Blog

  • 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 #4.0: What eSports Business should I launch?

    So you’re ready to step up to the plate and begin growing your own eSports career. Awesome! Before you take too many steps, allow me to stress a couple of lessons I wish I knew before I started! 

    Lesson #1: Unique ideas don’t mean much.

    I get a million emails at Day[9]TV in which people mysteriously allude to a brilliant idea that they just had. “We need to meet and talk,” they say. “Our idea is worth millions. We should cooperate and join forces.”

    They would like to tell me more but first require that I execute a non-disclosure agreement. Because the idea is that good. Then they warn me: the “idea” is gathering momentum. If I don’t act swiftly, the startup train will leave the station without me and I will end up crying in my beer.  

    My response to this is generally to roll my eyeballs.  I myself get about twenty fabulous business ideas in the shower every morning, staff them in my head while brushing my teeth and imagine growing them into giant monopolies over breakfast. This is enormously pleasurable to me, but has very little to do with the realities of running a business.

    So this blog is intended to challenge the notion that a start up is all about the “idea.” Don’t get me wrong: a great idea is very, very important, but far more important is how you execute that idea. How you sell it, how you grow it, how you keep it moving.

    I see too many people in eSports who have a fantasy that if they could just come up the “winning idea,” they could have a business empire.

    Pet Rocks
    Credit: Today is a good day / photo on flickr

    These folks often cite the pet rock business or the hula hoop business or PlentyofFish.com as examples of a “winning idea.” “That pet rock guy made a killing!” they say. “He did it all by himself out of his apartment! That could have been me!”

    The truth is that very few ideas in any marketplace are all that unique. I am pitched the same ideas over and over again by eSports fans, all of whom passionately believe that they are completely original in their thinking. Many of these ideas are almost identical to ones I myself dreamed up in the shower. In fact, the other day I pitched a totally unique idea to Twitch TV, and they promptly sent me to a website where someone was already doing the very thing I’d described. 

    I see some folks crumble when they are confronted with the competition. Like a guy rejected by a girl, they mourn the loss of “what could have been.” They feel like their idea has been stolen. They give up.

    Don’t do this.

    Again, the point is that a start up or a product is not as much about the “idea” as it is about the execution of the idea. Think MySpace, which was an internet sensation until Facebook came along and steamrolled it. Simply do your research on your competitors and figure out how to do things better.

    Credit: Google Trends - Myspace vs. Facebook

    Lesson #2: Keep the competition out and continually innovate.

    The corollary to this is that someone is always going to be trying to beat you at your game.  Even if you come up with a completely original idea, there may folks out there who will be trying to walk off with your market two minutes after you launch. How?  By appreciating your idea and learning from your mistakes. By doing what you already do, but doing it on a grander scale, with more money and more employees. By scaling faster. There is nothing immoral about this. Many ideas are surprisingly difficult to patent or surprisingly easy to spin off into legal variants.  Always be looking over your shoulder and staying one step ahead.

    Three innovators, working different ends of the same niche
    Credit: Solo / photo on flickr

    This leads us to another important question you should be asking yourself when formulating your business idea: how easy will it be for someone to imitate me and push me out of my own niche? What entry barriers exist to keep potential competitors out? 

    Ideally, you want to create something that is not only compelling and unique for users but also difficult for competitors to imitate. Alternatively, you want to quickly grow your user base to such a critical size that your competitors can never catch up to you.

    Remember you are working in a rapidly evolving marketplace, where the rules and the players change all the time.  You are going to want to keep reinventing your business as you grow, so that you stay ahead of everyone else. (They call it “pivoting” in Silicon Valley). 

    Did you know that YouTube started as a video dating site called Tune in Hook Up before its founders changed direction? Or that Flickr was originally conceived of as part of an MMO role playing game? Or that Shopify (which by the way, has a kickass StarCraft team in the After Hours Gaming League) started as an in-house purchasing solution for an online snowboard business?

    This means you shouldn't be wed to your original idea to the point of rigidity. Keep it fresh and keep it moving. You may launch one eSports business model and end up running something completely different within a year. That’s fine! You probably wouldn’t even have thought of business number two, if you hadn’t launched business number one. Get into the eSports marketplace now, start to meet people, and start to test your ideas until you find something that works.

    Lesson #3: Have a clear plan for gaining audience or customers.

    “How do I gain audience or customers?” This is the big question, the one many people don’t want to think about. In fact, I am always amazed by people who tell me they want to build a business but don’t want to get into sales. In fact, they get a funny look on their faces when I mention marketing and sales, as if I just farted in their direction. They hate the very idea of selling. They want to be eSports idealists, not corporate hacks. But the truth is that a great idea is worthless unless you can drive users or audience to it and unless you can generate money to cover your day to day operational expenses.

