It’s been a while since I’ve had a good excuse to do one of these. Smash usually gives me lots of opportunities to discuss marketing and PR concepts, but lately the drama’s been relegated to stuff I don’t particularly care about. I still don’t really care about the thing most people are mad about in this instance, but I think there’s an important distinction to be made regarding 2GG, IBuyPower, and every facet of this specific situation.
Real quick, let me be clear: I have been overly critical of 2GG in the past. I also feel like I have been appropriately critical at times. However, in this specific instance with this particular event, 2GG is not at fault for like 98% of the things people are mad about. One of which I’ll rant about in a second. If you’re here looking for me to stir up a witch hunt against 2GG, that’s not this. So, let’s make sure we’re all on the same page, and then we’ll dive in.
Weekend at the Masters
So IBuyPower is a big sponsor in esports. They have their hands in most games, even directly sponsoring teams across games like League of Legends and Rocket League at various times. For three years running, they’ve hosted a CS:GO tournament called IBP Masters. This year, they’ve decided to expand the event to include a Smash 4 tournament with a $10,000 prize pool. IBP reached out to 2GG to help run the Smash side of the event.
Essentially, 2GG took a contract to assist with an event, just like what VGBC does when they stream an event, or when an organization like Great Value Smash travels out of their local area to assist with running a larger event. IBP didn’t have the infrastructure to effectively run a Smash 4 tournament, so they reached out to the local experts. 2GG have proven their ability to partner with big companies and to host exceptional tournaments, so the partnership makes perfect sense.
People Mad on the Internet? Surely Not!
So, unsurprisingly, when the announcement came down from 2GG about the event, Twitter sort of exploded for a minute. There were two sides to the anger, and we’ll address each in turn.
Like many, I immediately lashed out because here was yet another tournament announced late with massive stakes. However, by all accounts 2GG was approached late in September to run this event. Likely they were told by IBP not to announce until now. In a twitlonger, Champ detailed the philosophy behind the event which makes the timeline more reasonable. We’re going to come back to this, but for now the people who are leaping to 2GG’s defense are completely in the right. IBP likely did not understand how impactful a $10k prizepool would be for Smash 4 since they are used to working in the much more lucrative world of Counter Strike. This is meant to just be a fun little side event, a chance for the company to dip their toe into Smash. It is not 2GG’s fault that IBuyPower approached them late, and wasn’t ready to announce the event until now.
The other part of the anger is something so dumb, it needs it’s own header so I can rant about it.
Big Events Stepping on Little Events
Holy cow am I fed up with this. Whenever a big event gets announced, someone complains about how it is hurting the smaller regional events somewhere in the country. It isn’t really even an issue of timing. When Panda Global announced Too Hot To Handle, half the comments were about other events that weekend which were being “ruined” because a bigger organization announced an event.
I’m sure that I’m in the minority here, but I truly think this needs to be said. Competition is a good thing. It forces innovation, demands that even small events run more smoothly, advertise more effectively, and offer more to attendees. The quality of every event is forced to increase. Stay relevant, or get left behind.
“But Trent,” you say, “most regional TOs can’t possibly compete with a $10k prize pool.” You’re absolutely right about that. However, they don’t have to. As my dear friend Suar is fond of saying, prize pools don’t do a thing for attendance. Just look at the numbers for GTX versus Smash Con. Look at the 2GGC events that had weaker themes. The average Smasher is never going to see a pot bonus, so it doesn’t inform their decision to attend an event. I’ve made every argument to the contrary in the past, but the data is just too consistent to ignore. Yes, a couple of top players may decide to attend the IBP event instead of your little regional, but that is not going to affect your bottom line at all. If you have poor numbers at an east coast event, you cannot blame 2GG for it–you need to run a better event and attract more local smashers. If you’re one of the people complaining about how 2GG is hurting another event, stop it. Instead, promote the other event. Focus on appealing to the demographics that can’t be touched by an event in another region. Adapt, improve, grow.
So What is 2GG’s Fault?
In this instance, 2GG really hasn’t done anything wrong to deserve the level of rage thrown at them yesterday. I freely admit that even my own posts were an emotional overreaction. However, I think this is a fantastic opportunity to discuss the concept of optics, and how 2GG could have potentially avoided yesterday’s reaction.
