Archive: Scarlett tells all after MLG Anaheim 2014

This week we spoke to Team Acer’s Scarlett, the legendary Queen of Blades, after her exciting performance at MLG Anaheim.

You chose to play Protoss in an elimination match against DRG, down 0:1. Why did you decide to make what appeared to be such a risky move?
 
I was actually planning to do so before the series. I’ve played against that build many times on ladder; even if you know its coming, it’s still almost impossible to stop. Harstem and Miniraiser helped me perfect it before the series started and I asked an admin who told me it was alright to switch races between games.

Did you plan to use it against DRG specifically, or was it just to use against any Zerg?
 
Could have been against any Zerg; but I only wanted to use it once at the tournament and I set the map order up to use it game 2, so he would be thrown off in the 3rd game of the series.

Gotcha. If you had won the first set, would you have still used it? Or was it just dependent on the map?

Yeah it was just dependant on the map, so I would have used it either way. It’s still strong on other maps, but you can die to 9 pools easier on  two player maps and Zerg is more likely to go three hatch before pool on Alterzim.

What was DRG’s reaction in the lobby when you switched to Protoss?
 
At first when game started he thought it was a mistake ^^ You could see the ingame chat when watching.. He said “seriously? OMG” when I confirmed I would play it.

Did you count on that confusion from DRG to make the build more successful? Did you spot any mistakes from DRG in trying to hold your push?
 
I hoped he would think I would cheese him (4gate or cannon rush) and try to play safely. He actually ended up doing almost the perfect build to defend it instead, but still ended up losing to the Power of Protoss :)

Was there a political aspect to choosing this build? Did you want to make a point that this kind of play from Protoss is too strong?
 
I guess, it was more just to win and for fun though.

How did you feel when you won, and you saw the crowd’s reaction?

I laughed when I won. Even though I thought it had a high chance of success, it still almost seemed unbelievable when I actually won.

Did DRG seem rattled in that final game, any mistakes or changes to his play? And did he say anything about it in the lobby before the final game?

Not really; he didn’t say anything. And to be a champion like he has many times in the past; you need to be able to recover quickly after tough losses
 
Would you use Protoss against Zerg again in tournaments that allow it, in the same situational way you used it at MLG? I imagine that having that “in your toolbox”, so to speak, would be a good advantage for you even if you don’t end up actually doing it.
 
Yea; I have seriously thought about using PvZ in place of ZvZ in the future as a standard matchup for me before now.
 
Is that something you’re more likely to do given the reaction this time, or have you not decided yet?
 
Still unsure, as I also did very well in ZvZ this past weekend, better than I’ve ever really done before.

Yeah, your ZvZ record was insane at MLG – almost all 2:1 wins, but you seemed more comfortable in the matchup than you have been before. Why do you think you did so well in ZvZ at MLG?
 
I was much better at predicting the opponent’s builds than usual; the most important thing in ZvZ.

Is that a general skill that you’ve improved at, or did you know this group of opponents better, or was there some other reason for this?

I’ve improved at it a little, but it seems they all have studied my style and tried to  blind counter it; so I just switched it up.
 
How would you rate yourself in each matchup right now?
 
ZvT > ZvP > ZvZ.

So here’s a hypothetical: If you could make any pro player your practice partner for a week, which person would you choose and what would you practice?
 
I’d probably just practice general ZvZ with soO.. Maybe I’ll ask him after GSL finals :)
 
How do you feel about the North American pro scene? Can it become more competitive if we continue to see tournaments like MLG + BattleGrounds?
 
It’s rough.. I would be surprised if MLG ran sc2 again; and redbull is mostly Koreans anyways. Not really sure what could be done as the NA only events don’t get near enough viewers to be sustainable.

What’s next for you, how are you feeling, and any shoutouts?
 
For now just some practice & relaxing in Korea after so much travel in a row ! I’m quite tired now~ Shoutout to Flo & Major for lending me mice at MLG / Redbull :)

[Archive] Intro to eSports #8: Top Twitch alternatives

Twitch is the current undisputed king of game streaming, with tens of millions of monthly viewers across hundreds of games and millions of channels. The company was bought by Amazon late last year in a 1 billion dollar deal, and has only gained strength since then – whether you count by concurrent viewers, developer support or number of dank memes created, Twitch is in front by a considerable margin.

The latest Twitch competitor comes from another gaming giant: Valve. They’re the creators of the Steam digital distribution platform, the largest of its kind and a highlight of PC gaming. Recently, they updated the Steam client with Broadcasting, which allows users of the service to stream PC games without installing any new software – a big deal given there are 100 million active users on the service.

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Interestingly, Steam looks to be targeting a new segment of the game streaming market: users that just want to share their gameplay with friends, rather than broadcast to the world at large. You can choose to stream when a friend requests to watch, to stream to all friends without a request, or completely publically.

While eSports events likely won’t use the Broadcasting feature (apart from Valve’s own games like Counter-Strike and Dota 2, perhaps), Steam’s broadcast feature seems a great alternative to Twitch for more casual streaming between friends.

However, Steam aren’t the only ones trying to face off against Twitch. Here are five more alternative service, which offer their own advantages and drawbacks for streamers and viewers. These are the Twitch competitors.

Hitbox

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Another game streaming site that has been attracting attention as of late is Hitbox. The site shares its basic structure with Twitch, but offers some specialised features that might make it a better choice for streamers, even if their potential audience is smaller.

One big benefit is much lower stream latency. On Twitch, there’s a 30 second delay between something happening on-video, and the streamer seeing the chat room’s response. On Hitbox, that delay is closer to two seconds, which makes it much easier for streamers to converse with and react to their viewers.

