do you feel about major patches happening during or right before major competitions?

Removing the Cobwebs: My view on the esports industry and my plans

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I’ve included links to jump to sections in this long post. Thanks for reading!
1. Where I’ve Been
2. My View on the State of the Industry
3. What Are My Plans?

I feel like I should come into this post with a bottle of pledge and a dust rag to handle how neglected this blog has been. I won’t make any promises of consistent posting or anything like that because I’m still figuring out my next move. However, I do want to talk about where I’ve been, my view of the current industry, and what I’m contemplating as my next move.

Where I’ve Been

First off, for the past few years I’ve worked in esports media as a writer, editor, and content manager. I helped launch the League of Legends section at ESFI World and then was recruited to launch the esports section at MOBAFire. I love the guys at MOBAFire, they are wonderful and were very accommodating during a life crisis earlier this year. By no fault of their own, MOBAFire probably was the wrong move for me. I took it because it was going to be a steady paycheck in an industry where those are rare but it was a paycheck that any other industry would’ve laughed at for the same type of work. But honestly it was consistent with how small of a percentage the section was to the rest of MOBAFire. At the the time I enjoyed breaking down professional LoL games and writing about it so the measly pay was okay.

The problem with MOBAFire wasn’t really the pay but the fact that the industry basically forgot about me and I didn’t do anything to help that. There is a lesson to learn here kids, if you want to make it in any industry you need to cultivate contacts and stay fresh in people’s minds. The problem with MOBAFire is that while we had pretty good readership compared to the rest of the LoL media sites, we weren’t read by influencers within the space. Also, the “media meta” turned into sensationalist drama and you had to actively seek that out to consistently get views. I’m not about that, I’m about substance instead of whatever the stuff that most media outlets were producing. Which didn’t help me and definitely didn’t help my volunteer writers. MOBAFire is great for guide writing and theorycrafting strategy, no matter what the “elite” LoL community says but MOBAFire is not great for esports people and I unfortunately didn’t figure that out fast enough.

When I left MOBAFire in June it was to take a step back, reflect, and hopefully successfully launch META Consulting with Shashi Singh and Michal Kucharz. Unfortunately for me, Shashi and Michal had different visions of what a consultant should be and I decided to split off and once again go back to the drawing board. I’ve been stuck at the drawing board for a couple months. If you have an esports organization that needs help with management and acquiring sponsors, contact Shashi and Michal because they are industry veterans that can help you.

My idea of consulting is more of education. I want to solve problems and bring about change in the esports industry. I’m a fan of webinars, info products, 1-on-1 coaching, and sharing knowledge with others. Let me know if you are interested in these type of services and products?

My View on the State of the Industry

If you read anything about esports from mainstream media, and even industry media, you’ll believe that esports is at an all-time high and it is only smooth sailing from here. I don’t believe that, if anything with the current course we will be headed downhill soon. Why? It is the fact that in a majority of games the esports have been taken in-house and are in complete control of the developer. The only game that this isn’t really the case is Dota 2 because entrepreneur-ism is alive and well in the game through the workshop but it comes at the cost of stability. On the other side you have games like Starcraft 2, League of Legends, and Smite where the developers are in complete control of the professional scene. Sure the developers are able to pump in more money than any third party organization could pull in but it comes at a cost of control.

Do you want to work in one of these games? Well that is tough unless you get a job with the developer. Do you want to develop a service or product around the professional side of these games? Good luck because the developers control the data, the players, and the licenses. For clarity, I don’t count sites like LoLKing or guide sites in League of Legends as this type of product or service. I’m talking services or products such as fantasy sports, data sources like Stats Inc in traditional sports, competing leagues that are more player/owner friendly, and even media sites. Sure stadiums are filling up, viewer records are being broken by the month, and by that logic everything must be great! For aspiring esports business professionals it isn’t because breaking into this industry was already hard enough with nepotism running rampant but now it is even harder and that now includes creating your own successful business in the space.

What Are My Plans?

This is a question that I ask myself on an hourly basis. Is it time to leave the industry? Do I continue trudging along and see where I find myself at the end? I don’t know. I’m a stubborn person so it will probably be the latter but if it was my kid in this position I would tell them that it is a bad idea to continue. That they should get a career in a more stable place or be an entrepreneur in a more stable industry where people actually spend their money.

But since I never follow my own advice I’m currently contemplating four ideas.

1) A Digital Esports Magazine

I could do this with volunteer writers but this scene needs another site with volunteer content creators like we all need a bullet hole between our eyes. The pain point that I would try to hit is that there is a severe lack of actual journalism that happens in esports and that is because no one is trained to be a journalist. The basic requirement to write in this industry is to have a pulse, Skype, and be able to somewhat put words on a page. The only person I can think of that can chase a story and dig up interesting stuff is Richard Lewis, and I believe he honed those skills through his university degree. Jeb Boone is another one but I don’t think he is still writing about esports, he probably stepped into a bad situation and is captured in Yemen somewhere. I’m joking Jeb and I know you could use that southern accent to charm yourself out of any situation.

