Roll20 Esports Interview Series: Buds

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Heroes of the Storm, like all esports, has a unique equalizing effect. Pro players have access to the exact same characters and in-game tools as anyone. To the untrained eye, a Varian, Chromie, or Medivh looks exactly the same in a quick match as they do on the Blizzcon stage. That said, what makes the HGC truly special is the group of hard-working, passionate gamers fighting for the right to keep pursuing their dreams. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a closer look at the men on the other side of the screen. It’s time for you to really get to know the Roll20 Esports Heroes of the Storm team. Check out previous interviews at the end of this article.


Today we continue our series with Roll20’s support player, Buds. A promising young player in 2016, Buds’ star has rapidly risen with his team’s success in the HGC. He’ll offer insight into how the team builds their unique compositions, his experience competing with Dyrus, and how Roll20 would fare in a zombie apocalypse.

Suddenly Support

Buds first appeared at the top of the competitive HOTS scene on Team Name Change alongside his longtime friend Justing. However, if Roll20 fans go back and watch some of TNC’s matches, they won’t be able to find Buds in the support role. Instead, his original role in Heroes was that of a ranged/flex player. Leading up to the initial HGC qualifiers, TNC disbanded and the players scattered to various rosters within the NA scene. Buds, however, was determined to find a roster that would allow him to keep playing with Justing.

20170614_DH_HermanCaroan-05713.jpg“We jumped on and off a lot of teams…” he explained, “but couldn’t really find anything we liked.” A few weeks before the qualifiers began, the pair received word that Chu8 was putting a team together with Glaurung for the HGC. The roster specifically needed a tank main and a support. Justing reached out to Glaurung and requested a tryout for himself and Buds. With only a few days before their tryout, Buds had to transition to a brand new role.

“Before I even knew about joining a team as a support, I was talking with Justin on how I wanted to make the swap to playing support,” said Buds. “The transition was really smooth and worked out quite well because about a week later Glau’s team was looking for the support and tank, so I just spammed games on support and watched some pro matches and just tried to learn the basics of each support hero I could.”

It took a few weeks to iron out the kinks, but eventually Buds and crew qualified for the HGC. “Sounds silly, but [it meant] pretty much everything. For the longest time I have wanted to be professional at a game and qualifying for the HGC finally feels like I’ve accomplished that.” Becoming a pro gamer also helped Bud’s family understand his chosen profession. “My family has always been supportive with whatever I choose to do. My dad was skeptical at first, but when HGC started he got into it right away. I actually saw him browsing the heroes subreddit the other day.” He added,  “my parents and my brother pull up the stream and watch almost every weekend, it’s pretty sweet how supportive they are about it”

Making it Work

Although newer to the support role, Buds has plenty of insight to share on how his team works specific healers into their team compositions. Roll20 has become infamous for their unique comps, and each has a suite of supports that pair perfectly with that gameplan. He explained, “when we do the Medivh/Diablo, we like to have Malfurion with it because the Diablo flip into Malf root is good [before level] 10… They also have ults that synergize really well like Leyline, Apoc, and Twilight Dream [which have] really good wombo potential.”

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We saw the team unveil a few compositions last week which included HOTS’ latest warrior, Garrosh, but Buds has more ideas in store for the hero. “Another easy combo would just be Garrosh, Uther, and Nazeebo.  The Garrosh throw into Uther stun is just an easy combo to execute, then throw a zombie wall over it.”

Being a pro isn’t all theorycrafting and HGC matches. Buds’ new career has provided several unique opportunities, including the chance to travel the world. “The coolest thing I’ve gotten to do so far would probably be the traveling. Being able to travel around the US and to Europe to play is pretty crazy. On top of that, traveling to somewhere I’ve never been to play on LAN is awesome. The best part of being a pro is playing on stage.”

Buds is also the only support in the HGC to have healed for a former professional League of Legends NA champion. At the end of HGC Phase 1, Roll20 (Team 8 at the time) invited former Team Solomid star, Dyrus, to participate in an official match. For Buds, it was a surreal experience.

It was pretty awesome to be able to play some games and just chat with the legendary Dyrone. I remember watching him play way back in the LCS, which was the first esport I’ve ever watched, and thinking how awesome being a pro gamer would be. I never would have thought that i would be playing scrims and a competitive match with him. We got to show him the competitive side of the game which he told us he enjoyed a lot, he also just liked the game in general. He was surprisingly good at the few heroes he could play and did really well in the HGC match against No Tomorrow…hitting insane tongues [on Dehaka]. He was a really friendly and laid back guy, I had a blast playing with him.”

The Man Behind the Heals

Roll20 is a team known for its synergy, but Buds is not sure that would translate outside TM8_Buds (1)of esports. For example, he thinks the team would fair rather poorly in a zombie apocalypse. “We would be looking for supplies and come across a pack of zombies and Glaurung would do something that he likes to do in scrims, be super aggressive and be like ‘I’m testing limits!’ [Then he] gets infected and doesn’t tell us, turns into a zombie and bites us all.”

Buds sees his role on the team as a support both in game and in team communication. His position requires him to “be friendly, try to have good communication, staying positive and keeping morale up, trying my best in game and always looking to improve my play to better the team.” 

He is appreciative of everyone who supports Roll20, wanting to thank everyone who has cheered for the team and supports them. “We’ll do our best and try to make NA proud,” he said.

In closing, Buds had one last thought to share with his fans who want to get to know him a bit better.

“Not much else to know about me besides I really like cereal.”


Thank you so much to Buds for taking the time for this interview, and to Roll20 for the opportunity to chat with these awesome players. Be sure to follow him on Twitter, and keep an eye on Roll20 Esports (and, you know, me) for upcoming interviews with the rest of the team.

Want to show your support for Roll20? Head to the R2E shop and pickup an official Roll20 Esports jersey! 

 

Check out our previous interviews:

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Decisive Action: A Fan-made Ranno Origin Story

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The following is a fan-made story and has no affiliation with Rivals of Aether or its official cannon. Shoutouts to Windows for help with research and editing.

“Stay right there son, everything will be fine.” Ranno’s mother held out her arm as if willing Ranno to stay where he was. The young frog paused, instinct forcing him to obey his mother’s command. At just 10 years old, the long boat hook was already becoming too heavy for his small arms. Ranno’s mother turned back to face their attackers. Three figures stood before her, a hawk, a falcon, and an eagle, who was staring intensely at Ranno with sharp, yellow eyes.

Calmly, Ranno’s mother addressed them. “We have never had any trouble with the Air Nation, why would it send a military force to attack our home?” She looked to a corner of the room where another frog lay crumpled in a heap, motionless. “We are a peaceful colony. My husband uses his gift to help people.”

The eagle’s head darted swiftly to the body of Ranno’s father. “News probably doesn’t reach this backwater swamp, but the world is changing. We’re done listening to those foolish old goats–the Air Armada makes its own decisions.”

Ranno stepped forward. “I don’t care what you call yourselves, you hurt my dad!  You need to leave, or–” Suddenly the words were forced from his body. In a flash, Ranno was on the floor with a large talon clamped over his throat. Those intense yellow eyes looked down at him. “We’re at war, boy,” the eagle said over Ranno’s mother’s pleading cries. “On the other side of this swamp is the Fire Kingdom’s military training facility. That facility relies on food and supplies from Merchant Port. Only way to get there is through this swamp, which is too toxic for anyone to pass through. Unless, of course,” he looked over at Ranno’s father, “you have a way to remove the poison from the water.”

The eagle lifted Ranno by the throat and tossed him over to his cronies by the door. “Hold on to him while I deal with mommy.” Ranno struggled, but his captor’s wings were too strong.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Ranno opened his eyes, forcing himself to return from the memory. That moment had not interrupted his meditation in decades. Perhaps this would be more difficult than he thought. Rising to his feet, he shook his head. With her last words, his mother had made it perfectly clear. Their family had accepted this responsibility, and Ranno had left it abandoned for far too long. He looked up at the trees guarding the entrance to the Swampy Estuary. “Mother, father,” he said softly to himself. “I’m finally home.”  

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“Mom, use the poison! Make these guys pay for hurting dad!”

Ranno’s mother knelt next her husband’s body. “My son has not learned to use his gift. Without us, there will be no one left to teach him.” She stood, looking at Ranno. “My son, you still have so much to learn, but I know we taught you the value of a life.”

“Mom, what are you doing? Don’t–”

“Let my son live, and you’ll get no resistance from me. Perhaps one day you’ll realize the mistake you’ve made today, and repent from your violent ways.”

The eagle looked back at his comrade who was holding Ranno. “Take him outside, we’ll figure out what to do with him later.” His head darted back to Ranno’s mother and he began walking towards her. “You’re a smart lady-frog. It’s a shame you allied yourself with the Fire Council.”

“We are allies with no one. However, I cannot allow anyone travelling this swamp to suffer its poison. Our family has held this duty for generations, we will never abandon it.”

He raised a talon. “That’s a shame. You’re really giving me no other choice.”

“Wait, no! Mom, what are you doing?” Ranno struggled as hard as he could, but couldn’t break the hawk’s grip on him.

His mother looked at her son one last time. “Value life above all else, and never forget how much I love you.”

Ranno kept struggling and yelling as he was carried out of the hut. “No, stop!  Mom!  Moooooooom!!!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Slowly, Ranno walked towards the entrance of the swamp. He had not set foot in his homeland in 30 years. He’d traveled the world, but somehow always found an excuse to avoid this region. Finally, he had run out of excuses. As he continued, he began to hear voices up ahead. One was a low, gruff voice, the other much softer and lighter, a child’s voice.

“Hurry now, Claiyen” said the low voice we have to keep moving!”

The child began coughing loudly. “No one survives in this swamp, the poison will kill us before we make it out!”

“We have no other option. Those monsters are right behind us, our only hope is to lose them in the–oh no, they’re here!”

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

“We should just kill him and be done with it, we’ve already been here too long.” The falcon looked up, as if expecting to see something coming at him from the sky. “I can’t believe we the captain talk us into this, the general is going to be so mad!”

The hawk threw Ranno onto the ground. They were now outside the family’s hut, standing on the wooden bridge that connected their little home to the bank of the swamp. “Come on, you heard what Krell said in there. This swamp is a key piece in our fight against the Fire Kingdom! Once these frogs are out of the way, it will be useless to them. The general didn’t order this mission, but when we get back, we’ll be heroes!”