There are other nice viewer participation features as well, like giveaways, polls, subscriber notifications and rich chat which supports images and videos.

Azubu

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One of the most well-funded game streaming startups is Azubu. The company received around 34 million dollars in venture funding last year, and has used that cash to produce a fairly slick website, a working mobile app and some exclusive agreements with some of the biggest names in eSports – including Curse, Fnatic and CLG. Like MLG, the service is only available to “top pro players and teams”, so you can’t try broadcasting there yourself.

YouTube

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YouTube is a giant when it comes to pre-recorded video, but they’re lagging behind when it comes to live game streams – it’s technically possible, but isn’t well advertised to users.

Some tournaments are broadcast on the service, which can rely on Google’s massive server farms to stay operational even in the face on insane demand, but in general there are few advantages to streaming on YouTube instead of a dedicated service. Of course, given Google’s infrastructure and YouTube’s dominance, the company would only need to dedicate a small proportion of its resources to present a credible threat to Twitch.

MLG.tv

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Major League Gaming has operated its own streams for its American tournaments for the past few years, and last year it opened its doors to eSports broadcasters as a Twitch alternative.

Unfortunately, it seems that you need to be a recognised name to stream on the MLG.tv service, and most streamers seem to have much lower viewer counts on the site compared to their past streams on Twitch. Still, the company’s premium approach has been alluring enough to court many pro players and teams to the service, and it’s worth keeping an eye on.

DingIt

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Another promising outlet is DingIt, who have taken a radical approach to carve out a niche. Their site relies on a plugin called Octoshape, which is an annoyance for first-time users but allows for more bandwidth-efficient streams: the company claims 20-50% less bandwidth is required to view streams of a comparable quality to other streaming websites.

The company has also been actively courting influential eSports personalities, like StarCraft caster Adam “Madals” Simmons. He points to better (and early) benefits to streamers, who can start receiving revenue from user subscriptions and donations immediately instead of requiring an elite ‘partner’ status with the network. Low latency and a keyboard simulator (which shows key presses in a graphic on stream) are other streamer-friendly features introduced by the network.

Conclusion

Twitch is still the big winner in game streaming, but the site will need to continue to improve in the face of increased competition. New features, like theatre mode, show that the company is listening to its users and trying to remain competitive with its competitors – and with Amazon’s money, the company should be able to scale easily to meet increased demand.

Still, the pie is getting a whole lot bigger, and with so many tech-savvy competitors it’ll be an interesting and progressive time in video game streaming.

 

[Archive] Intro to eSports #7: Communities

Whether it’s watching a tournament stream, talking strategy in a forum or seeing the latest gossip on Twitter, eSports is consumed almost exclusively online. Fans in online communities are the lifeblood of eSports – and the most important metric courted by events, teams and brands alike. In this article, we’ll show you how to embrace that audience through online communities, forums and social media.

The first step in reaching an online audience is knowing where specifically that audience is located online. Each game has its own dedicated sites and subsections of larger sites, as well as presences on social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook. Learning these locales takes time; if you’re not already familiar with the game then poll people who are and find out where they spend their time online.

I’m most familiar with the game StarCraft, so let’s use that game as an example. Most discussion in the StarCraft community takes place on two websites: The community website TeamLiquid.net and the StarCraft subreddit (section) of Reddit.com. Each site has its own rules and peculiarities – TeamLiquid is very closely moderated and will ban users for flaming well-known gamers and personalities, while almost no topics are barred at StarCraft Reddit but excessive self-promotion can warrant a site-wide ban. Courting and engaging with these two websites is essential for anyone that wants to become part of the StarCraft community.

Social media is also playing an increasingly large role in eSports. Twitter and Facebook are the two largest players here, and can be thought of as two more essential places to maintain web presences for any event, tournament or team of note. There are many other social networks that can be helpful too, though: Instagram, Google+, Vine, Snapchat, SoundCloud and even YouTube.

The usual model for eSports (and indeed most of the web) is to create content on your website, where you’re best able to promote yourself and provide a full branded experience to the reader. This website is fed through promotions through communities and social media, as mentioned above. While it’s possible to work without a website, it’s a big help to provide a single place for fans to find everything that you’ve created.

It’s important to tailor your content for the medium on which it is broadcast. Some things are obvious – you post videos on YouTube, audio recordings or songs on SoundCloud, short videos on Vine, photos on Instagram – but other distinctions are more subtle.

Twitter is all about crafting highly shareable, compact content (which probably links back to a website or includes a photo); your number one goal should be encouraging users to hit that retweet button. Twitter is also rather more transient than its peers, making retweeting and engaing with fans possible without polluting your overall message.

Facebook is more measured, with space to share a few sentences of text, a photo or video, and a link. Here, sharing is less common and it’s more about engaging the audience you’ve garnered from other sources. Posting to forums and communities requires meeting the rules of that community, perhaps including a hefty excerpt and a link to your site instead of a simple link that would be passable on Twitter or Facebook.

The best strategies rely on cross-promotion: an article on a website might be tweeted with a killer quote from the text and a great picture; linked from Instagram via a behind-the-scenes photo; expanded upon by a snippet that didn’t make the article on Facebook; and includes a video posted to YouTube that adds another option for text-averse fans. Each component enhances the whole, with the full picture being sourced from a web of specialised media.

So you’ve identified your target audience and their hangouts online – what next? How can you engage with that community, promote your content and get people to be interested in what you’re producing?