The thing with producing this type of quality is that it takes money for development (which is the lowest cost), salaries because people of this caliber sunk themselves into student loan debt and probably have families, and travel. I’ve paper-napkined the numbers and the project would need a minimum of $300k for the first year. I think it could eventually make it back because I believe the esports scene desires this type of quality but it would be hard convincing people when so many media sites fail in this industry.

I chose the monthly magazine model because the last thing the scene needs is another site writing sensationalist Buzzfeed type articles to get hits for their Google ads while delivering content that leaves everyone wanting something else. A subscription model magazine allows the writers to focus more on depth and quality instead of quantity. Which is how it should be.

2) Market Research

I’ve talked about doing something like this for a while. I am deeply intrigued by data and consumer behavior. It would be a very rewarding business if I could develop a site that allowed esports marketers to deeply understand their consumer and make better decisions. This idea also goes back to solving problems in the industry.

The problem is I have a lot of development that would need to be done and I don’t have the capital to hire a developer and don’t currently have the skills to do it on my own yet. Basically it would be a very ambitious project but could be lucrative for not only myself but the industry as a whole.

3) Rebirth of the Apprentice League

Before I started in esports media I briefly owned a Starcraft 2 league that focused on helping players get better through coaching and a competitive atmosphere. The league was free and was ran by volunteers which caused a lot of problems but the results were staggering even with the problems. All the players that took the league seriously improved at least one rank and, if you are familiar with SC2 ranks, bronze players mostly ended up in gold and a couple in platinum by the end of the season.

If I was to do this again I would want to do it right. I want to develop a focused curriculum that coaches follow, the coaches would need to be paid, and the players would need to pay. Here is the problem I keep coming across when I think of this project. I could do a camp or league like this locally in a traditional sport and as long as the coaches had appropriate credentials I could charge more than $1,000 per attendee. In esports I’m not sure if I could charge $100 because for some reason a majority, or very vocal minority, feels like everything should be free. Somebody may bring up LoL-Class but from what I understand about those classes is that people pay to get closer to their favorite players and not to actually learn anything.

What do you think about this? Do you think it could work as a pay service for players that only want to get better?

4) Turning the Blog into a Business

I already talked a little about this but it is definitely an option. My desire would be to help people that want to create organizations, tournament, or businesses that want to get into the industry to understand what it takes, how it should be done, and what to expect. I could coach and develop products around marketing plans, social media campaigns, and product development in the space. Also, I could bring in experts in areas that I’m not well-versed to share their knowledge with this community.

Once again, this would be very rewarding not only for me but for people that want to get involved in esports but don’t have the education or resources.

I want to know what you think. Also, if you are interested in one of the ideas, let’s talk!

How to get the most out of a sponsorship

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I love sponsorships and how organizations choose to activate on them. Now, I use that term, “activate”, a lot when I talk about sponsorships and partnerships and I’ve come to a realization; people have no clue what I mean when I say it.

Sponsorship activation is basically how people optimize the partnership. You’ll see this in clever wordplay; College Gameday built by The Home Depot. Or you may see activation in giveaways; Bobblehead Night brought to you by Six Flags over Texas (I don’t know if that exists but it should). There are many more examples and I could list them for days. Do yourself a favor and next time you are out and about, look for clever sponsorship activation. You’ll be surprised how much you see.

Activation is a two-way street because it requires the sponsor and the sponsored to work together. Resources, money or man-hours, need to be given to an activation for it to succeed. This is where so many activations trip up in eSports. So many players or teams have the singular focus of train, train, train, and no marketing whatsoever. I want to take a moment to say something to those players:

While many people will call you a professional player because you make money. You aren’t a professional player. Professionals have to deal with more than just practice and training. Professionals have to engage fans. Professionals need to bend over backwards for the people who allow them to live their dream. If you don’t do that, you are just playing video games and, for the moment, receive money for it.

If you think about partnership activation in eSports you are probably thinking about Evil Geniuses. They are the de facto leaders in making sure that their partners get what they need. Well, at least from what I see they are the leaders. Whether it is Q&As in their EG Raidcall channel or chugging a Monster Energy Drink on camera. They do a fantastic job of creating awareness. Also, MLG does a good job activating their sponsorships. The BIC commercials are fantastic. The Dr. Pepper Ultimate Gaming House is amazing and it associates Dr. Pepper with changing someone’s gaming life, you can’t ask for better brand affinity than that. Also, their Turtle Beach Listen-ins are a fantastic way of using infrequent team audio to draw attention to their audio sponsor without throwing headphones into the face of every stream viewer.

Think about what most organizations do with their sponsors. They throw a logo on their shirts, streams, and websites. How beneficial is that for the sponsor? In my opinion, not very beneficial while being very beneficial for the team in the short-term because they don’t have to spend any of their own resources to do true activation.

Activation isn’t about constantly throwing something in front of your audience. In fact, that creates too much noise and noise is quickly drowned out by the masses. A sponsorship needs to be creative if you want to create the most value for not only the company but also the organization. In a perfect world, a better activation will result in more money when it comes time to renew the sponsorship deal but that may not be the case if you are dealing with small sponsorship budget. However, if you’re activation does well enough by increasing brand affinity or sales, you should always get a bigger piece of the pie.

