Should we be talking less about esports and more about streaming?

As I was sitting back eating my popcorn and watching the latest Twitter debate regarding the Tfue/FaZe Clan saga a couple of days ago, this tweet from Tempo Storm owner Reynad caught my eye:


Reynad was making a point about esports salaries for mediocre players, but what I found interesting was that he used “players with under 50k followers” not “players with X esports accomplishment” as the proxy for what constitutes a mediocre player. The main barometer by which Reynad judged a player’s worth to his organisation wasn’t how many tournament wins they have or how much prize money they bring in, but how many Twitch followers they have.

And you know what, Reynad’s probably right. In a business that runs primarily on sponsorship and advertising dollars, a player’s ability to draw eyeballs on Twitch is probably far more important to a team’s bottom line than that player’s competitive gaming accomplishments.

While being good at the game is an important part of what they do, for a lot of players (or should I say personalities) in gaming, especially the really big names like Ninja and Tfue, competing successfully in an esports setting comes a distant second to building their brand and getting viewers for their streams, where they make their real money.

This is fundamentally different from traditional sports, where on-field success is a pre-requisite to marketing success. LeBron James is the most marketable basketball player in the world because he’s generally acknowledged to be the best basketball player in the world. If he didn’t win a bunch of championships and put up ridiculous stats, he wouldn’t be the marketing juggernaut he is.

That’s not true for someone like Ninja, for instance, who is not by any means the best Fortnite player in the world (don’t get me wrong, he’s very good, but there’s a lot of players out there who are as good or better than him and more accomplished in competitive Fortnite), but is nonetheless by far the most famous and marketable name in pro gaming. Unlike LeBron, guys like Ninja and Tfue didn’t get where they are by succeeding at their chosen (e)sport competitively, but by being good at building their brand and providing an entertainment product to their viewers.

Indeed, aside celebrity pro-am tournaments that help get his name out there, Ninja by his own admission does not participate in esports on at a high level because the practice would interfere with his streaming schedule. Similarly, Tfue recently announced he will no longer be participating in competitive Fortnite because he makes more than enough money in streaming and content creation. If I had to come up with a traditional sports equivalent to this, it would be LeBron James quitting the NBA in order to focus on putting up YouTube videos of himself playing basketball against random people on street courts across the country. Not going to happen.

Indeed, the most successful personalities in gaming today have a lot more in common with talk show hosts or (*sigh*) social media influencers than professional athletes. They provide a nightly entertainment product and try to maximize their audience. Competition, of the kind we associate with traditional sports (or esports), doesn’t figure much into what they do.

The future looking us in the eyes.

I think this is something that needs to be more widely acknowledged, as it’s key to the direction the industry will be heading in the coming years.

It’s been pretty clear for a while that there’s a lot of people out there who like to watch other people play video games, and we’re basically seeing a new form of entertainment evolve based on this fact. Until recently, though, I think the general assumption has been that the main way people would consume gaming content would be through watching people play competitively in “traditional” esports tournaments and the like.

However it’s looking more and more like that’s not true (for instance, Ninja had three times as many viewer hours watched on his Twitch channel last year as the entire Overwatch League) and that in the future the majority of the viewer hours, and thus money and attention, will go to the streaming and content generation side of the industry, rather than the pure competitive esports side.

All of this is to say is that maybe we should stop talking so much about the esports industry and start talking more about the “digital content creation industry” or some such, of which esports is a subset, as that certainly looks to be the way the wind is blowing. 

Shared Channels – A Solution To Streamer Burnout?

Much like ice cream taste tester and TV watcher, video game streamer is one of those jobs that seems great in theory, but can turn out to be not-so-great in practice. Sure, you get to play video games all day, but when “all day” literally means “all day, every day,” like it does for many streamers, the demands of the job places on your life can start to weigh pretty heavy.

On one hand there’s the health consequences. If sitting is the new smoking, then streamers are probably doing a few packs’ worth of damage to their bodies every day with their lifestyle.  One streamer attributes his heart surgery to damage to his heart incurred through many sedentary years spent working on his streaming and Youtubing career. Several streamers are reported to have suffered heart attacks while streaming. Repetitive stress injuries and severe weight gain are common.

In addition to the physical health issues, streaming all day with no breaks doesn’t really leave you much room to focus on anything else in your life. It can destroy relationships, leave streamers isolated and burnt out, and seriously harm their mental heath.

The bottom line is that sitting in a chair for 10-14 hours a day, 7 days per week, while subsisting mainly energy drinks and junk food is not a healthy way to spend your life, physically or mentally, and not something anyone can expect to do sustainably for years on end, regardless of how young and healthy they may otherwise be. It’s probably fair to say that, for most streamers, the punishing schedule involved is the worst thing about the job.