“I know your self-proclaimed general quite well,” a voice rumbled in front of them. “I rather think he’ll disagree with your assessment.” Ranno looked up towards the voice to see a massive creature, taller than anyone he’d ever seen. It was an old bison. His horns curled toward the sky, his grey-patched fur shook with every movement. He spoke again, this time looking directly at the falcon. “Leave the boy and fly away. Kill a child, and you can’t even begin to imagine the punishment you’ll receive when you return home.”

The falcon flapped his wings, quickly rising into the air. “You are interrupting a mission of the glorious Air Armada. Anyone who protects an ally of the Fire Kingdom is our enemy!” He dove right at the bison, moving so fast Ranno’s eyes could barely follow.

Just as the falcon was about to strike, his aged opponent stepped aside. It seemed impossible that something so large could move that quickly! He spun as it sped past him, suddenly driving a hoof into the bird’s side. The falcon crumpled, its wing clutching the spot where it was struck, and fell out of the air, crashing onto the bridge.

The remaining villain stepped backwards. “Captain, get out here!  We’ve got a problem.”

The eagle stepped out of the hut, his eyes darting to the bison. Though the yellow eyes were still just as intense, Ranno thought he saw a hint of fear. He walked towards the bison.

“Is it time for The Pilgrimage already? I figured you monks would be hiding in those mountains for at least another year.”

“Ordinarily that would be true,” that low voice shook Ranno’s chest again. “But your little crusade has changed things. It is the duty of our order to monitor the events of the world. The fracturing of the Air Alliance is an event which will affect every corner of our world, including, it would seem, a colony of pacifist frogs.”

Those intense eyes darted to the falcon, laying on the ground holding his side. “Get up, we’ve done what we came here for, it’s time to report back.” He looked back at the monk. “Observe all you want, but don’t get in our way. The Air Armada is going to finally rid this world of the Fire Council and their greed. Today was a great victory! We’ve slain an ally of the Fire Kingdom, we’ll be heroes!”

Ranno’s savior let out a low, rumbling sigh. The young frog felt his body shake with it. “The creatures of this swamp value life above all else. Their pacifism is so deeply ingrained in them, they couldn’t have fought you even if you had killed this young tadpole. You’ve slain no enemy today, all you’ve done is deny the world something truly pure and innocent. If anything remains of the general I knew, you will want to think carefully before returning to your ship.” He spread his hind legs, bringing his hooves to bear in a fighting stance. “However, if you remain here, I think you’ll find the results equally unpleasant.”

The eagle looked at his injured comrade, and back at their new foe. “Come on,” he said, “we’ve accomplished our mission. We need to report back.” He quickly rose into the air, the hawk following quickly behind. The falcon slowly rose to his feet coughing. He struggled at first, then finally managed to climb into the air, chasing after his comrades.

As they disappeared into the sky, the bison turned to Ranno. “Are you alright, little one?” he asked.

Ranno couldn’t move. He just stared at the entrance to the hut. “My…my mom…”

The old bison walked past Ranno, looking into the hut. He sniffed the air and let out another low sigh. Walking back to Ranno, he knelt down beside him. “I am sorry, little one,” he rumbled, “they have passed beyond this world.”

Ranno stood, shaking his head. He tried to force back the tears as best he could. “I’m going to find that eagle, and I’m going to kill him.”

The bison looked down at Ranno. His eyes were so soft, but they struck Ranno with the same intensity as the eagle’s had earlier. “Little tadpole, I know the rage you are feeling. When we lose someone, the world stops making sense for a time. He placed a hoof on Ranno’s shoulder.

Ranno stepped away from the bison, clenching his fists. “I saw the way you took down that falcon. Teach me to fight like that!”

Turning away from Ranno, the monk responded, “in this life, we are given a great power–the ability to choose our destiny. Your parents had the power to defend themselves today, but they chose not to use it. I knew them well, they had helped me cross this swamp on several occasions. During that time they taught me much about their philosophy of peace.” He turned back to Ranno. “If you follow me back to my home, I will teach you everything I know, and give you the power you desire. However, I will also continue your parents’ work, and teach you to value life as they did. Ultimately, it will be your choice to keep chasing your anger, or to live as your parents would have wanted.”

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Rushing quickly towards the sound, his feet splashing through the mud, Ranno soon came upon the source of the voices–and what had been chasing them. Two panthers, an older male and an adolescent girl, knelt on the ground holding each other. Judging by the wreath of flame around each of their necks, they were citizens of the Fire Kingdom. The girl was still coughing. With each choking cough, her flame seemed to spit and sputter. Ahead of the couple, three shapes were moving closer. They appeared to be three more panthers, each with their own wreath of flame around their neck.

However, something wasn’t quite right about them. Their flame seemed to have a purple glow to it, and their fur was not the same jet black as the two frightened creatures huddled in front of Ranno.

“Father, what do we do?” coughed Claiyen.

The older panther moved in front of his child. “Alright, that’s it! Destroy our home, destroy the whole village, but you won’t lay a finger on my daughter!  Come at me you filthy–” his taunts were suddenly interrupted by a fit of coughing. The panther fell to his knees pounding on his chest, searching for some relief. Suddenly, he felt a rush of wind and saw a shadow move over him.

Ranno landed with a soft splash, standing between the panthers and their would-be assailants. His feet dug into the mud as he crouched into a low fighting stance. “My family has protected travelers from the poison of this swamp for generations. However, until now, we refused to raise a hand against any living creature. My parents valued life above all else, and taught me that one should seek peace in all things.”

One of the beasts in front of Ranno let out a roar. It charged at the frog, fist suddenly coated with a deep purple flame. As it swung, Ranno lept into the air. With a flip, he landed three swift kicks to the top of the creature’s head. It staggered back, falling to one kneed. Ranno landed next to it, ready for the next round. Something was wrong. He’d been in enough battles to know how it felt to kick something, but this creature’s body felt off. It was almost…fluid? Shaking his head, Ranno turned towards the two remaining enemies.

“I will honor my parents legacy, and work to create peace in this world. To honor them, I have mastered my emotions. I have no wish to fight. If you leave now, no harm will come to you. I do not care about vengeance or justice, but you may not harm these two.”

The creatures charged at Ranno together. He raised an arm, blocking the swing of the first, then spun and landed a kick directly to the chest of the second. The first attacker swung again, and Ranno blocked once more. Then, suddenly, a purple tentacle shot out of the beast. It struck Ranno in the side, sending him flying into a pool of water. Ranno slowly rose to one knee. Looking up, he saw that all three creatures were up and staring at him, waiting to see what he’d do next. Looking down, Ranno saw his reflection in the water. His memories of his father were hazy so many years later, but when he looked at himself he felt as though his father was staring back at him. Then he noticed the green mist rising off the water. The toxin had grown so thick without anyone to cleanse it.

Ranno plunged a hand deep into the water. “Peace is a wonderful goal, but many confuse pacifism as inaction. My parents died because they would rather give up their lives than cause harm to any living creature. I have a somewhat different point of view.” His skin began to glow a sickly green color. Slowly the mist above the water began to fade, almost as if it were being drawn into the frog.

He stood and faced the monsters. “For this world to truly find peace, those without power must be protected–not just from poison, but from any creature who wishes to do them harm. For me, being a pacifist is not about inaction, it is about protecting peace at all costs, wherever we can find it!” Ranno breathed in, and then out again. As he exhaled, three green bubbles formed in the air in front of him. He jumped into the air, and with three swift kicks sent the bubbles hurtling at the beasts. When they hit, each creature became trapped within a bubble.

Slowly, Ranno walked towards them. “I have come home, and this swamp will return to the peace my parents wanted.” Now directly in front of his foes, he planted his left foot in the mud, drawing his right foot behind him. “Anyone who desires it will have safe passage, and sanctuary in this swamp.” He clenched his fists and drew them close to his side.

“But if anyone wishes to do harm to another creature, I will protect my peace with all my strength!” With three swift punches, Ranno sent the bubbles flying into the air. They soared over the treetops and disappeared out of sight.

Ranno turned to the bewildered, coughing family behind him. He quickly moved over to them, placing a hand on each of their heads. His skin glowed green once again. Slowly, they felt their coughing subside as the poison was drawn out of their bodies. Ranno closed his eyes and placed his hands together as if praying. In a flash, several green bubbles rose out of his skin, forming a ring that crossed his chest. He stood, offering a hand to Clara.

“Come,” said the poisonous pacifist, “I will see you safely to the other side.”

Why Top Tier Esports Orgs Don’t Care About HOTS

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This is a question I’ve been asked on a variety of platforms. Most recently, Team Zealot’s warrior player, Mopsio, asked me to follow up on why there are still so many unsigned teams in the HGC. It seems odd–HOTS has a pretty solid player base, the HGC is a well-structured league that provides consistent, reliable content, and the broadcasts regularly reach over 20,000 views. Why do orgs seem so resistant to jump into Heroes of the Storm? Today, we’re going to dig deeper into that question to find out what the problems are today, and how we as a community, and Blizzard as the developer, can help change this.

Before we get into it, I should note that much of what we’ll be talking about today is going to be informed speculation on my part. I have had a few conversations with teams and organizations in the past couple months, but this blog is not a journalistic entity. I didn’t have the time or resources to conduct interviews with the CEOs of orgs like TSM or CLG to confirm my suspicions. That said, I have been involved in esports long enough to know what things are attractive to esports orgs, and to see what games they gravitate towards. We’re going to be making mostly educated guesses at the root issues, so feel free to challenge me on those in the Reddit thread, and we’ll discuss from there.  With that said, onto the stuff!

How Esports Orgs Make Money

team_solo_mid_concept_jersey__fan_art__by_mackaays-d78s34oTo understand why an org might sign a team in a particular game, we have to examine how those organizations actually generate revenue. Their primary revenue stream comes from two things: advertising, and venture capital. Esports orgs sell space on jerseys, player streams, websites, and social media to any brand that wants that space. Look at an esports jersey and note how many different brand names are on it. To sell that ad space, they need eyeballs on all of their advertising platforms.

