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essays and pithy thoughts

Not Enough

in glhf

You want to start your own business in esports. Sweet. Want is not enough on its own to make it real. Putting in scores of hours and some of your savings isn’t enough either. Getting communities behind your efforts isn’t enough either.

You actually must have, in your head, something that you can do with the resources you have, that you think would create enough value for someone else to the point that they will give you money for it. Not product in kind, or kudos, or upvotes, or likes – money. More than a catchy name and something that you want to do that’s also going to take up a buttload of your time, hoping things will just turn out – you need a thought that can realistically be a business.

Do you have one?

I know because I’ve made this mistake enough times to learn better. My past projects that haven’t panned out found their way to the bin not because outside forces were actively trying to screw me over, or because I didn’t play politics enough, or because I didn’t put enough passion behind what I was doing. It’s because I didn’t have a business; I had a massive hobby.

“Be an entrepreneur?” you say. “That is so risky! What if I work hard and fail? I have college debt! I have to eat! My parents/wife/Manfred will lose all respect for me! I have to join a real company, and make a real salary! Can’t you give me a job? I want to work at something that makes me happy!”

I hear you. The idea of growing something from scratch is risky and it is scary and it is hard work. Just listen to the cautionary words from the eSports panelists at the end of that Symposium. The road is not easy. If leaping into the entrepreneurial end of the eSports pool makes you nervous, then go get a 9 to 5 job with my blessing, and know that I will still respect you in the morning.

Thanks, I guess? If you’re not nervous about giving up a steady paycheck for the riding-a-motorcycle-at-200-mph-without-a-helmet feeling of forging out on your own, I think there might be something wrong with you.

But really, it’s not about nerves. It’s about whether your business can be a literal thing, in the world, outside your head.

Frankly, in view of all this, I think plunging into an eSports business during a recession—or any startup—is a lot less foolish than it looks.

But let’s take a worst case scenario. Let’s say you fail at this attempt to run an eSports business—whether it is something ambitious like an eSports convention, or something modest like a BarCraft. Let’s say I fail, too. What are the consequences for us? What will we be left with, you and I, beside a ton of student debt, a car payment and some great gaming memories?

Based on my experience, you’ll be fine.

He rhetorically walks up to the reality of all this, and then kinda shrugs it off. Ehhh, you’ll be fine! Look at me!

Taking a few years to pursue a well-thought out business model, in which you can scratch out some realistic numbers and get them to add up, is one thing – even if you do faceplant, at least you’ll have experience for future work and things you can discuss in a job interview. Taking a few years to fuck around aimlessly on the internet, because esports, is not going to look good on any resume, I don’t care how much the business world changes.

Day[9] succeeded because he did have a business. His shows provided real value to throngs of Starcrafters; not just going through the motions of being a shoutcaster because he could imagine himself in that role and liked that picture, he had actual expertise to bring to the table and a knack for communicating that expertise effectively. Between revenue derived from the audience for his shows and revenue from commentary gigs, he’s doing well for himself. So, while much respect is due towards his talent as a broadcaster and execution of his idea, that doesn’t mean that everyone with a wild hair tickling about finding a career in esports will end up ‘just fine’ on the other end.

Don’t shrug it off. It’s damn important. Yea, you gotta have drive, and passion, and willingness to sacrifice time. But you at least need something you think has a chance at working, something you can hold in your mind and think: there’s a market for X and I can fill it. If you don’t have that, no amount of working hard or wanting it bad is going to make a difference.

Sorry.

You’ll not see that crucial bit part in any blog post – the bit explaining that open market waiting for some plucky green entrepreneur to capitalize on. People that get such thoughts usually set about executing them.

And really, at this point, the way the scene is structured, there isn’t much room for new success stories, not without lots of money to burn, not unless your idea is truly novel. Are you going to start a tournament? You’d better be loaded. Are you going to start yet another Twitch or YouTube channel? The path from start to solvency in that is much longer and steeper now than when that corner of esports was still nacent. Are you going to start a team? You’re better off lighting cash on fire, at least you’ll get heat from it.

I understand the sentiment behind this post. And that’s all great, and everything. It’s still silly to encourage people to take the plunge without acknowledging that he’s benefited from more than just a little luck in finding the success he has, and that the risk involved in jumping into esports with both feet warrants considerably more than a “meh, you’ll be ok regardless” reaction.

Think hard. Be realistic about it. And if you still feel good about it, then jump.