An article in today’s NYT made me think of the whole notion of ‘jerseys’ in gaming. My initial take on it was brought about by the CGS: I saw it as just another hokey idea tossed in with all the others that made that production a clusterfzsk. I’m not sure why I initially ‘poo-pooed’ the idea…or why it took the notion of sponsor-front jerseys hitting a US-based sports franchise for me to get hip to it, considering European sports (notably football) clubs for years and years have been sporting jerseys with their key sponsor front-and-center, as opposed to a team name or logo.

But now I’m convinced: the ability for a gamer to brand their persona/avatar in-game is critical to the growth of pro gaming. Why? It’s the most prime real-estate in the digital arena, and an opportunity for teams to work towards sustainable profitability.

A thought that you will see me touch on a lot in this blog and on my show is the fact that gaming will not progress until there is widespread opportunity for teams to be viable business units. The primary downfall of gaming in the last decade has been unisponsoritis (sound it out, you’ll get it): the reliance on a single corporate benefactor to meet the costs of doing business as a team or competitive venue, with no means of moving beyond such reliance in the future. Most notably and recently we saw the very prominent ESWC fall by the wayside, with most onlookers blaming unisponsoritis. Not only do large tournaments become victims, but most teams operate on the same shaky ground; the volitility that exists in the gaming scene in general today can be blamed at least in part on unisponsoritis; just watch how long it takes a decent team to break apart at the seams after a key sponsor drops support, or observe the frequency and speed at which a team will drop a sponsor or move organizations to get that slightly better deal.

Some will argue (I am one of them) that courting and landing that big sponsor might be the easy part; the hard part is keeping them interested as time goes on. And how can you blame them, when teams can offer sponsors next to zero exposure in the one place that counts the most: IN-GAME? The team website and IRC channel are distant second and third to the place that most outsiders get exposed to a team, and that’s in the game environment, either through spectator tools or video streams. Sure, you can ‘tag up’ as –>>>OMGLOOKSPONSOR<<<–schetter but in the end that kind of shill can’t be nearly as memorable as seeing a graphical logo.

The direction that Valve is taking with their in-game scoreboard is definately the right direction, integrating it with the ‘Steam Friends’ network and pulling avatars in from user profiles so you can put a ‘name with a face,’ so to speak. However, I can’t recall seeing a team jumping on the opportunity to use that graphical space afforded to them as a billboard; usually if a team is to use their avatars as a sort of jersey, they display their team logo there. This is money wasted folks, sell that space!

However, this is nowhere close to the full branding potential that lays unrealized inside gaming. I now chalk the in-game CS jerseys we saw in the CGS as one of it’s (few) better ideas. (By the way, if anybody has an image lying around of what those things looked like, please comment with a link.) The only unfortunate thing at this point is that opening up this opportunity to the masses of competitive gaming today either requires third-party modifications to the games or developer support, neither of which comes very easily, and in the case of third-party mods may not even be feasible.

As I see it, the full monty of branding capibilities, in terms of Counter-strike is as follows: user-defined area across chest & torso area and user-defined area across back, layered on top of distinctive solid-colored shirt/jersey with hue of user’s choice; user-defined area to be displayed next to the player name in 2D overview, user-defined area to be overlayed in a corner of the screen in first- and third-person views. Branding of the actual player model would only be visible in spectator modes, so it wouldn’t have any effect on gameplay.

At this point, the only organization I see capable of delivering on this idea is ESEA, and, if I’m not mistaken, they were the ones that developed the idea for use on the CGS program in the first place. They clearly have the technical ability to get it done, and they’d probably know best if something like this is feasible. I can only hope someone over there takes notice of this post…and to be honest, if it can be done it would only be to their benefit, and not just in a ‘feather in my cap’ kind of way. Giving teams this sort of means to monitize their competitive presense would be a serious selling point.

So this is where I’ll have to leave this idea for now, but I plan on talking it around a lot in the next year and hopefully it will gain some traction. If gaming is going to ever see solid growth, it is going to mean that teams have taken it upon themselves to figure out an economic model in which they take primary benefit. Allowing teams to extract value from their in-game presence is one step towards that goal.