My notes on the r/Overwatch content petition.

Whenever something happens that catches my eye in the realm of sports, I generally try to break it down the simplest way possible by putting it in my notebook. I’ve got pages upon pages of notes about the latest r/Overwatch drama that I discussed on the latest episode of the lowercase esports podcast that might not have made it to air, but was on my mind while recording it.

Hit the jump to peruse the knee-jerk reactions that I record in the moment to keep some semblance of consistency and sanity when it comes to trying to keep these things in order in my head.

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Revisiting ESPN’s esports effort since its launch.

Yeah, ESPN’s done pretty well, all things considered. It’s too bad that ‘pretty well, all things considered’ is not good enough for some people.

A pseudonym wielding writer over at eSportsCenter.com has composed one of the most fantasically braindead thinkpieces you’ll ever read about ESPN’s entry into esports, ultimately prompting this post. You should read it if you’re looking for reading material that could inspire a bout of slamming your head into your desk. It’s that frustrating. Truth be told, I was a bit more melodramatic in a reddit comment on r/esports.

To contrast that pointless rant with a more reasonable rant, here’s four cool and dumb things about the current state of ESPN’s esports reporting.

Cool thing: esports on the ESPN navbar. It’s a thing.

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Dumb thing: video highlight packages without commentary are a waste of time.

This dumb thing is short and sweet. It’s not difficult to understand. Video skimmed from a stream and posted to OddShot has more value than ESPN’s licensing of rights to repurpose video from tournament organizations. Fight me IRL if you disagree.

Speaking of video content…

Dumb thing: where is the quality video content?

When Yahoo Esports is outperforming you with regards to video production, quality and quantity, it’s time to seriously reconsider your approach. I had to scroll back a week to find a video with an ESPN staffer up front talking about something in esports among the plethora of highlight videos. There are at least three on-camera personalities that have been commenting on various esports for Yahoo–not to mention Yahoo seems to be asking the better questions. Now, one of those people at Yahoo is Travis Gafford, a known softball-throwing company-line-tower, but we won’t hold it against them. We will hold it against ESPN that they haven’t bothered to find a replacement to Slasher for video appearances.

Cool thing: reporting on more than the major esports.

Just because I (or anyone) consider a certain set of games as a ‘major esport’ compared to others doesn’t mean that the other games don’t deserve attention or reporting. While I’m still a know-nothing pleb with regards to the FGC in general, I think it’d be pretty rash to say that Street Fighter V is a major esport–or any of the Smash games for that matter. SFV’s roster will be expanding this year via DLC add-on characters. While players might not be spending money to play as these new additions, everyone is going to have to acquire them one way or another. That’s all to say that ESPN’s inclusive attitude to reporting on games is a healthy attitude to keep, especially when they’re attracting major talent contributing as freelance writers and are allowing them to write lengthy pieces on things that matter to that particular esport’s meta.

ESPN began reporting on esports.

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A couple of years ago, I would have probably told you that the above image would never happen. I never thought that I would see esports anywhere near the navigation bar on ESPN’s website.

But it’s there. I imagine that I’ll probably be able to move that menu item to the actual bar itself sooner or later.

I understand that ESPN is supposedly the end-all, be-all of sports and various competition, and I also get that there are a lot of folks that hold the almighty ‘four letter’ in disdain… but I can’t help feeling optimistic about its launch. More optimistic than I’ve been about esports in general since I’ve come off the high from my trip to EVO this past year.

The launch, at face value

I figured that 2016 was going to be a huge step up for esports, as a lot of other folks have, but the launch of esports coverage on ESPN has got to be the first positive step for the industry this year.

As far as starting talent goes, Slasher has come back after his departure from TheScore. While he is lending his unique expertise to the venture and appears in the first video rundowns the section has published, I think that his former TheScore colleague at Fionn is the bigger get, here. The founding editor of the section is Darin Kwilinski, formerly a project manager at Azubu.

Between the three of them, they seem to have started on the right foot, even if Slasher posted a personal retrospective on the day the site went public. Of course, it’s not simple three people being given the ESPN name to carry into esports; there seems to be an effort to recruit plenty of freelance talent including popular content creators affiliated with other networks and news sites like Emily Rand of The Score and veteran Smash commentator Prog.

