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  • Blog #9: Artillery's Gaming Platform - A Video Demo!


    It is my fist-pumpingly-delighted pleasure to reveal a demo of Artillery’s technology platform!

    See why I’m so excited?  All the above tech demos were running in a browser.  Without having to download or install a client.  With an empty browser cache.

    To this day, working with the technology absolutely blows my mind.  I’ll make code changes in a script, refresh my browser, and BOOM the game loads up with the changes. Whenever it’s time to run some playtests, I generate some URL links and paste them to people and BOOM we’re playing together.

    Down the road, I can’t wait to share the first screenshots and demos of our upcoming game title, Project Atlas.  The tech demo video shows the potential of what anybody can do with Artillery’s platform, but Project Atlas is our vision of what a modern RTS could be (and it’s my baby).  The RTS space is severely underexplored in the current game space, and we plan to change that!  For now, though, it shall all remain a secret mwahahahha.

    But if you want an easy place to get secrets, news updates, videos, and early access to the Project Atlas beta, feel free to sign up at http://artillery.com.

    Yahoo!

  • Blog #8: Day[9] Is Making a game with Artillery Games

    l’m thrilled to announce that I’m working on a game with a lovely group of people called Artillery Games!    

    I’ve always loved playing games and competing in StarCraft.  So, after college I applied for and was accepted to an Interactive Media (game design) graduate program at USC.  After a few short months, I got a taste of the enormous fun of making your own game.  It’s an indescribably satisfying experience to create a set of rules and see someone have real fun within them.  My first two years consisted of countless hours working on platformers, interactive art pieces, board game prototypes, and random gameplay experiments.  I was certain I’d be starting an independent studio after I graduated.    

    And then I found another love: web TV!  I started the Day[9] Daily midway through my second year at USC, beginning my journey and starting Day[9]TV with my college friend Eric!  Throughout this time, Eric and I knew we wanted to work on a game eventually.  We just couldn’t quite figure out how to do Day[9]TV shows and build a game at the same time.      

    In early 2011, before Artillery existed, I met some of the now Artillery folk through the After Hours Gaming League.  They were hardcore StarCraft players who played for Facebook and helped Eric and I organize the first AHGL season.  Through the AHGL, I befriended and kept in touch with them over the years until one day, Ankur (formerly of team Facebook) reached out to me about Artillery Games.    

    Artillery set out to do the impossible: to have graphically intensive, triple-A games load quickly and run smoothly in the browser.  After gently explaining to Ankur why the idea was technologically infeasible, he pulled out a laptop and showed me an already working demo… on a laptop getting a signal from tethered phone.  “Want to make a game?” he asked.    

    Needless to say, I was pretty amazed.  And excited.    

    Without any interruption to the usual Day[9]TV show schedule, I’ll be joining with Artillery to help put those years of RTS design ideas into a real, tangible game!  The entire game will run in-browser with virtually no load time.  In a few weeks, we’ll even be sharing some demos of Artillery’s technology, stuff that still blows my mind.    

    If you’re interested in news, updates, or a chance to sign up for early access beta, feel free to sign up here!

  • Blog #7.0: Tournaments 101 Continued

    So I’ve been on the road and away from this blog.  Let’s recap what we’ve learned so far before we go on with our discussion of how to produce eSports tournaments.

    1.  You want to get a job in eSports. I've suggested you invent one instead.

    Credit: Henry Yang, TeSPA

    I’ve suggested to you that jobs in eSports are few and far between and are largely awarded to the most qualified, experienced applicants.  You therefore face a Catch-22:  you need experience in eSports to get a job, but until somebody hires you, you can't get the experience you need.

    How do you get around this problem?  My advice to you is to be entrepreneurial, and build an eSports venture of your own.  This doesn’t have to be an empire:  just something that demonstrates your talent, drive and initiative.  Build a local eSports club at your high school or college.  Hold a BarCraft or organize a local tournament or LAN.  Start small, on your campus or in your city.  Event organization is a learned skill:  you will be doing a lot of juggling, managing people and resources.  If you demonstrate that you can successfully produce a local event like this, you are much more likely to be hired by a large commercial eSports organization.  Besides, building communities is fun—it’s a great way to connect with like-minded eSports fans.

