Tuesday, July 23, 2013

On Sexism & Censorship

It's important to establish early on that your personal, subjective views on any topics like this are completely meaningless. They hold no value. There are far too many variables in the equation to have any kind of worth in a discussion on morals and equality. If you really want to get into a discussion as to why, you need to have some kind of understanding of basic philosophic theory that predates last century. Objectivity is beyond critical.

That's what I'm going to try and do here. Be as objective as possible. You can make an argument like: "But Davey, you're a privileged white male living in a first world country, how objective can you possible be!?" - and you may be right, but that isn't going to stop me from trying. Not trying is silly.

I'm going to clarify something, and it's almost absurd that I have to do this, but I am not in any way, sexist. It boggles the mind that I have to clearly state this, but I am not. I get the feeling that I am going to have to justify this point on several points in this piece and it's insulting, but alas.

There's this huge divide in the Australian gaming community (and I imagine overseas may be even worse due to population) between the sexes. This should be news to nobody, regardless of whether you have had any exposure to it at all. There has always been competition between the sexes, and this competition has been abused to birth sexism and all the unfair jazz that comes with it. The inherent competition is not sexist. It's healthy - and if you really want to get down to it, you would be able to thread it through the needle of psychology and evolution down to the animal kingdom.

One thing that really irks me is broad generalizations occur like "game developers are sexist! All the game protagonists are male! Sexist!". Statements like this are made with sometimes moderate, but mostly little understanding of the game development business and the influence the market and publishers have on products. With a growing percentage of game developers (however, still quite small), being female - and I can imagine a HUGE majority of males working in the industry are indeed intelligent and free of sexist bigotry - there must be, by logic, a rather large percentage of female protagonists pitched to publishers. It doesn't take a stretch of the imagination to think that they are met with responses such as: "Well, this female hero does sound interesting, but the games that are on the market do best with a male protagonist, blah blah blah".

I'm not shifting the blame onto the publishers. They are, in the end, working to the market in order to make the most money from any particular product. So is it the markets fault? Are we all collectively sexist? I can anticipate quite a few of people reading this immediately spouting: "But women now make up 47% of gamers!".

The term "gamers" is such a loose, vapid term that has absolutely zero clarification. It can literally mean anything - someone who only plays Angry Birds while they're taking a shit can justify being called a gamer. This extends right up to the man-cave having, Cheeto-clawed man-beast that plays every single game upon release. If there is to be any shift in a male-protagonist-dominated market, there has to be market that reflects that yes, males and females will indeed buy this game regardless of the sex of the main character.

This is not sexist. It is just a bunch of people with their own subjective views, getting together to create a fluctuating market that will grow and wane just like any other market. Calling game developers sexist, without any indication that this is the case, having no prior knowledge of who they are, their philosophical and political leanings, or even their goddamn names, is so abhorrently ignorant and just plain wrong. It's not even the publishers fault. Is it anyone's fault?

Before tackling the meaty issue of whether or not male gamers themselves are on a whole, sexist, I want to digress into a conversation on censorship. The whole Saints Row IV debacle was literally insane. Post-banning, I had to read half a dozen articles in the wider mainstream media applaud a government-related board for censoring a piece of fantasy intended for adults, with titles such as "Gamers back ban of video-game". This couldn't have been more insulting to the intelligence of anyone who understands the line between reality and fiction.

The keystone of the argument was that "Rape is never funny, why depict it in a video-game". For those that were not privy to the shit-storm that it was: Saints Row IV revolves around you, the player, being the President of the United States and defending everyone from aliens. It is already absurd, right? Through the game, you have access to an alien-weapon, shaped like a big dildo, and you are able to use that weapon against anyone, male, female and alien, to effectively probe them in their behind and send them flying into the sky.

I guess, in a roundabout and intelligently devoid way, you could call this rape - if it happened in real life. If I ran around the streets probing people with a giant dildo, you would find that at best this would be sexual assault. THIS IS IN THE REAL WORLD. The justification of the ban was that it had no context. No context!? Isn't being a video-game enough context? What about being part of the realm of parody and absurdity that is the Saint's Row franchise, isn't that context? Having a piece of satirical alien technology, in a video-game that features aliens is context. The context argument is so loose and flimsy and nobody from the Classification Board has justified such nonsense with anything intelligible, let alone more than one or two sentences.