These two names published expert pieces on their respective scenes to help launch the website. Emily’s overview of the LPL offseason activity and Prog’s state of Smash piece in the context of this weekend’s Genesis 3 Smash event are great examples of the content that can thrive on ESPN — especially if they’re optioned into video stories, like how certain segments on SportsCenter end up taking up a five-ish minute block of featured airtime in the middle of the live rundown of the days sports news.

There’s a lot of potential in the type of content that the esports section can produce once they build out a stable of broadcastable talent. Slasher can perhaps run a show and he’s done that in the past during his stint at MLG, but having him read off of a teleprompter in front of a green screen is not the broadcastable feature clips you’re ever hoping to put on the air. Now, perhaps I’m being a bit rough of Slasher and that’s certainly possible here, since I am absolutely not deserving to be on broadcast television in any context whatsoever, but I think that his first performance left a bit to be desired. Then again, it’s his first time in front of a camera in God knows how long, so I’m willing to write it all off as relearning how to act in front of a camera.

ESPN’s perpetual content machine

WatchESPN is a tremendous value for ESPN as a whole. It exists as a value-add for any content that they want ot broadcast over it. From additional camera angles to behind the scenes content, the streams that are available for sports broadcasts that ESPN bid for are often more interesting than watching the main stream.

With the recent College Football Playoff final, as with many other broadcasts, watching the game online required logging into a cable TV provider’s web services to authorize watching any given broadcast online. However, not every broadcast option offered on WatchESPN required a cable TV subscription to watch.

One of those options was a feed from the Replay Booth with several producers combing through the game play-by-play, as it was transpiring, with the purpose of looking for video they could use for content later. Four men pouring over footage making production notes out loud was better than listening to two guys talk about what I just saw. This type of content can shine on ESPN, given time and the hope that whoever is in charge doesn’t screw this up.

Competitive competitor competing competitively

Will ESPN ever get that video drop from the stadium floor at this year’s LCS Worlds? Will they run their own commentary between matches or report on games in other leagues?

If the answer to those questions is no, then I don’t see how ESPN matures into anything other than the random vanity exercise it is as this point. Regardless, it’s still an incredible gesture of good faith from a media conglomerate that doesn’t need to prove anything to start mattering.

At the same time, it’s too early to assume and judge success or failure when ESPN’s esports coverage hasn’t realized its full potential. There’s so many ways that the content ESPN typically produces could be applied to esports, and vice versa.

Let’s see what they’re starting out with and come back to this discussion at the end of spring.

I wrote something on RVANews about esports. #winning

Esports: Giving reasons for gamers to invade your favorite event space since now — Even though Richmond’s cyber cafes have closed, that doesn’t mean local gaming groups don’t exist. It’s easy to associate local gaming with comic shops hosting Dungeons & Dragons one-offs; video games don’t require you to drive anywhere to play together with friends. One player group in Richmond is working to bring more attention to its esports meetups and to bring more players together.

It’s my first piece for a local news source and hey—would you look at that—it’s about esports!

Yeah, that’s a West Wing GIF. I’m rewatching the West Wing. U WOT M8? COME AT ME BRUH.

Ross Catrow, captain of the good ship RVANews, reached out to me and asked me to look into LOLRVA’s viewing party. I mean, they’re holding it at The Broadberry. They typically have them at smaller places, but The Broadberry? My first thought was along the lines of “I definitely need to check this out.” And I did.

Hopefully this is the first of many future articles I’ll contribute to RVANews. I know in the past and also this morning that I’ve been critical of Richmond as a city. However, now that Feedback has moved downtown and is coming up on a year at 14th and Cary, I think I am definitely warming up to Richmond in general.

On promoting things with Reddit: don’t.

OnGamers was banned from the entirety of Reddit yesterday due to being systematically identified as spammers, defined by Reddit administration and algorithms. The blog’s entire domain was banned from being submitted for link posts as well as members of its staff shadowbanned, which removes public visibility of contributions made by the accounts unless a moderator approves it. 1

bcdm_journalism_redditImmediately, the staff of the website started making the case that they weren’t spammers and that they would be appealing the decision made by the Reddit administrators. Damage control like this is fine. It’s expected when you’ve basically been accused of being a spammer. As a journalist, you try to clear your name because it affects your credibility.

This is the damage control that I mean:

That all seems well and good. It’s the right message to send out. It’s a temporary problem with Reddit. Reddit is a weird place, right? Surely the application of a little bit of misdirection with some little white lies and the whole thing will blow over before the weekend.

