Written by Mike “LANDodger” Luxion
If you’re a regular reader of this website, a couple weeks ago you probably saw an article with an interesting title: An Open Love Letter to LANDodger Mike.
I will now admit one of the worst things any writer, somebody who theoretically translates experiences and thoughts into words, could ever confess: I’m not sure what to say about that.
It was flattering, of course. The problem is that once the initial flatteration (I consider making up words as part of my folksy charm) wears off, all that’s left is the desire to respond – and how exactly does one do that? This wasn’t some random comment that could be brushed aside with a thanks and a winky face. It was a whole love letter, for pete’s sake. The response should at least try to approach the original post, and a one-time “thanks” doesn’t begin to cover it. A bashful “aw shucks” is personally satisfying, but it doesn’t capture the feeling of gratitude, either. I even toyed with the idea of a tongue-in-cheek “yes, I will marry you, weenus”, but I don’t think that’s what he was going for. (Plus we all know a real open love letter comes on scented paper, accompanied by a dozen roses.)
Once those were off the table, I figured that I had two choices left. On one hand, I could let the whole thing go to my head, cultivate a massive ego, and start referring to myself in the third person. And before we go any further, LANDodger admits this option has a certain appeal. He’s always appreciated the comedic angle of referring to oneself as if one was narrating one’s own life.
On the down side, LANDodger has no desire to write out his own name when a simple “I” would do, and never, ever underestimate the power of laziness.
That leaves one option: denying the whole thing.
I won’t deny it exists, mind you. I’m crazy, but not that crazy. I just can’t accept the praise, either. I’m eternally grateful for the love from weenus and everybody else that feels the same way, but I feel like I’ve failed on a lot more levels than I’ve succeeded – far too many to give myself a pat on the back.
Failed how? I’m glad you asked.
This might be a weird thing to say, but every sport that fans follow is really one long tale dating from “the beginning” until now. (I’m using “sport” loosely to include things like competitive gaming, but if you want to use the word “competitions” go ahead.) We don’t often think of it like that, but it makes sense.I addressed this topic in a tangential way in a couple earlier articles (Delivering eSports, Sunday Tennis), but I never really took it head-on. Both of those were about ways, and the overall need, to expand gaming’s audience.
What went mostly unsaid was this: for all the talk about bringing gaming to a mainstream audience, I think we’ve given the eSports media a get-out-of-criticism-free card on this particular topic. And just in case there’s any shred of doubt, I point that accusation at myself, as well.
To put it simply, I think I’ve failed horribly at story-telling. This might be a weird thing to say, but every sport that fans follow is really one long tale dating from “the beginning” until now. (I’m using “sport” loosely to include things like competitive gaming, but if you want to use the word “competitions” go ahead.) We don’t often think of it like that, but it makes sense. Every season or tournament is a chapter, and the events in one chapter directly influence and lead to the next one, and the one after that, and so on down the line. There are heroes and villains. Legends. History. Even myths and apocrypha. There are tales of last-minute heroics and what could’ve been. The story is different for everybody (one man’s hero is another man’s villain), but at its core there’s a continuous, flowing story to tell.
In this metaphor, the media is the narrator. Our job (this part of it, anyway) is not to influence the story itself (or to become it), but to find the tale within the ether and shepherd it into our homes through print, video, and audio. We are the ones in charge of context and plot – not in the sense that we create them, but we uncover what’s already there like archeologists exposing a fossil, piece by piece, stroke by gentle stroke. We’re sifting through all the raw data (the dirt) to reveal the structure of the beast, bring it out of the earth, and let people know exactly what is happening and why.
(This metaphor is originally Stephen King’s, but I can’t think of a better way to express it.)
In sports, the narrators are people like Buster Olney and Peter Gammons. Mel Kiper and John Hollinger. Even Rick Reilly and Bill Simmons. They go into the clubhouses and watch the games, and they tell us (the faithful readers) not only who’s hot and who’s about to kill their teammates, but why things matter and how they could come into play in future chapters. They evaluate what’s happened and keep track of the threads the players and the games themselves weave, simultaneously giving context and bringing the important bits into the limelight so everybody can follow along.
