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.

Marketing: The Indie Dev’s Achilles Heel

I’ve been having a lot of fun recently reading game post-mortems from indie game devs. Like the name suggests, post-mortems are basically articles by game devs looking back after their game is released,  going over what went wrong and what went right.  A few collections of them can be found here and here.

As I started reading through these I was going to write one of those “5 mistakes every first time indie dev makes” lists, but going through more and more stories, one problem stuck out more than any other: marketing. A depressing number of the post-mortems went essentially like this:

  1. Small indie dev gets an idea for a game;
  2. Dev + a few friends work for months or years on said game, sometimes at great cost to their personal health and finances;
  3. Game is finished and goes up on Steam, no one finds out about it, game fails.

Part of this seems to arise out of the fact that many devs treat marketing as a bit of an afterthought, believing that making a quality game will automatically result in press coverage and sales. When their game finally hits the market many of them seem to have an “Oh shit!” moment, realizing that’s not the case, and that marketing the game is a job in and of itself and a far bigger time-sink than they thought it would be. Atillo Caroteuento, the developer of bullet-hell game An Oath to the Stars puts it pretty bluntly in his post-mortem:

Most importantly, what you really need to understand and always keep in mind, is that nobody cares about your game. I thought that, having worked in famous game studios and having a lot of cool promo art would ensure coverage, and I was wrong.

You’ll need to chase people and journalists, create an amazing presskit and a lot of social media work just to get them to look at your page for 10 seconds. It’s exhausting…

Many indie devs find essentially beholden to media coverage and twitch streams to get any traction in the marketplace. Without those, their game is essentially dead. This is neatly summarized by game dev Hugh Monahan in the post-mortem for his game Brigador:

This is what selling an indie game is like … Media coverage, both press and YouTube/Twitch, largely determines both how high your sales peaks are, as well as how quickly they decay. When all mention of you or your game disappears from the internet within a few days, you don’t have momentum so much as a flatline.

Making games takes a toll. Brigardor dev Hugh Monahan before and after his game was completed.

It’s kind of sad to see this kind of thing, especially because many of these were quality games with good reviews, and just seemed to fail because they couldn’t rise above the noise and get any exposure.

I guess the lesson is that if you’re going to take the plunge and spend months or years of your life making a game, make sure you spend some time planning out how you’re going to sell said game as well.

6 Excerpts From the Official Overwatch League Rulebook That I Found Randomly Interesting

A couple of weeks ago the Overwatch League’s official rule book and streaming policy leaked. While there’s already been quite a bit of reporting on the major features of these documents, I finally got a chance to read them start to finish, and here’s a few additional minor tidbits that I found randomly interesting for various reasons:

1. Players Can’t Get Involved in Politics

The streaming policy has an “Off-Limits List” of things the players can’t be seen to support or endorse. Aside from standard things like drugs, weapons or gambling, players are forbidden from supporting “Political Candidates or Initiatives.” Fairly standard, but if you don’t see xQc at any Donald Trump rallies, this is probably why.

2. There’s Technically No Limit to What Teams and Players Can Be Fined

The rules simply say that if a team or player violates the league rules Blizzard may “levy fines against the Team and/or Player.” They don’t say anything about the amount of any such fines, or place any other restrictions on what kind of violations warrant what level of fines. This kind of unlimited power on Blizzard’s part could potentially become a biiiiiit of an issue in the future, so look for the teams/players to try negotiate some clearer restrictions on this at some point (if they can).

In case you’re curious, the league so far has issued fines ranging from $1,000 to $4,000 to players under this provision for various fun activities I’m not going to go into detail on here.

3. Players Can’t Wear Excessive Jewlery

While playing in matches, players are limited to wearing “a reasonable amount (as determined by the League Office) of jewelry, rings, bracelets and necklaces.” I have nothing to add except that I really, really want to see someone force Blizzard to invoke this policy at some point.

4. …Or Smart Watches

The rules also prohibit players from wearing “smart watches … smart devices, fitness devices, or any other devices with computing capabilities of any kind, other than a digital watch.” I guess this rule is in place to prevent cheating, although I fail to see how wearing a FitBit or something like that is going to give someone an unfair advantage.

The cover of the leaked rulebook. I’m pretty sure in real life it smells like old baseball cards from the 1970s.

5. Failing To Report a Code of Conduct Violation is a Code of Conduct Violation

The league has an extensive code of conduct governing things like harassment, match fixing, drug use, etc. The code of conduct also states that “Upon becoming aware of any [prohibited conduct] players, team managers are required to immediately report the details to the league office. Failure to comply with this requirement is an independent violation of these league rules.”  So if a player becomes aware of someone else violating the code of conduct, they have to report them or they themselves will face potential discipline by Blizzard.

While there’s probably good, reasonable reasons for having this rule in place, I can’t help but get a bit of a 1984 vibe reading it.

6. Blizzard Is Explicitly Permitted to Film the Players 24/7

The rules anticipate Blizzard creating reality-show style content surrounding the league, and state that the players give Blizzard the right to monitor their daily life “using persistent, 24/7 cameras that may be placed in the team house, training facility, competition venue and other locations frequented by team members (provided that no such filming or recording will occur in any team members’ bathrooms).” My favourite part about this is the explicit exception for players’ bathrooms, in part because it implies that literally nowhere else is off-limits.

Lawsuit Filed Against PUBG Mobile Clones

PUBG’s publisher has filed a suit in California for copyright and trademark infringement against Chinese gaming behemoth NetEase, developers of “Knives Out” and “Rules of Survival,” two popular PUBG mobile clones. The move comes only a few days after the release of a mobile version of PUBG, and after its publishers attempted to remove the clones from the app store without success.


