The Lack of Storytelling in E-Sports’ Events

Within this month, there are currently four major tournament organizations showing content (if we exclude Evil Geniuses MCSL): GSL, IPL, MLG and NASL (as well as Iron Squid and KeSPA’s Proleague). They are all viewed as equally important with large prize-pools, top-tier talent and prestige. In the past, we mentioned how the community, players and scene is overstocked with tournaments, all similar in content, prestige and value (both production-wise and in prizes). With these similarities, the feeling of saturation becomes emphasized within the community’s thoughts. This similarity is a core problem because so many tournaments fail to distinguish themselves when their participants, maps and match-ups aren’t varied. This need for distinctiveness is also known as creating relevance. Relevance for these tournaments is outwardly assumed through their name and history. But with so many tournaments equal in qualities, how is one to differentiate which competitions to follow? This is where the role of story-telling becomes important for organizers. Story-telling solves the feeling of overflowing content by creating features and dimensions between major tournaments. Think of these tournaments like mountains: all mountains have their peak, history of climbers (players) and status around the scene/world. How would you, the organizer, set your mountain apart from the others? You would create context, weave a story, detail the results of past matches of the participating players and how each match is applicable to one another within your event (context).

Drama is the side-effect of an untold scene. My viewpoint on drama is that it is a byproduct of a bored environment. A boring scene is a culture without meaning in its crowning events or overall performance in entertainment. In my opinion, drama, rivalries, hype, nicknames and announcements are shapes and offshoots of story-telling for E-Sports. Why is story-telling so important?

  • While prizes, competition and a livestreamed event may entice and attract competitors, it doesn’t necessarily hold the same weight and worth for spectators. No doubt that players fighting for 1 million dollars is pretty cool. But what more could we say about the players and the prize?
  • Not all spectators of an event quite know the history of your previous events or even the height of a certain match-up. While I understand that the entertainment of the games have their own attraction, contextually adding a backstory to a certain match-up can bring people in to watch the match. Story-telling helps formulate justifications for the spectator to watch an event over another while the match keeps them watching.

The problem with most tournaments is that they all follow similar formulas to advertise: “here is the player list, here is the grand prize of our tournament and here are the amazing matches from the past”. Because of this, tournaments start to run into redundancies with other events, creating a repetitive feeling to the community. During events, you have commentators to describe, analyze and inject excitement in a game. After the tournament, you have video-editors highlighting the best matches and recaps both in written and video form. But what about before the whole event, who is writing a story, creating importance of each tournament during the year?

Thankfully, websites like Team Liquid does a great job recapping, doing power rankings and creating pertinence to a tournament that may get washed up against the bigger dogs. But it shouldn’t be done by external organizations, it should be a part of a tournament’s marketing team; hyping their service or product. To be frank, it doesn’t take much marketing to be both excited in what you’re featuring and writing 200 words on the tournament overall or of specific players.

Here’s an example of a tournament that had some great players, decent prize-pool and no other tournament was happening at the same time (nothing major), but failed to promote themselves: Campus Party (EU), Campus Party (Official Topic). Look at the qualities of this event: 25,000$ prize-pool, great player line-up; Snute, Socke, Strelok, Elfi, ForGG, NightEnD, HasuObs, Supernova, Ret, Naama and this comment sums up exactly my thoughts:

$25,000 and i’ve never heard of it lolol. What?! Come on now tournaments! It’s not that hard to throw up a post on TL and/or reddit!” is what a user said about the event. It’s definitely a common thought amongst many users. MLG, IPL; they all post hubs for their upcoming matches or tournaments, but it’s just an information center. Very rarely do any of them take advantage of a central community lobby to produce some more hits on their website with a hype article or to portray a particular strong component of story-telling: Stakes.

What is at stake for these players? If you’re looking for how to start your article on your tournament: ask the question; What is at stake? Stakes is everything in a sport and it’s almost implicit through the nature of watching two players duke it out:

  • The stake of winning it all: becoming the best.  Earning the money and credibility that you are a real competitor.
  • Emotional stakes: Pride. Some examples of dilemmas you’ve probably imagined or read:
    • Bouncing back after the community doubts your return.
    • The pressure of being the few foreigners to beat a Korean.
    • Once supported by a team, you’re now flying solo with your sponsor.
  • Rivalries: Rivalries are a relationship of stakes. Someone has to lose for the other to win and while that’s obvious in each and every match,if there’s a history of winning and losing between the two players, that’s a story. Rivalries matter; no matter if they’re true or just fabrications of the community, rivalries amp up the imaginative stakes. Anyone remember Idra’s rivals (Cruncher, HuK, MC)? How about NaNiwa’s (NesTea)? These add some flair and interest in matches and also put give reasons for someone to watch a match (in addition to their initial interest in the two players’ ability independently).

The point being, drama is a branch of what the community wants, but not in the form they prefer. With a circulation of tournaments, qualifiers, LANs, weekly/daily competition, it would help if someone stringed all these tournaments with some sequencings. This piece isn’t only for tournament organizers, players and personality go hand-in-hand with the desire to color the scene with shades of uniqueness. But even without personality, your player can stand out with written context about who they are, where they are in the brackets, etc. Interviews also help players shine and these small touches really create a blend of iconicism. In a crowded scene trying to appeal to a small market of viewers, adding a written background can help justify your presence and mark throughout the years.

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