Creating quality content is the key; provide value to your audience. If you want people to know about your team and read your team website, then get your players to provide their unique insight on the current metagame or a popular strategy. Use your connections to get an interview with pros in the headlines, or those behind the scenes that haven’t gotten a chance to speak their piece. Give away signed gear so that your fans are fighting with the same equipment as their favourite player. Ultimately, it’s all about giving the perks of your position to your audience.

Of course, engaging with a community is not just giving them content in exchange for their attention. There should be a dialogue too, between eSports fans and tournament organisers, casters, hosts, streamers and pros. Certain mediums are better for this than others, but it is important to put yourself out there regardless. Make it clear that you are always willing to engage with interested, passionate people – even if they hold opposing views to your own.

One of the beautiful things about eSports (and indeed internet communication in general) is that well-known community members and unknown fans can communicate as equals; anyone can make a Twitter account to comment wisely about a recent match or ask a great question in a Reddit Ask Me Anything (AMA) interview. Make full use of that as a content creator; be accessible and be willing to take the time to engage one-on-one with your fans and your detractors. That conversation might only be between two people, but its effects are much more far-reaching.

That means that you should take care when speaking online – while there is a great opportunity to win goodwill, there are also opportunities to lose it. Don’t say anything on Twitter that you wouldn’t say in front of a crowded room of people; remember that even in private conversations it only takes one person to save a screenshot or hit record, and that conversation is as public as if you wrote an announcement yourself.

Thankfully, the rewards of maintaining an online presence outweigh the risks. There is no better way to promote your work, make critical connections and win the hearts and minds of your fellow eSports enthusiasts. Whether you are a caster or a tournament organiser, a writer or a pro, embracing the online eSports audience is an essential part of your job – so get out there, and get busy.

[Archive] Intro to eSports #6: Event organisers

As we continue our introduction to eSports, we’re going to take a look at another oft-overlooked but vital role in the eSports scene: event organiser. In this article, we’ll show you how you can organise your own eSports events, starting from viewing parties and small LAN competitions to big tournaments broadcast around the world.

How to run a viewing party

Let’s start with the most basic event: a viewing party. The idea here is to just meet up and watch an eSports tournament broadcast with your local community. These events are often held in bars and pubs; in StarCraft parlance they are called BarCrafts. Viewing parties are nice because they don’t require as much infrastructure as other eSports events. All you need is a venue, a projector or HDTV to show the matches, and an audience to watch them.

While this setup is conceptually simple, actually implementing it can be difficult. StarCraft caster and event organiser Sean “Day[9]” Plott says, “event organisation is a learned skill: you will be doing a lot of juggling, managing people and resources.”

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A small StarCraft II viewing party, or BarCraft, in Stockholm. (Source: Johan Ronstrom, Wikipedia)

Let’s start with the venue. You could hire an event hall, book a room in your school or company, or you might just take over a section of a local pub. This will require some money, some persuasion or both. Your venue needs a sufficiently fast and stable internet connection to show the matches and seating for your audience. A place to buy food and drink is helpful too.

Next is equipment. You’ll want a big television or projector and screen, which might be provided by your venue or might be brought from home. You’ll also need a way to tune into your chosen broadcast; usually a laptop or desktop PC connected to the venue’s internet connection.

Finally, you need an audience to actually attend your event, which requires advertisement. Advertise as much as you are able both online and offline. Online, post in community groups and forums, as well as local / hyperlocal publications. Offline, post flyers and make announcements in schools, tech firms, internet cafés, game stores and anywhere else that will allow you to do so. Your goal is to saturate your area, so that anyone with sufficient interest will know about your event.

So: venue, equipment, audience. Just assembling these three basic components is a lot for one person to handle, so you may find it helpful to make a small team. Recruit a few friends, and assign everyone roles – perhaps one person can handle the venue, another equipment, and a third advertisement. Money is another important consideration; at this stage you’ll want to record all income and expenses, if nothing else.

(There are plenty of additions that could be made to this formula for a viewing party as well – you might think about giveaways or competitions for the audience, selling food or merchandise or arranging for local pros to attend. For more ideas and help, check out Blizzard’s BarCraft guide [PDF]).

How to run a tournament

Let’s assume that your viewing party goes well, and you learn a bit about event management. Now let’s add a tournament into the mix, so that we can make our own excitement instead of watching a stream. We’ve already covered the basics of running a tournament, so we’ll just make a few short points here.

The first thing is that you’ll need a bigger venue, with space for computers to be set up. Your first tournament is probably best run as Bring Your Own Computer (BYOC); for this reason it may be helpful to run your tournament at an existing LAN party event. Even if people bring their own computers, you’ll still need tables, chairs, readily accessible power outlets, a sufficiently strong internet connection and networking supplies like a switch, network cables, wireless, etc. etc.

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Pictured: gamers at the popular insomnia LAN. Not pictured: an incredible amount of network cable, power outlets and other infrastructure (Source: Multiplay)

Of course, your competitors are not the only people that you need to look out for. You’ll likely have a local audience for your tournament, so it’s worth using a projector or a large HDTV to show ongoing matches. Of course, this means that you’ll also need a caster and observer to explain the action. You might use our introduction to casting to do this yourself, or find an experienced caster to visit the tournament and provide a more high-level commentary. As with many aspects of event organisation, having made good connections here is often helpful.

The added complexity of a tournament will require more people, more money, and more networking / persuasion. You might charge an entry fee to cover your expenses, including the prize pool for your tournament. At this stage, it may also be worthwhile to contact sponsors – either local businesses or technology-related national or international corporations. The developers of your game may also chip in, most likely by providing merchandise that you can use in giveaways or as tournament prizes.