In a video-game, it is simply playing a video-game. It's fantasy. By censoring anything intended for adults, you are simply stating that Australian adults would have no concept of the line between reality and fiction, we are just too stupid and easily influenced. If you can't see that this is insulting, I'm not sure how to make it clear without going into long-winded metaphors of Soviet Russia.

The very fact that I can walk into any of the thousands of Adult Stores in Australia, purchase rape-fantasy pornography, go home and hit play-rewind repeatedly while watching someone get fantasy-raped, but not send someone flying into the air with a rubber dildo in a pixelated video-game is simply ridiculous.

If there was a video-game that only featured messed up rape-scenes and other interactive moral debauchery, it is up to me, the adult, to weigh up whether or not I would like to play that video-game, and how I feel about it. That is my own subjective perogative. If you were to be offended by this imaginary video-game, that has nothing to do with me and nothing to do with an overseeing government. As for the argument that this satirical probe weapon, a parody and addition to a concept that has been made fun of in pop culture for decades, endorses and spreads rape culture? Are you serious?

I'm going to make this clear: this is not about being able to sodomize people and whinging about it. It's about concepts, ideas and art being censored by a mysterious body of people without any realistic justification. The Australian Classification board has eight official members. Six women, two males. Five of those women are over 40. One male is over 40, while one is in his late 20's. All are white. Is this really meant to be a cross-section of Australian society, who is responsible for judging what is moral and acceptable for consumption? Hilarious.

Anyway, are gamers really sexist? Can women ever be taken seriously in an online, anonymous world? If this is what you wonder on a daily basis, it's the wrong question. Take a look at any stream chat, any forums. Male gamers are not taken seriously - as a whole. Any personality, male or female, is open to a huge amount of scrutiny and downright meanness if they put themselves out to the public. The ones who are taken seriously are the ones who are entertaining, honest, or if they aren't, show an incredible amount of skill and tact in their chosen video-game.

If you do not meet any of these criteria, more than likely you are going to be ridiculed. If an overweight person is on a stream, that is the first thing to be singled out, male or female. Why? Because it's easy to mock someone for their physical appearance. If they have a speech impediment, that might be made fun of second. If they are an attractive female with nothing else to make fun of, they'll be made fun of for simply being female. If you're following this closely, and remember, objectively, then you can make a logical conclusion that gamers aren't inherently, overly sexist, but just downright mean.

So what we are left with is just a bunch of people on the internet being mean to each other, using the first thing they can find to be mean about. Does this mean they are not for equal pay, maternity leave, breaking the glass ceiling and wife-beating? They very well could be, but judging a huge population of people you have never met on the basis that you can't be taken seriously on merits that you might not have earned yet, is very unfair.

Yes, there are many females who work incredibly hard to get into the industry - not using their feminine wiles to make it big - and perhaps they have had a hard time doing so. But you have to imagine that for every female trying to do this, there is a male trying to do exactly the same and meeting similar, maybe not exactly the same, but similar roadblocks along the way.

Granted, males will not have an inbox full of dick-pictures and 'hey qt, wanna skype?' messages on any given day, and I simply do not have a solution for culling anonymous, internet creeps. However, calling every one of those people sexist for not having the social standards or experience with women to approach them properly is quite a stretch. Oh, and calling me a bigot for wanting to send people flying into the sky with a big rubber dildo is equally ignorant on so many levels.

