Community, Growth and E-sports

Hey Guys here is my next blog post. The original can be found here.

'Community, E-Sports and Development'

Introduction

A blog from Heyoka, an administrator on teamliquid.net speaks about the growth of Starcraft 2 in its effort to present itself as a post-child of e-sports. They write

                Starcraft 2 hasn't had a beautiful adolescence. The time when gamers obsess about the game not because of what they see on the stage, but because of what they see in front of them. What they experience on the battlefield itself, the magnificent combination of planning and execution that make up a game

What I believe Heyoka is trying to get at is the feeling of excitement that one gets from a game was lost to Starcraft 2 because of the push towards the growth of e-sports. This push towards e-sports delayed the growth of the Starcraft 2 community to the point now that even just as the expansion is about to be released the community has not reached its utmost potential as a community. The point of this blog is to look at some of the problems affecting this delayed growth in the community and ask whether there is anything that might help resolve it.  In this post I want to explore the notion of community in relation to gaming and e-sports. I wish to explore the idea that to properly foster growth in e-sports we must simultaneously foster growth in the gaming communities that surround e-sports.

Part One

                Leroy Rouner writes that 'Community, for most of us, means some sort of common identity in which we maintain our personal freedom even while feeling at home with one another' (Rouner 1991, 1) following this Raymond Williams has written that 'Community can be the warmly persuasive word to describe an existing set of relations, or the warmly persuasive word to describe an alternative set of relations' (Williams 1983, 76). 'Community' has been a major topic of discussion in philosophical discourse since Plato and the topic has seen major discussions within the last thirty years given the change in the socio-political climate. However the socio-historical narrative of the western world does not concern us here. What does concern us here is however 'Community' in both the case that Rouner gives and in the case that Williams gives (as I will be speaking about the existing set of relations and what could be the set of relations). Rouner continues on this idea of common identity writing that the origins of community lie 'in a visceral instinct which makes us gravitate towards our own kind' (Rouner, 76).  I believe this is a fairly non-controversial claim to make. We surround ourselves with those who we share common ideals with and are usually suspicious or outright opposed to difference  (a glimmer of which can be seen in the occasional banter between the Starcraft 2 and League of Legends communities).

                Community relies on a common interest, a common identity that allows us to engage with one another. However, a common identity cannot be the governing characteristic of a community. There is I believe something else that creates the foundation or feeling of community. A feeling that I see has non-existent in many of the forums that seek to identify as the home of the community. As I see it a community is a group of people who actively engage in a interpersonal relationship with others over a common identity. What is it that I mean by this? What do I mean by interpersonal relationship and what do I mean by active engagement?

                We can understand the notion of active engagement with reference to the concept of Praxis. In contemporary political philosophy the notion of Praxis refers to the act of engaging, applying, exercising, realizing or practicing ideas'[1]. The Praxis that we understand in the community is that of developing the community. This seems like a circular idea, but let us expand it. A community, in order to survive, needs to be stable, it needs to have a strong connection and it needs to be developing. A faltering community which does not seek to always be reconditioning itself, developing, extending is a community that does not last long. If active engagement refers to the realization of the development of a community, then according to our definition of community, a community is a group of people who actively engage in the development of a community over a shared identity.  This may seem circulate, but it is not once we present all these ideas. If a group of people with a common identity is to sustain itself then those wishing to be part of that community must actively engage in the development of that community. The basic tool for growing a community is an element of commonality.  However, just because that common element exists does not imply the automatic creation of a community. A community is formed when those who share in this common element interact and support one another.

                We introduced the notion of Praxis, as the active development of an idea as being an aspect of a community. The idea is the development of the community itself.  The other aspect of community that we introduced is that of interpersonal relationships.  Interpersonal relationships come in different formats, they may be based on love, solidarity, business etc. In our case, I believe it is Solidarity that best describes the interpersonal relationship that we must build in order to create a proper community. Strictly speaking, Solidarity refers to unity over something. By Solidarity I refer to the common responsibility of all members that associate with the community to engage with one another. I also add to this that this engagement must grow in a way in which the engagement must always benefit the community in one way or another. For instance, creating a new strategy in the game for the benefit of other plays is a benefit. This also brings us back to the idea of active engagement.

What I wanted this section to depict was a way of becoming clear on what we meant when using such terms as 'community'. Our current definition as it stands is that a community is a group of people in which members of the group have a common responsibility to actively engage with one another to ensure the development of the community. This may seem controversial to some, others may not pay any mind to it at all. However I think definition is what is currently needed for the games that surround the idea of e-sports. For games like League of Legends, DotA and Starcraft 2 the above definition is what is required to grow the communities that have been left behind by the focus on e-sports.

Part Two

At the moment there is little in the way of a community by which we can attribute our definition of community to. Of course there are instances, in the way Williams describes 'Community' as an existing set of relations' but none which engage in the type of behavior which I have outlaid in my definition of community.

