What’s an eSports Professional?

In a messageboard conversation with other people working in various areas of the eSports industry, the question arose: what is an eSports professional?  What defines a professional eSports organization? 

The question is not an insignificant one, mostly because it’s such a contentious issue.  Partly because eSports is still an up-and-coming phenomenon, the line between professional and amateur is much fuzzier than in other entertainment industries.  Many respected writers, team managers, players, and other key people in the various worldwide eSports communities don’t look like canonical "professionals" on paper.  They’re often in school or have fulltime jobs completely unrelated to their eSports work.  This is the case particularly in the StarCraft-as-eSport scene, and yet paradoxically nowhere does the difference between the passionate, unpaid amateur and the disaffected, salaried professional create such an enormous gap.  The gap looms large between Korea and the rest of the world.

It may seem strange to many that there are people who have well-paid, fulltime, high-profile jobs in the pro StarCraft industry who aren’t passionate about what they do.  An example is Chen Yongjun, lead eSports commentator for Korean television channel MBCGame, producer of the renowned MBCGame StarLeague (MSL) and owner of the team MBC Heros.  He sits in the Yongsan I’Park mall eSports stadium almost every day on the stage right between the player booths, only a few steps away from the likes of Boxer and NaDa, and millions of people in Korea and around the world watch him describe the intricate goings-on of StarCraft games on TV and online.  I had the pleasure of chatting with Mr. Chen on several occasions in Korea, and what I learned about his outlook surprised me.  At that point I was still convinced I was going to become an SC commentator, and so I enthusiastically sought him out for information and advice.  This well-dressed, handsome man in his mid-thirties looked me seriously in the face and told me not to try to pursue SC commentary as a fulltime job.  "Perhaps part-time or as a hobby," he said, "but that’s it."  Despite the fact that there are people around the world who would kill for the chance to be in his shoes for just a day, he sees his job as just that – a job.  "It provides food for my family," he explained. He already considered himself fortunate in life because of his family and financial stability, but from his perspective, his line of work only enabled that fortune and didn’t add to it.  He thought I would be better off becoming a doctor or a lawyer.

In stark contrast to Mr. Chen’s point of view, the young diehards in their teens, twenties, and early thirties who populate the staff forums of community sites such as TeamLiquid, GosuGamers, and SC2GG are fiercely passionate … and largely unpaid.  These students, engineers, computer technicians, teachers, writers, and paralegals in the States, Canada, Europe, and elsewhere all set aside significant amounts of time during their busy lives to contribute to the online StarCraft community in some fashion.  The fascinating capability of the internet to provide niches for specialized communities – along with the allure of building a new identity from scratch with a non-arbitrary name and personality – ensures that as long as fascinating video footage of pro StarCraft players in Korea keeps being leaked to YouTube, there will be something to capture Joe Browser’s imagination and lead him down the rabbit hole.  The uniqueness of Korean StarCraft inspires interaction, analysis, reaction, and organization.  But, to return to the original question, at what point does ordinary fandom turn into hobby, into personal obsession, into a career path?  If a 19-year-old writes 700-word news articles for TeamLiquid which are read regularly by people at Blizzard and WCG, does that make TL a professional eSports organization?  If ICCup -operating outside the battlenet fold and presumably not making much of a profit – is an international standard for StarCraft skill and a better-run ladder than Blizzard ever came up with, does that make the unpaid admins "professionals" or just experienced, capable hobbyists?

The fundamental dilemma is whether or not the definition of a "professional" rests on attitude and intention (aka "professionalism") or getting paid for what you do.  Ideally a high level of professionalism should correspond to getting a salary or some kind of financial compensation, no matter what the field is, but there’s still a huge discrepancy between the two when it comes to eSports.  Eventually, as eSports grows and becomes recognized for the huge marketing potential it offers for sponsors and perhaps even the tourism dollars that live events bring to local economies, the people who are talented and hardworking will be recognized for their contributions in the lingua franca of the business world – cash, and lots of it.  Until then, people who have made it to the top of eSports and are getting paid well should cut the rest of us some slack.  Until we reach the day when sponsors and entertainment media give eSports its due, an eSports "professional" should be defined as someone who works hard to expand whatever branch of eSports he or she is in and who other eSports people rely on to a great extent to get things done, whether or not that person receives money for their efforts.

 

link

The Collegiate StarLeague: MIT

The Massachusetts Institute of Technology is right across the river from me.  That being said, the MIT CSL team’s side of the match didn’t take place on campus.  Instead, my trusty photographer assistant Michael and I headed over to Brookline – a nearby town that also happens to be my hometown – to the ZBT fraternity house on a quiet residential street. 

Unlike the Princeton side, this match was not open to the public.  It was a quiet, homey setup, with the six players and an extra girlfriend gathered around a couple long white tables in a dining area.  The MIT captain, Yang (aka Sedraxis), was very hospitable and offered us access to the wealth of food in the kitchen as well as a tour of the house’s facilities.  Michael and I arrived at 8 with a half hour to spare before the match was set to begin. 

I guess Yang hadn’t had dinner …

 

Setting up the hardware and software before the match

 

Testing headsets, reviewing strategies

 

Bubble tea: drink of champions

 

One of the players also had commentating aspirations, so he sat in a comfy chair in the next room and prepared to live-cast the games.

Puffy jacket required

 

Then, even though the MIT team had taken the time earlier in the day to test out the streaming system, technical difficulties struck.  Yang was a man of action, running around with frantic energy and not hesitating for an instant to call Hazel up with questions about iCCup launcher.

“Houston, we have a problem.”

 

Yang had the brilliant idea of setting up a webcam so that his laptop could record player reactions during the games.  Maybe he’d catch a look of shock during an unexpected drop?

 

Last-minute warmups while technical difficulties were holding things up

 

Apparently fleece hoodies and pullovers were the uniform of choice.  Northface, this is a great sponsorship opportunity!

 

Things were looking grim on the technical side, but we all knew the issues would get resolved in the end.  The only question was whether there’d be an audience left …

 

The shirt naturally requires a fistpump.  Yes!

 

Yep, that’s the first four zerglings after a nine-pool.  Oh, and Peanut in the background.

 

It’s all about teamwork.  Even the 1v1s (scrimmage games!).

 

No fancy-pants Macs for this team.  SC runs better on a sleek black Toshiba.

 

“Someone stole the cookies?  Who would do such a thing?!!”

 

This is no mere college student.  This, my friends, is a WARRIOR!

 

Can you handle this?!

I had to leave before the third game, unfortunately, but it was really great meeting the MIT team and witnessing this historic event.  I did a few interviews with the captain and players – you can check them out on my youtube page.  They have really interesting things to say!  Here’s one to whet your appetite:

 

And finally, here’s a message from the MIT team to all you would-be challengers:

 

Yeah, that’s right.  Peanut out!

link

In Defense of Color Commentary

As I said in an earlier post, I’m a permanent judge on SC2GG Commentator Idol, presented in association with Voice of eSports.  My main focus in judging the contestants’ submissions is what’s known as “color” in commentary – this means essentially things the commentator says that distinguish him or her from a person or computer who’s only analyzing the technical and strategic aspects of the game.  This includes, but is not limited to, analogies comparing what’s going on in the game to situations in real life, fiction, etc. and expressions the commentator uses to convey the excitement of the game.  This approach has generated some controversy over the importance of these aspects in StarCraft commentary, and, to that end, below is an explanation for why I think color is a valid judging criterion for Commentator Idol.
Technical knowledge is an extremely important factor when it comes to commentary, but if it were the only factor then anybody with sufficient technical knowledge would be a great commentator. This is not the case. Commentary adds entertainment value to a game, and although StarCraft is more entertaining automatically if you can understand what’s going on from a strategic perspective, there are other ways to increase entertainment value that affect the final product.
I’m a person who doesn’t care all that much about the commentator’s technical knowledge beyond a certain point … if the commentator says the player is going for a 3-hatch build instead of a 9-pool, that’s one thing, but if he says the mutalisk micro was slightly off when really it was that the terran had brilliant turret placement during one particular harass, it doesn’t really matter to me. The commentator can have the best technical knowledge in the world, but if he or she is boring or annoying to listen to, I’m not going to listen.
Color is about being able to make the commentary interesting beyond just saying what’s going on and why in a StarCraft context. There is a world that exists outside of StarCraft, and the two, in my opinion, should not be kept separate. Fundamentally, if you want StarCraft to appeal to a more general audience than just the people who play on ICCup, you have to be able to make StarCraft relevant to the real world – the world of people who have other interests and values that don’t relate to one particular game, and the world of people who want to be entertained. Good color commentary makes the outside world relevant to StarCraft, and in return, makes StarCraft relevant to the outside world.
There are many cases where people use sports metaphors for non-sports phenomena without a second thought. Kissing is “getting to first base” and the working world is called the “rat race.” People are often told to “go for the gold” or “keep your eye on the ball” by motivational speakers. It’s firmly established that sports are relevant to life, and part of the reason why that happens is that sports are enjoyed by a large population of people, many or most of whom don’t understand or care about the higher-level technical details of a particular game. If someone who doesn’t understand StarCraft that well watches a commentary and doesn’t understand that a particular skirmish is key to the outcome of the game, he or she won’t understand that fact any better if the commentator just describes it technically. If, however, the commentator says that this particular timing push is like Napoleon going into Russia or like trying to bake a cake without flour, the significance becomes much clearer.
The bottom line is that Commentator Idol is not looking for a commentator who appeals only to diehard StarCraft fans or players. A good commentary should be very technically accurate, but it should also be exciting and leave a first-time viewer wanting to see more, even if they don’t understand exactly what’s going on. Color helps bridge that gap and make sure StarCraft appeals to a greater population and not just those who are D+ or higher on ICCup. Is competitive StarCraft just a niche novelty or can it also be a general spectator sport? Color commentary is a lot of what lets StarCraft make that transition