    2.  Treat your new venture more like a business and less like a hobby.

    In an earlier post, I gave you some gentle warnings:  events take money, which means fundraising, bookkeeping, negotiation, licenses and contracts.  It may even mean taxes, insurance, lawyers and accountants.  Treat your venture seriously.  Run it like a real business.

    In fact, get a business mentor—perhaps the parent of a friend or a relative—who is experienced and can help guide you in the creation and operation of your microbusiness.  You will be amazed how open and helpful experienced business people can be if asked.  You will be amazed how interesting the process is.

    3. Recruit co-workers and create an organizational structure and explicit goals.

    In my last post, I interviewed the Rosen brothers of the Texas eSports Association about how they produced their hugely successful grassroots eSports event, the LoneStar Clash.  I chose the Rosens because they are college students, without particular experience or connections in eSports, who have managed to produce a series of amazingly professional events.  If they can do it, so you can you.

    Credit: Henry Yang, TeSPA

    The Rosens indicated that they began their eSports adventure by holding a campus meeting to determine the potential size of their local community.  From there, they  recruited fellow students to help staff and build their event.   The Rosens were inventive about finding fellow gaming fans and didn’t limit themselves to a single group or a single campus.  They put up posters and announcements at universities, high schools, game shops, comic book stores, vocational and tech schools, high tech companies, and incubators.  They made postings on popular forums like TeamLiquid.net and reddit.com/r/starcraft.  They arranged for their meetups to be calendared in campus event pages. They reached out to existing eSports groups and BarCrafts in their area and partnered with them. They saturated their region in every way they could think to expand participation in their events.

    The Rosens organized their core community group, the Texas eSports Association, like a company.  They assigned specific titles to fellow volunteers, and held them accountable for specific tasks.  They made sure everyone met as a group regularly—at least once a week, with many sub meetings during the week for special focus groups.  They encouraged, mentored and inspired their group to think big and to think quality.  They identified key volunteers who were especially good at working with others, or who had special talents or experience, and held them accountable for meeting specific goals by specific dates.  They called out and publicly recognized good work.

    Building a local community and producing a tournament event was a major undertaking, and the Rosens said they had to treat it like a job, working on some aspect of their event every day for months.

    Credit: Henry Yang, TeSPA

    4.  Maintain excellent communication.

    According to the Rosens, more than 70 people worked to make LoneStar II happen.  Managing that many people required not only a formal organizational structure but an excellent communication system.

    In additional to holding regular meetings, the Rosens and TeSPA established a number of online hangouts to facilitate dialogue within the group:  a website,  Skype threads, a closed Facebook page, a newsletter.  They also compiled an email list of local eSports community members, so they could gauge the potential size of a prospective audience, continue to recruit talent, and keep local gamers informed of their activities.

    5.  Start modestly and iterate, learning as you go and amassing resources and experience.

    The Rosens worked their way up to the LoneStar Clashes by first producing a series of smaller events.   They started small, to keep themselves from getting into financial or logistical trouble. They began with a borrowed venue, borrowed internet, and borrowed equipment (they used their own computers and their university gave them free space).  They bootstrapped their first tournament event with cash from ticket sales and registration fees. Then they rinsed and repeated, producing a series of events (at least one per semester), that slowly upped the ante in terms of cost and sophistication—making each event bigger and better than the last.  This allowed them to learn from their mistakes, generate cash, acquire better and better equipment, and test the skills and commitment of their co-workers. This also ensured that they had a proven track record of successful events--including photos of happy crowds, and historical viewer metrics--when they finally approached sponsors about financing larger tournaments.

    Credit: Henry Yang, TeSPA

    6.  Establish internal experts within your group.

    There was a lot to learn along the way.  Early on, the Rosens assigned a dedicated team of volunteers to focus on conquering the technical issues associated with livestreaming a tournament event. That group did nothing but test, test, and retest their equipment setup in the months preceding their event to ensure there would be no hiccups during broadcast.