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Lucky Ones

I've met a lot of gamers in my time in 'e-sports'. Some are in it for fun, a weekend hobby, a place to flex their competitive muscle. Others have this distinct glint in their eye. It's a shiny, wondrous speckle of hope that one day e-sports will sit next to real sports as a legitimate form of competition. An entertainment to be celebrated by the masses. It's likely they've grown up following real sports, supporting a team and baring witness to professional players in a stadium, enclosed by the sights and sounds of an audience tens of thousands strong. While we've seen similar spectacles in e-sports around the world for the better half of the last decade, our corner of the world has yet to come to fruition. In our small sphere, we're incredibly lucky to have a fistful of dedicated sponsors that are fueling our still strapping, young dream. It's important to recognise these companies as legitimate investors that are using their profits to inject money into their own prospective markets and work in direct contact with the people who are building that market from the ground up.
If we take rugby league and look under the surface, we can see that these teams have more money than they can spend. Inherent to the game is a market for players, in which teams will make bids for certain stars that will either win games or sell tickets. The scheme isn't as fleshed out or as open as systems in the States for basketball and baseball, but it's still very competitive. So much so that salary caps are placed on clubs to limit the amount of money paid to particular players in order to keep things humble and fair. With the pockets of sponsors and investors so deep that these restrictions are necessary, it's easy to understand how far e-sports has to go to be considered legitimate in Australia. With our small but powerful group of reliable sponsors, perhaps it's not critical to compare ourselves to these sports. Taking a look at the ethos of marketing within our scene and that of the nationally recognised can reveal that while we share the word, we aren't built the same.

Sponsors for football clubs are all about loyalty. They play on the locale of their teams in order to create an atmosphere around their brand that can be shared with the club. For instance, major sponsors for the North Queensland Cowboys are Toyota and XXXX. I'm not being facetious in drawing the connection between these two brands and the rural towns of North Queensland: they just might enjoy Toyota utes and XXXX beer. The sponsors are smart, they invest in their local area in order to create consumer loyalty. So, regardless of how well or poorly the North Queensland Cowboys do throughout the season, people will buy their goods just because they support the team through their best and worst. Almost in direct contrast, the primary sponsors of the Essendon Football Club are KIA, True Value Solar and wine company Wolf Blass. The difference is huge because the market is not the same.
"E-sport fan 2016?"
This marketing mentality does not compute with e-sports because our market is entirely the same. We're all gamers and our place of residence is the internet. This creates a highly competitive atmosphere where sponsors chase the teams and players that perform above all else. Overseas the distinction is obvious, heavyweights such as Evil Geniuses have the deepest pockets because their players are amongst the best in the world in each of their games. Some slack is cut for those who present well to their demographic, but over-all a bedding of skill and dedication allows for this slack to be given. Whilst this might create some sort of brand loyalty shared by teams and sponsors, it isn't at the same grade of traditional sports in Australia. With premier sponsors changing teams internationally frequently, perhaps the loyalty of gamers to their favourite teams' products is not an aspect that is critically measured. Exposure is the primary reason for companies to sponsor video-game teams and perhaps a change of scenery is just the thing to refresh exposure in a market that is, while growing, small and prone to over-saturation. Loyalty can be harvested but it is not crucial - instead it is performance that is critical.
The other world of sports that never really gets proper scrutiny is the Olympics. The marketing concepts used here are interesting as it is directly connected to a sense of nationalism. If a company sponsors an Australian Olympic team, the allure to their brand is that they support our country on a grass-roots level. People will purchase those products with a sub-conscious desire to support the country that they love. This is similar to football clubs except on an international scale. It's curious to me that Olympic sporting stars are highly respected in our community yet receive such little monetary incentive. In fact, if we take a look beneath the surface, a huge majority of Olympic competitors are hardly paid at all, and if they are, it can be compared to the best e-sports stars in our hemisphere.
The Australian swimming team of the London games had an incentive model introduced as their pay structure. Upon selection for the team, a payout of $10,000 was received. If you swam selection trials in the top three in the world, an extra $15,000 was paid. If you win gold, you can receive $35,000 for your troubles with the payment decreasing from there. Keep in mind that the Olympics is every four years, which means that if you want to be the best in the world and gain the maximum amount of money, you will need to practice in a regimented schedule for every part of those four years. So, if you are selected to represent Australia, swim in the top three in the world during your selections, and win gold, you have earned yourself a whopping $15,000 a year. The only Australian swimmers to win gold were the women's relay squad, who shared $80,000 between four of them. Divide that by four for the amount of years spent training, and you have a measly amount of money.
"C'mon Brad, you wanna get to MLG don't you!?"
Even worse off was the synchronised swimming team, who only received sponsorship for their swimming costumes and training equipment, and had to pose for a calendar in order to raise funds for their flights. Frustrating as it is, not one person will bat an eyelash upon hearing one's career is an Olympic athlete, however tell a person from the general public that you are a professional gamer and you'll be met with condescension. Yet, in our little world of e-sports that we've cultivated, players (and even whole teams) are flown overseas and interstate regularly for tournaments, have accommodation, uniforms, equipment and entry fees handed to them without question. We have sponsors in this scene that take care of the lucky ones who can experience a life resembling professional gaming - those sponsors want a healthy, smooth and functioning scene without drama and petty squabbling between players and teams.
This is why we are lucky. There are numerous real sports that do not share the same monetary blessings as we do. If we ever want to reach the standard of overseas e-sports, one of monumental events seen around the world, then we need to start recognising sponsors not as a badge to collect for your pro-gaming resume, but a primary investor in our future, and please remember, it's not your scene, it's ours.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Cultivating Communities