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These giant novelty checks don’t come cheap. (Source: Helena Kristiansson, ESL)

As always, grow your team carefully, document your financials and expect for things to go wrong. People won’t show up, networks will fail, power circuits will blow. Plan for these occurrences as best as possible; test beforehand and have backups of critical equipment.

How to run a broadcasted tournament event

Let’s assume that your initial events have turned out OK, you’ve learned a lot and you’ve covered your expenses. So at the moment we have a tournament – what’s next? Well, people might want to tune in to watch the tournament if they can’t make it in person, so let’s talk about broadcasting.

Broadcasting adds another level of complexity to your operations, requiring additional equipment, staff members and a much faster internet connection than you’ve needed previously. You’ll need to ensure a good-looking stream with balanced sound levels, backed with a selection of on-screen talent for casting, hosting, interviews and filling time. Your staff members and on-screen talent will likely require payment for their services, making incoming money from entry fees or sponsorships more important to secure. Advertisement is also important, to ensure that you can provide enough value to your sponsors, fill your venue’s seats and maximise your online audience.

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You don’t need a fancy set like this. Just get a blank background and ensure the game itself looks as good as possible. (Source: Navneet Randhawa, aceresport.com)

The online audience is generally more demanding and distracted than a local audience, so getting things right for your big event will require a lot of practice and preparation. Start small, test often, fail quickly and try to find people with experience broadcasting for aneSports audience.

At this stage (or even before), your financials and legal responsibilities become significant. It’s worth talking to a lawyer, experienced businessman or a financial advisor to make sure you are following good practices, obeying the law and just covering your expenses. You may be able to find such a person at your school, or in the family of a friend or colleague. Even a short, casual talk can be very rewarding.

How to not get overwhelmed

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Thankfully, this doesn’t have to be your first event. (Source: Riot Games)

This can all be a bit overwhelming, but you don’t have to go out and start the next World Championship for the game of your choice. Take the advice of the Rosen brothers, organisers of a successful home-grown StarCraft tournament in Texas: “start small, iterate, learn and improve.” Good luck.

[Archive] Intro to eSports #5: Pro-gamers

So far in our introduction to eSports series, we’ve taken a look at casters, hoststournament admins and streamers. Today, we’re bringing it back with a closer look at the very heart of eSports: the pro-gamers themselves.

So what is a pro-gamer? Technically, a pro-gamer is anyone who earns money playing video games, whether you win an online cup for £20 or an offline championship for $100,000… although just as you’d probably not call yourself a pro builder for putting up a few shelves for the grandpa down the road, you probably wouldn’t call yourself a pro gamer for winning £20 in a single event.

So at the lowest level, you have semi-professional gamers. These guys and girls compete fairly seriously at their game of choice, and earn prize money from time to time based on their results.

If you’d like to become a pro-gamer, this is where you’ll start out. There are plenty of online cups and a few offline open events you can join to test your mettle, at LAN parties and gaming shows. If you show consistently good results, you might be invited to join a pro-gaming team.

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Competing in LAN party tournaments is a nice way to test your mettle and potentially attract attention from sponsors or teams (source: Jeni May Photography, Mutiplay)

For games with rankings (like in-game leagues or divisions) it’s possible to compete in casual tournaments where you’ll just be facing those at your own skill level. This is a nice taste of competitive play, without requiring hundreds of hours of practice.

Next up we have what I’ll call sponsored pro-gamers. These people have managed to join a professional team or attract a personal sponsor in order to finance their pro-gaming ambitions, but still work or attend school most of the time. The advantage to being sponsored is that you can afford to attend more events and spend more time practicing.

For example, it’s quite common for a sponsor or team to pay for you to travel to an offline tournament and compete there. Equipment sponsors may also be involved, who can provide pro-gaming gear such as keyboards, mice, controllers and headsets, in order to give you the best chance to play well. Of course, pro-gamers with sponsorships or teams have to represent their backers at the events that they attend, and fulfill media obligations like appearing in commercials, endorsing products and wearing branded apparel… but this isn’t so bad!

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Becoming a successful pro-gamer requires good food and careful brand management (source: William Judd, aceresport.com)

The highest (and smallest) tier of pro-gamers are full-time professionals. These pro-gamers are fortunate enough to join a team which will pay for them to practice their game of choice full-time, often 8 or more hours a day. That sounds like a lot, but it’s similar to the amount of time that other professional athletes spend on their careers.

Some full-time pros play and practice from home, but many will move to a ‘team house’ to practice with their teammates and potentially coaches or managers as well. This setup promotes better, more regimented practice than is typically possibly while practicing from home. It is so effective that teams that don’t live together will ‘boot camp’ instead, coming together a few weeks before an important competition to raise their skill levels in a focused environment.

The highest tier pro-gamers are sometimes paid a salary in addition to having their living expenses and travel costs paid for, but this is still limited to a small percentage of active pro-gamers, who have proven to be the best in the world. It’s possible to reach this level – but it takes time, skill and luck.

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Zest and Flash, two full-time StarCraft II pro-gamers who practice together in the KT Rolster team house placed first and second at this tournament, earning them thousands of dollars (source: Helena Kristiansson, ESL)

So if you’d like to become a pro-gamer… which game should you choose? Well, firstly it should be a game you really enjoy playing and you’re passionate about. If you don’t really love a game, you’ll find it difficult to maintain motivation long enough to make it as a pro-gamer. Another consideration is more tactical – you should choose a game with a relatively large competitive scene. This means many active players and many tournaments, backed by active developers and a passionate community.