    The Rosens assigned additional internal experts to advise them on how to market to sponsors, design promotional materials, create a website and publicize the event.  Yet other teams focused on recruiting players and casters and arranging hotels, meals and pleasant meet and greets  in Texas.  This was particularly important, because the Rosens wanted participants to return for future events.

    7.  Learn to network locally and nationally.

    The Rosens and their group had to learn how to network, in order to recruit the best players, casters and sponsors and  stay abreast of technical developments in the field.   Networking also brought them to the attention of national eSports groups, who soon recognized that the competency of the TeSPA team.  In fact, a number of TeSPA members have subsequently worked or volunteered at major pro league tournament events around the country.   So bear in mind that networking can be a helpful foot in the door if you are seeking a career in eSports.   

    Next up:  How tournaments make money

  • Blog #6 Tournaments: TeSPA and the LoneStar Clash

    Tyler, Adam, you are the Co-Presidents of the Texas eSports Association.  Please introduce yourselves and tell us about about TeSPA and the LoneStar Clash.

    We are twin brothers in our final year studying aeronautics engineering at the University of Texas.  TeSPA is a student eSports club that we started when we were juniors.  It is best known as the group behind the LoneStar Clash, which is one of the largest and most successful community-produced eSports events in North America. We’re about to hold the LoneStar Clash II on November 10-11—we hope a lot of your viewers watch online or attend in person. 

    (Note:  Austin hotel space for LoneStar is going fast!  Book now!)

    Credit: TeSPA

    Start from the beginning!  How did you get into StarCraft and the eSports scene?

    We grew up playing games as kids, especially WarCraft 3 and StarCraft Brood War.  We were obsessed with Brood War!  Beyond that, we were vaguely aware that there was an eSports scene growing up, but didn’t really get into eSports that seriously until college.  When StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty was released in our junior year, the hype was crazy.  We got into the beta and fell in love with the game all over again.

    There had been a Collegiate StarLeague team before at the University of Texas Austin, but it was focused solely on Brood War, and the guys running it graduated.   So in the summer of 2010, we decided to create a StarCraft II group so we would have people to play with.  We made a single post in the community section on TeamLiquid inviting other students to come to a meetup.  We figured maybe five or six people would show up.  To our amazement, there were like twenty to twenty-five—and everyone was really passionate about eSports.   We thought: “Whoa! There is a lot of interest here…Maybe we should start up a club and tap into some of this motivation!”

    So that was the seed that started the Texas eSports Association (TeSPA).  A few weeks later, in August of 2010, we officially launched TeSPA as a student organization at the University of Texas at Austin and started growing it, including reaching out to other Texas campuses.  We were amazed again when about forty people showed up for our very first TeSPA meeting. By the end of the first semester, we had a member base of about 100.

    Credit: TeSPA

    Why you?  Why didn’t somebody else do this at your college? Did you have a lot of experience running groups like this?

    That’s an interesting question.  I think there were other people who wanted to what we did, but they just didn’t know how to get it going.  We don’t have any particular background in management or entrepreneurship but we had organized stuff before in high school (theater, math clubs) and we always liked making things happen.  That came to us naturally.  We had also participated in college student government and worked on a program that taught communication, team building and leadership to engineering students at UT.  That gave us some confidence, too.

    But to be honest, TeSPA and LoneStar happened mostly because a bunch of people, including us, had the sheer willpower to make it happen.  I think a lot of people already possess the native skills it takes to launch something like this, but they hang back and are too passive.  They wait for someone else to take the lead and then they jump on board.  We have the opposite approach.  We like being in control and we like making things happen ourselves, because then we can ensure that quality remains high and that stuff happens right and the outcome is good.  We trust ourselves to work hard to make sure that the organization or the event will be the best it can be.  In that sense, we are very proactive and aggressive about accomplishing our goals. We’ve learned we can make amazing things happen.  But not everyone seems to have that same drive or willingness to commit.

    In the case of eSports, we realized that the interest was there in the Texas community, and that we could tap into it.  We also thought we could personally get a lot out of setting up TeSPA, and learn a lot in the process.  Our motto is that we never back down from a challenge like that, we never say no.