To show you what good activation looks like in eSports, I present to you the current campaigns of iBUYPOWER. I assure you that I have received nothing from iBUYPOWER; I just really like what they are doing. The activation is a perfect blend of both organization’s resources and is happening in three different areas: Products, Content, and Advertising.

PRODUCTS

ibuypowerclg

A few weeks ago, iBUYPOWER announced their Counter Logic Gaming PCs (pictured above). They created three different builds and aptly named them: Official CLG System (base model), Competitive CLG System (mid model), and The HotshotGG Edition (high end). The way they named the systems is spot on. The iBUYPOWER Revolt is not a cheap computer and the majority of fans don’t have the money for the high end, HotshotGG Edition. Sticking the ‘Official CLG System’ at the lowest costing PC made the promotion more accessible to the majority. Getting their hands on the Official CLG System gives the fan a strong sense of connection to the team. If the fan wants move up the escalator, they can buy the competitive machine or the ultimate HotshotGG system. A really great job of allowing the fans/customers to showcase their fandom in different ways.

The company didn’t have to go this all out on the promotion. They could have stopped with the official machine and walked away with a great promotion but they continued on. Giving the customer a choice to increase their fandom is only a good thing and while we probably won’t know sales on these models, I can guarantee it caught the attention of a lot of people and created a ton of goodwill among the fans of CLG in a way that a logo on a shirt can’t.

CONTENT

It is important to tap into the knowledge of the organizations and people a company sponsors if they are experts in a field. In this case, iBUYPOWER sponsors three LCS teams, a very popular casting duo in StarCraft 2, and other content creators throughout eSports. In order to get the most out of the sponsorship, they needed to utilize the access they had to a huge bank of knowledge in various games.

They did. iBUYPOWER started up a blog not too long ago and have several faces from the LCS teams and Artosis from SC2 writing on the blog. The articles usually dive deep into things that the fans want to read: How the players got where they are, how they conquered solo queue, how they see recent patch changes, etc… However, from one content person to the other, I would tell their content manager to not flood the blog with meaningless junk and focus on what the reader-base desires which seems to be the players opinions on the game.

What kind of traffic does this bring to the business blog? I don’t have specific numbers but we don’t need them to have a grasp on the numbers they are reaching. HotshotGG’s blog on Leblanc changes in the last patch had 786 points on reddit which is good enough to be at the top or near the top of the subreddit on r/leagueoflegends which almost has 340,000 subscribers. Also, the article had 157 likes on Facebook. All of that combined adds up to quite a bit of traffic and sponsorship exposure just because they tapped into the knowledge readily available to them.

BANNER ADS

double-lift

One thing we don’t see much of in this space is advertising. If we do see advertising, it might have some dubstep, especially if it is Razer, and won’t really say anything but just flash videos of events or “Validated by Pros!” That is all well and good but I would rather HuK or Stephano pop up in the commercial and tell me how I should feel about the product. After all, you give them money so that they will endorse your product, right?

iBUYPOWER went the banner ad route with their latest campaign. The ads were effective enough that I paid attention to them. Hopefully, I wasn’t the only one that paid attention because I think they did a fantastic job.

We have seen Gunnar do stuff like this in the past with inControl and ocelote. I feel like these are a little different because I don’t remember seeing the ads on gaming websites. However, I saw a huge presence of iBUYPOWER ads with a few of their players talking about how great the machines are for competitive play.

The quote by Doublelift is perfect: “iBUYPOWER’s Revolt is an awesome gaming machine. Everything else is trash.” The reason is because you want to accomplish two goals: 1) The ad needs to stick, which Doublelift and his token phrase accomplish 2) He needs to be able to throw around his influence which he does in the first line. The quote does both very well.

Now, if only we could get them to stop using the, “Every day is an eSport” slogan, I would be totally on board with iBUYPOWER and their promotions. I just don’t understand what the hell every day is an esport means and how it makes me want to buy a computer.

Takeaways

To have a successful promotion of a sponsorship it takes the following:

  • Cooperation between the sponsor and the sponsored; without it nothing will get done.
  • If you create products then create a product with the brand of your sponsored organization. They have fans that will spend money on them, otherwise you shouldn’t sponsor the organization.
  • Sponsored organizations are probably sponsored because they are experts and you should tap into their knowledge.
  • It is up to you to promote the sponsorship, not up to the organization being sponsored. Create campaigns that showcase the sponsorship because it will catch attention and increase goodwill towards the product.

 

 

 

What makes a fan?

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In case you didn’t know, it is the opening week of baseball. I grew up on baseball, I really love the sport. For me, there is nothing quite like a cold beer and peanuts at a baseball game.

The teams I have been a fan of in baseball is a bit of rollercoaster. I grew up as an Atlanta Braves fan during their early 90s domination. My fandom of the Braves was because of two reasons: They were always on TBS and my mom was a fan. As I got older I became a New York Mets fan because of the players they had on the team. Fast forward to a couple of years ago, I became a Rays fan because I lived in Tampa and could easily keep up with the Rays.

MLB_Logo

A couple of years ago my wife and I moved to Oregon. We are no longer close to the Rays and the Eastern to Pacific time zone difference makes it difficult to keep up with east coast baseball. I needed a team to root for. We just got cable because we got a new TV that needed a HD feed to really tap its potential. Our cable package has Root Sports Northwest in it and they carry 159 games of the Seattle Mariners. That settled it, I’m becoming a Mariners fan.