The other way that many esports orgs are staying afloat now is through investment from venture capital. Organizations with stockpiles of cash are looking at how quickly esports is growing as an industry. They are buying up esports teams now because they predict that those organizations will be worth millions of dollars within the next 10 years. They are willing to pay salaries and overhead costs now because they expect to recoup their investment and then some in the future. For an org to attract venture capital, they have to prove that they are stable, and that they can build a strong brand across a wide range of games.

Esports organizations also diversify their revenue through specific brand deals, merchandizing, content creation, and tournament prize money. However, their primary interests are how to sell more ad space, and how to gain interest from a venture capital firm.

Game Popularity Isn’t Everything

Often, when people engage me in this discussion, the first thing they bring up is the game’s popularity. Blizzard is a huge developer, the game gets tons of cross-promotion with other Blizzard titles, and it’s usually in the top 15-20 games on Twitch.

What we have to understand is that game popularity and stream viewership are not the only things that matter to an esports organization. That popularity means nothing if there’s no way for an organization to sell ad space. This is one area where HOTS really struggles. Though the game is relatively popular, the opportunities for advertising are surprisingly limited. The HGC is an online league. There are no cameras on the players themselves to show the brands on their jerseys. The only time one of your players is even visible is if they win and get the player interview. Then, the interview is on whatever webcam your player has at home, showing mostly their face, not the jersey with the sponsors on it. The only time an org would get their jerseys seen is at one of the international events. Those are highly restricted to the top teams, so if you sponsor a 5th place team, you’re essentially never going to get any visibility through the HGC stream on your sponsors.

Further, the popularity of the game and the HGC have not translated to other advertising opportunities. There are still many HGC pros who do not stream regularly. Even when they do, pro player streams do not get the view numbers they should. Community streamers like Grubby and chu8 consistently out-perform any pro player stream. Why sign a team if half the players don’t stream, and those that do won’t provide you with any decent metrics to sell to advertisers?

Social media is the same way. Here are a couple Twitter numbers to consider

These numbers are terrible for a game and esport as popular as Heroes of the Storm. ESAM, Smash 4 player for Panda Global, isn’t even in the top 10 and he has over 43 thousand followers. Srey can’t go to Renegades and tell them he’s worth a $20,000 per year salary based on his stream numbers or Twitter following. Neither is marketable. Pair that with the lack of opportunities to market sponsors to the 20k viewers of the HGC, and you have an esport that is unattractive to sponsors.

 

Lack of Stability

The top 3-4 teams in both NA and EU are signed by reasonably strong organizations. Even if Team Solomid wanted to come into Heroes, it would cost them a major investment to buy GFE’s or Team Freedom’s roster. They would have to buy out every player’s contract in addition to their standard costs of media, gear, and paying the remainder of the salaries owed to the players under those contracts. So, if they can’t buy a team that’s in contention for first, they have to get a mid-tier team.

This is a huge risk in the HGC right now. Let’s say four teams are locked up or cost-prohibitive, so you only have access to teams 5-8. Two of those teams are going to be guaranteed to face relegation every six months. Success is so fluid in a moba due to the frequency of patches. Your team could be firmly in fifth place, and then suddenly find themselves in a meta where their roster can’t find success, and six months later they are out of the league.

Your team could also just implode due to a lack of success. If the team disbands, the organization loses its spot in the HGC and an open division team is brought up. As an org, you have no guarantee that that open division team will sign with you, or if they are even worth signing. You could secure a firm fifth place team with potential to climb into the top four, and then suddenly lose your spot in the HGC because three of your players decide to retire, or get signed by other organizations during free agency. With the way the HGC is structured, there is no way for an organization to protect their investment if they sign a team in the bottom four.

You Can’t Buy Wins

Before you start typing your reply, let me say that I’m not actually entirely against this. Blizzard’s strict rules on roster changes restrict teams ability to disband a roster and buy themselves a competitive crew. We’ve seen this happen a number of times in League of Legends. A team qualifies through the relegation process, and the team and league spot are purchased by an organization.

The org then immediately blows up the roster and uses their resources to bring in top talent from around the world to form a super team. It definitely sucks for the players who fought through the promotion series only to have their dream taken away, but it is a way for an organization to get into the league on the cheap and then immediately protect their investment. In the HGC, orgs are completely at the mercy of their roster’s strength and stability.

Blizzard is Scary and Unpredictable

Again I have no confirmation, but I think the Overwatch League is scaring a lot of esports organizations. Blizzard makes moves in their esports structure that are difficult to predict. It is tough to gauge where they are going next with any of their games. At this point, we don’t even know for certain that the 2018 HGC will look anything like this year. Hearthstone is such a popular game on Twitch that the competitive structure doesn’t actually matter that much to organizations because they’ll earn all their investment back through a player’s content. Heck, many organizations sign Hearthstone players that don’t even attend tournaments.

The same is not true for the HGC. Streams and content are not popular enough to carry anyone, everything hinges on having a spot near the top of the HGC. An organization’s ability to market their team depends entirely on how Blizzard structures the HGC. Every year so far the Heroes esports scene has been shaken up in major ways. There’s no consistency yet, making it difficult for an organization to know how to value their long-term investment in Heroes.

 

Players Aren’t People

One of my biggest complaints with the HGC is the lack of focus on creating human storylines for the players. To me, this is the number one thing holding back Heroes as an esport, and preventing organizations from taking an interest in the HGC.

Watch this video quickly. This is the announcement and hype trailer for the first season of the League of Legends Championship Series.

So, your first instinct is probably to talk about how dumb it is to have a bunch of esports pros running through a warehouse to advertise a gaming league. We made all those jokes back in 2013, so move past it. What’s important here, is that everything in this video is about the players. There is no gameplay, no highlights, no crowds, no caster commentary piped in. It’s just the players as humans. The running represents how these people are going to be battling against one another to achieve their goals. It tells you that when you tune into the LCS, you aren’t just coming to watch high level League of Legends.  You’re coming to watch Reginald and Hotshot, to support Snoopeh and Saintvicious. I have such a deep emotional connection to these players that I still get chills watching this video, even with how ridiculous it is. Whatever Ocelote is running towards, I want him and his dumb scarf to get there first!

Now look at the announcement trailer for the HGC.

In this trailer, you see the faces of players, but notice the drastic differences between the two. The HGC trailer has faster cuts. It shows faces, but quickly. It then cuts to crowd shots, or to the caster desk. The only time you can really emotionally connect with a human face in the trailer is when Zuna is shotcalling for two seconds. This tells us that the HGC isn’t about people, it’s about a spectacle. You should tune in to be entertained and watch something big and exciting, not because you care about the people involved.

The HGC did a lot of things right in its first year, and learned from many of the early mistakes of the LCS, but this is one area where they completely dropped the ball. Even if your team isn’t winning, you can still market the players if people have an emotional connection to them. The HGC has done virtually nothing to build an emotional connection with any player.

So How Do I Fix It?

As fans, I’ve talked a number of times about how you can help the HGC grow and generate more interest from organizations. Follow players, watch their streams, tweet about the HGC, discuss on Reddit. The HOTS playerbase as a whole shows very little interest in our esport. Keep working on that above all else. Today, I want to focus on any player who’s reading this wondering how they can influence the problems we’ve addressed above. Here are a few simple things you can do to become more attractive to an organization.

  • Do Twitter better—Not to pick on Srey, but his last tweet was on August 12th. He hasn’t even replied to a tweet or retweeted something since the 14th. His bio just says “I do things”. There’s no link to his YouTube content anywhere, nothing about his profile tells you that he is a professional player for Superstars. You have to grow your following on social media, so post often, and provide content that is worth sharing.
  • Have a face–if you stream, always have a webcam and microphone. At least once a week post a video or selfie that includes your face on social media. It is really easy on the internet to separate what we see from the human behind it. You have to force people to think about you as a person. When I think  about Fury, I shouldn’t see ETC landing a mosh pit, I should see a smiling, curly-haired dude with some degree of facial hair, probably underneath a tweet about how he thinks his girlfriend is real cool.
  • Stream–you have no idea how important this is. Even if you only get five viewers, you are infinitely more valuable to an organization if you stream. I can get into the specifics about this with you privately, but this is one thing that I have 100% confirmation on from multiple organizations. You matter so much more if you stream. If there’s a member of your team that doesn’t stream regularly, you’ve got to work to fix that sooner rather than later.
  • Be vulnerable–share your emotions with your fans. When you win, post a video of how excited you are. When you are frustrated, share that frustration or disappointment with your followers.
  • Know your value–if you don’t stream and don’t have followers, and you’re near the bottom of the league, understand that right now you just don’t offer a ton to an organization. Either fix that, or be willing to get into a 6-month deal with a smaller org who can help set you up with better gear, some marketing help for your personal brand, and be a next step towards a better org.
  • Share information–every player should know the deals of every other player. Don’t break contracts if there’s some sort of non-disclosure thing, but there really shouldn’t be. In this industry, knowledge is power. When a new team signs with an org, find out the details. Share the details if your team gets signed. Disclose your salary and benefits to your peers so everyone understands their value when entering into a negotiation. Right now, the orgs hold 100% of the power. This is a way you can bring some of that power back to the unsigned players. Then, when you enter into a negotiation, ask “why” alot. Why do you think this is a fair salary offer for us, why do you want to sign our team, why should our prize money be split with you 60-40 instead of 70-30? Even if you don’t sign with that organization, you’ll understand more about how they value your team.

I remain hopeful for the 2018 season of the HGC. The cheer program, the consistent growth and balancing of the game, these all point towards a game that is on the rise. I suspect we will see several new strong organizations enter Heroes over the next year, but to get our players what they really deserve, we have to keep working to make HOTS more attractive to the things that esports organizations desire.

Roll20 Esports Interview Series: Prismaticism

Roll20-Esports_LG-LightBG-256pxToday I get to finally unveil something that’s been in the works for a few weeks now. In collaboration with Roll20, I’ll be doing a series of interviews with each member of the Roll20 Esports HOTS team. Each article in this series was paid for and approved by Roll20. Go check them out if you want to play tabletop games online. With that disclaimer out of the way, content!!

Screenshot2017-08-16_20_21_04 (1) (2)

Heroes of the Storm, like all esports, has a unique equalizing effect. Pro players have access to the exact same characters and in-game tools as anyone. To the untrained eye, a Varian, Chromie, or Medivh looks exactly the same in a quick match as they do on the Blizzcon stage. That said, what makes the HGC truly special is the group of hard-working, passionate gamers fighting for the right to keep pursuing their dreams. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be taking a closer look at the men on the other side of the screen. It’s time for you to really get to know the Roll20 Esports Heroes of the Storm team.