    So TeSPA started out as an SCII team.  How did you transition into producing large scale tournament events?  What was your first tournament like?

    To be honest, we started very small.  In fact, at first, we didn’t have any real events.  What brought us together was the Collegiate Star League tournaments and some social gaming events.  From there, we figured out how to stream, and whenever TeSPA players played, we streamed those matches to other students.  We had a tiny audience, maybe  20-30 viewers at that time,  but the very fact that we did it brought people together.  We also held a couple of small LANs our first semester—social things, where people in TeSPA could get to know each other and have fun.

    Then we got more ambitious.  We decided that the TeSPA officer team should focus on producing one really big event each semester, and we decided that event should be an eSports tournament.

    Our first real tournament was in the fall of 2010 and was on a very small scale (see photo) but we were super proud of it.  We publicized our event by making an  announcement on Teamliquid and on every major university campus in the state:  the University of Texas at Dallas, the University of Texas at Arlington, Texas Tech, Rice University, Texas A&M.  Our event was a 64 player, single elimination tournament that lasted just one day, and we asked participants to bring their own computers. We had a $700 prize pool and we charged players an entry fee of $10-$12 to raise the money to cover that prize pool.  As a student organization, we were able to borrow a big room for the event free of charge from the university.  We used free online software to make the brackets.  The university also had awesome bandwidth and could offer us free internet. They unlocked ports so everybody could log onto Battle.Net.  We all brought in our personal gaming computers to help with the logistics of running the event.

    It was awesome and it was crazy.  People drove in from everywhere.  We were all crammed into a single room, which meant we had to cast from same room in which the players were playing.  I mean it was a totally ghetto setup! But it was still the biggest StarCraft II LAN in Texas at the time. We were so proud of that event. 

    Credit: TeSPA

    So with that success under your belts, you then decided to ramp up for your next event?

    Right, so the following semester, in the Spring of 2011, we planned a second tournament, the TeSPA Texas Open, this time with a $1,500 prize pool.   We opened it up to 128 people.  We learned from our mistakes during the first event, and this time we made sure we had access to a college auditorium in addition to the original game room.  That gave us a separate spectating area so we could accommodate more people.  It also meant that our casters were in front of the live audience, which made for a better spectating experience.  For the first time, we charged spectators a $5 entry fee and added food to the program for an additional $5.  The food was a great idea because we had a captive audience and a long event, and selling food and drinks generated extra cash.  Then we charged the players $15-$17 to enter the tournament, and once again used that money to fund the prize pool.

    We just came up with these dollar numbers off the top of our heads because we thought they were reasonable amounts of money to charge even on a student budget and we discounted advance purchase/TeSPA membership purchase.  Nobody balked at the cost: they all wanted to break in to eSports and compete.

    We had online qualifiers ahead of the event, so only the top 64 players competed in person at the tournament finals.  It was a one day event, single elimination bracket, and we streamed it online.  We got 10,000 views, which we thought was great. Remember, that was a big jump from our first efforts as an organization, where we had just 20-30 people watching!

    We had no money to pay casters, so we just recruited local community guys to cast—we even jumped in ourselves during the event and took turns casting.  Our big coup was that we actually got a local  pro player from Evil Geniuses—StrifeCro—to agree to come.  We were so thrilled to have an EG guy there.  It was so legitimizing!  In fact, the finals featured StrifeCro against a former Brood War pro from Sweden named Tobias (ZpuX).  StrifeCro won 4-3 in this great, gripping set of final matches.   It was so awesome for all of us.  Great spectating.

    Credit: TeSPA

    And you kept going, right? You kept ramping it up?  The following semester you planned yet another, bigger tournament?

    Yes.  In the fall of 2011, we took a hard look at our previous events, and tried to top ourselves again with the Texas StarCraft Showdown.

    So, this is important for your readers to understand:  we didn’t just wake up one day and decide to produce the LoneStar Clash!  Our approach was to start small, iterate, learn and improve.  We were actually doing one of these events every semester for a while, and figuring things out.   We challenge ourselves but we don’t bite off more than we can chew.  We manage our risk in increments.   We learn what does and doesn’t work as we go and keep building upon our systems and expertise.  This approach has kept us out of trouble.