So what games have the biggest eSports scenes? Let’s break it down by genre. For strategy games, StarCraft II is the current favourite (and my own game of choice). The MOBA (multiplayer online battle arena) space is designed around eSports, and as such there are a few great options that range from casual to hardcore: Heroes of the Storm, League of Legends and Dota 2. Shooters are another competitive space, with titles like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and the latest Call of Duty among the front-runners; World of Tanks and Quake Live fit here too. Sports games are also quite popular, particularly the FIFA series. Finally, there’s a small but dedicated racing scene on titles like Trackmania. Regardless of your genre of choice, there’s usually at least one game that supports a competitive scene.

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TrackMania pros compete at the ESWC 2014 tournament in France (source: Gabriel Guibert, aceresport.com)

So if you want to live that pro-gamer lifestyle, traveling to tournaments around the world… get started! Pick a game that you’re passionate about and do well in, and start entering any tournaments you can. Seek teams and mentors, read up on your strategy, and practice as much as you can.

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The fans – one excellent reason to become a pro-gamer (source: ESL)

If you put in the hours and you’re good enough, you can start winning tournaments and earning some prize money. Even if you don’t make it to the big leagues, there’s still a lot of fun to be had as a pro-gamer.

 

[Archive] Intro to eSports #4: Tournament Admins

Well-run tournaments seem magical as a viewer. Competitors appear in an arena, fight their way through brackets and win the championship or die trying. This seamless path is provided by tournament admins, working behind the scenes to arrange each match, report scores and settle disputes. Working as an admin allows you to contribute to eSports and develop a relationship with the pros, without the stress and competition of casting, hosting or playing yourself. In this article, we’ll show you what tournament admins get up to, and how you can become one yourself.

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An ESL admin reports map vetoes to production (source: Hun Park, aceresport.com)

So first up – what exactly does a tournament admin’s job involve? The answer is that whether you’re working as part of a big team or as the single man behind the scenes, you’ll be helping the players get where they need to be.

For online competitions, that means deciding on maps, hosting game lobbies – with the correct maps and rules – and inviting the casters and players. Once the game has begun, your job is to ensure that any in-game issues are dealt with, and that results are accurately and rapidly reported at the game’s close. You’ll also be on-hand to deal with player requests, arbitrate disagreements and generally solve problems.

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A tournament admin informs a player of his next match (source: Navneet Randhawa,aceresport.com)

For offline competitions, your role might also entail physically bringing players to where they need to be, providing them with appropriate equipment and refreshments and generally ensuring that the event runs smoothly.

While being a tournament admin doesn’t require you to be an expert at the game, you do need to know enough to enforce in-game rules and set up each match appropriately. A big part of your job is communication, so a good relationship with players, their managers and other staff is essential. Reacting quickly and correctly to sudden issues requires a calm head; something that also comes in handy when moderating and adjudicating disputes between players or teams. The final piece of the puzzle is a good understanding of the website or software used to report results.

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A Gfinity admin doing map vetoes with pen and paper (photo: Grant Hill /aceresport.com)

So, how can you get started as a tournament administrator? Probably the easiest thing to do is work in part of an existing eSports organisation, in competitions large enough that you’ll be working with other admins that you can seek help from. Companies like ESLGfinity and Insomnia are often looking for new recruits, so the odds are good you can get a volunteer position.

Once you’ve found a role, it’s time for research. Learn the rules inside and out for your chosen game and tournament. Get on their website, and familiarise yourself with the system of reporting results or disputes. One nice way of getting a good understanding is to enter a tournament as a player. Even if you get knocked out in the first round, you’ll get some valuable insight into how the tournament works, and what you’re expected to do.

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Brackets of a StarCraft II tournament on BinaryBeast.com

If you’d rather blaze your own trail, then you could make your own tournament or showmatch. Decide on the rules and bracket websites you’ll use (Binary Beast and Challonge are two good ones), find casters, and advertise for players to take part. You could provide a small prize pool yourself, or even look for sponsors.

You might find being an administrator challenging when you start, but once you get familiar with the systems and players in place, things should go fairly smoothly. Then you can focus on watching the games and chatting with the players and casters. It’s fun to contribute to the eSports scene as an administrator, and it’s a good way to make connections as well.

Even if you don’t decide to become a tournament admin, it’s important to spare a thought for them. They are the essential material that keep tournaments running smoothly, working behind the scenes to provide both viewers and players with the best possible experience. So: thanks, eSports tournament admins!

Thanks also to Robert “Pughy” Pugh for his insight into life as a tournament admin.

[Archive] Intro to eSports #3: Casters and Hosts

This week, we continue our introduction to eSports series with a look at two of the most important jobs in eSports: caster and host. Casters explain the action and the strategies in play to the audience, while hosts provide an essential anchor point for larger tournament broadcasts. In this article, we’ll show you what each role requires and how you can become a caster or host yourself.

Casting

We’ll tackle casting first. Casting is the term used for video game commentary, an abbreviation of the older term ‘shoutcasting’ which has its origins in internet radio. As with traditional sports commentary, the purpose of the caster is to describe and explain what is happening in the game… and how that action fits within a greater strategy sought by each side.

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ToD and Khaldor casting at the Gfinity G3 tournament in London

Typically this role is filled by two casters working together on a broadcast, but it’s also possible to cast alone and act out both roles. Play-by-play casters will focus on what is happening on-screen, explaining the basics and injecting some excitement into the proceedings. Kaelaris and Nathanias are two examples of well-known play-by-play casters from the StarCraft II scene. Analytical casters will typically speak less, offering insights into the greater strategies in play and what could come next. ToD and Apollo are two casters that fit well within this mould.