I told you this story because I wanted to take you through a journey of fandom. Why are people fans? Why do they care about a team?

Throughout my 22 years of following sports, going to games, cheering for teams, and watching other fans cheer for their teams, I’ve come across some theories on why fans are fans. Fandom is because of three reasons:

  • Generation to generation
  • Region based
  • Emotional attachment

I don’t have bandwagoning on the list because they aren’t true fans. Bandwagoners just go from success story to success story.
floridalogoI’m sure if you look hard enough you can find the generation to generation fan. My mom is an alum of the University of Florida and I grew up watching and rooting for the Gators and I still do to this day. Now since I didn’t go to UF, will my kids root for the Gators, probably not. It was easy for me to be a fan of the Gators because pretty much all of their football games were on cable in Louisiana. We also had a great rivalry with all the LSU fans. My kids won’t have that type of access to the Gators. However, they will have that access to the Oregon Ducks.

Have you ever met those people who root for a certain state college despite having no ties to that college? Louisiana has a lot of these type of fans. They bleed the purple and gold of LSU even though they have never set foot on the campus. In their eyes, a win for LSU means a win for the entire state of Louisiana. I hear the same thing happens here in Oregon, I just haven’t experienced it yet.

The emotional experience is something that is harder to point out. I would say it is prevalent in a college student being a fan of their university. I was told last night by a person who writes another eSports business blog about his experience with football at his university. He didn’t so much like football or really any sport but when his team took the field, they were his players and no matter what he wanted them to win.

So I ask, do we have any of this type of fandom in eSports? I’m not sure, I think we have some emotional attachment but I don’t know if it is deep enough for fans to stick.

In sports, the hardcore fan is the best way to earn money for the organization. All the types of fans I listed above will buy merchandise, go to games, and be an evangelist for the sport organization.

Of course, we are a couple of generations out until eSports is actually seen as a sport by mainstream society. All of us in our 20s and early 30s will have kids that will be exposed to eSports and their kids will be exposed to eSports. In the meantime, all the non-technological people will have died. So generation to generation fans won’t be around for another 10 to 20 years. What are we doing to make sure fans of today are going to still be fans when they have kids? If we don’t grow fans that are deeply connected and attached to a team, they will go away and we will miss a very important gap.

I’m sure someone will say that the games will have changed in 10 to 20 years. You will be right to an extent in there will be new esports titles but the economics behind free to play have changed the game. As long as Riot Games continues to develop League of Legends, the game will still be around and at the top of the eSports scene (same goes for Valve and DotA 2). However, even if the games change, hopefully teams are able to stay intact.

How about region based fans? I think we have this in a sense. North Americans want to cheer for North American players, I think that is obvious. I find that it is important to focus on North American players and developing them to be powerhouses in every game. So far, this is not happening.

I’ve proposed my solutions to this but there are surely more solutions out there. I talked about the team academies, which could provide the emotional attachment that a college does for their athletic program. I also proposed that eSports should be more local because I believe an engaged local fan will be worth more than a regular stream viewer.

Fandom is more important than stream numbers. Fandom allows the sports world to exist. What other solutions could there be to develop deep fan engagement that will stick for generations?

 

 

 

 

Working in eSports: Entrepreneurism

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I get asked all the time about how to get into the business side of eSports. Of course, I give the safe answer of, find an organization and volunteer and maybe eventually you will be able to do this for a living. However, there is a better way.

I was reading a post by Sean Callanan at Sports Geek HQ which was basically an homage to a slideshare presentation (as seen below) done by one of the founders of LinkedIN, Reid Hoffman. The presentation is a visual summary of a book he did called the Start Up of You where he reminds all of us that by nature we are entrepreneurs. He is right. 

[slideshare id=16627018&doc=thestart-upofyouexecutivesummary1-130219104408-phpapp02]

Right from the start the presentation hits you in the stomach with a quote from Nobel Peace Prize winner, Muhammad Yunus:

[quote style=”2″]All human beings are entrepreneurs. When we were in the caves, we were all self-employed… finding out food, feeding ourselves. That’s where human history began. As civilization came, we suppressed it. We became “labor” because they stamped us, “You are labor.” We forgot that we are entrepreneurs.[/quote]

I strongly suggest that you look through all the slides and take action.

Entrepreneurism is about managing risk and making good decisions about how to manage that risk. The risk/reward is usually huge in entrepreneurship venture, you are risking it all (or what society would say is all) for this idea that you believe can either make you a lot of money or change the world in some capacity. If you are looking to work in eSports, you already have recognized that you have a heart of an entrepreneur. Why? Our niche industry is nothing but risk…and to be honest none of us really know what kind of rewards we will ever see.

With that said, if you are interested in working in eSports do yourself a favor. Start your own thing. Why? Most eSports organization will just take advantage of your passion and your skills and there may be something in it for you at the end or there may not be. Take the reins! Build your own business, network, fill the gaping holes that are pain points in this industry. This industry honestly doesn’t need another volunteer, we have plenty. We need people who will change the landscape, that will disrupt.

