essays and pithy thoughts

Esports is not good at Kickstarter.

in down is the new up, glhf

Can we all maybe agree that Kickstarter probably isn’t all that useful within the context of esports?

Let’s begin with Kickstarter itself, and it’s several ‘competitors.’ It feels like, possibly in an attempt to outgrow each other and gain dominance over the whole crowd-funding industry, these sites are falling away from the pretense of curation; the sense that green-lit projects are carefully filtered and selected specifically for their unique qualities and potential to reach funding goals no longer seems to be something these sites are interested in maintaining. The number of Kickstarter projects flying down my twitter timeline have definitely hit an increased pace as of late, and I can’t really attribute that to a dramatic increase in the number of worthy projects coming down the pipe.

It’s a corporate warfare of sorts, one waged in spreadsheets, growth projections, and expansion goals that can only be described as arbitrary. “We’re going to expand x vertical by y percent.” Great – but at what cost? Does grabbing a larger audience mean losing your focus, losing your authentic voice, losing sway with your most engaged audience to score a larger part of the pie? I’ve been propping up side projects here and there really ever since I’ve come to know that the web existed, and only now, some fifteen years later, do I think I’m beginning to see the things that point the way towards success more than failure. And believe you me, I’ve seen plenty of my own projects faceplant and wipe out.

Everything to this point may seem like a digression, but the reason I mention it is because I’ve noticed that a strong sense of curation is so, so, so very important in a lot of enterprises where it may not be immediately obvious that it matters. Kickstarter is an obvious one. I think it was there when it started – where it was pretty clear the bar was high to get a project on the site. As a result, the rapidly growing audience of potential backers, heading straight to Kickstarter just to see what’s new, had their attention focused on a very digestable set of projects up for consideration. There might not be something there that you’d consider worth your money if you visited daily, but you were also exposed to things that otherwise wouldn’t get past your typical interest filters.

And that’s so important! It creates an intangible feel that you’re a part of something important, and exclusive, and gives a sense that someone has their fingerprints all over what’s being presented. Now? It’s more like a project clearinghouse than a place to pitch your project to the world.

There’s thousands of projects open for pledges at any given time. How the fuck is anybody supposed to navigate that? How am I to be sure I haven’t missed a project that I’d be absolutely interested in backing given the sheer number of projects there to leaf through, and no comprehensive way to do so? Kickstarter, it seems, in an attempt to head off a run on market share, has given up one of the keys to their initial success: the focused, coherent, curated voice that was critical to their community building efforts. Now, the only way to hear about a Kickstarter that might strike a nerve is through outside channels and communities, which just seems backwards.

I mean, look at this abject failure of a project. It recieved, um, no support. How did this even get featured? Who is this guy? How was anybody supposed to hear of this, with no evident connections to any part of the esports press, and with no potential to reach a disengaged audience on Kickstarter? This seems like a failure from all angles, and one that could have easily been avoided.

At the least, Patrick O’Neill is established in the scene, and has a portfolio in content production that posesses some literal heft (it includes a book – a real dead-tree one). So, out of the esports-related Kickstarters I’ve seen to this point, I thought this one had a fighting chance to actually get funded. I tossed in a few shekles myself; I’d like to see it get funded, and told him it was a good idea to run it when we were discussing various projects in the week before his pledge period started. Unfortunately, I think he made some blunders in messaging, (I’m pretty sure he himself feels the same about it) and those blunders may very well prevent it from reaching the goal to get funded.

If you’ll look back on Kickstarter campaigns that have been wildly successful to this point, they usually provide a tangible benefit directly to backers, like a thing that gets mailed to them, that they can own; like a watch band for a Nano, or a handcrafted cartridge holder for a legendary type of pen, or a video/board game. Backers want a piece of something other than a warm fuzzy feeling. Successful campaigns must frame their project in this manner: how is this project going to benefit me, specifically me, as a backer?

I think that case was there to be made for O’Neill’s project, but a message of a different type took the forefront, and rubbed so many e-pelts the wrong way as a result. So it goes.

And so we come to today’s edition of esports on Kickstarter; which I can only describe as a near perfect convergence of esports hubris and Kickstarter’s waning curation, and is the kindling for this post. This should not have happened.

Let’s get to the core of this pitch: we gave out a bunch of stuff (provided by …?) and ran tournaments at last year’s QuakeCon, and did this all on a volunteer basis, at our own expense. id software was so pleased with all the slaving away we did that they cordially asked us to do it again. For free. We’d like to continue dramatically undercutting the value of our own services because we get nerd chills from being associated with id and this event, and (foot shuffle) we’ve already basically committed to doing it again this year, but we don’t want to keep doing it out our own pocket, so we’d like you – the esports community at large – to underwrite our nerd chills.

That’s the most fair representation of this Kickstarter that I can muster. It fails so spectacularly at answering the questions of ‘why should I care’ and ‘whats in it for me’ that it’s almost offensive. Almost.

“QuakeCon represents an opportunity for CSN to give back to the gamers and connect with these communities on a personal level.”

I don’t think that phrase means what you think it means, if you’re asking the lot of us to finance a single-shot bash for you and your friends at QuakeCon.

The only audience for this campaign might be people actually attending QuakeCon, who might like something of a ‘main show’ happening for the duration. Is there really a resonable demand for a stream of the goings-on in the BYOC area, and what exhibition tournaments might be scraped together from the largely anonymous crowd that will converge there? I can’t imagine there is, and the front-man is just not notable enough for the average esports-stream-watching Jane to care. If it’s worth, on average, a buck-fifty per attendee to have CSN there, you might have a case for gathering funding. But again, it’d be from people who actually have reason to give a damn.

I understand that it’s hard to get shit paid for in esports. I’ve propped up lots of stuff that had great intentions and great potential but ulitmately failed because they didn’t bring enough value to justify anybody paying for it – sponsors or consumers. And when that happens, it means you don’t have a business – you have a hobby, or something done ‘for shits’ – neither are categories on Kickstarter.

Because you want to do it, and ‘because esports,’ doesn’t make your pitch convincing, or your business a viable one.

Esports, like regular sports, doesn’t have the production of things as its central purpose – the creation of experiences is the central purpose. That, combined with the fact that so much of the overall activity in esports just frankly doesn’t generate all that much value, seems to spell to me that unless you’re intending to sell shares of your venture directly to your backers (can you even do that on Kickstarter?) this whole esports thing doesn’t really have a place on Kickstarter.