essays and pithy thoughts

Taking the fear out of Esports

in ESFI World, glhf

This post was first published here on ESFI World. I write a bi-weekly column there; pick up their feeds to get these articles while they’re current.

In the short time since picking up the inner workings of the gaming scene, past and present, as a main point of conversation on my blog (, I’ve received a lot of great feedback and notes of encouragement. I’ve also had the privilege of having some pretty in-depth conversations with some people that I would have never figured I’d have any access to. It’s been an enlightening process that has brought me to this gig, writing a regular column on ESFI World.

I intend to use this column to provide a more macroscopic view of what’s happening on the business and structural side of esports. There are plenty of folks who already do a great job of covering tournaments, conducting interviews, cranking out matchplay write-ups; I don’t intend to add yet another voice to that cacophony. I hope to fill a gap in the competitive gaming narrative that focuses on what in esports is and isn’t working, from a purely economical standpoint, and to try and spark discussion and reflection on how our individual scenes as well as gaming as a whole operates.

I want to use this first entry to highlight a recurring theme that I’ve come across in my discussions with major players in the scene, past and present. It’s left an indelible mark on professional gaming’s past, and continues to prevent a clear history of North American Esports to be constructed, making an earnest discussion of where to go from here particularly difficult. What I’m speaking of is fear.

Its mostly manifested itself as a fear of being left out of a big opportunity. This has come to bite the scene multiple times in the past, where a mob mentality takes over and questions of fiscal viability or of the integrity of a tournament organization get brushed aside; the push to get aboard each and every self-described ‘next big thing in gaming’ has been strong, and such a push always made trivial any concerns that said ‘next big thing’ only looks good on the surface. Without fail, the scene would help hype every unproven newcomer to the scene, only to multiply it’s detrimental impact when things were inevitably brought to the ground. The necessary questions about long-term viability, or how each new tournament circuit would bring about the conditions to allow more teams and players to find stability, were never asked.

Few were bold enough to point out that CPL’s growth trajectory circa 2004 was wholly unsustainable while signs of abuse of the player body were starting to pile up. Few were willing to describe WSVG’s style of scene management as categorically worse on every metric that could be applied. Few were able to see the CGS for what it was: a reality television show first, and a legitimate gaming competition second – our equivalent of Wayne’s World after being signed to a fat TV contract: bastardized and distilled into the lowest common gaming denominator.

Fear of speaking out against large gaming establishments is the leading manifestation. I received a tip recently regarding yet another story of a tournament abroad taking gaming teams for a ride, but it disintegrated. The players involved felt that if they spoke up they’d be blackballed from the only opportunity to compete in their region, or worse, that it would bring all activity there to a halt, fearing that the organizers would pull their support and cash – deadbeat or otherwise.

It was disappointing to read or hear ‘I don’t want to get sued,’ or something along those lines, in so many of the conversations I mentioned at the top of this piece. And scary. Writing my blog, to this point, has been very much an exercise in trying to confront this omnipresent fear of finding yourself in a lawsuit for not treading lightly around everything that has happened to this point, and pointing out obvious mistakes made to this point. It seems to me there are some figures around gaming’s past that have some dinosaur-sized skeletons in their closet that they’d rather not see on display in a museum…or a blog.

I ultimately wish to move the discourse on the scene’s past away from trying to identify the ‘bad guys’ to being more introspective, and figure out how gaming teams and players can have a more active role on the scene’s direction in the future, when compared to the passive role it assumes to this day. The first step in this, however, is encouraging people to swallow whatever fear they may have about being critical of the scene’s current and past big influencers. If we can’t have a frank and honest conversation about what works and what doesn’t, we haven’t a chance in hell of building a sustainable ecosystem of businesses around gaming; an ecosystem capable of transforming what we do, from a more serious hobby, into something that provides a multitude of sustainable full-time jobs.

I hope you’ll join me in getting this conversation going. Your feedback is encouraged and appreciated; I can be reached at, or @keekerdc on twitter.