Today, we begin our series with the team’s most flexible member, Kyle “Prismaticism” Belaiche. Whether blowing away enemies on Chromie, chasing down kills with Genji, or hiding in a bush soaking waves as Abathur, Prismat has been a critical piece of the team’s success. In our conversation, he shared his journey to the R2E roster, his mom’s thoughts on his career choice, and explained his fight against performance anxiety.

 

The Path to Pro

 

Heroes of the Storm has been Prismat’s first experience with high level competitive gaming, but he carries the drive of an old school veteran. Had the HGC not worked out, he said he would likely still be chasing the goal of being a pro gamer in another game. Fortunately for this squad, the road for Prismat lead to the HGC and Roll20, though it was a bumpy road along the way.

His notable competitive career began with current teammates Buds and Justing on Team Name Change. From there, he was recruited during the 2016 season by former world champions K1pro and KingCaffeine to join Denial Esports. This would also be the roster to introduce Prismat to his future captain, Glaurung. During the season, Denial made a roster change replacing Prismat with K1 and Caff’s former teammate, iDream. From there, he was picked up by the team that would become Superstars. This was a promising team expected to qualify for the newly-minted Heroes Global Championship, but the team struggled a bit early on, failing to qualify in the first wave. Looking to make a change, the team chose to remove Prismaticism from the roster.

 

TM8_P (1) (1)This was understandably a disappointment for Prismat. “I got a bit depressed and stopped playing HOTS entirely, instead playing Overwatch, hitting top 500 as a Mercy one-trick,” he said. However, Prismat’s career as an Overwatch pro was not to be as his old teammates would soon need his help again. In the final HGC qualifier, a team lead by popular streamer Chu8 managed to earn one of the final spots. The roster was filled with promising talent, but its leader had other goals in mind.

On an episode of Town Hall Heroes, chu8 made it clear that he wasn’t interested in working hard to compete in the HGC, preferring to focus on his streaming career. His teammates, however, had aspirations of competing at the highest level. Chu8 would ultimately step down from the team just before the season began, leaving the newly coined Team 8 in need of a flex player. “They messaged me if I wanted to try out,” Prismaticism explained, “and I ended up joining the team.”

 

The World Warrior

 

TM8_P white cropHaving worked with most of the roster in the past, Prismaticism immediately fit in with Team 8, and the roster found instant success. He noted that there was a different atmosphere to this roster than his previous teams. “They are much stronger mechanically and more dedicated to competing in HGC as a full time job.” To Prismat, this spot on the Team 8 roster meant an opportunity to prove himself as a top level player after a comparatively disappointing 2016.

The team’s success allowed Prismat the chance to do what he describes as one of the coolest parts of the pro gaming career–travel. “I got to travel to other countries and meet other pro players and casters, and got to see people from other games such as Reynad, Eloise, and ThatsAdmirable.” He explained that his international experience also helped his family understand the world of esports a bit better. “They weren’t confident in it at first,” he said, “but once I started travelling to events they understood and became very proud of it.” His mother added that “it was a learning curve to understand such an uncommon career and learn about esports.”

 

A Gamer at Heart

 

For Prismaticism, it seems pro gaming was his destiny. When asked about his hobbies outside of HOTS, he listed watching other esports tournaments, and playing other games such as Gwent and Runescape. When asked about alternate career options, he simply mentioned other games he’d be pursuing as a pro player such as Overwatch and Gwent.

However, the journey to realize his dream has not been without its share of personal struggles. During most of his competitive career, Prismat has been battling against severe anxiety. “When I played on Pool Plato Some Tangoes I would actually throw up at the start of every scrim block.” He notedthat he was able to battle through his practice nerves, but when TNC qualified for LAN events, the anxiety returned in full force. “When I started going to events with [Team Name Change] I would throw up at least once per LAN.”

Fortunately, Roll20’s flex player has continued fighting hard against these anxiety attacks, and has made great strides. “When I joined Team 8, with the help of therapy and medication I was able to go through the entire Western Clash without throwing up or anxiety affecting my performance.”

Today, Prismat has proven himself as a crucial member of the Roll20 roster. He explained that he assists Justing with the team’s draft preparation, and operates as a secondary shotcaller as needed. Both in gameplanning and playmaking, Prismaticism is a bright young star in the HOTS scene, and we expect him to keep shining even brighter.


Thank you so much to Prismaticism for taking the time for this interview, and to Roll20 for the opportunity to chat with these awesome players. Be sure to follow him on Twitter, and keep an eye on Roll20 Esports (and, you know, me) for upcoming interviews with the rest of the team. When you drop by Prismat’s Twitter, he’d love it if you sent him any pictures of your pets. He especially loves cats.

Want to show your support for Roll20? Head to the R2E shop and pickup an official Roll20 Esports jersey! 

Interview with TSM | ZeRo: Selling Personal Merch

persistent blade

Surprising almost no one, Super Smash Con was amazing once again. Even from the comfort of my office, I had a blast watching panels, seeing amazing feats of combo goodness, and watching some intense matches. We got to see a new karate frog for Rivals of Aether, Icons is looking better than ever, and Nairo defended his crown.

That all being said, none of these incredible story lines interested me half as much as what ZeRo was doing all weekend. Sure, he tore through the bracket all the way until the end, but what really caught my eye was the fact that he had purchased booth space at the convention. This was not a TSM merch table, or a corner of someone else’s booth. ZeRo and his crew had brought piles of ZeRo-branded merchandise to sell at the convention. The implications of this were incredibly exciting to me, and my head was swirling with thoughts of how to build a lesson for the Smash community as a whole from this. To that end, earlier this week I reached out to ZeRo to pick his brain about his experience running a merch booth at a convention. Because he’s among the better humans out there, he graciously took the time to answer my questions. Huge thanks to ZeRo for this interview, let’s get into it!

Making Bank

First of all, let’s set the table a bit. For those who weren’t at Smash Con, or have never attended a convention, there’s usually a section completely dedicated to buying stuff. Vendors come to sell hand-crafted hats, content creators bring their t-shirts and posters, and there are usually even a few booths selling retro video games. Nestled among all of those traditional vendors was the ZeRo booth. Scarves, t-shirts, and posters were all on display. Fans could walk up to the booth at any time during the Con and buy gear from the best player in the world. When he wasn’t playing or fulfilling other obligations, ZeRo was seated at the booth ready to meet the fans buying his gear, and to sign their purchases upon request.

While it seems like a brilliant plan, setting up a merch booth at a con is a risky proposition. There are significant up-front costs to consider. You have to have all of your gear shipped to the convention, you have to pay the con for floor space, and you have to have products that people will actually want to buy. Further, there’s a tough guessing game involved in how much merch you bring. You want to bring exactly enough to sell out on the last day of the convention; bring too much and you have to pay to ship the leftovers back home, bring too little and you lose out on potential revenue and piss off customers. ZeRo could have easily come to this convention, discovered there weren’t a ton of people who wanted to buy a scarf, and lost a ton of money at the end of the weekend. Fortunately, this was not the case.

“The booth did phenomenal,” ZeRo said. “I completely covered all expenses I did and went into the green. I was a little worried because I would have to manage the tournament, and oversee the booth (though I did have two people running it) so I wasn’t sure what to expect. In the end, the response was amazing. Many friends and people I know from the community visited and bought things, and a lot of fans also came through. There was also potential for me to do better if I had the time to be there all weekend at the booth, since every time I was there sales did better, but obviously I don’t have a clone ninjutsu…for now.”

Ancient ninja arts aside, ZeRo’s comments are encouraging. Not only did avoid a loss, but actually walked away from the weekend with a net profit from the booth. Even if he had bustered out in pools, he would have made money on the weekend. In fact, he may have made more money had he been knocked out of the tournament since sales spiked when he was at the booth. There are a number of implications from these thoughts which we’ll explore in a bit. For now, let’s hear a bit more from ZeRo.

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A One Time Thing?

Super Smash Con is a unique experience that lends itself perfectly to this experiment. “It may work at another tournament,” said ZeRo, “but it definitely helped that SSC had SO MANY PEOPLE THERE. Not just competing, but also there to meet their favorite players, or to enjoy the con.” He added, “I think it’s best at the moment, at SSC, which is why I did it.” So if another player wants to try this experiment, can it only work at Smash Con? As ZeRo explains, having a higher volume of foot traffic increases your odds of making sales. Most tournaments don’t draw lots of attendees who aren’t also focused on the tournament, so can you be as successful only selling to competitors?

Again, I think the implications here are staggering and provide some lessons for the community as a whole. Either way, ZeRo is encouraged to try again. “I’m not sure how it would do at other tournaments, but this isn’t the [last] time my booth is gonna be at an event I’m playing at, for sure.”

Tight Tournament, Better Booth

While the booth was an unquestionable success, there were still struggles and lessons to learn. According to ZeRo, issues with the tournament can dramatically impact the booth’s operation.

“The biggest issue was scheduling. SSC had crazy schedule issues with the tournament running late, certain rules changing such as [best of five] happening later due to time constraints and stuff like that. What this meant was that I had to miss some meets at my booth which definitely hurt things a bit in the end. Unfortunately my schedule was super tight all weekend, so a few hours of a difference was a game changer. Maybe for some other event where I’m less overworked I can manage the schedule better, so we’ll see.”

This is the biggest hurdle in front of any player looking to sell their own merch. As ZeRo explained, the success of the booth hinged on his ability to physically be there to meet fans and customers. A fan who came up just to meet their favorite player may make an impulse purchase just to have something cooler to get signed. That foot traffic doesn’t happen if someone else is watching the booth. When deciding to set up a booth, it seems that much of your ability to turn a profit could depend on the capability of the TOs running the event.

What Did We Learn Today

So, the most important takeaway from my discussion with ZeRo is this: Smash fans want to buy stuff. People come to a convention with the intent to spend money on swag. While we need more data to determine how successful this strategy can be outside of Smash Con, the first test run was an unmitigated success. However, there are a few specific takeaways which I think will inform the success of a merch booth moving forward. I want to talk about how these lessons apply to players interested in doing the same, but also how this interview should inform event organizers moving forward.