It’s this overarching structure that’s missing in competitive gaming.
We don’t have one storyline so much as we have a million smaller, disconnected parts that are almost totally devoid of context – and thus hard for “new” fans to follow and get excited about. Poignant anecdote: when the Dallas Venom’s CS team was destroying everybody during the second CGS season, Jax asked me if I knew the all-time record for most consecutive victories. I had no idea. I could barely even hazard a guess. The people I asked, competitive gamers and media members, couldn’t do much better, let alone offer a definitive answer. Needless to say, that’s a little disturbing. What’s scary is that that question is the tip of the iceberg. What about even more basic records, like most frags in a half? Most frags in a CEVO match? CAL match? Where is all this information, this context for every single competition? It certainly wasn’t in my head, nor was it anywhere I looked.
I know that shooting 40% from the three-point line is really good for an NBA player. The symbolic “great hitter” level for batting average is .300 in the major leagues. 60% is a magic number for an NFL QB’s completion percentage. What percentage of AWP shots do the elite players hit? What’s the average DAR in CEVO-P? What’s a “good” DAR? What about a “great” DAR? Record-setting?
There are a million questions like this, and I don’t think anybody has the answers. Or, if they do, they’re certainly not easily accessible or publicized enough.
(I’d love to add a story here about a new CS fan having problem, but I don’t have any personal stories and most people I know are from the CS community. But for me, games like DoA were horribly confusing at first. The best specific example I can give is the art of countering – guessing what move your opponent will do and hitting the right combination of buttons which allows you to punish them for being predictable, basically. I had to learn the context for that over a period of months, and even then it didn’t really sink in until I played the game myself.)
I don’t mean to turn the discussion entirely to statistics, because that’s only part of the problem with context. There are other areas where we’re lacking, notably broadcasting matches (just another way of narrating the story and having an expert give context to any particular match) because once we’ve uncovered these fossils we still have to translate them. But we desperately, desperately need these things because they act as mental anchor points for new fans. Without them, everything is just white noise; a sea of information that feels like it has a pattern but is too foreign to decipher. How fast would you pick up rugby, or cricket, if you didn’t have any meaningful statistical or anecdotal basis (basically, any context) for appreciating a game?
Or perhaps a better question would be: How much would you even try to understand a new game without those things? How interesting would it really be?
For me it comes down to this. We think people don’t follow gaming because society as a whole needs time to grow up with gaming and accept it as a legitimate competition. We think people don’t follow gaming because they see gaming as nerdy, and we think people don’t follow gaming because they don’t know it exists. But what if the problem isn’t with mainstream society? What if society is watching and listening, but the real problem is that we’re so bad at communicating they just give up, instead?
What if people don’t follow gaming because they don’t know who to root for?
What if people don’t follow gaming because they don’t know what’s good?
Basically, on some days I have a nagging feeling that competitive gaming itself, as a medium, isn’t our biggest problem. There isn’t some huge generational gap holding us back. People are finding the fossil. They just don’t know what the hell it is or why it’s important, and we haven’t done nearly enough to explain what they’re looking at and why it’s important, even in just this corner of the world.
What if people don’t follow gaming because they don’t know who to root for?
What if people don’t follow gaming because they don’t know what’s good?I don’t know if this is true or not. I don’t think anybody possibly could. But if you look at the state of our media, I think you have to admit the possibility exists, and that’s an indictment in and of itself. It scares me to think that potential fans are getting lost in the ocean of information because they don’t have anything to hold on to and nobody’s throwing them a life raft.
So I’d like to thank weenus again, because the words were truly kind. But Mahatma Gandhi said “be the change you wish to see in the world”, and I can’t accept the praise because I know I haven’t done enough to help new fans make sense of everything and see the context behind every match – the things that give every story its meaning.
I can’t accept the praise because I can’t help but wonder if, and feel like, I’ve been part of the problem all along.