    Anyway,  for the third tournament, we upped the players and the prize pool and the casters and everything.  We also upgraded the venue, so we could bring in more people.  We had 128 entrants with a double elimination bracket (which was more challenging for us, since it involved a lot of logistics and a lot more games).  We once again had online qualifiers. This time, we brought in real casters and attracted pro players like vileState and Quantic.iNkA.

    We doubled the prize pool to $3,000, which was a big jump.  To make that happen, we brought on our first major outside sponsor—AT&T.  That was something completely new.  Up until then, we had bootstrapped everything through entry ticket sales and food sales.   But with the third tournament, we felt we had built enough viewership, and had enough of a track record, for a sponsor to take us seriously.

    In fact, we ended up with almost 400,000 views for our third event.  So online viewership skyrocketed.  That’s when people started to pay attention to us nationally.  They were like:  who are these guys in Texas?  How are they doing this?

    We also got iNcontroL to cast because again we were trying to up our production values.  We had met somebody at MLG Dallas, and become friends with him and he knew one of the EG players, so he acted as the middleman to get us introduced to Geoff.  We explained what we were doing over Skype, and Geoff agreed to cast for us.   So that networking really paid off.   In fact, the bigger we have become, the more important networking has become to us.

    Credit: TeSPA

    By now, we had also built a website for TeSPA, so we had a clearinghouse for all the communication surrounding our events.   That website played a significant role in the organization of the tournaments and was entirely built by TeSPA members.

    We can’t emphasize enough how talented and hardworking and committed the TeSPA group is and how important collaborative work is to the success of these events.  Believe us when we say a strong team can make all the difference in the world.  As event organizers, you can’t do everything yourself and you can’t be expert at everything. For example, we were lucky enough to have Waytao Shing, knew the basics of event marketing and sponsorships and taught us how to do that.  We also had Jerry Lu, a brilliant graphic design guy, Donald Chan, who figured out how to stream effectively, Bo Zhang, a networking and power management guru who oversaw our technical setup, Brett Hallum, who focused on organizing volunteers and on-site logistics, Jorge Palomino, a social coordinator who organized side activities at the event, and many more.

    And then came the LoneStar Clash I?

    Yes, then we got really ambitious and thought:  why shouldn’t we put on event that rivals the quality of professional events like MLG and IPL?  So we decided to produce the Lone Star Clash, an event that featured a combined $11,500 prize pool with a pro invitation with 16 pro players from 8 countries and a regional collegiate tournament that attracted teams from 14 colleges.

    That is a great overview of how you got into eSports tournaments!  In part two, let’s talk more in the next blog about the LoneStar Clash I and II.  We want to hear how you got your sponsorships,  how you got pros to come to these events.  We’d also like to hear more about your networking, your specific stream setup, and how you publicize yourself. And last but not least, what did do these events cost?

    Credit: TeSPA
  • Blog #5.0 eSport Tournaments 101

    Every tournament organizer's dream / Credit: Nathaniel Tucker

    Over the next several posts, I am going to be discussing tournaments: what they cost, how they are produced, how they are broadcast.

    I am going to do this by telling you the tale of two tournaments: the LoneStar Clash produced by the Texas eSports Association earlier this year in Austin and the Day[9] Launch Party for SC II that I produced in 2010. Both tales contain many moments of horror and near escape, as befits a pre-Halloween blog. Don’t read these posts alone in the dark.

    Once our tales are complete, the Day[9] Crew will collaborate with TeSPA to supply you with checklists, recommended equipment, suggested practices, sample budgets and marketing materials to help you produce your own eSports event. We hope these resources embolden you to go where no man or woman has gone before, producing high school, college, and regional tournaments for the games you love.

    First, however, a few caveats:

    Tripping Hazard: jcolman / photo on flickr

    Cash flow.

    Tournaments held in front of a live audience take money to produce. Lots of money. Tournaments held in front of a live audience and simultaneously streamed over the internet take even more money. That means that your first order of business is to raise enough cash through sponsors or ticket sales to finance your event.