Players

First, ZeRo’s booth was not just successful because he’s one of the most popular players. Obviously that helped, but if his merch had sucked, no one would have bought it. The booth would have done way worse if he just had a bunch of black t-shirts with “ZeRo” written on them. Instead, ZeRo leaned on his personal brand. He used the things that are distinct about him as a persona in the community. Specifically, he had scarves, something entirely unique to him in the community, and he had PersistentBlade merch. Both the scarf and PersistentBlade are things which ZeRo has been using as a part of his brand for a long time. He is closely associated with both, and the community as a whole has an affinity these parts of his personal brand. With PersistentBlade there’s the risk of potential copyright infringement now that he’s selling merch online, but that’s a conversation for another time. The takeaway for any player looking to run their own booth is this: make sure you have a brand, and sell merch consistent with your brand.

Mr. R would do best selling Milk First swag, ANTi would kill with gear that says “lavish” or “respect women”, Locus could sell a daily calendar full of inspirational quotes and dad jokes. Look me dead in the eye and tell me you wouldn’t buy an Ally bobblehead if Ally himself was standing there nodding as he counted out your change.

If you’re a player looking to diversify your income, you have to first build yourself a marketable brand within the community. If you’re unsure how to do that, talk with your team, I guarantee they have someone with a marketing background on staff, or know who to contact. Failing that, hi there, I’m Trent–esports consultant. My rates are super reasonable.  Seriously though, DM me and I’ll be glad to help out.

The other lesson here is the challenge of running a booth yourself. Meeting the player has a direct correlation to profit in this instance, but you cannot be at your booth 100% of the time. You need to focus and prepare for matches, play money matches, get mobbed by fans on the floor to sign stuff, participate in awkwardly shoehorned crew battles–your plate is full!

My suggestion to this would be to team up. Split the booth fee between three players, and you can take shifts manning the booth. You can draw from each other’s fanbase, and keep the flow of foot traffic even while some of you are playing your pools matches. There are obviously some logistics to work out, but I genuinely think this could represent a massive influx in income for top players, and a way for some players to come out of  a tournament ahead on cash even if they don’t make it far in bracket.

Organizers

I’ve been beating this drum for a year now, but organizers HAVE to make their events more of an experience. Merch booths are a part of that process. You increase your local traffic because people know that even if they aren’t competing, they’ll get a cool experience if they show up. Top players can attend more events because they can make more money from their attendance. You can recoup your venue cost, and even afford larger venues because you are selling real estate in the venue.

You could even partner with a few players to increase traffic to your own merch booth. Set a rotation where a few players will be selling their own gear at your booth. If I went to the 2GG merch table so I could buy a Captain Zack face mask, you think I’m not going to also pick up an SRC saga charm, or a Team ZeRo wristband?

To me, this is the future of FGC event organization. Diversify your revenue sources, increase attendance beyond just tournament attendees, and make more money per person. This represents a symbiotic relationship between player and TO, the potential here is staggering.

 

I want to give another huge thanks to ZeRo for taking the time. Compared to other outlets asking for interviews, I’m nobody and he still put a ton of thought into his answers to my questions. Let me know your thoughts on player merchandise! Who’s swag would you want? What would get you to shell out 20 bucks? Where should ZeRo bring his merch booth next?

Zoia Got It Wrong: Why HGC Teams Need a Gaming House

house

So, first off, the title is a bit weird given that it’s in response to something said on Town Hall Heroes, like, four months ago. However, at the time I didn’t have room in my writing schedule for this article, and I’ve just sort of been sitting on my feelings about it since then. So, apologies if that comes off a bit click-baity, but hopefully the content makes up for it. With that out of the way, real intro!


A few months back, the Town Hall Heroes crew were discussing Bstep’s upcoming boot camp (I’m really good at relevant, timely content). During that discussion, Zoia brought up the differences and pros/cons between a boot camp and a gaming house. His conclusion was that, when teams are negotiating with potential sponsors, they should focus on being provided a structured boot camp, rather than a gaming house. This was based on his experience with the ultimately failed Tempo Storm gaming house. I won’t spend any time in this article specifically on the drama surrounding that team and gaming house, there’s plenty of content out there about it. However, I do want to strongly disagree with Zoia on parts of his conclusion. To me, the spectacular nature of the Tempo Storm house’s failure has left the HOTS community with the wrong idea of the value of a gaming house. Today, I want to provide a defense of the practice, and encourage teams to keep pushing towards their own gaming houses going into the 2018 season.

What is a Gaming House?

For those who haven’t been following esports for almost a decade, the concept of a gaming house may still seem obvious. It’s a big house where everyone on the team lives and practices together. Players have their bedrooms at the house, and a large section of the house is devoted to computer space where the players can practice, stream, and play casually. There have been many iterations of the gaming house, but the first major success with this practice came from Team Solomid way back in Season 2 of League of Legends. The team moved into a house in New York together, and the results were immediate.

They dominated the North American tournament scene while also producing a massive volume of content both in and out of game. Since then, nearly every Western team in League of Legends has followed suit to varying degrees of success. There’s enough data from these League teams that I believe we can gather enough evidence to show how, when done properly, a gaming house can be key to a team’s growth.

Accountability

While pro gamers are usually anything but lazy, they are still generally young, inexperienced humans. Even the most mature and driven pro may not know the importance of a balanced diet, how to manage a sleep schedule, or how to create an efficient practice schedule. Having a gaming house allows a team manager/coach to accurately monitor all aspects of their team. They’ll know what the team is eating, because they probably did the grocery shopping. They can monitor if players are spending time at the gym, what time they go to bed and wake up, and how many hours they are actually devoting to their individual practice.

Now, some of you reading this may find that concept invasive or weird. However, remember this–as a pro athlete, your body is an instrument of your success. How you care for it has a direct result on your ability to perform. During training camps, pro athletes in traditional sports are closely monitored on their sleep, nutrition, and exercise. Esports pros should be no different if they want to have every possible advantage over their competition.

Team Bonding

In a MOBA, team synergy is everything. Trust in your teammates translates directly into performance on the field. We’ve seen time and again that when players like each other, the team performs better. When those bonds of friendship are broken, the team’s play deteriorates. Having the team in one central location allows for a greater opportunity to strengthen those bonds.

This was, I believe, Zoia’s central point in arguing against a gaming house. When players are living in such close proximity, it presents also presents a greater opportunity to get annoyed with each other. Instead of just disliking someone’s jokes, you now have to deal with their weird smells, their snoring, and the mess they leave in the kitchen. A toxic personality can cause far greater damage in a gaming house than they can remotely. However, I believe that the Tempo house was an exaggerated example. That roster was trapped together long after the team bonds had begun to break because of Blizzard’s insane roster locking policy. While much of that policy remains in place, there are now two clear periods of release built into the competitive season. A team is locked into a roster for a much shorter period of time. If problems develop, they can be addressed far quicker.

Teams have access to more resources as well. They can hire managers who help deal with conflict resolution and coaches who protect the players from unproductive criticism. If implemented properly, and using good player acquisition practices, teams can prevent a situation on the level of the problems in the Tempo house. Instead, they can use that close proximity to strengthen team bonds. To create more productive discussions, to schedule team activities outside the house.

Branding–Access to Faces

Want more Twitter followers? Want to sell more merch, get more YouTube/stream views, and earn more subscribers? Use your face.

It’s a very simple rule in branding, but one that most esports stars still seem to struggle with. It’s why big brands pay athletes millions of dollars to appear in their Subway commercial for three seconds. Seeing your face builds an emotional connection with the audience. When all your players live in the same house, you have direct access to their faces! A team can produce IRL content easier and more consistently. This has a direct, guaranteed result on fan loyalty and investment. Yes, you can do this during a bootcamp, but that only provides you with a small window in which to produce content. A window that also happens to be the time when your team needs to be spending the most time practicing. Having a gaming house means you can produce recurring content long term.

Reduced Player Expenses

There are still many pro HOTS players in college, meaning they have lower living costs. However, there are many players out of college who are relying on their player salary to fund their lifestyle. Some are forced to take in roommates or remain in their parents’ house. That player salary and stream revenue is great, but it does not allow an adult to pay their expenses, build up savings, and pay off any debts from student loans or credit cards.

When players are competing in the HGC as their full time job, a gaming house helps reduce their daily expenses. Rent is either paid by the organization who owns the house, or divided among the players. Utilities and internet fees are similarly split or covered. Food is cheaper because it can be bought in bulk and cooked for more people at once. This reduced cost of living will allow players to enjoy a greater quality of life while they compete, and let them prepare better for the future once their esports career comes to an end.

Let’s Move In Together

Ultimately, I am a huge supporter of any team looking to pursue a gaming house. However, I am by no means suggesting that teams start looking for a house to move in to next week. We need to see what Blizzard intends to do with the 2018 season. It may well be that the HGC moves to a LAN-style weekly event, in which case all players would be forced to move to a central location whether they get a house together or not.

That said, I would encourage all teams, sponsored or not, to start pursuing the possibility and logistics of a gaming house now. When planning for free agency, take relocation into account. Start examining housing markets near HOTS servers. If you have contact in other esports, talk to those players about their experience with a gaming house. When courting new sponsors, make sure a gaming house is part of that conversation.

Like coaching, I believe that gaming houses will be a natural evolution in Heroes competition. The teams that figure out how to do it right will have a natural edge over everyone else in the league.

Why are We So Scared to Patch Smash?

patch

In both Melee and Smash 4 we’ve been seeing a ton of argument, discussion, rage, and lengthy Twitter threads regarding rules changes. Should characters or aspects of characters be banned, how to handle stalling tactics, what to do about new controllers, and so much more. Naturally there are strong emotions on both sides of every single argument. There isn’t really a “right” answer to any of these problems, but we’re desperately searching for some way to create changes that will give us the best, most sustainable game for the long term.

We Have Been Changed For Good

Last night, in the midst of a sudden flurry of “Smash 4 should have 3 stocks” debate, I sort of had a thought I want to explore. It feels to me like our rules committees, players, and most passionate debaters are all looking for permanent answers to the “problems” of Smash. Essentially, we’re trying to find ways to solve the game. However, there are two fundamental flaws with that logic.