    Start thinking about all the ways you are going market your business from Day One. (We will give you more detailed advice on this in future blogs).

    I had a business mentor once tell me that a lot of businesses are by necessity 60-80% sales effort and 20-40% production effort. In other words, money is needed—lots of it—on the front end in order to drive the engine which operates the company on the back end. This was a real eye opener for me. Until then, I’d had a kind of naïve “build it and they will come” attitude.

    The Bottom Line.

    I’ll say it again: business is like StarCraft. You need to know your opponents’ strategies, you need to know your build orders, you

    Terran eSports entrepreneurs
    Credit: Dunechaser / photo on flickr
    need to have your timings down. You need to practice and learn. You can talk a good game, and still suck on the ladder. You have to implement your strategies in a real world environment. You have to understand that for all your careful preparation, your opponent may pull a cheese rush and totally kill you off before you even get started. Don’t play StarCraft competitively unless you want to seriously study the game and do your homework. What’s one of my favorite sayings? Probes and pylons! That’s the simplest way to say “it’s all in the execution!”

    Likewise, don’t gamble on an eSports business until you learn the ropes. Be prepared for lots of setbacks. Be nimble and flexible about changing your tactics. Understand your own shortcomings. Don’t quit your job tomorrow, run up debt on your credit cards, and chase an eSports dream without a solid game plan, a lot of skill, and a coach or two. Start small, gain experience, and make calculated bets that slowly raise the stakes.

    As Steve Jobs said: “Follow your heart, but check it with your head.”

    Next up:  Producing eSport Tournaments 101

  • Blog #2.5: Your responses to Blog 2.0

    I was so intrigued by your responses to Blog #2 (“Getting a Job in eSports”) that I decided to bump back Blog #3 and jump into the current discussion.  I’m calling this Blog 2.5.

    Frankly, some of your feedback is almost better than the blog, itself.  I am especially grateful to Guardian504, Eagles8908, entropyfails, alexpenn, robzgod, Sk-aBhorsen, Furyio, and striderstone for their real world anecdotes and advice about working in eSports. This is exactly the kind of dialogue I wanted to stimulate when I created the blog.  Please continue contributing!  In fact, if ANY of you have useful anecdotes, resources, or corrections which improve the original post, please, please comment away so that they’re permanently available for future readers.  :>

    The remarks and questions I am referring to can be found in the comments section to the original blog post, as well as in this  thread on /r/Starcraft and in this thread on /r/LeagueOfLegends.  (Welcome Summoners! I am delighted to see gaming communities outside StarCraft jump into this eSports conversation!) 

    Credit: Hogan "kamRA" Carter

    Ok, back to the actual blog.

    It was suggested in the scReddit thread that the success I have had in eSports is a result of:  

    1. My personal acquaintance with an “old boys' club”
    2. The fact that I “got in early” before the eSports market organized and streaming was widely established
    3. Dumb luck.  

    This leaves readers wondering: “How can I do it if I don’t have #1, #2 or #3 like you?”  The answer is that the road, while hard, is much more straightforward than it looks. :D 

    1) Dat “old boys' club.” 

    Yes, there are figureheads already established in eSports.  They have a jump on you.  You will be competing with them.  So what?

    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. That’s the way it works.  They don’t “owe you” a place at their dinner table.  (Although they’d probably welcome you there.)  

    So, let go of them conspiracy theories!  That kind of mentality is an unhelpful crutch that will keep you from making progress.  It’s like screaming “imbalance!” every time you lose a game as a result of your own ineptitude.

    The fact there is a status quo does not preclude you in any way from coming in and disrupting what those “old boys” have built or from working alongside them or erecting something new of your own.  

    The key is to innovate and carve out your own niche.  This is a well established principle in business. There is a cycle of innovation and disruption that is happening continually in every industry out there, but which is especially vigorous at present.  New people are constantly coming to the table with a new angle on old marketplaces.

    For example, Apple disrupted the long-established music publishing industry with iTunes.  ITunes is now itself being disrupted by Spotify.  Netflix disrupted Blockbuster.  Netflix is now being challenged by Hulu, Amazon, Time Warner and others.  In our own eSports world, Riot and Valve are challenging Blizzard.  It’s called market dynamics.   I will point out that none of these players wrung their hands and whined that they weren’t being invited to the dinner table by the “old boys club.”  They just figured out an angle and moved in.

    Credit: CNN Money Bytes beat bricks.

    So get disruptive!  Stop making excuses, get on the competitive business ladder, and start climbing. 