You may say, “But Alan, I don’t know how to start a business. I wouldn’t know where to begin.”

First, the people you would be working for don’t or didn’t know much about it either when they started. Second, take a class and figure it out. The internet made it easy to create a legitimate business with a ton of resources on the processes and the ability to fill out all the paperwork and legal documents online. My quick suggestion, start a LLC.

Then you may say, “But Alan, I don’t have any money. I don’t know how to fundraise.”

So what. I would suggest starting small. You aren’t going to create the next MLG overnight. You will need to network and fill the rolodex of people who believe in you and willing to go to bat for your causes.

Maybe you are like a young man who had a love of professional gaming. He had a great vision for what a professional eSports team should be but he was lost when it came to financing. His brand vision was strong and they made the finance part of it work with the help of his entrepreneurial mother. They started out picking players for games that weren’t the current big eSport of the time. The man sold his car to send players to events at the beginning of the organization. As the players and team were successful they branched out into the more established games like Counter Strike 1.6. The organization that the young man founded is now one of the most respected gaming organizations in the entire world with players in StarCraft 2, League of Legends, DotA 2, Shootmania, CS:GO, and Call of Duty. The man is of course Sam Mathews and the org is Fnatic.

Being an entrepreneur is not easy, but hell, life isn’t easy. You know what else isn’t easy? Working in eSports. Be ready to sacrifice. You will work more hours than your friend that is an accountant doing 9 to 5 somewhere. You won’t make much money. Your family may not understand why you are pursuing something like this and they probably shouldn’t because the risk makes no sense. However at the end of the day, we do this because we love competitive gaming, we love creating things, and when it is all said and done, if we did it right, our ideas will have changed someone’s life.

eSports should look to be more locally focused

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I was reading a post on the website,  Sport Marketing & PR Roundup by Joe Favorito, the other day and he was talking about how big sport organizations focus on bringing everyone to New York to gain media attention. The whole premise of the article doesn’t necessarily matter in eSports but one line resonated with me and got me thinking.

when decisions on budgets and time are being made on the business at hand today vs. the long term, taking the local road is safer

 

yelp

Yelp Monocle

He is talking about what makes money now in organizations. Just like sports leagues and teams gravitate towards New York so that important people notice them, eSports gravitates towards anything but local because it is common thinking that you only matter if you compete against the best of the best at this moment. I believe this is very flawed.

Consumers tend to be more focused on their local environment and technology keeps shifting us in that direction. Social networks keep tabs on all our friends, Foursquare gives everyone deals for exploring the world around them, and augmented reality apps allow you to add new things to the world surrounding you with just the viewport of your smartphone. Consumers are becoming more attached to their local surroundings and eSports goes in the completely opposite direction.

A great example of this in the last couple of years in traditional sports is the Boston Celtics. They used SCVNGR to do a scavenger hunt through Boston to complete challenges and earn points. The leader in points won season tickets. The game took fans away from the TV and had them explore the world around them. This type of engagement created value for the organization and a fun memory for the fan. Memories are important, memories sell tickets and merchandise.

My point is that eSports organizers constantly attempt to bring in the world to their tournament or team because they believe that brings validity. The lack of looking regionally or locally has put the entire eSports scene in a really weird situation. The industry is at a point where we need to ask, is it really worth it to be so globally focused? Do fans really care about a team full of Koreans or a tournament full of international players or do they want to connect with players that they could actually meet and relate with? Before you answer that, make sure you actually know. The obvious assumption is, “Of course fans want the highest level of play, they don’t care about engagement! Bring in more Koreans!” I really don’t think that is the case but I don’t have facts to really back it up. However, I think the industry as a whole needs to reexamine what the fan actually desires.

I want to talk about shrinking. I want to make everyone realize that if we shrink it down to national levels, then regional, and then local; we will have much more meaningful engagement that will actually make this industry money while also saving it money.

I’ve put together two scenarios to make the point. By no means, are these the only good things that would come from being more locally focused but they definitely are a good starting point in the thought process.

Scenario 1: The Local Star

Imagine yourself going to the local LAN center to do a meet and greet with the local eSports star. The star will do showmatches while you get to watch over his shoulder. At some point during the day you end up playing the local star and get absolutely stomped. However at the end of the game, the star pulls you aside and gives you meaningful advice to get better. Now imagine that this happened when you were 14 years old and how amazing of an experience this would have been to meet someone you wish to be in a few years. Now imagine being the parent of that 14-year-old and how that moment would not only be a huge part of the kid’s life but would go a long way in the parent believing that this is an industry of good and not a waste of time.

The above scenario, is a win-win-win scenario for 3 groups. The team/player has made a fan for life. A fan that will go with them through the ups and downs of competitive play, a fan that will spend money on the brand. The fan will take this experience back to their friends, not only local friends but also online friends that they play the game with, which might snowball into creating more fans for the team/player. Last but certainly not least, the local LAN center will benefit from the increase in foot traffic during the event which might result in more people coming together.