Published on Starfeeder.com.

An Idea Whose Time Has Come

Or, “A New Idea in College Sports”

In the last few weeks, 23 of North America’s top universities have signed up to join a brand-new competitive collegiate league. Students from McGill, Princeton, Stanford, University of Chicago, Yale, and Harvard have answered an irresistible call: the opportunity to introduce an entirely new game into the hallowed halls of college sports. Instead of pads and helmets, this sport merely requires a computer, keyboard, mouse, and Internet connection. These tools are standard for any college student, and travel costs are negligible, since the opposing teams can play each other online. The game is “StarCraft: Brood War,” and by starting the Collegiate StarCraft League, the Princeton gaming club, “SmashCraft Heroes,” might be setting a new precedent in North America. However, it follows a model that has been tested for years elsewhere in the world with incredible results.

In South Korea, professional video and computer gaming – also known as "electronic sports," or eSports – is an $81 million-per-year industry. The bedrock of this relatively recent phenomenon is the game StarCraft, published in 1997 by American company Blizzard Entertainment (now Activision Blizzard, a Viacom company). There are four major StarCraft tournaments that play three seasons per year, at around two months per season. The matches are recorded in front of a live studio audience (comprised mostly of high school age, female fans) in one of the three or four high-tech “eSports stadiums” sprinkled across Seoul. The footage is televised on one of the two cable channels or one Internet TV channel devoted exclusively to eSports content. In estimate, there are 18 million eSports fans in the country of 50 million people, which means that professional StarCraft and other games receive the second highest television ratings of any televised sports.

A top StarCraft player In Korea may not be perceived at the same level as Tom Brady or Manny Ramirez are here, but he or she is certainly well-known among the younger set and rakes in over $100,000 per year in salary. Professional StarCraft players in Korea – players with pro gaming licenses – are paid yearly salaries on an average of $20,000 per year just to compete in a computer game Top players, of course, earn more. Ever heard of Lim Yo-hwan, also known as “SlayerS.BoxeR”? Additionally known as “Terran Emperor,” this 28 year old was earning $300,000 per year in salary alone, not counting product endorsements, before he entered the Korean air force two years ago. His fan club includes more than 500,000 members. This does not even count the many international fans that stay up until 4:00 a.m. to watch his matches live over the Internet. In 2006, MTV.com included him in their article “The 10 Most Influential Video Gamers of All Time” alongside the creators of the web-comic “Penny Arcade” and the folks who modified “Half-Life” to make a game called "Counter-Strike." But beyond his hall of fame status in the eSports scene, this competitor has all the hallmarks of a true blue, larger than life sports star.