At this point, everything that happens happens behind the closed doors of Reddit administration. Anyone can speculate that CBSi is attempting to get Reddit to overturn its blogspam ban, and that’s probably happening, but the last absolute facts that we’ll ever receive about this situation were published by r/starcraft moderator CandyManCan. The takeaway from the post is the following blurb:

The reasons behind the ban are unknown, but these types of bans have only ever been issued for vote manipulation of reddit.

But what exactly counts as vote manipulation? Here’s how the Reddit FAQ page describes vote manipulation:

Besides spam, the other big no-no is to try to manipulate voting by any means: manual, mechanical, or otherwise. We’re not going to post an exhaustive list of forbidden tactics (lest we give people ideas), but some major ones are:

  • Don’t use shill or multiple accounts, voting services, or any other software to increase votes for submissions
  • Don’t ask other users to vote on certain posts, either on reddit itself or anywhere else (through Twitter, Facebook, IM programs, IRC, etc.)
  • Don’t be part of a “voting clique” or “vote ring”

A voting clique is a group of people who send links to their submissions around via message, IM, or any other means, with the expectation of “you guys vote for my stuff and I’ll vote for yours.” A “vote ring” is a group of people who agree to vote on certain things together, either a specific submission, a user, a domain, or anything like that. Upvote each submission or content for the value of the information in it, a variety of things that you think are interesting and will benefit the community.

Let’s theory craft a bit.

Let’s stipulate that the above rules could be applied to an entity and anyone associated with that entity in the same way that the guidelines above apply to an individual user. With that consideration, the actions of certain OnGamers staff could have very well tipped off Reddit’s vote manipulation detectors. The scripts don’t take into consideration that Slasher has a six-year-old account that’s been active—the only thing that matters is what tips off the indicators.

While there is plenty of folks rushing to the defense of the OnGamers staff being indiscriminately banned, there is this pseudo-acknowledgment spreading around that surely they’re breaking the self-promotion rules. 2 They must be doing something that Reddit feels should be stopped when so much of their publicly scannable traffic comes from there. 3

XavierMendel, a moderator for r/games, commented on the fine line between spamming and promoting (emphasis added): 4

Howdy! Domain bans are largely for vote manipulation, but that’s not the case here. This ban was almost certainly handed out not due to the votes on the content (though it could’ve happened), but due to the scale of the organization and efficiency by which the domain was submitted by a small group of people.

People always point to Slasher to say that we’re two-faced with the self promotion rules, and from their point of view they’re right. However, knowing the situation and knowing that he’s making an effort to get a better ratio (and doing so; his ratio has dropped from ~86% to under 30% in the past couple months), you can see that he’s not a spammer.

I have little doubt when it comes to him and the domain getting unbanned, however, I have major doubt that it won’t end there. Some accounts banned by this wave were at a 100% ratio over a long period of time. 100% isn’t an anomaly, it isn’t something you can shake off or fix too easily.

I don’t know what the admins are thinking right now, but I doubt whatever they’re thinking will please everyone. And honestly, that’s the way it should be.

While acknowledging that the statements he makes about the causes of the entire action are not fact, I’m going to assume that a moderator of r/games has a little bit of experience with exactly this scenario.

What can OnGamers do at this point, though? The damage has been done and while it seems that there might be a chance that these bans could be rescinded, what’s to say that we’ll be having this conversation all over again in a few weeks or months? If not about OnGamers, perhaps another esports personality?

A lesson to be learned, here: don’t post your own content to Reddit. Just don’t. Please. No. Don’t do it because of the self-promotion rules if you don’t agree with them, but because your content gains a little bit of legitimacy every time it’s shared by someone else. That’s the best thing about other people sharing your content–and it’s always been that way.

However, if you absolutely must promote your corporately subsidized news site on Reddit, why not give advertising a shot?

TheMittani.com is a news site that deserves your consideration.

The Mittani is a polarizing figure in the gaming industry and for good reason.

On one hand, he’s historically the most visible player in the EVE Online community who stood as a Council of Stellar Management chairman and helped to revolutionize the relationship that is possible between engaged customers and game development companies. On the other, he’s the stark visage of a griefing villain who leads the largest coalition of EVE Online players whose primary goals include raining on outsiders’ parades and perpetuating a vocabulary that could be described as slur-filled and early-2000s-era politically incorrect.

