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Good Grief

in glhf

At some point, someone is going to be running the esports scene; or at least the scene for any given game. The pull towards consolidation is strong, and in some ways was inevitable. We can only hope that whoever the buck stops with is a benevolent steward.

I tweeted yesterday: the future of esports is vertical integration. It’s the smoothing over of inefficiencies, the elimination of middlemen and scene machinations that don’t work.

Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t; in the notably weighty case of fútbol, it can be called both ways simultaneously. The game brings enjoyment to billions, and billions in profits to those involved; yet can’t seem to muster a single fuck about slaves dying while constructing stadia for Qatar’s sham of a World Cup. Any other international conglomerate with the irredeemable buffoon Blatter at its helm would have broken apart by now, as a product of incompetence and sheer public outrage. But people love soccer unconditionally, and nothing is going to stop Qatar’s World Cup, or 2018’s upcoming farce in Russia, from being successes.

This is generally the same place I find the hand-wringing over the GoodGame acquisition to be coming from, a place of unconditional love for the scene circa 2005. There is a pervasive fear this is a watershed moment that, when combined with the scene’s historical precedent for catastrophic failure once things become too big to fail, is merely setting the stage for one of two things: an autocratic dictatorship in which the powers that be at Twitch and GG cackle to themselves in a mahogany boardroom while sipping scotch and fixing the results of every last tournament; or the scene’s second Great Depression.

In reality, it’s neither of those things. Such a stance inflates GG’s gravity – which is really just a testament to how masterful they are at building brands. But it also exhibits a sandwich-board-crazy mindset that is too rooted in the ills of last decade, is ignorant of the myriad ways in which the context has dramatically changed, and refuses to admit that the gap between esports and sports will inevitably shrink and vanish. There is no need to repent now, the end is not nigh, centralization is progress; and not only is esports no longer a special little snowflake, it never really was.

Where we may deride the sports industry as dinosaur-like in many ways, hamstrung by long-standing relationships with television networks and playing catchup in digital distribution when compared to Twitch, we still have yet to find a single fucking model that keeps teams that don’t hit the podium in business. As GoodGame’s COO points out, their monopoly on solvent operations didn’t start this week, it has existed for years.

It’s partly, as he argues, that their people, process, and product were all superior to the models of all the other organizations. That’s true. What he leaves out is it’s also because a vastly diversified sports market where all players are on strictly adversarial, decoupled, free-market terms still only results in a few winners and thousands of ghosts.

So you’ll have to excuse me that I find baffling the attitude writ large that this acquisition creates unacceptable momentum towards a monopoly that will carry the scene to it’s doom (again). I’ll admit, if you page back far enough on this blog, I was there at one point too. Now that I understand more about how the business of something as inherently frivolous as sport works, I don’t find principled opposition to integrated structures as defensible as I once did. As it turns out, they can produce more rapid growth with better footing for everyone involved than their free and open cousins.

The inefficiencies and deficiencies of today’s scene are obvious. So why would it be a problem if Twitch bought teams, built leagues, and produced and aired the resulting matchplay products themselves? In the end, Twitch exists to make money from the distribution of gaming content, and there’s no reason why they couldn’t do everything in-house if they had the resources to achieve it. So if that’s where we’re headed, why is that such a bad thing?