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Boom/Bust

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Making announcements of announcements is in vogue. People are running amok, hopped up on cases full of energy drinks, pretending to know what they’re doing. Sir Scoots is singing songs from the nineties (damn, that music video is weird).

In short…same old, same old. Esports boom time is in session again.

The notion that esports is a cyclical beast – that periods of rapid inflation and deflation are a given – seems to be one that’s widely held. Even the most starry-eyed optimist would have to admit that the pace of the current uptick in activity and attention around the scene can’t be sustained indefinitely. In just three years time, the American scene went from it’s post-collapse emptiness to one that’s arguably too full; nearly a million dollars will be distributed to Starcraft players alone through a handful of different invitationals and prize circuits this year.

It’s too soon to address questions of whether the audiences around these competitions will grow in proportion to the money being dumped into them, or whether the return-on-investment can’t keep pace, and a contraction is in store for us in a year or two. If the latter proves true, just as it had in 2008, it would seem to lend credence to gaming being cyclical. However, an analysis that stops there would be incomplete, and would let gamers as a whole off the hook for allowing that to be the status quo.

There’s no question that the growth we’ve seen recently is a generally positive thing for gaming, but bigger is only better if it’s clear that we won’t deflate completely again in the short term. That is, this sort of explosive growth is worthless if it isn’t sustainable.

We’ve seen a rash of new prize circuits popping up, brandishing lofty rhetoric, making a bet that gaming’s growth trajectory can’t possibly go anywhere but straight up, fanning the flames of hype and hysteria that the scene is all too eager to dance around. It makes sense, given the notion that esports is cyclical, that the scene plays along with this, making an unconscious judgement that the inflationary periods need to be hyped up and milked for all they’re worth before the inevitable contraction arrives. Get it while you can, right?

These corporate prize tournament organizations, concerned first and foremost with turning profits, have been allowed to dictate the course of the scene. It’s justified by the assumption that there would be no activity at all without them; but this justification is flimsy. It ignores the fact that, despite all the rhetoric insisting that esports sits on a strong communal foundation, there doesn’t exist a single organization charged solely with the advancement of any one game and its players. Players and teams have been singularly concerned with their own enrichment and little else, and it’s left the collective of gamers easily manipulated.

It’s laughable that, for all the stamping and pouting that gamers do about not being taken seriously, it hasn’t occured to anyone that the cause of their general dismissal is the complete lack of internal organization and cohesion. Equally laughable is the argument that associations set up around single games would be a waste of time; how long have Starcraft and Counter-strike been played now?

Ninety-five years ago, golfers made this realization, and formed the PGA. It’s establishment was not for the purpose of figuring out how to inject more prize money into a burgeoning golf scene, or to give golfers a platform to ‘expand their personal brand,’ but to provide support for golfers looking to make a realistic career out of the game. While it was understood that prize tournaments and spectator events were an important part of the ecosystem, it was also understood that those events could not be the entire ecosystem if sustainability was the object.

The mission of the PGA is the advancement of the game itself and those who play it, by providing professionals the tools needed to build sustainable businesses from golf in their own locales, rather than simply being prize winning machines. It provides golf the foundation for continued sustainable growth that gaming so desperately lacks currently. Where’s the demand for something similar here, in gaming? I hope that it’s more to do with just a collective lack of thought rather than a collective apathy.

This is not some collectivist Bolshevik plot concocted simply so that we can form a circle of love around a copy of Starcraft and sing kumbaya. It’s about bringing some clarity to a massively unorganized scene; and allowing the more stable games, ones with proven long-term potential, the ability to break free of this assumed cyclical fate. If we want gaming to grow, and grow in a way that won’t evaporate at a moment’s notice, we need to get serious about finding ways to grow that don’t rely on prizes. The first step towards doing that is forming a proper association.

It’s time to get our house in order, but before we can do that, we actually need a house.