First, Smash is not a solvable equation. We can’t get into the code and fix the bugs with Lylat or Melee Battlefield, we can’t freeze Pokemon Stadium. There’s no way to nerf Witch Time or change Nana’s AI to remove wobbling. We already tried the only way Smash can be “solved” and it basically just produced yet another segment of the community in Project: M. While PM is an amazing feat in the history of gaming, it’s never going to be a sustainable solution in the modern esports age. For the versions of the game that get played on ESPN, that get streamed at major tournaments, and that have any hope of even the smallest support from Nintendo, there is no way to actually solve the inherent problems of these games.

Second, that’s not how any esport works. Every competitive title has constant balance patches, character updates, and new features. Even other fighting games will constantly tweak things.  No game has a goal of becoming “solved”, that’s not the way games work today. Even ignoring mechanical changes to game code, rules in sports change constantly. The NFL regularly adjusts rules for kickoffs, tackling, overtime, etc. League of Legends added more bans in their draft phase. Heroes of the Storm is exploring new rules for region restrictions. Games develop new league structures, bylaws, and rulesets constantly. At the end of every season you expect to see changes to the competitive structure of a sport, and potentially changes to how you play the game. Nothing is permanent in sports.

Patch 2.0.X.X

What I’m suggesting is a shift in the way we approach rule changes. Instead of thinking about things in terms of permanent bans, lifelong changes, and slow methodical change, let’s think like modern gamers. Let’s become less scared of changes and stop trying to find the “right” answer. Do what game designers do–test, collect data, make conclusions, and adapt. The designers of our games abandoned them. They have made it abundantly clear that we won’t see an official competitive structure or any sort of balance patches. Melee HD is not coming, Smash Switch is still probably at least a year away. Since they won’t do it, let’s shift our thinking from solving the game long-term to patching the game for today.

Open Your Mind

Now, before this devolves, let me clarify. I am not suggesting that we try to add arbitrary rules to actually balance the characters in each game, that would be insane. You can’t impose such specific restrictions, it would drastically increase the barrier to entry for newcomers. What I’m talking about is changing the way we think about our ruleset. Whenever a change is made, see it as a test. See it as an opportunity to gather data. Look at it as something to reevaluate with the next patch.

Smash 4 already has the year divided into two seasons, I think this is a perfect structure for what I propose. Near the end of each PGR season, have the rules committee get together and examine the state of the game. Collect feedback from players at every skill level, look at PGstats data on tournament wins, set counts, number of timeouts, stage useage/winrates, etc. Then, make some changes. Set down the PGRvWhatever Official Rules List. For a tournament to be PGR eligible, it must adhere to that ruleset. Then, we know we have 6 months to collect data on this new ruleset. We also have the promise that changes will be made in just 6 short months. Hate that Lylat was banned? Experience the game for 6 months without it and form your argument for why the game is better with it using data from that season. Want wobbling back? Use those 6 months to explore how the meta has changed as a result of that ban and propose changes for the next season.

To me, this is the only healthy way to work with what we have. The only way to know if a change is good or not is to test it. There is no good time in the year to test rule changes. Asking locals or weeklies to be the guinea pigs is unrealistic when people are using their locals to prepare for bigger events. We have to test out changes in a real competitive environment–on the big tournament stages.

Why It Won’t Work

I’ve done this enough times to know a number of the static responses to anything like this, so I’ve prepared my defense in advance rather than having to do so on the Reddit thread.

Melee doesn’t have a six month season

They should. Every MOBA uses a two-season structure and still has a World Championship at the end of the full calendar year. It is a superior system for rewarding recent accomplishments, providing a reset for building storylines, and allows for natural change/break points.

You can’t make arbitrary changes, it would change the game balance

First off, no one is suggesting making changes just for the sake of changes (though there’s a case for that in a different article). Second, yes, obviously. However, that’s just a true thing. When the NFL changes the rules to reward offence, teams with better offence get stronger. When League of Legends changes the game to reward late-game strategies, teams with better macro play win more. If Dhalsim gets buffed, Fchamp will place higher more frequently. That’s how games work. It isn’t a bad thing, because the next change will likely reward a different style, or everyone will adapt to the changes and the meta will settle again.

Who’s going to enforce these rules?

I’ve already written about the need for a stronger governing body in each game. We’re way past time the community started pushing for that. Regardless, there are already groups in both games putting together the “recommended ruleset”. All I’m proposing is that these committees make their changes at very specific times each year, only make major changes at those season breaks, and revisit every rule each season to explore adjustments.

What if they make a rule that breaks the game? We can’t wait 6 months to change something that’s ruined the game

Every game has hotfixes. If something is genuinely broken, just hotfix it.

This was really poorly written. Aren’t you that guy that just hates Melee?

I beat you to it this time, move along.

What if a tournament refuses to use the new rules?

Unfortunately, there isn’t a great way to enforce this with any real authority because every tournament operates independently. My suggestion for this is to make the rules mandatory for the game’s ranking system. A tournament could still use their own rules, but it wouldn’t count for the official rankings at the end of the season. Since both games are so saturated with tournaments, this would encourage players to choose tournaments who follow the rules. Sure, a big tournament like Genesis or Big House could strong-arm the committee by refusing to adhere to a change, and most people would still go to the event, you would also have a real tough time not including Genesis in your rankings. However, ideally the rules committee would work with these major events so that there’s some give and take there.

Ultimately, everyone has to be willing to meet in the middle. The game can’t grow if both sides dig in their heels, we have to work together. In this system every rule is temporary. If Genesis hates a rule, it may only be around for this year, and be gone by the next Genesis, so there’s no real reason to fight super hard unless something is genuinely problematic, in which case see my answer for hotfixes.

 

So in short, let’s just be more excited about change. Change the stage list for a season, adjust the timer, add the ledge grab limit, let the new controllers in, whatever! Yes, it will influence who wins what. Yes, some changes will suck and get adjusted. However, at least we’re exploring things. We’ll have evolved our structure, there will be real, genuine season arcs (which is one of the biggest issues in Smash right now), and the game stays fresh. To me this is the only route that makes sense, and really all I’m proposing is a shift in the mentality of the community. That shouldn’t be too hard, right?

HOTS Epiphany: There are Only Two “Positions”

draft

Every sport, electronic or otherwise, has clearly defined positions within a team. This is distinctly true in every MOBA except for HOTS. In League of Legends, you have your top laner, jungler, mid, carry, and support. In DOTA the roles are so well defined that you can say to someone “I play position 5” and they know exactly what you mean. Smite has largely the same positions as League. Even outside of MOBAs, most games have consistent positions across most teams. Paladins has clear classifications for positions and each player is fairly strict in staying within their position. Even in doubles in Smash you’ll have an attacker and someone who plays more defensively as a “stock tank”.

So, when I’ve looked at HOTS, I have spent the better part of a year trying to optimize the positions within a top level team. I’ve tried to come up with the best names for each position, tried to figure out the best ways to address free agency based on team need, etc. I’ve never felt fully satisfied that I’ve found a true positional classification system that is true for the best teams. At the very least, I’ve found nothing useful enough to translate to amateur teams in a useful way. Then, over the last two weeks, between Bloodlust and the Western Clash, I’ve had somewhat of a realization. I have struggled so hard with this project because, in reality, there are actually only two true “positions” within a team.

The Two Positions

Most people reading this have already figured out the two true positions. They are, of course, Tank and Healer. People will call them “warrior” and “support” or some other official title, but the job in the team is the same. There is always someone playing a main tank in the frontline, and there is always someone playing a support with strong healing output.

Anyone who’s watched a competitive HOTS game has seen that these roles always remain static (with the few failed exceptions where teams have tried warrior-less comps). However, I think it is important to understand why it is so crucial to have a strong player in each role in every match of Heroes of the Storm. I feel like there are still many players resistant to formalizing a positional meta within this game, even at the competitive level. For me, however, this is the most important step towards elevating the level of play within the entire scene. From HGC to Chairleague to Unranked Draft, once we understand how to classify our roles, we will be able to better explore how to optimize maps, builds, and compositions from there.

The Healer

Let’s start with the healer as it is the most influential position in this game. The only team-based game I had ever played before League of Legends was World of Warcraft. Apparently I adore alliteration. In League there was a clearly defined Support position for every competitive team, but it was very different from playing support in WoW. The biggest difference was that the primary job of a support in LoL was not actually to heal their teammates. This was a huge departure from WoW where almost your entire spellbook was just different ways to make the green bars go up. The devs of LoL were asked why they had de-emphasized healing so much, and they were pretty passionate in their response.

They explained that healing is the hardest thing to balance in a competitive game. If healing is too prevalent, it becomes overwhelmingly mandatory. In most games with healers, a team with one will beat a team with no healer 99 out of 100 times. They didn’t want to restrict their game in such a way, so they emphasized ability to create pressure, to peel for the carry, to create teamfights, etc. To this day you will rarely see a champion released in LoL with any part of their kit focused around healing. They’ve even worked hard to reduce the importance of healing in old kits.

HOTS went an entirely different route. It makes perfect sense thematically as WoW has such a heavy emphasis on healing, and most of the early supports came from that universe. It would be weird if the Druid didn’t have Regrowth or the Shaman didn’t have Chain Heal. However, this design decision forever locked Blizzard and it’s pro scene into a static meta where healers are mandatory. You cannot win without a healer. Healing is so strong, and there’s really no way to effectively balance it to remove that fact.

When drafting a team composition, you must train your brain to ignore the “support” tag, and instead focus on the heroes that actually produce healing. Those are the only heroes who should ever be played in the “support” position. Yes, there have been times when a solo Tassadar saw success, but those are the exception, not the rule. Remember that you always want the burden of execution to be on your opponent. Let them try cheesy Tassadar-only strats. Just pick an actual healer and run right over their wacky comp.

The Tank

This is a slightly more interesting, less obvious development in HOTS. Having a frontline initiator has always been strong in MOBAs. In LoL you’ll often find either the support or the top lane playing a beefier hero who can start fights. In Smite the vast majority of support god, and many solo laners, are what would be classified as “tanks”. However, Tank_Commando_2_Shape_3307neither game has these as a 100% mandatory position within the team. There are plenty of team compositions that do not run a true tank. Even when tank champions are chosen, they don’t always build purely to absorb damage in the front line. The reason for this is the primary thing that separates HOTS from all other MOBAs: the item shop.