We’ve talked plenty on this blog about 2GG as an organization. They are a phenomenal tournament organizer, but consistently throughout this year there has been an issue with communication. Several sagas had their themes announced mere weeks before the event. An entire event had to be cancelled due to poor communication and timing. So, at this point, 2GG has a history of not communicating details effectively, and announcing events late.
When we’re talking about optics, another way to think about it is “perception”. You’ve likely heard the phrase “perception is reality”. In marketing, the facts of a situation are not the only thing we have to consider. We have to take into account how a situation looks. If your optics are bad, you cannot blame the consumers for getting upset.
Optics Hit Us All
So we’re not just focusing on 2GG, let’s look at a way I screwed up my own optics in the past. Early this year, I wrote an article arguing the case for a Smash 4 Summit-style event. I wanted to combat the notion that Smash 4 players had no personality, and to do so I attacked the big names in Melee. The point I attempted to make was that people were over-valuing the personalities in Melee, and that they weren’t any better or more interesting than the big names in Smash 4. Then, in the comments of that article’s Reddit thread, I made an inaccurate statement about Mango. If you were a Melee player who’d never read any of my articles before, the optics of that situation are really bad for me. I attacked the gods to try and defend Smash 4, and said something wrong about Melee history. With only those two points of data, it would be entirely reasonable to draw the conclusion that I’m just a Smash 4 fanboy who hates Melee and doesn’t know anything about the scene. I’ve written multiple articles in a specific effort to repair that image, but the damage is done. To many, I will always be that guy who hates Melee and doesn’t know anything about Mango.
People can only draw conclusions based on the information they have. Now, there is enough information available that, if someone looked into it, they should be able to reasonably conclude that I’m not just some idiot who hates Melee. However, when their only two pieces of data were something wrong and something negative, that conclusion was entirely reasonable. By the same token, while 2GG did nothing wrong by taking this contract with IBuyPower, they did not properly account for the optics of the situation.
Let’s look at the original announcement by 2GG for IBP Masters. This post looks identical to their saga announcements and partnership posts. Even in the video there’s a screen that says “2GG and IBP present”. If you aren’t familiar with the CS:GO event, it is entirely reasonable to draw the conclusion that 2GG went out, got IBP as a sponsor, and chose to run another event in November, further over-saturating the month. Combining this with their history of late announcements, it was also entirely reasonable for top players to be upset that another event with massive stakes was announced so late.
I said before that I overreacted yesterday on Twitter along with everyone else. Based on the facts and reality of the situation, our anger yesterday was unfounded. However, yesterday when the announcement was made, we had only that announcement and a pattern of behavior on which we could base our reactions. Had 2GG anticipated the reaction, had they considered the optics, they could have limited the negative response.
Optics are incredibly important to consider, especially as TOs start to take these contracts with non-endemic sponsors. Companies like IBP don’t have the pulse of the Smash community. They won’t know how things will be perceived, they can’t anticipate reactions. As members of the community, it’s our job to educate these sponsors on the behaviors and expectations of the community. To a company that runs League of Legends tournaments, a $25k pot bonus would be a pittance. It would be the responsibility of Bear, Vayseth, Champ, or whoever was contracted to run that event, to explain how that pot bonus would impact the community. It’s our job to consider how every announcement, advertisement, and action will be perceived and to adjust accordingly.
Smash is growing fast. The days of grassroots events are essentially gone. Even legacy tournaments like Big House and Genesis have been corporatized. However, that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The more we continue to grow and adapt to how the scene evolves, the better it will be for everyone involved. Effective growth means more money. More money means better tournaments, stability for pro players, possible income for streamers and TOs, reduced risk for experimentation and innovation. Embrace the new era of Smash, it’s going to continue whether you want it to or not. As a fan or a player, keep fighting for quality at every level. Support your local and regional scene, but don’t bailout something that isn’t working. As TOs and community leaders, become educated about the new era. Learn how to optimize social media, read books about marketing and volunteer coordination. Get your finances in order. Search out contracts and better sponsors. There is so much more opportunity out there. All we have to do is earn it.