    Most of the personalities you know in the StarCraft community began by pushing an idea with persistence, not by having special connections.  Ben “MrBitter” Nichols, perhaps best known as a caster at NASL, began by creating a show 12 Weeks with the Pros. Chris "ChanmanV" Chan began by creating his show ChanmanV's Pro Corner and securing a sponsorship from Razer.  Hell, when I began the Day[9] Daily, the ONLY thing I had was a sub-par webcam and StarCraft experience.  I didn’t know anything about encoding, production, lighting, talking in front of a camera, or even any people at any of the major eSports organizations (except perhaps my brother).  But, I showed up every day, kept pushing, and after 150 episodes, finally received an invite to my first live event. 

    Did knowing people in the StarCraft community help me?  To a degree.  TeamLiquid did send me some traffic, for which I was grateful. Keep in mind that I spent a decade building relationships over there, and for a long time I, too, was just another new kid on the block, starstruck and tongue-tied by the likes of community heroes like Nazgul and djWHEAT and Sir Scoots. But those connections were no substitute for the hard work of churning out content.

    Could knowing people in the gaming industry help you?  Yes.  It’s called “networking.”  It is an important business skill.  I’ll try to do a blog on that, as well.  But there are no magic keys to the kingdom, no gatekeepers who are going to “make” or “break” you.

    2)  “Getting in on the ground floor.” 

    Yes, I was lucky to get into live streaming and casting early. 

    Credit: Norlando Pobre/Flickr CC BY

    But note that I got into streaming and casting after having failed at any number of other opportunities.  I never became an admin on TL, I never flew to Korea as a pro gamer, I failed as a podcaster, and I gave up on blogging before I ever started.  These were all emerging opportunities available to me as a result of Web 2.0, and I failed to take advantage of them.  And before I knew it, others had succeeded in my place. 

    But we live in exciting times.  Technology is rapidly evolving, and I realized that there were new opportunities cropping up all the time.  I just kept looking for my niche.

    I eventually seized upon live streaming not because some community crony whispered in my ear, or because I realized I was getting in on the ground floor of something big, but just because I wanted to talk about StarCraft.  I’m lazy, and I thought it would be faster and easier to talk than write, and since it was live, if I f***ed up I would have an excuse not to go back and fix my commentary.  (This was important because I was busy with grad school).  

    In short, I stumbled into streaming and had no idea it was going to become as successful as it did.

    I started out with 57 viewers.  After a while, I noticed the Daily was ranked as one of the top streams on LiveStream.  At first, I was baffled by this.  In fact, for the longest time, the two most popular shows on LiveStream were the Day[9] Daily and the Arab news service Al-Jazeera.  Since the news agency had more than 500 employees (I looked it up) and I only had me, broadcasting from my room with my grainy webcam, I figured this was an aberration, and the Daily couldn’t really be all that special.  Later, when I moved to UStream and then Twitch.TV, I received frantic e-mails from LiveStream asking me to come back.  Only then did I realize the scope of the Daily’s influence.

    Husky, Himself   Credit: www.waytaoshing.com

    The Daily led to casting opportunities.  But even after I got in on the ground floor of live streaming, and started churning out content, I continued to screw up and not clue in to important opportunities.  

    For example, I had no idea that YouTube was going to be as an important a marketplace for video content as it is.  (I thought it was for cat videos and machinima.)  I had no idea there was an explosion of smart video content creation going on over there. I completely ignored YouTube as a content platform.  Meanwhile Husky saw that opportunity, ran with it, and quickly earned his place in the community.  He now has a second popular YouTube channel.  I will probably never catch up with his YouTube success.

    Does this bother me?  No!  I have other fish to fry.  Besides, even YouTube will not last forever.  Already, there are murmurings that YouTube content creators are moving elsewhere, lured by the potential of other disruptive technologies and platforms. Put another way:  there are opportunities to get in on the ground floor of something new every day.   ESports is in its infancy.  There are people right now, jumping on board emerging technologies, who will be the “old boys' club” of tomorrow.  It could be you. 

    How will you know about these opportunities?  Because you will do your homework. You will do a ton of market research (I will suggest how in the next blog), so that you understand what is coming down the pike technologically, and how it might work for you. 

    3)  Dumb Luck.  

    Have you seen me play Magic the Gathering?  I never draw land ever.  Ever.  I am totally unlucky.

  • Blog #2: Getting a job in eSports.

    So you want to get a job in eSports.  F*** yeah!  As I indicated in my last blog, you have been emailing me in droves telling me so.

    Well, I have to be honest with you.  The chances of your getting a job in eSports are like the odds of you beating Bomber on the ladder.  The industry may be growing, but it is still in its infancy, and competition is fierce for the few jobs that exist.

    On the other hand, there is plenty of room for you to be an entrepreneur in eSports.  In other words, I believe you can make a living at this if you are willing to be one of those people who wade in, get to work, and grow the industry.  You can either do this full time, or as a side business.

    People are doing this right now all around you.  Take, for example, the fine folks at Twitch.TV.  They are young, smart and entrepreneurial.  They burst onto the eSports scene and in less than a year revolutionized the way we consume eSports.