In these other games, you can build and itemize your hero to specifically address the challenges of that game. You can build more defensively, you can build to shred enemy tanks, etc. Further, the existence of a carry in those games allows for more flexibility in how you execute a draft. You can shift who gets the focus of the team’s income, thereby adjusting where the defensive/offensive power of the team will be.

HOTS does not have these options. Sure, there’s a theory that you can adjust your talent build to address these areas, but that doesn’t work in practice, not to the degree it does in other games. Most talent builds only allow for small adjustments, not for big changes in how defensively your hero can play. As a result, defense has to be baked into the kit and optimal build of a hero in order to reliably create defensive options for your team.

More than any other MOBA, defense is critical in HOTS. There are two primary reasons for this. The first is the way structures function. In League and Smite, towers freaking HURT. They will shred through even the beefiest heroes until the late game. Even with full defensive items a tank cannot sit under a tower for more than a few seconds. Towers also prioritize heroes over minions the moment an enemy hero is attacked. This completely changes the way a siege can function in these games. In a game of LoL, once the wave of minions has been cleared, the siege has been properly defended until the next minion wave arrives. In HOTS, a tank can wade under a tower to absorb shots and enemy attacks to extend the siege. If there are minions around, a team can safely initiate a teamfight inside an enemy structure. Having a tank enables the attacking team to dictate the pace of a siege, and opens the opportunity for more potential teamfights during a siege.

The second demand for a tank comes from the way objectives work in HOTS. Other games have static map objectives which provide a buff to the team or a big influx of resources. They help give the team an advantage, but they don’t actually have a direct impact on enemy structures. In HOTS, the objectives define how you win the game. Unless you wipe a team in the lategame, the only way you generally make meaningful progress on the enemy’s fortifications is by securing a map objective. This can be a mercenary camp, a boss, or the actual unique gimmick of the map. You build your team composition around the specific objectives on that map. Often, you’ll run into situations where both teams are fighting over a single objective located in a small area of the map.

These are the instances where a tank becomes the most critical. In these standoffs, these “poke wars”, you are essentially fighting for positional dominance. The name “tank” is most true to its inspiration in these moments. The tank fortifies your position, and allows you to slowly penetrate enemy lines before setting up for massive artillery damage. Without a tank, you don’t have that strong ability to penetrate the enemy defense, you can’t win the war for positioning. If you don’t have a tank, you have to get extremely creative with your initiations or hope for a pick before starting the fight. Again, you always want the burden of execution to fall on your opponent. Having that tank reduces your burden of execution, allows you to battle for position over objectives, and gives you a reliable method of initiation.

The Rest of the Squad

So, we’ve got these two mandatory roles based on the design of the game, but where does that leave the rest of your team? In every other game we have these strictly defined roles, why isn’t that the case in HOTS? Doesn’t every team need a melee, a ranged assassin, and a…something?

This was exactly the way I thought for the longest time. When I coached amateur teams, I tried my hardest to force my players into strict roles because I thought that would streamline their drafting and make the team more successful as a whole. However, the more I study the game, the more I realize that this kind of thinking is fundamentally flawed based on a core mechanic of the game–the structures.

Like we said before, structures are completely different from how they function in most MOBAs. There are actually three key differences. The first is as we discussed before, they don’t prioritize heroes and do far less damage. Second, they have a set stock of ammo that, once depleted, makes them irrelevant in a siege scenario. The third difference is the huge game-changer–you can damage them with spells. In LoL and Smite (and I think DOTA but that’s my least played of the three) you can only damage towers with your basic attacks. This is why you have to have a ranged carry–it would take a year just to kill a single tower if you didn’t have someone who’s kit and itemization made them deal heavy damage from range with their basic attack. We have seen a few “melee only” compositions in these games, but those comps are incredibly risky and depend on getting an early lead.

As a result, there’s nothing in HOTS that demands a ranged carry from your team. You can use any combination of heroes to destroy enemy structures. On most maps you also have big objectives that will destroy structures for you. We even have two maps where you don’t have to touch a single structure in order to win the game! Your team composition needs to clear waves, control space, and win teamfights–that’s it.

Now, none of this is revolutionary. It’s pretty surface level stuff for HOTS at a competitive level. However, I think really understanding this fact can change the way you see yourself as a player, and change the way you draft or build a team. Once you have a tank and healer, the rest is up to the meta, the map, and the unique strengths of your team.

Play Your Game

digRoll20 is a perfect example of this. They have their tank and healer, but the other three are a very odd mix. Prismaticism, Goku, and Glaurung are some of the most talented playmakers in the region. However, none of them is a true ranged assassin main. They cannibalize each other’s hero pools, but also have unique spots where they excel. When they are at peak performance, they aren’t drafting to a universally-accepted meta, they are drafting to their strengths. They are putting each member of the team in a position to excel. Dignitas and Fnatic are largely the same. Their drafts don’t all fit some ideal meta, and you cannot pigeonhole every member of the team into a perfect position. They draft what works for their team.

This is also why a team like Naventic is failing so spectacularly. Instead of trying to build a meta around the roster, they keep trying to make the roster fit a pre-defined meta. More than any other MOBA, HOTS requires you to know yourself and your team. You have to know your strengths and how your team can shore up your weaknesses. You have to truly acknowledge your real hero pool and not just try to play everything. When you draft, don’t draft the hero that’s best in this spot on paper, draft the best hero in your pool that best fits the composition.

When you’re doing draft prep, look for holes in your team. “If we draft Dehaka here, who plays it? How does that limit what we can draft with our last pick? What are we lacking, is there a hero we need someone to add to their pool?

When building a team roster, you want to focus on player skill and personality over a pre-determined role. You want to make sure you have effective hero coverage, but I’d rather pick up a second “melee specialist” and adjust how I draft than limit my available options to just people who play the mages and Valla.

When you’re playing competitive HOTS, don’t try to out-think yourself in the draft. If you don’t have an Abathur player, don’t pick him. Ban him if he’s so great on this map, or focus your time on developing strategies that counter Abathur with your comfort picks. Obviously you’ll always need to have coverage of some of the “OP” heroes, but do so in a way that fits your team. In short, don’t try to copy what you see in the pro scene blindly. Ask why that team comp fit that team; why was Snitch on the Greymane in this instance, why Glaurung was the Zeratul this time instead of Goku, etc. Don’t focus so hard on the role, think about the player and their hero pool/playstyle. If someone else had been on that hero, how would the composition have needed to change?

To throw a last minute discussion in at the end, this realization has made me completely convinced that it is time for HOTS to have three bans per team. Heck, I would advocate for four per team if we could speed up the timers so the draft didn’t drag on forever. Currently you are obligated to draft in such a way that you use your early picks as denial for the enemy team. I think the game will advance farther if we can simply remove more problematic heroes, use a ban or two to target a player without shoehorning our picks, and open up each team to draft according to their playstyle.

Resource Allocation: How to Handle the Problems with Pot Bonuses

What would you do if you won the lottery?

 

Hoooo boy. I continue to learn so much about the Smash community every single week. Coming from a MOBA background, there are so many things I just take as a given. One of these things was the existence of pot bonuses. In MOBAs, prize pools are a given. There’s no other way for players to get paid by a tournament because there are never any entry fees. Imagine such a world!  Now, obviously this isn’t a viable model in fighting games for a wide range of reasons, but it helps you understand the existing relationship I have with what the Smash community calls a “pot bonus”. Today, I want to explore a few tweets we’ve seen, the discussion on this week’s episode of The Set Count, and just some general thoughts on the sustainability of Smash.

Clear Point of View

Before we get too deep into this, I want to dispel a couple viewpoints that won’t be helpful to the discussion. I saw a few tweets over the week saying things like “pot bonuses are toxic” or “every pot bonus is a waste of money”.  I think one of the most important things to understand before we get into a practical discussion is this: there is absolutely nothing inherently evil about a pot bonus. Just like any tool in a marketing or tournament organizing arsenal, the pot bonus is just one of many resources that help create a successful tournament.

The fact that a pot bonus exists does not necessarily mean that money was taken from other aspects of the tournament, and we’ll explore that in a bit. In short, I think we need to understand that at their core, pot bonuses are inherently a good thing. We want our players to make money!  We want exposure and credibility for Smash in the esports space. We want players to get signed to teams. Pot bonuses provide all of these things. In a perfect world, every single tournament would have several thousand dollars in pot bonuses. So, before we get into this discussion, let’s adjust where we’re coming from. Rather than debating whether pot bonuses should or should not exist, we need to discuss how they are useful, can that money be better allocated, and what is each member of the community’s responsibility in shaping the economics of Smash tournaments?

Attracting Top Players

The primary argument in favor of pot bonuses is that they help a tournament attract top players. This is absolutely provably true. If a new organization wants to enter Smash, all the other topics discussed for those resources won’t help. If your goal is to bring in as many PGR players as possible, the most effective way to do that is a pot bonus of several thousand dollars. Ally and Nairo aren’t going to be nearly as influenced by 24-hour venues, big amounts of setups, cool panels, or side events. They won’t attend a tournament because you’re paying your commentators and streamers more money. They will attend because tournaments are how they make a large portion of their income, and you are offering them a raise in their annual salary.

Dreamhack and GameTyrant are perfect examples of this. The Smash community should have been honored to be included at Dreamhack, but few people in Smash even understood what Dreamhack was, or what it meant to esports. With so many tournaments this year, there’s no way all these top pros would have attended all the Dreamhack events without the pot bonus. So, if your goal with your event is to attract top players, you absolutely must include a pot bonus to remain competitive (unless you’re a legacy prestige tournament like Evo or Genesis). Heck, just to get Armada to the US you’ve got to offer him something worthwhile.