It will be interesting to see how this one turns out. While PUBG essentially created its own genere, things like game concepts and ideas are not protectable IP. Any developer can make their own battle-royale style game, copying things like the airplane drop, last-man-standing format, shrinking play area, etc. without worrying about a lawsuit.

However, it’s still possible for PUBG’s publishers to succeed if they can establish NetEase’s games copied the “look and feel” of PUBG . This is a pretty nebulous legal concept that basically means that, even if NetEase didn’t directly copy any actual code or art assets from PUBG, if the two games are substantially similar in terms of both visuals and overall functionality, NetEase will have infringed the PUBG’s publishers’ copyright.

Generally these kind of infringement claims have been successful in regard to less complex games with easy-to-define rule sets like Tetris or simple tile-matching games. PUBG is of course a far more complicated beast, and its publishers will probably have an uphill struggle on their hands showing there are enough similarities between it and NetEase’s two clones to establish infringement. If this claim succeeds it will probably be the first time the a court will have found this kind of infringement between games of this level of complexity.

The Biggest Problem Facing Esports Right Now

What would you say the biggest problem facing e-sports right now is? The lack of mainstream TV deals? Dangerously high levels of energy drink consumption? The occasional collapsed lung?

This man has a problem.

While I think we can all agree the collapsed lung issue needs to be closely monitored, in my view there’s one fundamental problem facing esports that’s bigger than all of these: game companies have way too much power.

The reason for this is simple: they own copyright to the games, and if anyone, anywhere wants to run and broadcast an esports tournament, they need to get their permission. Because of this game companies basically have the ability to exercise absolute, 100% control, over the esports ecosystem. Some companies are currently taking advantage of this more than others, but in the long run they all have the ability to do this.

This is probably the most fundamental difference, business-wise, between esports and traditional sports. Imagine if someone needed the NBA’s permission to start a basketball league, or the PGA’s permission before running a private golf tournament. That’s basically the situation with esports right now.

In my opinion, is a very bad thing for the long-term health of e-sports, for two reasons:

  • Lack of Competition: I don’t think it’s too controversial to say that competition is crucial for the development of a healthy esports scene, especially at this early stage. If you want the best possible esports product to develop, you need to let different people with different approaches try things out. Some will work, some won’t, but ultimately the market will ensure the best products come out on top. If game companies can deny licenses to any potential competitors and basically set themselves up as the only game in town, then this process can’t happen, and we’re all the worse off for it.  The best example of this is probably the Overwatch scene for most of last year. Despite the game being hugely popular, its competitive scene was essentially dying on the vine and teams were shutting down left and right because Blizzard was  refusing to grant anyone licenses to hold Overwatch events (this was because, of course, it didn’t want these events competing with the Overwatch league it was going to start up itself).
  • Lack of Bargaining Power for Teams/Players: This is a corollary of the competition issue. As discussed in this post, because they control the games, the game companies have essentially all the bargaining power in negotiating how revenue gets split with players or their teams. Using the Overwatch league as an example, if the teams/players aren’t happy with how much money Blizzard is offering them, they can’t really tell Blizzard to f*** off go and set up their own competing league. Their only options are quite literally to take or leave what Blizzard’s offering. In the long run this means less salary money for players, less money for teams to market themselves (and by extension esports), less interest by investors looking to start or fund teams, and, ultimately, a less vibrant evolving esports scene.

This problem also applies to other parts of the esports ecosystem like streaming. Every single streamer right now is  infringing on a game company’s copyright. While most companies are currently being cool about the issue, as the money being made from streaming continues to increase, how long until more and more of them start going all Nintendo and shutting down streamers unless they agree to kick in a huge chunk of their profits to the company? Or how long until they decide only a select group of company-approved streamers can stream their games? And if this starts happening, what effect do you think that will have on the quality and variety of gaming streams available out there?

So what’s the solution? Simple – create an exception to copyright law that lets anyone, not just the game companies, operate and broadcast esports events (and streams) without needing permission of the holder of that game’s copyright (i.e. the game’s publisher).  Anyone who wants to set up an esports event or stream a game would have the unencumbered ability to do so, and the free market would be free to work its proverbial magic. Fans of Overwatch wouldn’t be forced to cross their fingers and hope they like what Blizzard does with the Overwatch league because they know they have no other options. Blizzard would have a bigger incentive to make sure it puts out the best product possible because it knows it can’t simply sue the competition out of existence.  The cream would rise to the top and we’d all get the best esports product possible.

Of course, I think there’s about zero chance of this kind of change happening for the foreseeable future.  For something like this to happen you’d need (1) a change to the copyright legislation creating some kind of exemption for operating or broadcasting esports events, (2) a court decision changing the interpretation of the existing copyright legislation on the terms above (maybe expanding the fair use doctrine to cover something like this – how likely such a challenge would be to succeed I have no idea, I’m just spitballing here).

As things stand, there isn’t really any big groundswell of support that could motivate the former, and I’d be surprised if anyone involved in esports has the resources and incentives necessary spend huge sums of money and years in court arguing about the latter. However, as more money starts being made in esports, don’t be surprised if this becomes a bigger point of friction between the game companies and the team owners/players, and some serious legal fights in this area taking place (maybe instead of going for the clickbaity title, I should have called this post “The Biggest Problem Esports Will Face In 5 Years.”). It will be interesting to see what happens when/if this does occur.

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