Feeling tired?

So why do streamers put themselves through this? The most commonly cited answer is that that’s what it takes to be successful. Being online as much as possible is what’s necessary to build and keep an audience. Taking even one or two days off can lead to significant drops in subscribers and other audience metrics, and make especially smaller streamers trying to grow their channel feeling like they’ve thrown away weeks or months of progress. That’s why “always be streaming” has turned into a well-known, if unfortunate mantra for many streamers. Even larger streamers aren’t immune. Ninja famously lost 40,000 subscribers when he took two days off to go to E3.

So it’s pretty clear what the problem is – streaming places unhealthy, potentially unsustainable pressures on your life. It’s also clear what the reason for the problem is – streamers need to be online as much as possible to be successful.

With these two facts in mind, I’m left wondering why streamers haven’t tried what seems like a reasonable solution: Instead of streaming separately, a few streamers could join together and share a channel and essentially stream in shifts. When one streamer logs off, another logs on. They could  work out a reasonable schedule that would allow them to keep the channel up as much as they want (even 24/7 depending on the number of streamers and their time zones), while at the same time allowing each of them to some flexibility in order to avoid the grueling schedule solo streaming requires.

The synergies involved with multiple streamers may also actually help the channel overall. Fans of one streamer may get introduced to the others on his channel, and become fans of both. Also, given that such a channel could theoretically be on 24/7,  it would have a significant advantage over solo streamers’ channels, as viewers would come to know it as a place they can tune in to catch a stream of their game of choice pretty much anytime.

I’m sure there’s a lot of obstacles to this working –  this setup would become more about the channel than individual streamers, and the streamers involved would have to agree to work together to build the channel’s brand at the expense of their own to some extent. Additionally, many people only want to see one specific streamer, and for them there’s no getting around the fact that this arrangement would result in that streamer casting less.

However, given the fact that solo streaming is pretty much unsustainable as a long-term endeavor, it may be that we’ll see more and more streamers trying this kind of thing. A long, long time from now, 24/7 streaming channels with multiple streamers may even become the standard, the same way we have 24/7 TV channels now. Given the demands streaming can place on  streamers, that may not be such a bad thing.

Is There an Esports Bubble?

There’s no question that the business community is going a bit crazy for esports right now. It’s rare that more than a couple of days pass without some huge esports investment being announced. Last Friday it was Intel announcing it would be putting another $100 million in to the ESL pro league in Europe. A few weeks ago PlayVS raised $30 million for its high school esports platform. Michael Jordan and Drake are now helping teams close $20+ million funding rounds.

Even in the local esports scene here in Vancouver, things have changed in the past few months. Every esports event I’ve been to recently has been packed with unfamiliar faces, most of them people from the financial world who would not have been around if the same event had been held last year. A friend who’s on the executive of the esports program at a university here recently told me he gets multiple calls a week from investors and hedge funds asking to buy him lunch so they can learn more about the industry. Everyone wants to know how they can get involved with the hot new thing.

What the last esports event I went to looked like.

As more and more investors continue pouring ever larger sums of money into esports, the question of whether the these investments are financially sound, based on where the industry is at, is starting to loom larger and larger and larger.

Today, Ben Fisher of Sports Business Journal published an article noting how the revenues of many of these entities aren’t keeping up with the hype, and a “market correction” may be coming (Ben pointedly avoids the word “bubble,” but I have fewer scruples about using clickbaity titles, so bubble it is). In response to Ben’s article, a lot of industry people on Twitter raised similar concerns how they’ve been talking about the same thing internally the past few months.

I think people are right to be concerned. Whenever a new technology or idea  like esports hits the mainstream, there seems to be a bit (or a lot) of irrational exuberance that kicks in as everyone tries to get in on the ground floor, leading people to make decisions they probably shouldn’t.

A lot of what’s happening now reminds me of what happened with cryprocurrency around this time last year, when  blockchain technology finally started getting attention in the media. Crypto events were packed with new faces, people were starting new companies in the space left and right, existing companies were adding “blockchain” to their name and seeing their stock price quadruple overnight, and the price of Bitcoin surged from around $3,500 USD at the start of August to $20,000 USD by December.

Where is crypto now? The hype has dissipated, the price of Bitcoin is back down to around $3,500 USD, and a lot of the people who put money in last year are taking a sober second look at their investment and not liking what they see. That doesn’t mean that blockchain technology isn’t still going to change the world. I’m sure it will. Eventually.  But it certainly hasn’t yet, and there’s no telling whether, when it finally does, the companies people invested in during the rush last year are going to be the ones to do it.

