I like Australian hip-hop. Do you like Australian hip-hop? You probably don’t. But let’s say you’re a music fan. Would you do whatever you could to resist Australian hip-hop becoming more popular?
If that whole paragraph seemed bizarre to you, it’s because you’re sane. Most of us understand that while we don’t like certain genres of media, we should just leave them be.
Maybe it’s because there are so many young gamers who have access to the internet and less tolerance than a film or literature fan. Maybe it’s because the industry is young and everyone is still finding their feet. Regardless of the reasons, it’s abundantly clear that gamers really don’t like gaming, unless it’s their game. And this is fine, if nobody wants gaming to grow.
One of the longest running competitive games is Counter-Strike, a game made by two people in their spare time. There are currently two popular versions of this game, the original “1.6” and the more recent “Source”. Sound normal to you? Game does well, sequel gets made. The difference here is that half the Counter-Strike community embraced Source whilst the other half rejected it. This wouldn’t be a big deal for most games, but it led to a schism on the competitive scene. A strong Counter-Strike community split into two weaker communities, this means less players for tournaments, smaller audiences and less sponsorship. Players only focus on one game and treat the other like the brother who eats fish heads in the attic.
I spoke to Patrick “Bravo2” Higaki (Owner of the eSports Collective Network) about the new edition of Counter-Strike, titled ‘Global Offensive’ and the potential it has to unite the communities. Global Offensive has a huge potential to merge the 1.6 and Source communities, says Mr Higaki, “It’s really up to the players to make this happen though, not the game or its developers. If the community can’t take the initiative to embrace a new product, there is no future for the Counter-Strike franchise in competitive gaming.” It’s a good point and it’s true, Counter-Strike has fell a long way since it was an eSports industry leader.
ESports is striving to become a serious industry, with sponsorship deals, official teams and regular tournaments with serious prizes. Some games actually have professional players (Starcraft, Counter-Strike, League of Legends and more) who are gaming as a career choice. For these teams to exist and for the tournaments to run, the industry needs money. Sponsorship and fan support is critical.
In this regard, there are two types of sponsor. Industry, where the sponsor produces a good or service which is related to eSports. This is currently the most popular type of sponsorship in gaming but while it makes things look professional, there isn’t much money for either party to grow. Like any symbiosis, they can support each other but can’t really grow beyond their current level.
The other type of sponsor is non-industry, where the sponsor is not directly related to eSports (e.g.Carlsberg). These are the sponsors who need to be tempted. By having bigger sponsors investing in eSports it would be able to grow and its advertising would reach a larger audience. So with this information, what happens when a sponsor looks at a gaming community and sees insults and hate being thrown from game to game. Do you want your logo placed above that? If you think that’s extreme, consider marketing director Nigel Currie’s statement, “this is obviously a concern for brands. It goes without saying they don’t want any sort of controversy or nastiness, or anything that detracts from the game.” Companies don’t like bad press, it’s as simple as that.
One area where sponsorship is crucial is Twitchtv. Twitchtv is a gaming website where users can set up their own channel and stream anything game related. The channels available vary from people playing retro games to full gaming tournaments with tens of thousands of viewers. League of Legends brings in 120,000 people to Twitchtv, this lets Twitchtv continue to grow and brings in sponsors.
Jeff “MaximusBlack” Johnston is a Starcraft 2 player and co-owner of LAGtv. He has a solid opinion on the matter, “People need to start realising that games like League of Legends are bringing in hundreds of thousands of viewers, you may not enjoy the game but everybody needs to recognise what these games are doing for eSports. If people can embrace all the different games then it will enable eSports to grow.” A lot players share the same view as MaximusBlack, for gaming to continue to grow and succeed as an industry, the community has to embrace all of gaming as a legitimate form of media, not just their own games.
Gaming has survived a lot of controversy and bad press. From Jack Thompson trying to get any game banned because “they’re what makes kids angry damnit!” To tragedies like the Virginia Tech massacre being blamed on Counter-Strike (it was revealed that the gunman did not own the game nor did he play video games). It would be a damn shame if the industry starts to stagnate now, especially if the decay starts from within. I’ve met a few people in the industry and worked with some more, they’re amongst the hardest working, most dedicated people I’ve known.
And hey, at least FarmVille made a lot of people understand what it’s like to be hooked on a game.
Big thanks to the following for contributing to the article: