keekerdc.com

essays and pithy thoughts

RE: open letter to MLG

in glhf

So here’s the letter I came across earlier this evening just before I stepped out for some food. It’s interesting really only as it pinpoints some particular issues that player base may be experiencing, as I’ve nothing in the way of first-hand experience with the league; I haven’t attended a MLG event and I don’t particularly plan to. As for the suggestions…well, the lines or reasoning are hard to follow and, once worked through, don’t offer much in the way of substance based on some sort of precedent in the sporting world.

It seems that Sundance at MLG has asked for some general feedback as to how to make his circuit better. Since my unequivocal answer would simply be ‘scrap your entire model and start over,’ I don’t suppose that’d be considered constructive. So instead we’re going to break down the post linked above and see if we can’t learn a bit more about the gears turning at MLG and what some broader implications may lie therein for the scene as a whole.

I humbly submit the following based on the assumption that Major League Gaming wants to grow its fan base, impact the culture of competitive gaming, and create dynamic partnerships that highlight the positive influences of competitive gaming, both as a tool to develop young people and their skills and as a valuable marketing asset for potential clients.

That’s one hell of a thesis. Deconstruction time:

  1. grow fan base.
  2. impact the culture of competitive gaming (?)
  3. highlight the positives of competitive gaming (?)
  4. develop the young folk into upstanding people and fine-tuned marketing machines

Hmm, welp I can let the first and last points fly, but the middle has me scratching my noggin, so I’ve tossed em out – pure platitudes, rhetorical marshmallow fluff. So, I’m essentially trying to find arguments that would work to strengthen the fan base and make the whole thing more marketable. Onward:

A comprehensive Human Capital Strategy Plan

  • Leverage MLG’s assets to influence and shape competitive gaming culture.
  • Recruit and retain key community managers and competitive gaming personalities to evangelize both the ideal competitive gaming culture and Major League Gaming.
  • Invest in employee training to ensure that all of Major League Gaming’s assets are consistently and stably managed so that interaction with the community is consistent and positive. To put it bluntly, MLG Clap needs to be trained, as he reflects poorly on Major League Gaming and sets a negative example of competitive gaming culture. I know others share this view, but I want to reinforce that from my personal observations, if I were the CEO of MLG, I would immediately retrain him and aggressively supervise his interactions to ensure he reflects Major League Gaming and competitive gaming in the most positive manner.
  • Establish an advancement and promotional framework that not only advances high performers but removes boundaries to advancement because of personal friendships or loyalties. Major League Gaming must have a culture, from the highest levels all the way to the volunteers, of rewarding sustained, high performance. Loyalty is not enough. Loyalty must be matched by superior performance at all levels in the organization and across all assets.

I’d strike through all of this but that seemed rather…agressive. Look we’ve already seen what MLG is capable of doing with the ‘assets’ they’ve acquired: jack squat. Head on over to Gotfrag; hows that been looking lately? The place is a ghost town. Why? Simple of course – it was the flagship outlet for PC scene news and it was bought up by a console circuit. Commence credibility drain in three…two…one…

Your players…they aren’t ‘human capital.’ That’s corporate mumbo-jumbo HR “we’re separating your employment” doubleplus goodspeak bullshit. Your players are your league. Without them, a gaming league doesn’t have a business model. Period.

The model that offers team managers a robust sanctioning mechanism that rewards stability and longevity while offering them opportunities to build equity in their team, and simultaneously offers players a stable income that grows over time, will be the model that ultimately wins. Does MLG achieve that? In some ways yes – but, like most leagues we’ve seen, they’ve only got it halfway.

One of the things that gaming here in the States have yet to realize is that it’s not them that’s doing the ‘shaping’ when it comes to gaming culture, and that’s precisely why they’ve ALL failed to prove themselves as sustainable. If a league isn’t the entity that’s being shaped, with gaming’s existing culture as the guide, how do you figure it’s going to turn out? Competitive gaming started as a very underground scene, as most fledgling sports do, and the process that brings it up to the ‘mainstream’ surface is a slow, arduous one that plays out over decades, not months. This is why it wasn’t a suprise at all when the CPL couldn’t maintain their trajectory, once they blew their collective load over the million dollar prize purse they furnished at the peak of their run; or when the CGS shuttered up after a measly two seasons of play.

Competitive gaming will not truly arrive in the states until it’s ultimately ready to do so, and no amount of corporate structure or prize money tossed at the scene will make it mature any faster.

Ok back to this post. We move along to the points system that MLG has employed for ranking teams over the course of a season:

It is my understanding that Major League Gaming’s point system is in place in an effort to both maintain some consistency in top players, as well as reward those who attend league events, and I applaud Major League Gaming in making an effort to examine options that promote attendance and team consistency. After several years, I think it has become clear that fans want roster consistency but players do not, and here lies the dilemma.

There’s really no dilemma here. Both fans and players want roster stability. It makes it easier for an onlooker to keep track of things when rosters don’t swing wildly about over the course of a season, and no team enjoys playing with a sub every match. If unreliable rosters seem to be a problem from both a competitive as well as a marketing standpoint, MLG has it’s own model to blame! This is a direct consequence of the competitive model in place which requires scores of teams to show up at a predetermined place and time in order to compete, something that’s economically viable in the long run for NO teams except those that place in the prize money consistently.

If you’re with me in the States (or maybe outside, don’t know really), you’ve likely seen this ad for ‘the Ladders’ – it’s a website that carries job listings for big shots.