There is no secret that the CSL derives most of its inspiration and organizational structure from Korean StarCraft – even its name is an adaptation of the names of two tournaments called the “OGN StarLeague” and the “MBCGame StarLeague”. But while this student-organized league aims to emulate its more established cousins across the pond, only time will tell whether the similarities will extend beyond a snappy acronym.

On February 7, the CSL had its inaugural match between Princeton and MIT. Two groups of college students occupied rooms hundreds of miles away from each other, and yet they and their audience (the matches were streamed live online) were very close in spirit. The Daily Princetonian covered the match in a Sports section article that will become a weekly feature. I recommend that The Harvard Crimson follow suit for when the Harvard team plays.

The video game industry is already predicted to grow – not shrink – during this economic recession, and as many competitive games reward high levels of skill and talent, it was inevitable that eSports would come into being. Despite the superficial differences between athletic sports such as football and competitive StarCraft, both activities have achieved great popularity and generated entire entertainment industries because they tap into the natural human desire to enjoy and identify with excellence. The CSL might not ever attract the same eSports following in North America that the OSL and MSL enjoy in Korea, but I will certainly be watching this historical league grow and mature. And besides, there’s nothing better than kicking back and watching a good game of StarCraft.

In Defense of Color Commentary

As I said in an earlier post, I’m a permanent judge on SC2GG Commentator Idol, presented in association with Voice of eSports.  My main focus in judging the contestants’ submissions is what’s known as “color” – in commentary, this means essentially things the commentator says that distinguish him or her from a person or computer who’s only analyzing the technical and strategic aspects of the game.  This includes, but is not limited to, analogies comparing what’s going on in the game to situations in real life, fiction, etc. and expressions the commentator uses to convey the excitement of the game.  This approach has generated some controversy over the importance of these aspects in StarCraft commentary, and to that end I composed an explanation for why I think color is a valid judging criterion for Commentator Idol.

Technical knowledge is an extremely important factor when it comes to commentary, but if it were the only factor then anybody with sufficient technical knowledge would be a great commentator. This is not the case. Commentary adds entertainment value to a game, and although StarCraft is more entertaining automatically if you can understand what’s going on from a strategic perspective, there are other ways to increase entertainment value that affect the final product.

I’m a person who doesn’t care all that much about the commentator’s technical knowledge beyond a certain point … if the commentator says the player is going for a 3-hatch build instead of a 9-pool, that’s one thing, but if he says the mutalisk micro was slightly off when really it was that the terran had brilliant turret placement during one particular harass, it doesn’t really matter to me. The commentator can have the best technical knowledge in the world, but if he or she is boring or annoying to listen to, I’m not going to listen.

Color is about being able to make the commentary interesting beyond just saying what’s going on and why in a StarCraft context. There is a world that exists outside of StarCraft, and the two, in my opinion, should not be kept separate. Fundamentally, if you want StarCraft to appeal to a more general audience than just the people who play on ICCup, you have to be able to make StarCraft relevant to the real world – the world of people who have other interests and values that don’t relate to one particular game, and the world of people who want to be entertained. Good color commentary makes the outside world relevant to StarCraft, and in return, makes StarCraft relevant to the outside world.

There are many cases where people use sports metaphors for non-sports phenomena without a second thought. Kissing is "getting to first base" and the working world is called the "rat race." People are often told to "go for the gold" or "keep your eye on the ball" by motivational speakers. It’s firmly established that sports are relevant to life, and part of the reason why that happens is that sports are enjoyed by a large population of people, many or most of whom don’t understand or care about the higher-level technical details of a particular game. If someone who doesn’t understand StarCraft that well watches a commentary and doesn’t understand that a particular skirmish is key to the outcome of the game, he or she won’t understand that fact any better if the commentator just describes it technically. If, however, the commentator says that this particular timing push is like Napoleon going into Russia or like trying to bake a cake without flour, the significance becomes much clearer.

The bottom line is that Commentator Idol is not looking for a commentator who appeals only to diehard StarCraft fans or players. A good commentary should be very technically accurate, but it should also be exciting and leave a first-time viewer wanting to see more, even if they don’t understand exactly what’s going on. Color helps bridge that gap and make sure StarCraft appeals to a greater population and not just those who are D+ or higher on ICCup. Is competitive StarCraft just a niche novelty or can it also be a general spectator sport? Color commentary is a lot of what lets StarCraft make that transition.

link

Announcing … The PeaPod!