Each side of this casting coin requires a different skill set. Game knowledge is the primary attribute of the analytical caster; they must be able to identify the current strategy being pursued by each side, and make reasonable projections for how the game will develop. The analytical caster also knows the players and teams participating in the match, allowing them to draw upon past results and other information to make more accurate predictions and offer more information. Ultimately, the analytical caster uses his knowledge to provide unique insights that the average viewer would not come to on their own. Some, like ToD, continue to compete as professional players. This lets them speak with ultimate authority about both the strategies in-game and the mindset of the competitors.

A quick tournament recap video, (briefly) showing casters Kaelaris and Apollo in action and the reaction they elicit from the watching crowd

Play-by-play casters will speak more often to explain what is going on, so their most important attribute is speaking clearly about the on-screen action. Speaking quickly without stumbling, maintaining a good delivery cadence and allowing the analytical caster to speak are all important elements of this mix. A good play-by-play caster will also add gravitas to the game by showing their own passion and interest, ramping up the audience’s interest at critical moments. Nathanias is well known for his rapid yet coherent delivery during big fights, and his co-casters will frequently cease talking entirely in order to allow him to describe the action without interruption.

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Nathanias delivers some analysis at IEM Toronto

The best casters are able to offer both game knowledge and a clear delivery, and will adapt their roles to suit their casting partner. Being able to adapt successfully is a big part of the chemistry between two casters, and allows a pair to do more than just take turns doing their own solo cast. The most well-known pairs – Nathanias and Rotterdam, Tasteless and Artosis – will work together for months or years, building a strong rapport that viewers enjoy. Whether it’s casual chat to fill time in the opening stages of a game or the climactic final moments, a great casting partnership keeps viewers engaged and entertained.

Hosts

Hosts are also well known for their close connections with casters, but their role is a more general one. They serve as anchors for eSports broadcasts and tournaments, mediating between the back-room production staff and the players and casters on screen. Hosts present the broadcast to viewers, connecting games, interviews and prepared videos into a seamless presentation.

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Host Redeye speaks with pro gamer MC at IEM Toronto

Redeye is one of the most well known hosts in eSports, covering many games including StarCraft II, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and League of Legends. Like many hosts, he reached his position after years as being both a pro player and caster. This gives him a good shared history with the players and personalities that he works with, making it easier for him to give effective direction.

Research is another important attribute for a successful host. Knowing the histories of each player involved ensures that panel discussions can be directed appropriately, interviewers can ask the right questions and a narrative for the viewer can be constructed. Preparation isn’t everything though, as a good host should be able to react well to production mistakes or uncooperative players. Mistakes here and there are inevitable, so being able to respond with wit and grace is essential.

Talking to people – including fans – is an important part of Redeye’s role as host

Redeye excels in each of these areas, and he has another useful attribute: he is British, and therefore a native English speaker. This makes it easier for him to be understood by an international audience; indeed, many of the most well-known casters and hosts across the world hail from the UK, USA, Canada or Australia. Of course, don’t let this put you off if you don’t speak English as a first language – there are plenty of successful casters and hosts from other backgrounds, too.

Getting started

So what’s the best way to start casting? It starts with knowing the game, as Nathanias suggests.

“The most important skill for any caster is playing the game and getting good at it. It’s always easy to spot casters that don’t know the game well, and it’s almost impossible for them to survive.”

The next step is to actually start casting. You might begin by just downloading a replay file from a professional game, and start commentating on the action as it unfolds. Once you’re comfortable with the basic process, then it’s time to get some feedback. You’ll need a microphone, a PC capable of streaming or recording video and some basic recording software. Record the game and your commentary, then post the footage on YouTube. Share it with your friends or the wider community, and take their feedback on board to improve your casting.

A recent StarCraft II tournament broadcast – we have Redeye as host at the start and a big battle at 30 minutes in, featuring casting by Kaelaris and Apollo.

Once you’re satisfied that you’ve got the basics down, it’s time to get an audience. You might continue to produce casts for YouTube, but there’s nothing quite like a live cast. Volunteer to cast a small online tournament; keep your eye out for announcements and ask the organisers if you can do a cast. Most small tournament organisers are happy for the additional exposure, so this step shouldn’t be too hard.

As you improve, you can continue to apply to larger online cups like ESL’s Go4 series, the Gfinity cups or even giffgaff‘s own eSports events. If you speak a non-English language, you might consider casting in it as you’ll provide something different to just another English stream. If you keep up the good work and steadily improve, then you’ll be able to cast offline events – starting with local LAN parties, and eventually graduating to proper offline tournaments.

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Redeye doing an interview with a player (Hyun) through an interpreter (Susie) 

Becoming a host is harder, as there are fewer entry-level roles available. You might try organising an eSports podcast / videocast, as these demand many of the same skills and are less difficult to broadcast than a full offline tournament.

You can make it happen

As with the rest of the eSports industry, if you’re willing to develop the talent and spend the time, then you can eventually become at least a small-time caster or host. Produce regular content, promote yourself, and always strive for improvement. Volunteer for local LANs and smaller online events, and if you do well you’ll get more opportunities to show your stuff. You might even consider running your own tournament. That’s the topic of choice for next week, so stay tuned for that!

Photos in this article were taken by @Navneetr and myself for @aceresport. Thank you to @Nathanias for contributing his thoughts on casting as well.

Do you have any questions about casting and hosting? Let me know – you can reach me on Twitter @AcerWill.