    Then there are these panelists at the Princeton eSports Symposium, organized by the Collegiate StarLeague.  Each of them is currently making a living at eSports, and each of them did it by creating something from scratch—often on the side while they were still students. 

    “Be an entrepreneur?” you say.  “That is so risky!  What if I work hard and fail?  I have college debt!  I have to eat!  My parents/wife/Manfred will lose all respect for me!  I have to join a real company, and make a real salary!  Can’t you give me a job?  I want to work at something that makes me happy!”

    I hear you.  The idea of growing something from scratch is risky and it is scary and it is hard work.  Just listen to the cautionary words from the eSports panelists at the end of that Symposium.  The road is not easy.  If leaping into the entrepreneurial end of the eSports pool makes you nervous, then go get a 9 to 5 job with my blessing, and know that I will still respect you in the morning.

    Bomber Taking a Risk — Photo: Larry Yount/Red Bull Content Pool

    But consider this.  The world economy is in the dumps, people are being laid off in droves and our generation is competing with more experienced workers for existing jobs.  It is hard to get a corporate job anywhere.  On top of that, the marketplace for labor is itself changing.  In your father’s generation, people worked for the same employer their entire lives.  As a result, you have probably grown up with the idea that getting a job with a big company is the safe, respectable thing to do.  Well, it may not be anymore. 

    For the last decade, most new jobs in the US have been created not at large corporations, but in start-ups and small businesses.  Computers and the internet are changing how businesses work and who they need.  Studies suggest that future employees will largely be journeymen with highly specialized skills, moving from job to job throughout their lives, porting their benefits and pension plans with them.  Your college diploma may not be enough.  In that future world, security will lie in having novel and adaptive thinking, cross-cultural competency, computational thinking, new-media literacy, expertise in multiple disciplines, and an ability to craft solutions.

    Frankly, in view of all this, I think plunging into an eSports business during a recession—or any startup—is a lot less foolish than it looks.

    But let’s take a worst case scenario.  Let’s say you fail at this attempt to run an eSports business—whether it is something ambitious like an eSports convention, or something modest like a BarCraft.  Let’s say I fail, too.  What are the consequences for us?  What will we be left with, you and I, beside a ton of student debt, a car payment and some great gaming memories? 

     

    Based on my experience, we’ll be fine.  Over the past two years, I have been able to travel all over the world and meet fascinating, smart, funny, inspiring people—including celebrities.  I have learned how to incorporate a company, work with partners and mentors, understand business taxes, protect my IP, hire and manage people, juggle a demanding schedule, write magazine articles, give speeches, cold call, network, negotiate deals, set prices, meet payroll, and construct a website. 

    If Day[9]TV goes under (and it won’t), I will have all that on my resume, and I think it makes me more employable than the guy next door who just has a diploma.  I will point out that even doing a BarCraft or a regional tournament requires a lot of organizational hustle, troubleshooting, and marketing.

    I know my experience with Day[9]TV has made me a hell of a lot more sensitive to my next employer’s agenda.  I know now first hand how hard it is to run a company and make money—how quickly what you bring in gets eaten up by overhead and salaries.  (It’s been an eye opener.) I’ve learned how important it is to communicate well.  To be efficient.  To problem solve.  To hustle.  To adapt. From what I can see, game publishers, tournament organizers and eSports community sites are all looking for employees with real world hustle, not joiners.  And there is solid evidence that employers outside eSports are looking for the same thing.

    My graduation gift from TotalBiscuit.

    Personally, I think that my twenties are also a great time to experiment with the way I make a living, to figure out what I enjoy and what I am good at—before I have a family and a mortgage.  I think of Day[9]TV as an additional life diploma.  If Malcolm Gladwell is correct, it takes about ten years to become an expert.  That means I have time enough to develop a few different areas of expertise over the course of my life.

    Consider, too, that there are many kinds of wealth to bank upon.  Some of it is financial security which is undoubtedly important.  But an accumulation of experience and memory is also an important kind of wealth.  When I am old, I want to know that I have lived fully.  Right now, if Day[9]TV fails, I know that my partners and I will have been a part of paradigm shift in technology and entertainment that has defined an era.  We will be able to say we were where the action was, that we helped grow an industry and a game that we love.

    The bottom line is that I believe you should embrace entrepreneurship not because it is a club you join, but because it is a lifestyle, full of challenges and self-analysis.  In short, business is a lot like StarCraft.  It’s another ladder. Intimidating at first, yes, but conquerable through systematic learning, hard work, disciplined experimentation and adaptation in the face of failure.  I apply myself to it every day.  I experience victories and setbacks along the way, but overall I’m learning and progressing. 

    And I’m loving the process.  I think you will, too.