When The Set Count discussed pot bonuses, I think the approach was flawed. They began the discussion based on a tweet from Pereden saying “pot bonuses are a myopic way to grow the community.” She’s 100% true. Pot bonuses really don’t help grow the community. Sure, a huge pot bonus will get some play on ESPN and attract some eyes to the stream, but she’s absolutely right that a pot bonus isn’t really going to convince a bunch of people to stop playing Counterstrike and start playing Melee. Suar and Sage were totally right that pot bonuses don’t provide a better experience to 95% of tournament attendees. If your goal is to grow the scene, there are way better uses of that money. However, that’s not the goal of most organizations that have a pot bonus.

game tyrantGameTyrant and Dreamhack don’t care about growing the Smash community. Nor should they. At the end of the day, these are businesses attempting to turn a profit. They have no existing credibility with the Smash community, there’s no way for them to penetrate an already crowded market by just offering yet another tournament. They have to buy that prestige. The easiest and most effective way to do this is to get a bunch of top players at their event. I think the main problem with the argument is that it’s short-sighted. GameTyrant and Dreamhack are not expecting to turn a profit this year from these events. They probably won’t even break even. They are using pot bonuses so that top players will attend the first version of their events. They will tweet about it, they’ll come, they’ll boost stream viewership. If the event is well run and everybody who comes has a good time, the event will grow next year. It will have established credibility. Attendance numbers will grow, they can attract better sponsors, and they can grow their influence within the community. There is no other way to use that money which can accomplish that goal. The problem we see with things like the 2GGC, UGC, and other events is that they are trying to fly out players and pay out pot bonuses to make a profit on their event next month. It just simply does not work that way. Pot bonuses are a long-term play, and can only be used effectively by companies with vision for the future and enough resources to cover the losses in their first few years of operation.

Stop Flying Out Frogs

Mr. R caught some heavy flack on Twitter yesterday for a series of tweets discussing the misuse of compendiums. Right now, the primary use of smashgg’s compendium system is to get players flown out to events. We’re especially seeing this with the 2GGC saga compendiums. They are burning through community resources to fly out weak players who play bad characters, and a lot of people (myself included) are getting fed up with it. To me, most compendiums have the exact same flaws that many people attach to pot bonuses. They don’t help grow the scene, they don’t provide a better tournament experience for attendees, and there are better uses of that money.

Now, compendiums are tricky because there are actually cases where they are really important. Without compendiums many talented players would never get the opportunity to get enough exposure to become pro players. We wouldn’t get to see Japanese competitors nearly as often. Players like Locus wouldn’t get to attend nearly as many events. You need to attend events to remain relevant and court a sponsor. Compendiums are crucial for that process. However, the 2GG compendiums are no longer being used for that purpose. Obviously, if people choose to spend their money flying out Texas’ best Ryu so he can buster out in pools, that’s their choice. However, Mr. R is completely right that there are better ways to use the community’s desire to support the scene monetarily.

However, I think there’s also a flaw in the argument for doing a compendium to improve the tournament. Most compendium funding is going to come from people who aren’t attending the event. If I want to see my region’s best Greninja compete against Dabuz, I can benefit from that compendium even if I don’t go to the tournament. If I’m not going, there’s no reason to fund a compendium for a 24-hour venue. There’s no reason to fund a compendium for more setups if I’m not going to the event.

So to Mr. R’s point, yes, compendiums can absolutely be used better. There is absolutely an argument for allocating those funds to pot bonuses, because pot bonuses do have value. However, I think the conversation about compendiums needs to first be how to use them better for their intended purpose, before we start discussing putting some of those funds to pot bonuses. To me, as it stands right now, that’s a separate discussion from the fundamental economics of Smash, and whether or not pot bonuses should exist. I’ll talk way more about compendiums another time. For now, I think the first step there is to just stop burning through community good will and resources on these ridiculous saga compendiums that really don’t help the scene, the players, or the tournament.

 

Pay People Better

So, while a pot bonus may help your tournament attract top players, there are many who argue that pot bonus money could be better allocated to the running of the tournament. This is a really tough subject, so I’m going to try my best to approach every point. For me, I sympathize heavily with every TO, streamer, commentator, and other event staff working a tournament. My primary work and source of income in esports comes from contracts for writing. There are still so many people willing to write for nothing more than “exposure” that many places still don’t pay their writers. Top organizations like Dignitas, major news outlets, they all either hire volunteer writers or pay writers a fraction of what they are worth. It hurt to see Dignitas put out a call for writers, only to find out the position was unpaid. I know what it’s like to do professional, high-quality work for little to no pay. I get it.

That said, I think there’s a fundamental flaw in this argument as it pertains to Smash. First, it’s problematic to say that money allocated for a pot bonus is money taken away from the compensation of talent and staff. The pot bonus usually comes from sponsors or investors, and comes out of the event’s marketing and prizing budget. It’s a whole separate line item. We’ll address the problems in how events budget and plan in a bit, but for now let’s talk specifically to and about staff.

Money was put into that pot bonus to accomplish very different tasks from the money used to pay staff. As we said before, that money is helping buy prestige, and attract top players. That money is being spent to make a tournament competitive in the market. Nothing about the event staff will do that, especially for a newer tournament. Hiring GIMR instead of a local streamer won’t boost attendance by top players if there’s no pot bonus. As long as your tournament is best of 5 after pools, ZeRo and Dabuz won’t care who’s running the pools, or how much they are being paid. To say that the money can be spent better depends entirely on the goal that money is trying to accomplish. If a tournament decided to not have a pot bonus, they would likely invest that money in marketing, or just put it back in their pocket.

I think it’s problematic any time you tell a business that they should pay people more. Businesses have a responsibility to turn a profit and reduce cost wherever possible. I have no interest in getting political here, so let’s avoid talking about minimum wage or anything like that. When it comes to event staff and talent, we’re talking about contract work. As a contractor, it is your responsibility to know your worth and negotiate accordingly. You have to decide the value of exposure, the satisfaction of getting to do your work, and how much your time and talent is worth.

We still have a grassroots mentality. There is always someone willing to do the position for cheaper, or even for free. That’s great for these tiny tournaments, but it becomes a problem when you never stop to consider your value and start to fight for what you’re worth. This is a shift I had to make in my own career. When I started writing for esports, I was nobody. I didn’t have a portfolio, there was no reason for someone to pay me. I did what everyone in Smash did to get their start–I got on the grind. I emailed websites asking them to let me write content for free, begging for exposure. Whenever I enter a new esport, I tend to start that process over again. I work for free to prove my talent. However, as soon as I have a portfolio, that free work stops. If a website or company isn’t willing to pay, they no longer get my content. For some, that is totally fine and we part ways. For others, that’s when the negotiation begins. I have to decide the value of my time, the value of the opportunity, and try to convince this organization to pay me what I think I’m worth. If they won’t pay me that rate, I have to choose whether to accept a cheaper rate, or walk away. There have been countless opportunities and jobs that I’ve turned down because the rate wasn’t high enough. If I choose to accept a low rate, that is 100% on me. It’s not that company’s responsibility to pay me better “because they should.” If I didn’t sell my value and negotiate well, I didn’t do my job properly, and don’t deserve a higher rate. At that point, I have to walk away to preserve my value.

The same is true of any staff or talent freelancing for events. If you’re an up-and-coming commentator, you need exposure. You should be jumping on the mic anywhere, and driving countless hours just to get another shot. However, once you have a following and some proven value as talent, you have to stop working for free. You have to stop accepting crappy rates and breaking even on events. You have to prove to tournament organizers that you are worth more money, or you have to walk away. Right now, there’s a set budget for streamers, TOs, staff, and commentary. That budget will never change until talented, valuable people start refusing jobs. You have to be able to prove that an event will suffer without you, and that paying you will yield a greater return. If you can’t do that, then you have to get back on that grind and build your value.

I guess the whole point of this section is just that we have to stop thinking of pot bonuses as taking money away from event staff. They are two completely separate issues. Staff have to start fighting for better pay, start proving their value, and start being willing to walk away. I’ve already spent too much time in this article on the subject, but there are lots of ways that you can do this, I’m living proof of it. I’ve created jobs for myself all over the place.  Many articles you see online with my name attached came as a result of me convincing a company that a piece of writing would benefit them, and convincing them to pay me for that work rather than bring on a volunteer. I don’t care what your role in the community is, you can do the same. That said, in the short term, there’s still a fundamental problem with expecting money from Smash.

Not Enough Money

I spent a lot of the last paragraph arguing that staff pay and pot bonuses should be considered separate. To completely contradict that, we have to look at the practical state of Smash right this moment. I love you all, but you guys have really created a mess for yourselves. You’ve been grinding and building this community for over 15 years, but you never stopped to future-proof your esport. Of course, most of that is not your fault, it’s Nintendo’s. We all look at the production value for other esports and wonder why Smash can’t get there. The fact is, every other esport has a ton of money flowing in from the marketing department of that game’s developer. Games like League of Legends, Counterstrike, and DOTA are all using esports to advertise their game. They are spending their marketing dollars on paying event staff, offering pot bonuses, and increasing production value. Smash does not have any of that money coming from Nintendo, because they aren’t trying to sell a product. They can’t make money from Melee or Smash 4. Regardless of that, Nintendo just straight up does not understand internet culture. They don’t even understand how to design a modern online experience for their games.

As a result of this, we just flat out don’t have enough money flowing into our community. There’s not enough money to fund pot bonuses, pay staff, get great venues, and buy tons of extra setups. Something has to give. As it stands right now, I don’t fault any event for offering a pot bonus. The players have used their influence for their personal gain, which is absolutely what they should be doing! There are too many events, and top players have to choose what to attend. If you want top players at your event and you aren’t a legacy event (or one in Mexico where you can get ANTi for free) you have to put up a pot bonus. There’s always someone willing to run a pool, run a stream, and commentate either for free or super cheap, so there’s no incentive for an event to allocate those resources there. If they did, they’d have to find more money, because they cannot sacrifice the pot bonus entirely and remain competitive to top players.

As a community, we have to stop talking about where the existing money should go, and start talking about how to get more money in to begin with! We have to get aggressive and reach out to advertisers to sponsor events. We have to market outside of the existing community and grow the market. We must find ways to grow viewership, and turn that into a value proposition for more sponsors and advertisements. We’ve gotta become NASCAR. The days of grassroots are over. The world has changed, and we are behind, plain and simple. It’s time for every TO, commentator, attendee, streamer, and top player to start looking at Smash for what it is–a business. Stop using attendance as your only source of revenue. Don’t only market by tweeting out to existing smashers about your event. Announce your event more than three weeks in advance. Figure out how to make your event more attractive than everything else happening that month. Be a professional. Work for the career you want, not the volunteer position you have right now. In general–grow up, be better, and don’t just work harder: work smarter.