Hey everyone! So I’ve been seeing a ton of talk lately about numbers, money, salaries, promotion, etc. I’d like to sum up my thoughts on the subject, interspersed with some observations from following esports as a whole since it began (CAL/CPL days in the US, along with the rise of Korean esports w/ Starcraft, for anyone who was around then and remembers ) Warning: This will be long, but I’ll try to break it into a series of individually digestible points. WHAT I SENSE PEOPLE WANT Additional views (more than the current 5-8k per Top 8 stream, 1-3k per pools stream) Additional money (enough for most top players to be able to turn a profit by playing these games) Additional promotion (for more people to be aware the scene exists) WHERE WE CAME FROM I’ll skip the details and quickly sum this up -- from a not-so-long-ago start of the ‘NRS’ version of the Mortal Kombat scene in 2011, we have come a long way. From 2011-2014, we were often lucky to have a pools stream at all; lucky to have venue space that wasn’t a crowded corner of the hotel basement, and lucky to have enough money for any player to really earn by competing. People competed because they loved it. They often spent their own money to do this. Other people (including early ‘sponsors’) spent their own personal money or did donation drives to get players to events. International travel (in NRS circles) was rare and mostly centered around EVO. We were lucky to have 3-400 viewers at some events for pools in Injustice 1 (or a pools stream at all in some cases, like UFGT 9!). GGA’s local, at the height of it’s prowess (when ‘everyone was talking about it’) would notch less views than a random Pig of the Hut Stream gets in 2017. OLD VIEWERSHIP Pre-2017, the streaming for pools NRS games at most tournaments were done by independent streamers. KombatNetwork, FunkyP, Bifuteki, EGP, SwiftTomHanks’ outfit (forgot the name), PandXGaming, and others. The Top 8 streams were usually (but not always) included in main stream’s lineup for the event. This meant Teamsp00ky, Leveluplive, etc. These are streamers with thousands of highly-dedicated and active followers, who stream numerous FGC games. Teamsp00ky: > 55,000 Twitter followers, numerous Twitch followers Levelupseries: > 33,000 Twitter followers, numerous Twitch followers (Note that most of the streamers' followers are MAINLY interested in watching streams -- they're not just fans of the game alone, or looking for giveaways/DLC info etc.) This also meant that viewers who were tuning in for other games would stay and watch MKX or Injustice. Not all of them were fans (there was plenty of “When’s Mahvel?” and “ResidentSleeper”) -- but they were there watching, and thus included in the viewer count. WHERE WE ARE NOW We currently have more travel from top players than ever before. Matches we used to have to wait 3 months or more to see, now happen with players from different regions (or countries!) on a weekly basis. We no longer have to ask where many of the major streams are, or what time they start, because NetherRealm has taken care of that for the start of INJ2’s life. There are more sponsored players now than ever. Within 2 short years, most (not all) top players have a sponsor that at least pays a lot of their travel and hotel costs. A few select players even receive a salary or living stipend on top of their tournament expenses. There’s more international travel than we have ever had pre-2015. It is now common to see EU players at US majors outside of EVO, and to see US players make the trip to the EU. CURRENT VIEWERSHIP ISSUES Post Injustice 2, NetherRealm has (at least temporarily) been streaming the majority of major events and significant regionals. This means that rather than making use of the audience of whole-FGC esports viewers for Top 8, we have moved to a mainly NRS-current-game-specific crowd. The importance of this cannot be overstated -- we are now building a new audience, of people who are truly into our games. Removing the crutch of being on the FGC-main stream means that for a while, we will have lower numbers than we did previously. But we also have something which is exclusive to *us*. It’s our job to help promote this to the fullest. Anyone who is not actively tweeting out every tournament that happens each week, should not be spending time complaining about the numbers. We need to put our own effort where it matters! It's no accident that Spooky's team did this over time to bulid his stream from 5,000 -> 15/20k viewers or more -- and we will need to do it too! CURRENT LIVING WAGE ISSUES This is a controversial but important issue. Playing a video game is currently *not* a guarantee of earning a living wage, no matter how good a player is. Playing a *niche esports* video game is even *less* of a guarantee. You do not earn the right to a salary by being good -- you earn the right to a salary by having your living expenses covered by a sponsor. This is a key, key difference. Almost no