Let’s face it … I’m not cut out to be an SCBW commentator – the game has been around too long and the effort involved to rival the best would be a little more than I could handle with my other activities.  However, I do want to contribute to the community more than just by managing things at SC2GG and occasionally writing blogs or articles, so to that end I’ve started a podcast – The PeaPod!

 

This episode features a very entertaining interview with a special and elusive guest – check it out!  Leave me feedback for what you want to hear in this podcast as well ^_^.  Next episode out in two weeks!

link

Commentator Idol!

Hi everybody, terribly sorry for being afk for so long … I’ve had some financial issues and other stuff pop up, but I still shouldn’t have waited so long to write a good article.

Slide8

One major project that I got drawn into and has dominated my StarCraft life for a few weeks already is the SC2GG Commentator Idol, presented in association with Voice of eSports (the company I started a while back with some SC2GG people) and masterminded by Cholera, the history-loving Reach-adoring commentator who is one of SC2GG’s best-known voices.  I’m one of the two permanent judges of Commentator Idol, which is a parody of American Idol with up-and-coming YouTube StarCraft commentators in lieu of Kelly Clarkson and Taylor Hicks. 

Here’s the first episode – go to the Violetak account on YouTube to see the rest!

 

I’m the Paula Abdul figure of the show, I guess, with Cholera playing Ryan Seacrest and another well-known SC2GG commentator named Rise attempting to be Simon.  We just released Episode 3: Foreign but Gosu today, and for the last couple episodes we’ve had some really interesting guest judges on the show too – Diggity for Ep 2 and Chill from TeamLiquid for Ep 3.

The Guest Judges (so far)

Slide4

avatars

Diggity in avatar form

Chill, celebrating BlizzCon

 

The Permanent Judges

Slide1 Slide2
Yes, Rise really is this cool

It’s me!

 

The Host

Slide3

No, Cholera is not actually an ungodly hybrid of Reach and Chuck Norris.  This is just what he aspires to be.

What I’ve really been impressed by, though, has been the quality of the contestants who are on the show.  Cholera, Rise, and I went through 17 applications consisting of two commentaries for each applicant in order to come up with the six (originally five but one more slot added because of interest) contestants for the first episode.  So far two of them have been eliminated, and we were very sad to see them go, but this just underscores for me how incredibly talented, smart, and eloquent the remaining four are.

The First to Fall

hamilcaravatar smi1ey_avatar
Hamilcar was eliminated in the first episode with guest judge Diggity smi1ey was eliminated in the second ep with guest judge Chill

 

The Final Four

KennyPic2 hazel
MFTW parcx-1

If any of you are looking for some fresh new voices in the YouTube commentary scene, I’d highly recommend you click on these avatars and check out the contestants’ YT channels – they’re all excellent in different ways.  And yes, Hazel is a girl.  She’s also a damned good StarCraft commentator.

Anyway, stay tuned for episode 4 – dual commentaries!  Kenny and Hazel are casting two Korean SC mirror matches, as are Morph and Parcx.  The VODs will be listed on SC2GG on Thursday (although they may be up on the contestants’ individual pages before then) and voting will open Thursday evening.  If you’re interested in taking part, sign up on the SC2GG forums and vote!  The judges’ votes count towards the total, but the majority is held by you, the people!

Better Late than Never – Mass Madness 13!

On December 6th, 2008 I went to an awesomely low-key Melee tournament out in Framingham, MA at Game Universe. I look forward to going to more and taking more pictures. Apologies for the picture quality – I’ll get or borrow a new camera for the next one. Stay tuned!

Results (from this thread)

Teams

1. Banks and th0rn (Fleshwang)
2. Dazwa and Zoso (The imperialfiendlord imports his water from Athens but is still as Sleepy as Darc)
3. Skler and Pine (Pup n’ Suds)
4. Alukard and GMoney
5. Elen and AOI

Singles

1. KoreanDJ
2. th0rn
3. Reno
4. DJ Nintendo
5. Banks
5. Zoso

 

Let the games begin!

 

 

G$ ruins the shot …

 

That’s better.

 

 

Some non-smash gaming, just for kicks

 

Memorabilia

 

 

Can you feel the intensity?!

 

 

C’mon, let’s hear some trash talk!