You can keep the underground, subculture, walled-garden feel to gaming or you can buy into this push to bring it ‘mainstream.’ You can’t have it both ways.

The alternative genre was transformative until it hit the mainstream terrestrial radio, and then it promptly dissolved into the very shit it was supposed to be an alternative to.

This has been the mythic goal for years. It’s been some time since I’ve found this a worthwhile thing to work towards, some empty platitude that resonated with me just as was starting with this stuff, nothing to do with Monday’s meltdown.

Mainstream was supposedly the finish line. That’s when $20 bills would rain from the sky, and Dangerfield would poke his head in and proclaim, “Hey everybody! We’re all gonna get laid!” That’s what the CPL was touting, that’s what TsN was harping on, it was the favorite tag line of every asshole that figured they were somebody in gaming, and if it wasn’t in the ‘about’ page of your team’s website, then damnit you just didn’t get it.

What’s ‘mainstream esports’ going to look like, exactly? When we get on the other side of this milestone, will we know it? Or will it be more like New Year’s without the party or a timepiece; nothing’s really different. Except maybe someone’s making piles of cash, and it isn’t you, though you thought it would be.

Competitive gaming’s a world of insiders. Your relative worth to the scene is just how insider you are. Who do you know? Can you name 20 Korean Starcraft players? Everyone on Complexity and 3D during their rivalry? How about fnatic’s formerly dominant roster? Have you watched at least 5 hours worth of instructional Starcraft content this week? Wonderful, welcome to the Cult of Netcode.

Yea, the esports litmus test is a bit more ethereal than that, but you can’t deny it’s existence. It serves a definite purpose: to keep the posers out. We’ve historically had a very low tolerance for newcomers. This speaks to the deep channel between the casual crowd and Esports Island, but it goes further than that. It makes the decision to be involved with the scene in any way to be a binary one: you’re either in, with all the initiation grief, obligatory circlejerking, and mandatory coursework that entails, or you’re out. I suppose this here is the root of the frustration that boiled over into the emotastic romp I had two posts ago, I’d been trying to balance that switch somewhere in the middle and it’s simply untenable.

Everyone knows that one guy whose favorite bands are ones you’ve never heard of, and have never played to audiences larger than a couple few hundred. If you don’t know, then you’re not gonna know. And honestly, that’s completely fine. This is more or less where esports is now.

Some folks within the scene have carved out entire fiefdoms for themselves because of it, sub-subcultures where they’re gods among the faithful. Thing is, there’s no room in ‘the mainstream’ for anything that looks remotely like that. Whatever your motivations for wanting to see esports go humongous, such a shift would mean opening up the carefully kept, caulked, cleaned, pristine pool to the masses, ripping the fences down and letting everyone dive in.

It’s going to be interesting to watch what happens over the next few years, as the push to monetize every last fucking drop of esports juice is on the rise again. I’ll be watching from over here, with binoculars. And some popcorn.