Scenario 2: Foursquare, Barcraft, and eSports stars

A barcraft in a city that has a lot of eSports athletes and fans, like Los Angeles, could do a promotion on Foursquare with local bars where they would have different eSports athletes at various bars to meet and greet fans while actively checking in on Foursquare every place they visit and if the fan checks in at every venue they receive a special eSports badge and are entered into a drawing for something special. The only way a scenario like this is accomplished is if a barcraft, teams, and players all worked together which means a team has to be local to that area.

If eSports organizations become more locally focused they could create relationships that never will happen online. I would venture to say that if we did a study on eSports fandom that a relationship that is cultivated in the real world will exponentially be worth more than a relationship that is cultivated online.

 

How organizations can get the most out of tournament exposure

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I came across a twitter conversation of Alex Penn of Leaguepedia and Mark “Garvey” Candella from Counter Logic Gaming that started with a thread on Reddit about SK Gaming taking over Fnatic’s spot at IEM Sao Paulo.

click the date to view the conversation

The conversation is an interesting one where teams don’t find the exposure from IEM beneficial enough. IEM still has upwards to 100k concurrent viewers for their playoff stage, so how is that much exposure not beneficial?

We all know that the exposure is only beneficial if the organization does something with the exposure. MeetYourMakers made it to the playoff stage of IEM Cologne and won IEM Singapore but I don’t think they did a good job of capitalizing on the exposure.

So what could these teams do better when they get good exposure?

Merchandising

neworleansullMaybe it is best to take a look at mid major college football teams and their bowl games. The University of Louisiana-Lafayette (ULL) Ragin Cajuns won the R + L Carriers New Orleans Bowl against East Carolina on December 22nd. The picture on the right is one way that the school and the bowl game takes advantage of the victory.

kirkherbstreitA school like Northern Illinois University out of the MAC Conference got into the Orange Bowl, a BCS Bowl that comes with a lot of prestige and a lot of money. The media exposure that the school is getting is the most exposure they have gotten on the national level in decades. The Nielsen Rating for the 2012 Orange Bowl was 4.5, which is really terrible for a huge bowl game but for a school like Northern Illinois, that rating is golden. Why? The audience will be huge and the university will be able to play academic commercials during the broadcast. The school brand will be displayed everywhere during the broadcast which helps the athletic department in merchandising and recruitment. The university has capitalized by creating merchandise: Orange Bowl hats, shirts, and my favorite, the Kirk Herbstreit Can Bite Me shirt (pictured to the left).

Did MYM make a shirt when they won IEM Singapore? No, they did not. For that matter, has anyone made a shirt commemorating a huge tournament victory in eSports? Not that I know of. Why would a team or tournament not capitalize on this opportunity to sell merchandise? The fans of your organization want to celebrate the victory that your organization achieved, that is the main thing about being a fan.

Branding

Merchandising aside, how else does a team increase their branding after a big win? For small schools like ULL the media attention on ESPN, the national newspapers, and even the local newspapers (since LSU usually attracts all the attention) is huge for the small school in not just recruiting but also on the academic side of the business. A paper by Michael Anderson of UC Berkeley came to the conclusion that a successful football program does the following:

“increases alumni athletic donations, enhances a school’s academic reputation, increases the number of applicants and in-state students, reduces acceptance rates, and raises average incoming SAT scores.”

So how does that type of success equate to an eSports organization? Here is a thought, we don’t have admissions but maybe we should have admissions. Each team could run an academy where people pay to learn under your players since they are the best. We are always looking for ways to drive revenue, this could be a way. Of course, once the organization does well in a tournament, admissions into the academy should spike. The spike could then create tiers of academies where your successful team can charge more since they are at the top of the game.

Social Media

What about the social media aspects of a big bowl win for a medium sized university?

Take for instance this photo on the University’s Facebook Page: Over 1,000 likes, 200 shares, and 50 comments and all the page administrator did was take a picture of the television screen during the final moments of the victory and upload it. For a small program, those numbers are huge and the way Facebook is designed it can be a snowball effect of more traffic to the ULL academic Facebook page which could end up being the deciding factor of someone in that traffic getting an education from ULL over other Louisiana schools.

For the Northern Illinois University, the social media buzz on Twitter and Facebook will more than likely be trending during the Orange Bowl which also creates more exposure for the school. How does NIU capitalize on this? Their social media people have been posting pictures of the trip to Miami for the Orange Bowl and will continue to post stuff during the actual game in hopes that they gain more likes and conversation around the athletic and academic page which snowballs into more people visiting the page.

If Northern Illinois is smart with the exposure, they create content around the Orange Bowl for YouTube and use the moment to leverage the buzz to add more subscribers to their NIUHuskies.com YouTube page. They can upload their favorite plays from the game or even the season. They can also upload exclusive long interviews. They need to make the most of this opportunity, just like eSports organizations need to take advantage of a long tournament run.

So what is the strategy that eSports should take from this to capitalize on big tournaments?

1) Merchandising

Create t-shirts, hats, mouse pads commemorating the event. Fans want to share in your glory, let them share!

2) Social Media Buzz

Don’t just put a post on Facebook and Twitter saying, “Congrats to our team, YAY THEY WIN!” Take pictures of them winning, do great post game content and post it on all your networks. Let the fans then revel in the win on your networks!