[Archive] Intro to eSports #2: Streams and VODs

Last week we introduced the world of eSports: competitive video games, played by professionals in competitions that can award thousands of pounds in prize money. Today, we’re looking at how eSports is watched: through both live streaming video, and prepared videos posted to YouTube.

Live streaming lies at the heart of eSports, allowing fans across the world to tune into tournaments to see the very highest level professional play in games like League of Legends, StarCraft II and Dota 2. Streaming isn’t just reserved for tournaments though; the combination of inexpensive home broadband and easy-to-use streaming websites has allowed everyone from novices to pros to stream their own gameplay online.

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The front page of Twitch, showing a few regularly rotated streams, with links to streams for particular games and channels below.

There are plenty of websites which offer gaming-focussed streaming platforms. The largest is Twitch, which was bought by Amazon for $970 million and has around 55 million active users. The site controls 43% of all live streaming video traffic worldwide and accounts for 1.8% of peak internet traffic in the US; fourth place behind industry giants Netflix, Apple and Google. Alternatives to Twitch exist as well – sites like HitboxVeetle and UStream – but they have much smaller audiences.

If you wanted, you could watch game streams for hours and hours every day – and many do. 58% of Twitch users, for instance, spend more than 20 hours per week on the site; I’ve heard from many gamers that spend more time watching games than they do actually playing themselves.

The appeal of streaming is partly in the breadth of content: you can watch the very best professional gamers in the world in the biggest tournaments, or the newest gamers bumbling adorably through a game for the first time. Some gamers broadcast speedruns – their attempt to clear a game in the fastest possible time. Others create educational content, explaining their moves to help their audience get better. Many of the best known streamers are largely personalities, broadcasting many different games and providing a funny running commentary.

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Day[9], a well-known StarCraft II streamer, best known for his daily broadcast of educational StarCraft content and interaction with his chat channel.

Another part of the appeal is the link between viewers and streamers. Each channel has a chat room, where viewers can talk with one another – and good streamers will read this too, taking viewer requests and responding to questions and comments. This allows streamers to adjust their content on the fly, and makes a more satisfying experience for viewers.

If you are popular enough – whether because you are funny, good at your game, or both – then you can make a living from streaming online. You can run ads on the stream, offer subscriptions to your channel for small benefits like unique emoticons, or even solicit donations outright.

Gaining enough of a following like this takes both time and skill, but it does pay off for a small subset of users. These big names – often current or former professional gamers – can earn $100,000 a year for streaming online, although the vast majority of streamers will make much less.

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A streaming software called Open Broadcast Software (OBS), which allows the capture and arrangement of games, webcams, microphones and other elements. The resultant mix is then streamed to a streaming site.

It’s quite easy to start streaming – all you need is a PC capable of running games with some extra headroom for the streaming software, a decent internet connection and a webcam or microphone to add your commentary. Then, you can sign up for a free account on a streaming site and set up your streaming software, and you’re ready to go. We’ll cover this in more depth later this week.

The other side of online gaming videos is YouTube. Gaming is a big part of the well-known video site; many of the biggest channels are gaming-focussed. PewDiePie, aka Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, is one of the most well known, and has an estimated yearly income of around $825,000 with 30 million subscribers. Other well known streamers cover games like Call of Duty and MineCraft, although most will cover multiple games to widen their appeal.

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PewDiePie, a foul-mouthed but often funny producer of gaming videos.

As with live streaming video, gaming content is quite varied. The most popular content are ‘let’s play’ videos, in which a gamer simply plays through the game and (often) shows their reactions to what is happening. These videos have become the way many people decide to buy a game or not, replacing traditional written reviews in magazines or online. Educational content is also quite popular, with video creators showing how to find hidden content, unlock achievements and perform various strategies.

Not all gaming videos on YouTube are entirely in-game, either. eSports content – like interviews, tournament crowd reactions or behind-the-scenes footage – also finds a home on YouTube. The site is also a common repository for what was originally live, streamed video. Highlights or entire broadcasts are kept on YouTube to allow gamers to check up on past content or share memorable moments.

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A video from Dark Souls streamer (and ex-journalist) Jeff Green, copied from Twitch to YouTube.

Content on YouTube, whether produced beforehand for the site or recorded from a live broadcast, can be monetised. This is primarily through the placement of ads, but many prominent YouTube channels will sometimes receive monetary compensation, exclusive access to unreleased content and other perks in exchange for sharing a particular game with their audience.

As with live streaming, it takes time and talent to produce a popular YouTube channel – but it’s easy to get started. Videos can be copied from Twitch and other live streaming sites in only a few clicks, although prepared content usually requires some editing in software like Adobe Premiere, iMovie or Sony Vegas. We’ll have an introduction to creating YouTube content later this week with more details.

Whether you’re watching tournaments or streaming your own gameplay, the world of online gaming videos is a blast to explore. And who knows – maybe you’ll make it big on YouTube or Twitch some day!

[Archive] Intro to eSports #1

This weekend I spent a few hours cheering on one of my favourite athletes as she competed on the world stage. She’s a professional, but doesn’t take part in traditional sports like football or sprinting. Instead, Scarlett is one of thousands of people who play video games professionally – an eSports athlete. Some play part-time, juggling school or work, but others play video games as their full-time career. The best – like Scarlett – command impressive five or six figure salaries, and win hundreds of thousands of pounds over the course of their careers.