                Teamliquid.net and Reddit are two such examples of the 'community' . They both contain active engagement by members. fuelled by people with a common interest. However there is a lack of common responsibility to develop the community as well as proper interpersonal relations, as solidarity, between members. The active engagement that exists on forums such as teamliquid.net and Reddit is not the type of active engagement that creates communities.  They provide a valuable service in collecting and distributing information about the e-sports scene. They let us know which players are streaming, what upcoming events we can look forward to and more. The collective knowledge contained in these forums is invaluable, however, as I see it, they don't foster growth in the communal aspect of the community. They don't entice the user of the forum to stick around, to interact with other members in a friendly way. In fact, most interaction on the forums is either confrontational, or the banality of "I agree with x/I disagree with x'. They are, as I see it, forums for digesting the daily news, but nothing more.  Now there is nothing wrong with this, but if you are new person to the scene the amount of information that Teamliquid.net and Reddit provide may be overwhelming and without someone there to guide you through the maelstrom, you may become lost. These forums, while excellent, can be alienating and isolating rather than inclusive. I don't think either Teamliquid.net or Reddit are bad for the growth of the community, but neither do I think they develop the growth of the community.

                At present we are at a stage in our community building that Morgan Peck calls 'Chaos'. He writes 'In the stage of Chaos individual differences are...out in the open, only now, instead of trying to hid or ignore them, the group is attempting to obliterate them' (Peck 1987, 91). This is a necessary step in community building and we can see it almost daily in the drama that occurs within the community and how it transfers to the forums that represent our community. The 'community' is trying to find our identity, we consistently engage in debates on a plethora of topics. As Peck continues 'the stage of chaos is a time of fighting and struggle' (Peck, 92). The basic problem with this is that our community has actually jumped a stage because of the rapid push by those invested in e-sports. The community hasn't properly developed an identity as a League of Legends, DotA or Starcraft 2 community. We only really have 'e-sports'.

                'The Old Boys Club' have done as much good as harm in this field. 'The Old Boys Club' those who were around in the Broodwar scene have done a lot to lay the foundations for the structure we have today. These people, it cannot be denied, worked hard to create something that a lot of us find important. However in the crossover from Broodwar to Starcraft 2 they failed to utilize their knowledge to grow the community from the bottom.  Instead it seems they have tried to build it from the top down fashion ("If you build it, they will come").  What this means is that while the structure may be sturdy the foundation that the structure is built on is quite fragile.

                Sean 'Day9' Plott is someone I have the utmost respect for. In his blog, he writes (in reference to 'getting into e-sports' that

                Any newcomer trying to penetrate ANY market will always have to contend with the status quo. Always. You are the newb. They are the old timers. They paid their dues. They earned their spurs. They helped build the industry. They are now profiting from it...They don't 'owe you' a place at their dinner table'

Partially I agree, but in many instances in which an 'old boys club' exists, the industry has a strong enough foundation that those making their way to the top have a pretty descent support system in place. This is not necessarily the case in e-sports. The 'Old Boys Club' as I see it have an obligation, if they wish to grow e-sports, to foster growth within the community itself. This can be in a number of different ways Dignitas' Apollo and Day9 have done this through tutorials videos, but many others are not giving the support to the community that it is in dire need of. To some extent Teamliquid.net and Reddit endorse this behavior of "e-sports over everything" by focusing on the drama and the big names of e-sports and giving little attention to the smaller 'grassroots events' that take place constantly.

                One aspect I'd like to end this section on is Blizzard. Blizzard's community portal, better known as Battle.net, as it currently is in Wings of Liberty is problematic for the growth of the community. Communication while simple does not feel natural and does not foster interaction. It was worse at the beginning as Michael Lowell points out here. Battle.net is a badly integrated system that makes it a hassle to interact with people. Community portals should be nearly integrated and make communication as easy and natural as well talking to another person over the phone. As it stands Clan channels and tournament channels are impossible to find unless you frequent forums where that information is available to you, and some channels would only be available to you under you visiting particular forums. While I acknowledge the changes made to the Battle.net system in Heart of the Swarm which shows up with common interest and Clan channels, a lot of damage has already been done to the inaccessibility to community that Battle.net in Wings of Liberty had.

Part Three

                Let me try to summarize what I have said so far. I think our current focus on e-sports has not allowed for the identity of the community of the game that underpins e-sports to properly develop.  We are unable to properly identify ourselves. What does it mean to be a Starcraft 2 gamer? What does it mean to be a League of Legends summoner ? These are questions that would have been answered in the 'beautiful adolescence' that we missed out on. In my opinion, Identification with the Starcraft 2 community is more than just playing the game. But what is this identity? Surely we may say the race we play and the league we play in count for this identity. The building of this identity is inextricably tied to this idea that we have somehow overstepped our initial community building exercise in order to grow e-sports. As Heyoka writes towards the end of his post 'our community needs time for self-reflection and actualization'. We need to try and realize what we means when we talk about the Starcraft 2 community  and take steps to actualize the development of this community.

                The first step is to engage with one another on a more vigorous level. We need to understand properly what we as a community want and to make this happen. It cannot be up to Blizzard or the 'Old Boys Club' to grow the community, it is now up to us to foster and develop growth.  Because this is our community and it is our responsibility to develop it. It is up to us to build and sustain, but we need to properly realize this and from there we can engage in community building, the type of which I have described above to have a common responsibility to actively engage with one another to ensure the development of the community. Once we have rebuilt the foundations then from there, when our community is at its strongest, then we can take e-sports to the highest of heights.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Praxis_%28process%29 accessed January, 2013

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