truly top professional esports player or team, including in the bigger esports (MOBA, CS, etc) earns their living via *winnings*. Typically they earn their keep in one of a few ways: Streaming -- There are players who have learned to market themselves as a brand. This is not *simply because they are good*. In fact, in several cases, top streamers of the biggest games are either no longer playing at the absolute highest level, or never were to begin with. The biggest streams are built by *entertainers*. Some top players happen to be *entertainers/personalities* as well; but the entertainment is a key factor in gaining the thousands of regular viewers necessary to earn a living on-stream. Personal Corporate Sponsorship -- Before there were loads of teams with financial backing and VC funding, some of the smartest players were able to sustain themselves by cutting promotional deals with companies who could offer them significant amounts of money. This took *work* -- it did not happen just because the players were good. Individual players reached out to companies for hardware, food and drink, computers, etc. in order to cut deals that would let them game and compete full time. Benefactor-Backed Teams -- Teams which have an individual, often the owner, with a savings account, who is willing to empty that savings account on behalf of their players. We still have a number of these teams in the scene -- and we have also watched many of them fold and close their doors year after year. Team Corporate Sponsorship -- Similar to personal sponsorship, except that this team a team’s management is cutting the promotional deals to keep their players paid. This results in players wearing the brand logos on their jerseys, sometimes making promotional videos for these brands or other content, etc. VC Funding -- In 2017, many of the larger esports organizations are backed by Venture Capital partners, who are often willing to go millions of dollars into the red in order to hedge a bet that a future esports market will be profitable. The players are often paid handsome sums per year, but many of the organizations which back them are actually *losing* money year on year, rather than earning it. What do you not see in this list? Prize money. Because it’s a rarity that any team or player operating on a professional level this days can sustain themselves year after year without a job, from prize money alone. There are individual cases where it has happened, but it was often not a long-lasting arrangement. WHAT CAN NRS DO So how can the companies who make these games help grow their own scene? In a few ways. Organic, Targeted Advertising -- The beauty of social media advertising is that it allows you to make every dollar count. Using platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and Adwords, you are able to show ads only to people who are: Talking about certain things Have expressed that they are interesting in certain things Are searching for specific things Are following certain things This means that you can send advertising out directly to people who are highly likely interested in the first place. Companies who are making effective use of these methods are able to grow their audience organically, in many cases without spending millions upon millions of dollars as they’d have to with traditional media/TV advertising. In Game Alerts Most of the major esports now have a feature in their launcher that alerts players to specific events when they’re live or upcoming. This is a key part of CS:GO’s recent growth into an esport that draws hundreds of thousands of concurrent viewers per major. League of Legends and Valve’s DOTA also make use of this. The vast majority of developers who are doing this, come from a PC-based background. Riot, Hi-Rez, Valve, Bungie, Microsoft, etc. all have their roots in PC at their start. But while this isn’t something that is very common for console-endemic devs, it’s certainly possible (Madden perhaps being one example?), and there’s room for NetherRealm to break some ground. But it’s unlikely to happen unless multiple members of their community begin expressing their opinions directly to the people who make these decisions. This means reaching out directly to reps at Warner Brothers Games, as well as the higher-ups at NRS who dialogue with them to make these calls (read: just because designers/artists/community reps like Derek/Paulo/Tyler etc follow you on Twitter, doesn’t mean that you’re barking at the right channels for a change this big). Twitter -- The Netherealm Studios Twitter account has over 274,000 followers. While it's possible that they don't want to spam the majority of followers with esports events, having this account tweet out things that are happening (Chasing the Cup, IPS Majors, etc) would be incredibly helpful toward building a following. PATIENCE Also, big AAA development changes take time. Behind the scenes, you need budget greenlight -> R&D/prototyping phase with engineers -> full-scope plan for development -> team development, including UI/UX development -> Q&A/polishing/refinement period. Remember the MKX netcode upgrade? How it took months to years? This is part of the reason why. Even when someone in the company wants things to the happen, it might not happen overnight. But, developer information about esports in-game would be a major, major boost to event viewership -- which would in turn help boost the level of sponsorship for our scene. WHAT CAN WE DO Two major things here. The first (and easiest) is *effective communication*. We need to remember that our favorite game developers are real people, with real jobs -- they have many things to worry about on a given day, and as a AAA-seized game dev/publisher, many of those things are NOT esports or niche-top-player-related. This means that people (and especially key players and streamers) need to remember that openly bashing their own games and developers as a community ‘face’ will often burn bridges with same the people they wish to help them later. So if you’re serious about wanting to make a career out of this, you need to start prioritizing *business* and *keeping lines of communication open* over airing personal grudges in an immature, public fashion. We need to learn to advocate constructively and directly for what we want rather than just whining out loud -- it's an crucial skill in life and business in general. There are very real people at these companies who might, if you ask professionally and are persistent enough, be willing to sit down with some community leaders for a phone call, Skype call, or email discussion. Simply complaining about WB's support is not enough -- it’s absolutely critical that we reach out to the specific people and portions of these companies that are making these calls. Organize Meetings -- If tournament players have concerns about IPS, ELEAGUE, pot distribution, rules, or anything else, then get a group of said players together, contact the appropriate people, and organize a call or sit-down. If that's not possible, try to do it via email and CC everyone. Do NOT wait until the next season when the plans are laid and all the money has already been allocated. *** The second big thing: PROMOTE. Companies often don’t get on board until they see members of a community *taking the initiative themselves*. Even in other esports, many companies have simply been followers of trends, rather than trend-setters. But this is perfectly normal. If you aren’t promoting the heck out of your scene, your players, your events, and your game, it’s a lot harder to get someone in a suit at a big corporation to earmark tens of thousands of dollars to do so. This means: Tweeting things out -- The simplest thing you can to do start would be to actually Tweet about tournaments, streams, shows and events when they happen. If you’re too lazy to write your own tweet, retweet someone else’s. Creating more content -- A Year of Injustice was a great example of something that brought some positive attention to our tournament scene. Red Hot Sundays is another. In the Smash scene, The Smash Brothers doc helped revitalize Melee’s tournament numbers and created renewed interest in competitive Smash (even without Nintendo’s help at that time!) Also, see @st9rm's recent mini-doc about Viennality. Most of the bigger FGC games have their own web-based shows or blogs that help bring attention to their games: Cross Counter, Melee it On Me, UltraChen, etc. These are things done by the community directly without big-budget developer support. Write posts -- The beauty of TYM’s open/forum format is that any post can be edited and promoted to a front-paged article that then goes out on the TYM twitter. For mods, although we try our best, writing articles and keeping up with it all can be a time-consuming process. But if you see an event that’s not being talked about, you can, as a regular poster, make a thread about it and bring it to someone else’s attention. That’s something TYM's mods can then front-page to help bring attention to an event. Re-hosting -- For streamers with a decent following, you can help promote another stream on Twitch by hosting it on your own stream. This is an extremely quick and easy way to help promote something that is happening live. CONCLUSION We’ve come a long way in a short period of time -- but there’s much more we can do if we’re willing to put the effort in. The developers have additional things they can and hopefully will to do help -- but moving on their end also works slowly and takes time. This means we need to do *everything we can* to help our ourselves and promote our own scene in the meantime. Looking forward to hearing everyone’s thoughts and observations on this subject -- and for anyone who was actually brave enough to read or skim the entire thing, thank you! Kudos and credit to @Pig Of The Hut and everyone else who's been kicking ideas about this around on streams and on Twitter.