This is how the CPL, WSVG, and MLG all are constructed! Go pro! Just do it – hop on down from the stands and take a crack! All you have to do is get your ass on a plane and show up! Blurring the line between top-level professional and the casual hobbyist is not a strength and has no parallel in any professional sport; STOP IT. Professional gaming cannot be built on a foundation of ‘hey you and your pub scrub buddies – comon down to the city and play the pros.’ But here it is anyway – the “pinnacle of pro gaming.” Right. And why is it this way? Not because it improves the level of play across the board – in fact it achieves the opposite, it dilutes the matchplay product by increasing the ratio of crappy matches to good ones. It’s setup this way because it makes the league the most money (so they think anyway).

If you want that stability, you make a professional league a walled garden; you have to earn your place there with more than just a plane ticket. If you want that consistency, then you minimize the cost to compete by picking up a competitive model that doesn’t require teams to travel every time they need to play. If you want to see growth, you make it easy for your top teams to compete in as many high-level matches as possible while making it economically feasible to do so – win or lose. You don’t achieve through punitive systems that discourage absentees and forces a large amount of expense up-front for even your best teams; instead you build a model that makes it easy and economically feasible to compete.

The post continues in regards to building a larger fan base:

  1. Translate the benefits of competitive gaming to parents.
  2. Create media and articles that are specific and simple to understand that engage parent’s concerns, and invite them to be active partners in their childrens’ competitive gaming experiences.
  3. Get some fucking seats so parents can sit the fuck down.
  4. Aggressively sample event attendees through both quantitative and qualitative surveys to accurately gauge attendee event satisfaction.
  5. Never allow MLG Clap to address the community until you retrain him. You need community managers with patience, respect and who, regardless of what is written or said, always respond in a positive and constructive manner. Period. End of conversation. No exceptions. You must have a zero tolerance policy on immaturity, unprofessionalism, and any type of engagement that does not leave fans feeling respected and valued.

Point 3, meet point 5. Jesus hiphopping Christ on a cracker, at least read what you’ve written before hitting publish. The second personal attack on ‘Clap’ in this piece isn’t helping the case either; it’s fine to have a personal beef with someone, but in this context it just destroys any cohesion to the argument.

Gaming’s a diversion. Yea, it may have some tertiary effects on things like hand-eye coordination, focus on a single task, and working with others towards a common goal with a close team of peers; but there’s a lot of detrimental stuff that can come out of gaming obsessively in the pursuit of ‘going pro.’ Pandering to parents is only going to go so far anyway, and relying on minors to be the bedrock of a professional anything is just ridiculous anyway. Just as similar efforts to break through in professional sports go, it’s a hobby until you start getting paid, and once you ‘make it’ the hope and expectation is that the income is steady. High schoolers are not thinking of obtaining such stability, nor are they capable of providing it for a league, and more drastic changes are necessary than collecting a few surveys and engaging parents in order to build the older, more mature player base that a viable professional league needs in order to grow a more robust fan base.

Improve Live Streaming

No, how about SCREW the live streaming until you can manage to get large crowds of people to show up to the actual events – in person! What’s that? Impossible since events only hit a city once a year and don’t have the consistent presence needed to generate passionate local followings? Hmmm…maybe that’s the bigger fish to fry here…

The CGS was dead to me when I learned the so-called Chicago Chimera was never going to actually play a match in Chicago. Local fan bases drive professional sports. Period. Ignore this as a team sport and doom yourself to failure.

Let other organizations retain some right to their players

Just as conventions don’t need to contract people, so it is that Major League Gaming does not need to contract players such that it retains all rights. Gaming communities like vVv Gaming invest an enormous amount of time and resources to finding top talent, developing top talent, marketing events and getting players to events. Major League Gaming, and although I understand its concerns, must create a system that encourages entrepreneurship and involvement.

And so we’ve found the first salient point of the evening, and this is just what I was talking about in my previous post about prize circuits – although MLG takes it a step further by actually ‘signing players to the league’ (a phrase you’ll never hear uttered in any professional sports context EVER). The teams absorb the risk and the expense up front so the league can operate a maximum profit (or minimum deficit as the case may be). Here it is – straight from a team – guess I’m not so crazy after all. Teams and players understand the pivotal role they play in building equity in the league entity, and yet have no claim or share on it whatsoever. They must keep showing up, plunking their buy-in down, and winning in order to keep getting their share of the league’s success. This is blasphemy.

The rest of the piece hits some lesser points about how the sponsors themselves are pretty weak (junk food and deodorant?) and some nonsense about partnering with universities that we don’t need to go into here.

Conclusion

My main point here is that, if this post is in any way indicative of the larger scene’s perspective on what’s important within gaming leagues and the things of import that MLG needs to address, we’re a long way off from the sort of awareness we need to come to regarding the league’s proper role and how best to structure a new professional sport.

Put more simply, the forest is being lost for the trees. It’s not the points system that’s the problem, it’s the needless travel required for every competitive event. It’s not that the live streams suck, it’s that it’s so difficult for a prize circuit to generate the grassroots local-level sort of fan bases that teams need, and the sort of personal connection fans need with the teams and players they support, simply because it’s constantly jumping from place to place. It’s not that you don’t have parents and universities on board, it’s that the audience for this sort of thing, based on the way it’s constructed, starts and ends with participants and those that wish to be participants. It’s not that the tournaments aren’t inclusionary enough, it’s that they aren’t exclusionary enough.

In my next post, I wrap up these thoughts as well as the line of reasoning I opened up in my previous post on prize circuits, and I’ll be focusing more on how we need to construct things, rather than how we shouldn’t.