    At the same time, you should note that even if you valiantly hustle up $30,000 in sponsorship commitments or tickets sales this is not necessarily the same thing as $30,000 cash-in-hand to spend. You will sell the majority these tickets just days before your show opens—not three months in advance. Your sponsors may well pay you six months after your event ends.

    This begs the question: how will you pay in advance for your production set up? Put down deposits for the venue? For the equipment? For the food? Personal credit cards? A short term loan? You need to think this through. This is a cash flow issue and it is a central issue in all businesses—not just event production.

    Some people are shocked to learn that they may not get sponsorship money up front. “Why do sponsors do this?” they ask. “Isn’t this behavior immoral?”

    No. The sponsors are taking a gamble on you. It is reasonable that they should to want to see hard evidence that you pulled off the event professionally and brought in the audience numbers you promised. Especially if you have no track record. We will talk more about how to work with sponsors in a future blog.

    Taxes.

    Taxes: DonkeyHotey / photo on flickr

    If sponsors are sending you tens of thousands of dollars in sponsorship money, they may well be reporting to your government that they are doing so. If sponsorship checks are made out to you in your own name and tax id number, this may be treated as taxable income to you and you may be held personally liable.

    To avoid this, you may want to set up a small entity. Be aware you may need to file corporate taxes if you create such a corporate entity. You may also want to create a separate bank account and a bookkeeping system to show any government auditors how the money came in for the event and how it was spent. Be careful who has access to the bank account and demand receipts before handing out petty cash. Track, track, track in real time. It is surprisingly difficult to reconstruct all these financial transactions after the fact.

    Lawyers.

    Tax laws, accounting, setting up an entity, contracts—these are unbelievably complex areas. Don’t be a smart ass and think you can do them all yourself. Don’t think you can cut and paste legal copy from the internet, come up with a contract and save yourself money. Be aware that business laws are different in every state and in every country.

    Lawyer: peggydavis66 / photo on flickr

    Good business lawyers are expensive, but they are worth their weight in gold. They are there to keep you out of trouble. Lawyers can be awesome. Get one. Explain to your lawyer that you are young and inexperienced and ask what it would cost to give you advice and set you up with the templates you need. Ask him to cap his billable hours. You will be amazed how much direction you can get for a couple hours of time.

    Your lawyer might even be interested in what you are doing and offer introductions to potential sponsors. Lawyers know everybody and like to facilitate useful hookups between their clients.

    If you are at a university, get referred to a business professor or a campus law clinic, and benefit from as much free professional advice as possible. Offer your business up as a real world learning experience for an entire business or law class. Benefit from the collective brainstorming.

    Permission.

    Permission: andymangold / photo on flickr

    Get a license from the game publisher for your eSports event. This is easy to do (we will give you the contact details in a future blog) and inexpensive. These guys are not giant monopolies, they are guys like you who happen to have worked hard to engineer the games you love. Everything you do is being built on their work. Respect that. In fact, think of obtaining a license as a business investment: you are establishing an important business relationship with a key player in the eSports world.

    On the other hand, when it comes to university administrators, bar owners and venue managers, sometimes it pays not to ask for approval on every little detail. These folks can be uneasy about the nature of your event ("What the heck is eSports, anyway?") and are likely to take the conservative path and just say no. Better to forge ahead, use your best judgment and produce a kick ass event that makes everybody happy after the fact.

    Negativity.

    Ignore naysayers and push them out of your inner circle as you work on your event production. People either love to build things or they are threatened by those who do so. Realize that many of your critics want you to fail for personal reasons that have nothing to do with you. They do not want you to succeed because it will rob them of their rationale for leading a safe, dull, passive life. Your success makes them mediocre.

    Instead, recruit the smartest, most positive people you know to work alongside you. People who know how to hustle and get stuff done. Don’t assign roles and titles until you have tested people in a variety of duties. Learn to delegate to and reward your best performers. Encourage people to second guess you, but keep control of the process.

    Next up: An interview with the Rosen brothers of TeSPA about the LoneStar Clash