If esports was Bitcoin, I’d say it’s getting close to the $20,000 mark right now. People are excited. They don’t want to miss out. And as a result they seem to be willing to invest large sums of money into the space, even though they may not understand quite what they’re getting themselves into. And just like with crypto, it’s very likely that a year or two down the road a lot of these people will be taking a look at their investment and regretting their decision.

The assumption everyone seems to be going off right now is that esports is destined  to continue growing at its current pace until it reaches the same level as traditional sports (or replaces it). People investing in Cloud9 or Team Liquid probably think they’re bying into the future esports versions of the LA Lakers or Manchester United. That’s a pretty big assumption to make. While esports could certainly reach that level, there’s nothing that guarantees it will. For all we know it could conceivably follow the trajectory of something poker, and flatten out into a niche sport with a limited audience after an initial meteoric rise, or end up somewhere in between.

There’s still a lot of questions that need to be answered before we can say with any certainty that esports will reach the heights people assume it will. Will esports ever be able to meaningfully cross over to a non-gamer audience? Will it ever have success on TV? (and does that matter?) How exactly do you market esports athletes, and will someone like, say, Faker ever be a household name like a Steph Curry? Even if esports succeeds, will the game publishers be the ones reaping all the rewards? None of these questions have answers yet, and I’m not sure that we’re going to be finding out the answer to many of them anytime soon.

Despite all these concerns, I, like most people in the industry am pretty confident that esports will not follow the path of poker, and that it will succeed… in the long term. Whatever other issues esports may be facing, the core, inescapable fact remains that huge numbers of people currently exist who are extremely passionate about it, that the majority of these people are young, and that their numbers are only growing. Just based on that foundation, if nothing else, I have every confidence that in the long run people will figure out how to make massive sums of money off esports, just like I’m pretty sure blockchain technology will eventually change how we all live our lives in some way.

What I’m definitely not sure about is when that will happen, or whether the companies people are putting money into now will necessarily be the ones to make it happen. And if I was an investor today thinking about putting money into an esports team at a +$100 million valuation, or paying $40 million for an Overwatch League franchise, I would definitely take a second, breathe, and look carefully at how I can expect to see a return on that money, beyond platitudes like “well, esports is on its way up.”

The “Gamer Cap” and the Long-Term Growth of Esports

It’s pretty clear that esports is having a moment right now.  Ninja is on the cover of ESPN Magazine, Forbes is doing valuations for esports teams, and everyone from Michael Jordan to Drake to Meg Whitman (!?) is investing large sums of money into the space.

While the current financials of the industry probably don’t support the valuations investors are putting money in at, people are investing not based on where the industry is at now, but based on the assumption that things will continue to grow exponentially into the future.

There’s a big problem with that assumption, however. Right now, the core “gamer” audience for esports is probably close to tapped out. Esports isn’t a novelty anymore. Most gamers are already more than familiar with the concept, and are watching/following esports at the rates they will for the foreseeable future (and those who aren’t by this point probably never will).

If esports is going to continue growing at the rate it has, it’s going to have to attract people outside that core group of gamers – people who aren’t all that interested games and have never played the games they’re watching. In my view, that’s a huge issue, and probably the biggest question mark surrounding the future growth of the industry.

The problem is that in order to enjoy watching most esports titles, you need to have a pretty significant level of familiarity with the game you’re watching. If you’re not familiar with the basic mechanics of the game, you won’t really be able to understand what’s going on and you’re probably not going to turn into a long-term viewer. And with a lot of esports titles, the barrier to entry involved in learning a game is absolutely massive.

Look at DotA or LoL for instance: 100+ heroes, 4+ skills each, all sorts complicated mechanics. Good luck explaining that to someone with no background in video games.  Even basic concepts like leveling, items, etc. are probably going to take some time to learn for people who have no previous concept of them.

This isn’t really stuff you can easily pick up by watching either (I’m sure even a lot of long-time DotA and LoL fans can barely make out what’s going on in a hectic team fight sometimes). If you want to learn a game like DotA or LoL from scratch, you’re going to need to spend a lot of time on Dotabuff or what have you figuring out the heroes, mechanics etc. Most non-gamers probably aren’t going to have the time or inclination to do that, and will therefore probably never turn into long-term viewers.

Try figuring out what’s going on here if you don’t know anything about gaming

Hell, the barrier to entry for a lot of games is pretty high even for other gamers who aren’t familiar with that particular game. I’ll use myself as an example – I’ve played DotA for years and enjoy watching it because of that, but I’ve never watched a game of League in my life because I’ve never played it, don’t know what any of the heroes and items do, and would have no real idea what’s going on. In order to truly enjoy watching the game I’d probably literally need to sit down and spend a few hours learning the heroes and items specifically for that purpose. I don’t really see massive numbers of people doing that.