One moment he can suggest to a crowded room that they could encourage a down-on-his-luck player to commit suicide and the next he can spearhead a massive donation drive for a key alliance diplomat killed in the Benghazi embassy mob attack. Controversial and legendary at the same time.

Lending his persona to brand a niche game journalism blog doesn’t seem like a bright idea, but that’s exactly what he did just over a year ago. Regardless, TheMittani.com is the fastest growing and probably the most popular EVE Online information source available to the public.

In a scene where intelligence is a meta that is both controlled and valuable, private forums and messaging services continue to become simpler to implement, and subversion is a legitimate tactic, a public news site shouldn’t have as much gravitas as TMC controls.

Screen Shot 2013-09-06 at 8.50.41 AMIn the past year, the news organization has broken milestone after milestone that other news sites in the gaming genre could only wish to achieve. It attracts quality writing talent even though it only compensates its staff with a game-based currency. It’s one of the only organizations that filed for press credentials to E3 for its first time when it was less than a year old and received access. It was able to enter into a Twitch partnership program with one of the lowest average viewerships per game on the service. It doesn’t offer premium access and it hasn’t Kickstarted itself because the operation is self-sufficient. Even though it owes its namesake to an EVE Online personality, it covers five other online titles as well as the ever-more-relevant commercial space race and notable science fiction novels.

If you needed an example of how an esports news site could succeed, here it is. And it doesn’t claim to be anything more than a gaming news site. It doesn’t even touch the term esports.

I would love to contribute to a place like that. Sure the comment section can be toxic and spin to its own meta most of the time, but to be included in a group of folks like that would be a dream come true in a way. I’ve worked with dedicated news folks in a genuine setting and I’m still jealous of the participants in an experiment turned authority like TMC.

I’ve never applied to become a writer there, but I’m strongly considering it because I want to help grow something like TMC. But finding something to contribute is the challenge. I want to bring more general news to the site. Perhaps I can start there.

Another day, another esports scheduling crisis averted.

A short message posted to Twitter this past Tuesday could have turned the middle of next June into an interesting threesome for competitive gaming.

The announcement was regarding Major League Gaming’s Spring 2014 finale, traditionally hosted in Anaheim, CA, informally referred to as MLG Anaheim 2014. In the past, this event is one of the biggest live spectator events in esports and an event that I’ve personally attended in 2012 supporting ESFI’s on-scene coverage of the event. It was awesome.

And then, one of their European counterparts looked at their calendar.

The Dreamhack representative went on to reference this press release published in May 2012, two years in advance and also mentioned that the date was included in last year’s post-event release for Dreamhack Summer 2013.

Slasher, reporting for Gamespot, was the first to publish the story in a relatively proper context. Most notably, he made the mention that the date also conflicted with another favorite video game industry pastime—the 2014 Electronic Entertainment Expo.

With hints from Twitter posts following Adam’s informal announcement, one could conclude that there would have been some backchannel discussions taking place between MLG and the Anaheim Convention Center crew, and, presumably, the publisher/partners who would be lending their games to the show to find an alternative date.

Today, only two days after the initial announcement, a revised announcement was made via the MLG executive’s Twitter account:

Not a bad turnaround for an organization that seemed to be losing favor with parts of its audience because of the company’s switching games based on business decisions. Personally, I don’t have a problem with MLG playing favorites when it comes to making money and keeping their business afloat so long as they don’t start fixing tournaments or begin catering to a younger audience for the sake of advertising dollars. It’s a business decision and they want to create some cool entertainment that a wide-sepctrum audience can watch and enjoy, and maybe even pay for.

All of this is more impressive when you consider the following, as SirScoots points out:

I don’t think that MLG simply called up the folks responsible for scheduling the Anaheim Convention Center out and politely asked for the dates they previously arranged to have changed without a legally compelling reason, unless Blizzard or another publisher was at the table with them. I could be wrong about that, but my read on the situation is MLG had to work pretty hard to change the dates for the convention center deal they made for this next summer and the public was clued in by MLG’s SVP out of a need to appeal to their potential audience that they no longer have to decide between one of the best produced events in the business and one that isn’t. It comes down to business.

Though I also would have thought that Twitter isn’t exactly the best way to publicly announce something as big of a deal as MLG Anaheim 2014. I could be wrong about that, too.