The #SAVEHOTS activism has come and gone, though analysing it's effectiveness is difficult. The exact outcomes of vigorous conversation through various mediums is nebulous - it's a messed up incarnation of the chicken and egg conundrum. There's no doubt that Blizzard heard the doomsday calls and while specific suggestions were probably noted, a majority of the concerns voiced by the public were aspects of the release already announced, or hinted to, by the development team. When gauging how successful the campaign was, it's not necessary to focus on what suggestions made it through to the beta or even the release. The importance lies in the way our casuals and professionals alike actively reminded Blizzard that the community is one that isn't lying down and accepting food, that they are more than willing to bite the hand that feeds if they don't like what they are given.

The past few months were tumultuous. Both MOBAs stamped their dominance on the streaming sphere and gave the StarCraft 2 world a much needed wake-up call. To most e-sports fans, the life of competitive gaming began with StarCraft 2, in one way or another. I'm not looking to wistfully recant the history of e-sports since the rise and fall of Fatal1ty, but it's just one of those things that unless you're in your mid-to-late twenties, it's hard to explain to a younger generation of gaming fans what exactly has taken place.  There is a huge history before StarCraft 2, League of Legends and DOTA 2, and it's not one of complete separation.  Without going into specifics and scrutiny, in the StarCraft 2 world we're used to these themes - foreign Brood War was completely removed from the powerhouse that was the Korean professional gaming culture. This motif wasn't  shared with previous e-sport scenes. The big names in FPS were shared between Europe and America. The Europeans built a culture heavily invested in Counter-Strike, with America eventually revealing their brand of professional gaming with Quake, Halo and MLG. While there is some animosity between hardcore European shooter fans and the console culture of the United States, the titles could co-exist without exaggerated hatred. The casuals did not care, the very scope of competitive gaming events was enough to generate contentment, not contempt.

"So this is what not to do..."
When the statistics started to tip out of favour of StarCraft 2, the reaction was extreme. Sensationalist blog titles and responses that blurred the line between apocalyptic hysteria and trolling gave those statistics a prophet-like importance. Blame was pointed directly at Blizzard for it's lack of support of casuals. Balance is something that I do not want to discuss here, if the discussion of casuals is to be legitimate, then aspects of balance of the game are less important, as balancing lower-skilled players is near-impossible. It does, however, influence viewership and fan attainment. Evidence of better treatment by the other big companies has been provided, whether through free-to-play models, micro-transactions, funding for events or basic UI elements. The draw-card for casuals in Brood War seemed to be the UMS, which we now know as the Arcade. This aspect was further emphasized through seemingly pointless chat-room limitations in Battle.net 2.0 and lack of clan support. All these things, while indeed poignant in representing a lack of thorough planning by Blizzard, are futile in suggestions of the be-all and end-all of community growth. The truth of the matter is that when we look back to communities past, no matter what game you came from, it's through rose-coloured glasses.

There are several members in our Australian e-sports community who are from Bored Aussie, Return to Castle Wolfenstein, Call of Duty 1 & 2 and Counter-Strike, all of which never had inherent user interfaces to call home. Each and every competitive game relied on IRC channels and forums, not an integrated clan and chat system, or even official ladder or tournament support. Size and scope of the community was never a primary focus, it was the competition. Modders thrived on making the competitive game as effective and engaging as possible, not as casual and addictive as can be. To say that times have changed is redundant, as now the competition between developers is to create the most user-friendly and accommodating UI in order to retain casual-gamer statistics. What I'm getting at is that while chat-rooms and clan support are nice, gamers are going to play the game they feel speaks to their competitive nature best. This is the environment where online gaming communities flourish.