Ultimately, in order to become a long-term viewer an esports title, someone probably needs to have played that game. That’s the only way they’re going come to know enough about it to understand what’s going on and enjoy it, as most people aren’t going to sit down and spend hours learning a game from scratch otherwise.

The unfortunate conclusion of the above is that most esports titles essentially have a cap on their potential audience, equal to more or less the number of people who have played that game (not necessarily the number of people who are playing it currently, mind you, but the number that have played it at some point in their lives, enough to know what’s going on).

That “gamer cap” may be high – for games like DotA, League or CS it’s in probably the hundreds of millions worldwide –  but it’s still a cap. Once a game reaches this cap, in order to keep growing it will have to deal with the huge barriers to entry associated with teaching that game to non-gamers. Unless its publishers can figure out a way around that barrier, which is a huge challenge, the game will stop growing, or at least substantially slow down.

The implications of this for the industry as a whole are not good, as this would imply that while the industry has seen massive growth recently, that growth will slow down dramatically now that the only way forward is to convert non-gamers.

Admittedly not every game is as complicated as DotA or LoL. In particular, games like Rocket League, sports games, and some shooters like CS:GO and Fortnite can probably be learned just by watching without a significant time investment by the viewer (at the end of the day it’s not that hard to understand the concepts of dudes shooting at each other). These games may have an easier time converting non-gamers, and may have an easier time getting past this “gamer cap.”

However, I think it’s pretty fair to say that for games with a steep learning curve, which includes most other games, this “gamer cap” is a huge issue, and one publishers will need to overcome if they want the industry to keep growing.



Blizzard Starting to Shut Down Hearthstone Fan Leagues – How Will Community React?

The news recently broke that Blizzard is forcing the United Hearthstone League to shut down. If you haven’t heard of the United Hearthstone League, don’t feel bad, most people haven’t (including me before today). It’s a tiny operation that doesn’t compete with Blizzard’s events in any meaningful way. It has a Discord with 100 members, a Youtube channel with 51 subscribers, and no prizes or sponsors as far as I can tell. It looks like it’s run by a bunch of fans who aren’t making any money off it, and are doing it just because they love Hearthstone.

Nevertheless, the UHL’s commissioner, Mike Lowe, reports receiving a call from Blizzard earlier today letting him know the UHL has to cease operating as a league or using the word “League” in its title (he was informed they can still hold monthly tournaments). Presumably, the overt or implied threat was if the UHL didn’t comply it would face a lawsuit from Blizzard. He was told that no league could operate independently of Blizzard, regardless of whether it’s for profit or not, so anyone else looking to operate a fan league like UHL is basically in the same boat. The story is actually the same a across all Blizzard titles (if you don’t believe me try running any Overwatch event with “League” in the title and see what happens.)

I’ve talked about this before, but this is the direction all esports are heading. Unlike traditional sports, with esports game companies literally own the game being played, and have the ability to legally stop anyone else from doing anything esports-related with their titles. A few years ago, when esports were getting off the ground, the companies were content to let anyone host events or leagues more or less as they wished, because this was good for development of the scene. Now, as esports becomes more established (and more money is involved) that’s starting to change pretty quickly.

My photoshop skills aren’t great, but you get the point.

I remember talking with this with a friend in the industry a few months ago, and telling him that’s the way things were headed: as more money started being made, game companies would start to monopolize the right to hold all major tournaments, and any independent outfits (like the UHL) would get shut down. His reply was “well no, if they did something like that, the community would go crazy.”

Well, they’re doing it. And for the first time people are noticing (well by people are noticing I mean that Mike Lowe’s tweet about this has been at the top of /r/hearthstone all day with 3,500+ upvotes, and a couple of smaller sites have picked up the story). What I’m curious to see now is what happens next. Will this snowball and become a huge controversy like my buddy predicted, or will the story fade gently into the good night over a couple of days?

My hope is that it’s the former, if only because, as I’ve said before, I think game companies monopolizing everything this way is ultimately bad for esports. What’s Blizzard’s incentive to improve Hearthstone as an esports product if they can literally sue any competitor out of business anyway?  However, as it stands Blizzard has every legal right to do what they’re doing. The only thing that can be reasonably expected to stop them, and affect how they approach this issue in the future, is a nice, loot-box sized controversy. I don’t usually cheer for the reddit ball of hate to crush all in its’ path, but, well, fingers crossed time around.

Your Guide To Vancouver During The International

As pretty much everyone reading this already knows, for the first time ever The International, the world’s foremost esports tournament/giant nerd convention, will be held in Vancouver, Canada, instead of its customary home of Seattle.

So pretty!