3) Set Up Stories with the Media

Go to your media contacts and set up exciting interviews that their audience will want to read. Be prepared for strategy and mentality questions. For League of Legends be ready for picks and team composition strategies. For Starcraft, be prepared to talk about why you went with a certain build order in a certain situation. Also teams and players should be prepared to talk about what is next and they should never just say, “I’m happy I won, I’ll keep winning.”

4) Leverage the Success and Create a Snowball of Fandom

Success now should mean fans later. Figure out a way to get people that weren’t fans to like your Facebook page, follow you on Twitter, subscribe on YouTube. Everyone should be pushing for people to follow your brand. If you aren’t doing that, you won’t be able to sell your brand when you succeed again.

How do you plan to leverage success and exposure for your organization in 2013?

Creating a successful Twitch.tv subscription package

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“Subscribe to our Twitch.tv stream and get the highest quality and no ads!”

People go flocking to those type of features!

Right?

Yeah, probably not or it sure doesn’t seem that way. Take for instance the IGN Pro League and their subscription service, all you get is this:

This ticket gets you access to the HD stream and HD archives for all IGN Pro League Content, including IPL4 at the Cosmopolitan!

It is a monthly subscription that will ensure that you continue to be able to access all of the IGN Pro League content in HD!

That ticket is across 7 streams and only 2 of them have consistent content. I’m sure they have a hand full of subscribers but every time I watch IPL League of Legends it feels like I’m the only subscriber in the chat (and you can tell because you get a nifty subscriber badge). Maybe they have a better subscriber base with their Starcraft 2 fans but I highly doubt it because the service doesn’t enhance the experience nearly enough.

How about another big league? Let’s look at the North American Star League:

NASL Season 3 HD Subscribers will receive:

  • High Definition quality access to NASL Season 3 broadcasts
  • Ad-free experience
  • Ability to participate in Chat
  • Chance to win in-chat-only prizes

Pre-season tickets are now available for only $15.99 USD and gets you the entire season in ad-free, beautiful HD live video.

The NASL subscription package offers much more than the previous two seasons; which only offered high-definition and an ad-free experience. However, Season 3 offered both of those features along with two more. Two game changing features! The ability to take part in chat and to win prizes. The $15.99 for the season gave the subscriber a crisp stream, a fantastic viewing experience with a controlled chat, and the chance to win prizes. All in all, the subscription made the customer feel unique and special.

Of course, no one will share their numbers but my money would be on NASL getting more subscribers than IPL.

Now what about an individual personality in eSports and their subscriptions? Someone like Day[9]. The legendary Starcraft personality offers the following:

If you would like to support the show, feel free to sign up for a voluntary Day[9] justin.tv subscription. Subscribers receive extra bonuses such as fancy chat badges, chances to play monobattles with Day[9], and other bonus content. A subscription only costs $5 per month!

So Day[9] doesn’t even touch video quality or ad-free (he hardly shows ads). Instead he gives the subscriber something special and unique. Personally, I’ve never played a monobattle with Day[9] but I can imagine it would be a memorable experience and better yet, it would be a memorable experience for only $5 a month. Now a word from a satisfied Day[9] subscriber:

https://twitter.com/Kitty4Cat/status/223836106347659264

https://twitter.com/Kitty4Cat/status/223935553190629376

There is one thing that we all have to remember when building a product, and yes a Twitch.tv subscription is a product. I will modify a sport sales motto to make this point.

You are not selling a subscription package. You are a selling memories.

So what builds a positive, lasting memory? What is something that the eSports consumer will happily buy (trust me, people don’t happily purchase HD). How can an event use the Twitch.tv subscription to better enhance the experience?

I believe the fighting game community answers those questions.

Watching Evolution 2012, the hallmark fighting game event, this past weekend gave me a glimpse at what an event can offer with their subscription. The fighting game tournament was able to offer up something that made the subscriber have a unique and fun experience watching the event from home.

 

EVO Subscription Model

The perks of the EVO subscription

EVO allowed the user access to the chat with really fun subscriber emoticons to use, and If you were able to watch the tournament, you saw just how many people were active in the chat. Honestly, the chat was just as fun to watch as the game, which is par for the course in the fighting game community. However, what alarmed me was the chat was only open to subscribers but there were enough people chatting that the window was constantly moving. Each of those people chatting spent $12 to talk in chat and use custom emoticons. I don’t have exact numbers but I am led to believe that a lot of people bought subscriptions for EVO 2012.

The tournament was watchable at 480p, so I don’t believe people were paying just to get access to high quality. However, I’m leaving out an important variable in the formula of success for EVO’s subscription. All the proceeds went to the Evolution Scholarship. The annual $10,000 scholarship goes to a student enrolled at an accredited university studying towards a degree in-game design, game development, or computer science.The Evolution ScholarshipNot only did you get a fun chat experience to enhance your viewing experience but you were able to support competitive gamers with a scholarship. I’m doubtful that the scholarship enhanced the experience of the stream but it certainly made people feel like they were making a difference in their gaming community.

Evolution was able to create a better viewing experience at home and touched on the emotions of the consumer with the proceeds going to a scholarship fund. Shoryuken did a very good job building this subscription package.

“But Alan, I’m not running a major event! I won’t have near the success of EVO2K!”