Even if we take a look at the less-competitive formats of online entertainment available at present, the community aspect is slippery to grasp. World of Warcraft has been reduced to a watered-down version of itself, not just in the game-play, but in the over-all way in which players connect. Finding an instance group is completely automated - no user interaction required. Raids are simpler, meaning the epic forty-man grind-fest that took a whole night of planning, gathering and execution is long-gone. It is now an RPG with MMO elements. This is a franchise that has focused on casuals too much, creating an interface of one-two-three clicks and you're done. Human interaction is now second to immediate gratification. In turn it has lost it's competitive spirit it worked so hard to achieve - one that pitted groups of nerds against each other for the title of most tight-knit, well-oiled machine of MMO experience.

"Wow, these new HD texutres are... oh god..."

This has created a hole in the market that New Zealand developers Grinding Gear Games have emphatically filled. Path of Exile has taken what Blizzard removed from titles such as World of Warcraft and Diablo 3 and created something special. Game-play elements aside, human interaction is paramount to getting anywhere. With it's competitors focusing on Auction Houses and automated group systems, Path of Exile has none of these features, not even gold. Legitimate barter systems and town square trading reminiscent of Diablo 2 make for an experience that I haven't had for quite some time. Finding a group requires advertisement on noticeboards, and trading is completely up to the buyer and seller, no suggested prices or professional Auction House campers. This company has treated it's audience like adults and the chat channels reflect this.

The retaining of casuals is something that each e-sports title is going to have to figure out on it's own in direct collaboration with it's prospective audience. If the StarCraft 2 scene cannot accept a smaller-yet-loyal fan-base, then the segregation from other scenes it has felt over the past months is going to strengthen. Perhaps harkening larger chat-channels, clan functions and a better Arcade system as the saving grace of the StarCraft 2 casuals is hasty. With online communities no longer relying on IRC, instead using forum-based websites as a base for human-interaction is something that developers need to take a look at. Perhaps a combined effort from the leaders of those communities and Blizzard will unearth a way to integrate the forums and chat-boxes of communities around the world directly with the StarCraft 2 interface. More chat-channels in different locations is not the answer, as we are all here to experience the game together, not separately. If the balance, competitive spirit and community are there, investors will stay and pro-gamers will survive.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Let's make it interesting...

The most captivating aspect of the internet is the freedom it gives you, anyone can do whatever and whenever online. If we can continue to dodge the abundance of obnoxious Family First lobbies and over-protective, proactive suburban parents in this country then it will stay that way. This has resulted in a huge number of activities becoming common-place, be it trolling, amateur pornography, competitive video-games, illegal money laundering or frustrating opinion-based blogs. Gambling, whether for legitimate sports or frivolous novelty, shares the same freedom and has been on the rise for the better part of a decade. The link between online gambling and competitive video-games isn't something new, but the two are becoming increasingly connected. Spectating e-sports and gambling has become an ever-growing symbiotic relationship that is mimicking real sports.

Taking a closer look can reveal a glimpse of the future. Sportsbet, a multinational betting corporation, hosts a huge number of online betting options. While priority remains on sports gambling, one can bet on current events, TV ratings, politics and Hollywood. Good business suggests that one should invest in your market, so early last year, Sportsbet signed a deal with the Hunter Sports Group. This effectively secured direct sponsorship for the Newcastle Knights and Newcastle Jets. While the teams continue to be able to operate, Sportsbet is given reign over the large amount of advertising space within the teams prospective home grounds. This allows direct marketing to the general public and with assured increase in gambling traffic comes more revenue for Sportsbet to spend on sponsorship, so on and so forth. With the relationship between sports and gambling cultivated in such a way that practically guarantees self-generating benefits for both sides, it's hard to argue that this isn't a natural evolution of the sports and gambling culture. 

"Put it all on pink..."