Since Vancouver is my hometown, and for the past 3 years I’ve actually lived literally across the street from Rogers Arena, where The International is being held, I thought I’d be in a good position to write a little guide for the area for those heading in from out of town. So without further ado, here’s my guide for where to eat, drink and hang out during The International.

Fast Food Near The Arena.   Due to the location of the arena, your only practical option for finding fast-food within walking distance is to exit on the North Side and head down Abbot Street. Some good places you’ll find in this direction:

  • Tako, a really good Korean/Mexican fusion fast food place directly across the street from the arena, whose business is probably going to triple for the duration of the tournament.
  • If you’re looking for Pizza, about half a block down Abbot street on your right there’s a pizza place named Uncle Fatih’s. Do not go to the Fresh Slice across the street. It is objectively worse and I have no idea how they’re still in business.
  • About one block North of the arena on Abbot street there’s a mall/cinema called Tinseltown/International Village. On the second floor there’s a food court (it’s not great, the highlight is the Sri-Lankan place on the South end), as well as a couple of bubble tea places. Crucially, this is probably the closest place to the arena to get bubble tea.
  • If you’re willing to a bit of a longer walk, go about 2 and a half blocks down Abbot to Taco Mio, the closest good Mexican fast food place to the arena. For desert you can get some fancy ice cream at CaoCao 70 next door.
  • If you’re wiling to take a longer walk, 3 blocks North and one block West there’s Meat and Bread. As the name suggests, this place basically serves only sandwiches. It only has 2 or 3 options any given day, but it does them really well, and is probably the best quality fast food you’re going to get within reasonable walking distance of the arena. I would not go between 11:30 a.m. and 1:30 p.m. because half of Gastown goes there for lunch, and the lineups get ridiculous, but if you’re going a bit later in the afternoon it’s worth the walk. If you do get there and the lineups are too long, or you have vegetarian friends with you, there’s a very good Malaysian place called Fresh Bowl next door.
  • If you’re a vegan, head 1 block North on Abbot street, then about three blocks East down Keefer until you hit Main St. There’s a very good an all-vegan pizza place called Virtuous Pie there (yes, I hate that name too). If your meat-eater friends want some protein, there’s a also a fried chicken place called Juke nearby.

Sit-Down Restaurants/Pubs. If you’re looking for more of a sit-down restaurant experience or a pub, your best bet is to again head a few blocks North of the arena into Gastown. Gastown famous for being Vancouver’s “hippest” neighborhood. I put “hippest” in quotes because the fact that it’s known as a hipster neighborhood attracts a lot of visitors, which gives it a touristy vibe and drives up prices, meaning all the hipsters actually live in other parts of town like Commercial Drive or in Kitsilano. Regardless of its level of true hipster street cred, the neighborhood probably has the most good pubs/restaurants per capita of any place in Vancouver, and if you’re going to go eat or drink close to the arena it should be here.

Small note – Gastown is right next to (well technically part of) Vancouver’s notorious Downtown Eastside, one of Canada’s worst neighborhoods in terms of drug addiction, mental illness and homelessness. It’s not really dangerous per se, but head a couple of blocks East of Abbot (anywhere past Columbia St.) and, well… you’re gonna see some stuff. You’ve been warned.

In terms of where to eat in Gastown, I would simply go down Abbot street until you hit Water St. then have a look until you find something you like. Your best bet is probably to head East to to giant runabout with the Gassy Jack statute (a dude standing on a barrel), as most of the good places are in that area.

See below for a handy little map of Gastown (the green area), the parts you should maybe avoid (the red area), as well as a path you should maybe follow along Keefer St.

Marius Adomnica | The Patch Notes

A few places that I would recommend in the Gastown area:

  • Tacofnio. Really good, laid-back Mexican place that’s super popular. Try the fish tacos.
  • Peckinpah. If you want BBQ this is the place to go (they even make their own sauces). Sometimes they have a Montreal smoked meat sandwich as a special. Please, please, please ask them about this, and if they do 1. Order it, and 2. message me on Twitter so I can come down and get one too.
  • Irish Heather/Blarney Stone. I’m putting these together because they’re both Irish pubs and they’re right next to each other. The Irish Heather is the more upscale one. They even have a Shibeen (I believe that’s the fancy Irish word for “whiskey drinking place”) in the back, and a whiskey menu with like 400 options. The Blarney Stone is the more fun one where all the college kids go. The choice is yours.
  • The Diamond. You want fancy cocktails and an upscale, exclusive atmosphere? They have fancy cocktails and an upscale, exclusive atmosphere.
  • Six Acres. Laid-back, hipstery place, with really good vibes. If you’re looking for a quiet, chill place to eat healthy food, you can’t go wrong here. Really like this place.
  • Meet in Gastown. This is actually a vegan place (we’re known for our puns here in Vancouver). Your best bet for vegan food in the area, however it’s hugely popular so be prepared to wait in line at least half an hour if you go there in the evening.
  • Pourhouse. If I had to describe this place in three words it would be Fancy Burger Place. Still, it does both “fancy” and “burgers” well, so if you’re looking for a more fancy experience but don’t want to eat foie gras or anything, this may be the place for you.
  • Chambar. At night this is a full-on fancy restaurant. It does that very well, so if that’s what you’re into, or you’ve always wanted to try frog legs (which are on the menu), by all means. HOWEVER, during the morning’s this is also one of the city’s most underrated breakfast/brunch places. It’s not that expensive and the food is miles better than the very overrated Jam Cafe, which is half a block down. And as a bonus you don’t have to wait in line for 45 minutes.
  • Catch 122/Wildebeest/Tuc Craft Kitchen. I’m putting these together because they’re all good for one thing: breakfast/brunch. Brunch is probably a specialty for Gastown restaurants, and these 3 probably do it the best. Catch 122 and Wildebeest are right beside each other, and are both equally good. For some reason I still don’t fully understand, Catch 122 seems far more popular and always has a wait, while at Wildebeest you can get in right away. Either way, you can’t go wrong. If you want chicken and waffles, or more “creative” brunch options, try Tuc.
  • The Revel Room. Lousiana-themed place with live music. The food is not necessarily spectacular, but they’re one of the only places in the area that has live music, good vibes, and a laid-back but classy atmosphere. It kind of reminds you of the kind of place Don Draper would have gone to to have a good time in the 60s.  Really like this place, or I would if I was cool enough to go drinking regularly.
  • The Cambie/The Pint. These places are basically known cheap drinks and rowdy college kids. Don’t go here if you’re looking for good food or meticulously crafted interior design. Do go if you’re looking for a good time. If I had to guess, I’d think a large part of those in town for The International looking for drinks will find their way here at some point.

Other Stuff To Do. So that’s the food/bar situation near the arena. If you have a day or afternoon free and are looking to do something in the city itelf, here’s some other parts of the city you may want to check out.

  • Robson Street. This is actually Canada’s longest commercially-zoned street (#themoreyouknow). Think of it as way more downscale version of Rodeo Drive. If you want to take a walk on a sunny day but hate nature, there’s worse ways to spend a few hours. Also, for some reason I don’t understand, this street has Downtown’s best conglomeration of Korean restaurants (go all the way West to near Denman St.).
  • Stanley Park. This place always ranks at the top of any list of the best/most famous  city parks in North America. If you’re into parks/nature and don’t know when you might get back here again, you should make time to check it out. If you really want to go all-out you can do a walk around the 9-km long seawall surrounding it.

  • Commercial Drive/Kitsilano (around West 4th). These are Vancouver’s other main “hipster’ neighborhoods. If you’re looking for a nice walk somewhere hipstery but not as touristy as Gastown, try one of them.
  • Richmond. A lot of Vancouver’s (huge) Asian population congregates here, and as a result this place is known for having the best Asian food in North America. Always a good choice for some late night Korean BBQ or bubble tea. You’ll need a car, however, as it’s hard to get around otherwise.

So that’s it. Hope you guys have fun and enjoy your stay.

Oh, also, because I’m sure this question will pop up a lot: The building with a giant silver ball on top of it to the East of the arena is called Science World. It’s a giant museum for sciency stuff. #themoreyouknow

2018 Asian Games Esports Games List Includes Some Surprising Choices

Yesterday, the 2018 Asian Games, billed as the largest multi-sport event in the world outside of the Olympics, announced what games will form part of competition at its inaugural esports event. While esports will be a “demonstration,” not a medal event at these games (they will be a medal event for the next games in 2022), this is still a pretty big deal, as it’s the first time esports has formed part of a major traditional sports competition like this. The games forming part of the lineup are: League of Legends, Hearthstone, StarCraft 2, Pro Evolution Soccer, Clash Royale and Arena of Valor (a Chinese mobile MOBA that basically looks like a mobile version of LoL).

I have to say, if I had guess what games would form part of the lineup, these are not the 6 titles I would necessarily have come up with. My thoughts on each of these choices:

League of Legends: Not a huge surprise, as this is by far the most successful of the six games listed. Of course, the other of the world’s two most successful MOBAs, DotA, is not part of the event. I’m wondering if this was intentional, as the organisers felt they had to pick one game or the other in order to prevent “MOBA overload.” You have to wonder if the two games will become mutually exclusive at major multi-esport events in the future for this reason.

