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Crowdfunding, community, and cultishness

in glhf

Amongst all the noise generated yesterday by Lewis’ piece on the great crowdfunding menace; which on my feeds largely coalesced around Robinson misinterpreting ambiguous comma usage into a personal assault, this audio blog from Totalbiscuit that devolved into pedantic mush far too early for me to listen through to the end, and things melting down during Live on Three’s open phones session; amongst all that, punctuated by folks defending their own dabbling in dubious crowdfunding affairs, the point of the piece was largely lost.

It’s not that crowdfunding is inherently evil, it’s that crowdfunding is incredibly easy to abuse, and that we should discourage its further use in esports, regardless of the ends or the intent. That the ‘cult of netcode’ seems very much still alive and well makes it that much easier to take large groups of esports onlookers for a ride, to make some half-hearted motions towards delivering on promises after being funded, before eventually following what is really the path of least resistance: giving in to the sirens of procrastination and easy excuses, letting the project run aground, shrugging, and experiencing nothing much in the way of consequences.

You tipped your card yourselves of course, they didn’t always know you felt this way. They noticed that you would give generously to teams and players needing to travel when they couldn’t afford their own fees to do so. They noticed you’d give generously to your favourite streamers. They’ve known for some time you will buy brands based on who your e-sports idols do. Somewhere along the line they realised they didn’t have to use marketing to get you to part with your money. They could just simply get you to hand it over to them with a single phrase – “how you can support e-sports.”

Cropped up a lot lately hasn’t it? Want to support e-sports? Well, you can buy these headsets. Want to support e-sports? Use this website, use this discount code, use this and use that? Want to support e-sports? We’re a part of e-sports, pay for us to live a comfortable lifestyle so we can avoid the soul crushing nine to five you worked to give us the money. In exchange for this we will give you what you want, which is of course more e-sports related content for you to access and enjoy.

Yup, ‘because esports’ in so many words.

I do get the overall sense that Lewis is sensing more than just a small amount of malice coming from the people setting up these campaigns, and it’s where our opinions on this may diverge a bit. I think most of these campaigns are indeed setup with a reasonably sincere intention of following through on the contract laid out; it’s just that when it comes time to actually execute, and the organizers come face to face with the full reality of the amount of work or resources it would take to actually follow through, or that they relied too much on the future favor of people generally unaccountable to them to follow through, letting things just slip into oblivion and hoping their backers forget becomes a rather attractive option.

That is to say that bailing isn’t the original intention, but rather becomes the best and easiest option over time. Though, it’s not to say that it’s excusable, and it’s not to say that a trend doesn’t exist of trading on the unwavering goodwill and loose wallets of esports faithful to prop up projects that inevitably go half-completed.

I’m trying hard not to dive into ‘well the real problem is…’-style nihilism here, but it really is a symptom of something deeper. Esports projects need to get real about what they can accomplish given their resources and level of expertise, which is usually practically nothing in regards to both, and how that impacts their ability to deliver on lofty dreams. Esports audiences need to demand a more square deal, where they’re paying for a finished product rather than subsidizing risk, where they’re acting as consumers rather than as underwriters.

Lewis’ efforts in attempting to fully document the current state of affairs on this front is important work, but will probably be in vein. The root of this problem is set in the cultural foundation of the scene, which values any validation of their faith in esports over any sense of mere healthy enjoyment of the current state of things, which by any rational account is in pretty damn good shape today considering recent history. The constant drumbeat of bigger, bigger, bigger, now, now, now must end, from both the fans and the producers.