Sure, not everyone will be able to reproduce what Evolution was able to do with their subscription model. However, another player in the fighting game space, The Level|Up Series, has great success with their subscription model that they offer for $2.99 per month. Here are the features:

Level|Up Series Subscriber Features

Level|Up Series Subscriber Features

You’ll notice that Level|Up does not put high quality video behind the paywall. The stream producer, AJ Papa, said that they felt that the fighting game community had grown accustomed to expecting high-definition, so they knew it wouldn’t be a good idea to lock that away. I want to take that a step further and say the entire internet generation is accustomed to high-definition. They knew they needed to take it a step further. The features they came up with enhanced not only the viewing experience but also opened up the chance to create a very memorable experience for the subscriber.

One of the features they introduced was subscriber only emoticons. I believe that since the chat is open to all viewers, the subscriber only emoticons create a desire to join in on the fun for the non-subscribers. If the desire to use flashy emoticons wasn’t enough, it is okay because the fighting game broadcaster didn’t stop there. Subscriber only giveaways helped to make the subscription more valuable. But the feature that was the icing on the cake was giving the subscriber the chance to win a training session with the Street Fighter Legend,  Alex Valle. The chance to win sessions with a legend increased the value even more!

So for $2.99 a month, the subscriber gets an enhanced experience and the chance to train with a legend, which would create a memorable experience. Not bad for that price tag, not bad at all.

So how successful is the subscription service for Level|Up Series? The stream producer and co-founder, AJ ‘PotatoHead’ Papa, of the Level|Up Series had this to say about their initial thoughts and the results of the subscription service:

We have reached expected numbers, in fact more than expected. At first, following an incident with an event that tried subscriptions, we didn’t think our viewing audience would go for it. We expected a small amount of subscriptions, enough to just give us supplementary cash flow but instead we have a healthy number of subscribers who believe in what we do. We can use the cash flow from subs to continually improve our product and services.

The Level|Up Series has shown that you can do many things to enhance the connection a subscriber has to your brand. Little things like emoticons, badges, and access to the chat are worth a lot more than people give them credit. Create a product that gives the consumer a great experience, the customer will be more than happy to buy it. You will always have trouble selling something that doesn’t help enhance the experience.

Three things to takeaway from this article:

  1. High definition does not enhance the experience enough for the consumer to be happy to buy the product
  2. Create something that produces memorable experiences
  3. Create a product that allows the consumer to feel good about the purchase

Follow those 3 things and your customers will be happy to pay for your product.

Escalators and baggage returns: Are eSports professionals engaging consumers?

This week I want to revisit two concepts that I wrote about a year and a half ago: The escalator concept and the baggage return concept. A lot has changed since I wrote about these two concepts and I believe it is valuable to reevaluate where we stand with engaging consumers and developing products that move consumers up the escalator and keep them off the baggage return. This post will be a refresher and cursory glance at the progress or regress that the industry went through over the last couple years. Over the next few days I’m going to look at individual games:

  • Tuesday – Dota 2
  • Wednesday – League of Legends
  • Thursday – Starcraft 2 and CSGO
  • Friday – The rest

escalatorconceptfigure

Since writing those two articles, esports developed a solid foundation to move people up the escalator. This is mostly due to developers either taking the reins like Riot or giving the community tools like Valve. Which is more beneficial for a scene can be hotly debated but at least consumers are able to spend money now.

On the streaming side of things, streamers now have subscription models that they can use to move their fans from indirect consumers straight to medium users. You could even throw a consumer that subscribes to multiple streamers into the heavy user category.

While Valve released tools to help organizers move consumers onto the escalator, the community is still failing at capitalizing on other ways to get consumers moving. On the other side, League of Legends have things like LoL-Class (which is being redesigned) where a fan can get into a coaching class of 100 participants with their favorite player for around $10. This type of service moves people onto the escalator and a full coaching session can end up bringing in around $1,000 for the player, give or take. While Dota 2 has the ability for a coach to watch their pupils in real-time and interact with them in-game, a feature LoL does not have, the community has yet to capitalize.

baggage600filledout

 

An esports title is only as good as its player-base. I believe this is why the MOBA genre dominated the esports industry over the last two years. MOBAs tend to be accessible for new players and, more importantly, free. Also a player can always blame their teammates for losses instead of themselves which makes the experience less stressful than a game like Starcraft 2.

I think it is obvious that the SC2 competitive player-base did decline. The game is stressful and extremely difficult to enjoy for skill-less players. The viewership did great for the first couple of years while it was really the only major game in town. However as more of the competitive scene started to play MOBAs and stopped playing SC2, they lost interest and viewership declined drastically.

While we want to get consumers on the escalator, we want to get them off the baggage return. We want viewers playing the game and engaging with the community through playing. This is the foundation that supports a sport in the long-term.

Think about soccer around the world. Soccer is the most popular game because it is accessible and kids play it from an early age. While they are playing it, they become attached to their local professional club team and become fans for life. Most soccer fans are deeply engaged from an early age and since soccer fandom is extremely social, they stay engaged after hanging up the boots.

What do you think about these two concepts? Let me know if you want me to explore anything within these two concepts in your favorite game this week, I’ll gladly do it. Thanks for reading, see you back here tomorrow.