Hearthstone: It’s going to be fun seeing how this one turns out, just because of the RNG factor. Yes, every sport involves luck (although with a lot of other e-sports the luck factor is surprisingly small), but given how blatant and in-your-face the luck factor in Hearthstone is, something seems a bit off about having it as an event at a major sporting competition where medals are won, national pride is at stake and *serious sports things* happen. Do you really want the medal winner of your event decided because [insert name of random damage card here] ended up hitting face instead of the opponent’s board?

Also, given that Hearthstone is not necessarily an easy game to pick up by watching, and you basically need to have played the game to understand how it works or what any of the cards do, the game will have pretty much zero accessibility for non-esports fans (or even gamers who aren’t Hearthstone fans).  This means it’s maybe not the best choice if the purpose of this event is to expose esports to a non-gaming audience.

StarCraft 2: The grandaddy of the e-sports scene! While it doesn’t have the audience numbers it once did, given its role in the development of esports it seems fitting that SC2 should be one of the events here. StarCraft is also probably pound-for-pound the most fun to watch out of the six listed here, and also the easiest game understand and digest for a non-esports audience (when non-gamers think video games, a game like StarCraft, with space marines fighting each other, etc. is probably what they think of). Overall, can’t really complain about this one.

Pro Evolution Soccer: Why not FIFA? [Update: as some reddit commenters to this post have pointed out, PES is the soccer game in Asia instead of FIFA, so that solves that mystery.] Also, scratch that comment about StarCraft 2. This is definitely going to be the most easy to understand game for a non-esports audience, although I feel like it shouldn’t really count because it’s the only game that’s simulating a real sport. On an unrelated note, since I’m assuming real soccer will be an event at the games too, how about a “split” event where the soccer players play real soccer for the first half, and the gamers play PES for the second half, then the scores are combined? This could be the esports equivalent of chess boxing.

Clash Royale: Clash Royale is kind of like the quiet overachieving kid of the esports scene. No one really thinks too much about it, but it shows up in these tournaments more than you’d think. This is also the first of two mobile games forming part of the lineup. People who haven’t played Clash before can literally see the event, download the game on their phone, and be playing 30 seconds later. I feel like I should take this opportunity to invest in SuperCell stock or something.

Arena of Valor: I’ve never heard of this game, and while some quick googling tells me it’s huge in China, I have to wonder if it was really the optimal choice here, especially since the game play is so similar to League of Legends, which is already part of the competition.

Overall, there’s a few major omissions that I would have expected to see on this list, including DotA, Overwatch and CS:GO. Even and Smash Brothers or PUBG may have made an interesting addition if the organizers wanted to stray from the beaten path a bit.

In particular, the lack of shooters is a bit puzzling . If this is supposed to be a showcase of esports in general, it seems like you’d want at least one shooter there. Maybe the organisers were concerned about the potential violent nature of these games, and this isn’t really the image they wanted to convey.

Regardless, while this is not necessarily the game lineup I would have gone with, it will be fun to see how this turns out. Hopefully the organizers pick up some pointers about what worked and didn’t this time around, and use those lessons when setting the lineup for future events.

Jail Time and Fines For Hackers Show Video Games Have Finally Made It

It’s been a tough few weeks for video game hackers. Yesterday in Los Angeles, a hacker responsible for a number of DDoS attacks against World of Warcraft’s servers  was sentenced to one year in jail, as well as being ordered to pay $30,000 in restitution to Blizzard for the cost of responding to the attacks. This news comes on the heels of reports last week that South Korea has sentenced two of thirteen hackers recently arrested for making cheats for Overwatch, with one receiving a $10,000 fine, and the other receiving probation. Similarly, China has recently arrested 15 individuals charged with making PUBG cheats, levying a whopping $4.5 million USD in fines against them.

One notable thing about all these cases is that the perpetrators were charged criminally. While game companies have been suing hackers in civil court for years (see for instance Epic’s recent crusade against a 14-year-old Fortnite cheat maker), this is the actual government coming after people, often expending considerable resources to do so. For example, the WoW hacker above was caught after an international investigation spearheaded by the FBI, which took 8 years to conclude (the attacks actually occurred in 2010, the hacker was indicted in 2011, then the US government spent spent the intervening time, and what I assume are considerable resources, fighting to extradite him from his native Romania).

Cue 8-bit version of the “Cops” theme.

These kind of stories show how far the perception of video games has changed in mainstream society. I think it’s pretty safe to say that if a game company had gone to a law enforcement agency 20 years ago and asked for their help catching someone making CounterStrike hacks, they would have been politely told to mind their own business. After all, video games were still seen as kids stuff back then. The government wasn’t going to divert resources they could be spending on catching drug dealers to trying stop people from being able to see through walls on de_dust.