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It’s a remarkable state of affairs, but let’s break it down. What is eSports, where is all this money coming from and why doesn’t every gamer sign up to win the big bucks?

eSports simply means electronic sports: players competing, individually or in teams, on virtual battlefields. There are dozens of games with big competitive scenes, from strategy games like StarCraft, to battle arenas like League of Legends or DotA 2, to shooters like Counter-Strike and Call of Duty. Each player will tend to specialise in a given game, series or genre – for example, Scarlett is a masterful StarCraft II player.

Players start by playing these video games casually, online or with friends. If they show a talent for a game, they’ll move onto online competitions then offline tournaments held in arenas or trade shows as their skill improves. At the highest level, eSports athletes will be competing in arenas of thousands of fans – just like traditional sports.

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These tournaments are broadcast over the internet – and in some countries, even shown on TV – to millions of watching fans. (The largest broadcasting company, Twitch, was recently bought by Amazon for £585 million.) Commentators explain the immediate action and deeper strategies to the audience, allowing even newcomers to understand the skill that separates these pro players from the millions that play the game casually.

eSports is a global phenomenon. The UK boasts a moderate scene, with a few big tournaments and teams, alongside many pro players and commentators working across the world. In the most developed eSports nations, like South Korea and Sweden, eSportsathletes are minor celebrities, appearing on the front pages of newspapers and scoring lucrative sponsorship deals for local brands. In the United States, some professional gamers have even been granted athletic visas.

As eSports has grown over the past ten years, a burgeoning industry has sprung up around it. Sponsors fund players, as well as teams and tournaments, in exchange for valuable advertising to a largely young and well-off demographic. Many sponsors are computer and computer accessory companies – such as Razer, Acer and Intel – but more mainstream companies like Red Bull, American Express and Samsung are involved as well.

These sponsors, working with game developers and broadcasters, produce tournaments with massive prize pools. A typical medium-size tournament will pay out thousands of pounds to the top finishers, with the biggest offering prize pools in the millions.

If there’s so much money to be made in eSports, then why am I writing an article about it when I could be playing in tournaments and rolling in the dough? Just as in traditional sports, the competition is fierce.

Playing at a high level demands physical and mental skills, plus dozens of hours of practice each week. Each game requires a different blend of skills – hand-eye coordination to control the action; a strategic mind to adapt a plan of attack based on new information; communication to coordinate and react as part of a team.

While competing professionally requires a lot, eSports is a meritocratic system. If you are good enough, you can enter open tournaments to play against the pros and make a name for yourself, no matter where in the world you are – all you need is a PC and an internet connection. If you continue to succeed, invitations to pro gaming teams and further tournaments are sure to come.

That’s the path that Scarlett followed. She won one small tournament to get a paid trip to compete at a larger one. She upset some big, established players at that tournament, and the exposure prompted an offer from a small team. Scarlett continued to excel, and soon joined a bigger team – Team Acer. With the help of her teammates, she competed and won her local Canadian championship, then a North American championship worth $24,000. In five short months, Scarlett had gone from being a complete unknown to being the hottest player in North America.

I think it’s this immediacy that makes eSports appealing. If you’re good enough, you just might be the next Scarlett – smiling on stage as thousands of people watch you dismantle an opponent in a flurry of fingers and mental acuity.

Thanks to Navneet Randhawa for contributing to this article. Image sources: Scarlett at Red Bull Washington by Annie ElleLoL World Championship at the Staples Center by Marv Watson.

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What I’ve been up to recently

I realised recently that I haven’t posted anything here in months. So, here’s a quick update:

I’m going ham on XSReviews.co.uk right now, really trying to get as many news and reviews articles up there as I can. There’s only so much you can do as one guy in your spare time, but I’m giving it my best shot. I’d welcome other contributors, if anyone is interested, of course. If you want to read recent stuff by me, particularly gadget / gaming reviews, then XSR is your best shot.

Team Acer, where I worked as editor-in-chief, has closed down. I’m looking for another eSports gig, as I’m still watching StarCraft and Counter-Strike most days and staying as involved as I can in the scene. If you have any leads, let me know — I’m wsjudd at gmail dot com, or you can contact me on Twitter @AcerWill (I haven’t changed Twitter handles yet, although a swap back to @wsjudd might be in order).

I’m still working hard with other clients, too. I’m still writing for Mobile Fun, my first client ever, in their marketing department. Since we upgraded WordPress to a recent version and rethemed the blog, I’ve really enjoyed writing there. I’m still travelling to Birmingham regularly for that role, too, so I get to come into the office and see everyone which is nice.

The Keyboard Company has been a little quiet recently, but I’m preparing some new content now and the blog should look more lively over the next few months. Their main site was updated recently, which was great to see. I’m still trying out every new mechanical keyboard I can get my hands on, and as always I enjoy working with the fine folks in Stroud.

I’m still having fun at giffgaff too. I’m producing their weekly mobile news roundup and doing some accessory reviews, and hopefully I’ll be able to supplement that with some more mobile reviews in the coming months.

Personally, things are going well too. I’m still enjoying my time living with friends in Bristol, and I will be travelling to China in May for a couple weeks if my visa application is accepted (and I imagine I’ll have no issues there). I look forward to getting a bit of a guided tour from my girlfriend, who helpfully was raised in two of China’s biggest cities, Beijing and Guangzhou. China seems like a cool place, and I can’t wait to explore it!

So, that’s pretty much it. Thanks for reading this, and let me know if you have any questions or comments. I don’t foresee myself updating this site too much in the future, but you can always follow my shenanigans on Twitter @AcerWill, on Facebook or at the websites of my clients:

Anyway, that’s all for now. Thanks for reading my update, and I’ll catch you around!