Nowadays that’s not the case. Video games are big business, and when Blizzard calls, the FBI apparently listens. Some countries, like Korea, have even passed legislation explicitly making it illegal to make video game hacks, with violations of the law punishable by up to 5 years in jail.  And crucially, all this is seen is perfectly fine by society at large, with no one really raising any eyebrows when any of this stuff happens, even outside gaming circles.

While I think it’s still an open question whether this kind of behavior really deserves the kind of serious criminal sanctions we’re talking about here  – after all, you could argue all these people are really doing is mildly interfering with others’ enjoyment of an entertainment product – it’s still good to see video games being taken seriously this way.

Going Viral By Accident: Stories of Unconventional Indie Marketing Success

I’ve already spent a lot of time on this blog talking about how difficult marketing can be for indie devs, and how  with 30+ new indie games coming out on Steam every day, generating any media coverage and making your game stand out for the crowd can be extremely hard.

While some indies manage to accomplish that through standard methods (writing to journalists, dev blogs, getting covered by streamers, social media etc.), it’s clear that marketing is not an exact science, and sometimes the things that result in the most exposure for games are the things you never expect. After spending some time reading postmortems for various indie games, a few of these random, unintended-consequence marketing stories stuck out for me, so I thought I’d share them here. So without further ado, here’s some the more unconventional ways that some devs have managed to “accidentally” get some exposure for their games:

  • Write an Angry Forum Post to One Of Your Fans. Hugh Monahan, developer of indie isometric shooter Brigador, was having a rough day. After seeing a spike of initial sales at release, sales for his game had faded to “next-to-nothing” levels (that would be the stretch labeled “Pit of Despair” in the chart below). When a couple of his fans started complaining on the game’s forums about the $20 price tag for the game he had sunk 5 years of his life into, instead of letting it go, he wrote sarcastic blog post tearing into them. The post went viral, and was eventually picked up by Kotaku and other game publications. The resulting exposure resulted in the  biggest sales spike in the game’s life cycle, as seen in the handy chart below:

    The result of getting covered by Kotaku.
  • Put a Gif Maker Into Your Game. Patrick Corriery, the developer of PolyBridge, a hugely successful bridge building simulator, credits a lot of his success to one simple decision: creating a built-in GIF generator for his game. He did this on the suggestion of a developer friend, not expecting it to be a major game feature. However, once the game came out, the GIF generator ended up being the key driving force behind the game’s success. Players started sharing little snippets of his game on reddit and other social media, a few of them hit the front page, and from that point on the snowball kept rolling creating massive buzz and sales for the game.
  • Go Viral On Reddit With a Cute Infographic. The devs of the indie bullet-hell shooter Starlicker put a lot of work into making their game, and by the time it came to release and market it, they were by their own estimation tapped out. Luckily, a friend of the devs, wanting to help them out, made a cute info graphic asking people to check out the game. The post managed to tap into the sensibilities of the reddit hive mind, shooting up to the top of /r/gaming and even ending up on the front page for a while. It was viewed at least 400,000 times, resulting in 10,000 downloads,  which accounted for more than 90% of the game’s total lifetime sales.
  • Create a “Twitch-Plays” for Your Game. Ok this one wasn’t really accidental, and isn’t something that’s going to work again, but TinyBuild Games, publisher of the boxing-themed-tamagochi-like-life-simulator Punch Club came up with a pretty brilliant strategy for generating coverage for their game. Before putting it out, they created a “Twitch plays” for it, in the same spirit as Twitch plays Pokemon. The catch was that the game would not be released until the Twitch community beat it. The novelty resulted in a lot of media coverage both relating to the stunt itself and the practicalities surrounding it (after all, some people had pre-ordered it seeking a fixed launch date). As a result of the coverage the game made it to no. 5 on the overall Steam sales charts on the weekend it was released, a pretty impressive feat for an indie.

Terrifying Twitter Account Shows How Saturated the Indie Market Is

Further to my recent post on the importance of indie game marketing, if any indie dev wants some perspective about how hard it will be to have their stand out from the crowd, they should have a look at the Steam Trailers in 6s twitter account.

Like its name suggests, every time a game goes up on Steam, the account auto-posts a 6 second trailer of it. This allows you to see, in real time, the fire-hose like rate at which these games are cranked out. A new game is posted every 45 minutes to an hour or so. For instance, at the time of the time of this post, the account had put out 33 trailers in the past 24 hours.

If I was an indie dev, scrolling through this feed would scare the living crap out of me. It’s one thing to read stats on paper about how 7,000 games were released on Steam last year and so forth; it’s another thing to see it happen right in front of you like this, and to know that somehow your game is going to have to differentiate itself from all of these to see any sales.