The fighting game community, who has vehemently rejected the e-sports marketing machine in the past, has a culture which allows 'money-fights' and gambling as commonplace, to the point where it is an integral part in enjoying the competition. A key distinction to make between this and the 'real-sports' model is that the money exchanged is more akin to underground boxing, as there is no licensed bookkeeper that uses the enthusiastic participation of fans to generate more money, ala Sportsbet. The allure that this gives is perfect for the fighting game culture that has been celebrated for the better part of twenty years and is something to be defended and revered.

Real-time strategy professionals have a tendency to treat gambling as something completely different. A huge number of pro-gaming legends have made a living from competitive gambling, namely poker (both online and offline). This isn't your average drunken/safe bet that Ke$ha is actually a dude, this is an effective day-job for players which allows them to continue to follow their dream. In a scene where salaries are rare, poker in practice downtime is the vehicle of choice for aspiring StarCraft II professionals. This has lead to online poker websites slowly increasing their involvement in the e-sports scene over the last two years, even going so far as to act as sponsors for a handful of teams and communities. It's interesting that this participation has not shared the same objections that gambling outlets have faced in the real world. I can only attribute this to the fact that outside of a few heavy-hitters in the e-sports world, money is tight and any sponsorship is welcome and literally necessary to take. If White-Ra can write your essay then who's going to argue if StarCraft themed poker-machines start showing up next to 50 Lions and Indian Dreaming?

"First we make essay, then we sell it!"

Looking objectively at spectator-based activities such as Fantasy Proleague, you can notice similarities between this and the gambling that e-sports fans enjoy. If you do well in Fantasy Proleague, not only do you rise in the publicly accessible ranked ladder, but you garner the respect of your peers as being skillfully knowledgeable of the game, maps, players and overall climate of the meta-game. To some, this can be alluring as community notoriety can be achieved without having to put in the eight hour days required to dominate in-game. Arguing that this is a precursor to rampant, senseless gambling which cripples the families of gaming fans worldwide to the point where InControl fronts the E-SPORTS GAMBLING QUITLINE, is difficult. However, if you want practice before putting 'dat e-sports money' down on a premier tournament, the Fantasy Proleague is the perfect setting to refine your skills and put your knowledge of the scene to the test.

We're part of a developing community that is desperate to gain respect and credibility amongst the mainstream population. In that quest it's critical to pick your spots. It would be foolish to broadly target the general public and hope something sticks. Perhaps it's a little safer to contribute to the momentum already generated by some obscure parts of the gambling sphere. Ducking down to your local, sinking a schooner and chucking a few bucks on a team is incredibly easy and more often than not, physical betting machines can accommodate that need. Some can even argue that this is an integral part of participating in a sport that you otherwise wouldn't be able. E-sports isn't far off enjoying this kind of acceptance and when push comes to shove, we should only ask - what category will we be slotted into - legitimate sports or frivolous novelty?

"One finger for every manner Nexus!"

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Passionate Nerds

We're encroaching upon the third week of 2013 and drama has been hitting fever-pitch. Passion and anger circulates through the gossip organs of our e-sports body. Despite the feeling of disconnect we're accustom, there has been no escaping the collateral damage that has spilled over to our side of Twitter, Skype and chat-boxes. No doubt about it, there's been enough angst in these few weeks to satisfy the most dire of soap opera fans, with everyone defending an opinion that must be the one truth to rule them all.

This can be difficult, as discussion doesn't run like that. For it to be effective means having opposing ideals, communicating vantage points objectively to arrive at an overarching truth. What's important here is the journey, not the outcome. It's too easy to say “well x can't be correct, so y must be”. Participating sides, with the audience tagging along, must go through a transformation for a debate to be deemed successful. Although this can be rare, one must not disregard the enlightenment that should occur. Despite the vicious defence of polarising views on tender subjects such as sexism, if the general community can be enlightened during the process, a solid conclusion is not entirely vital.

"Eyes up here, Naniwa!"

Having witnessed the sexism row come and go, it wasn't long before the dust-cloud whipped up by Inside The Game engulfed the rest of the internet. If you've been sleeping, or more than likely been playing DOTA2, for the past twenty-four hours, you might have missed the heated argument between EG's Alex Garfield and journalism robot Slasher regarding the ethics of journalism in the e-sports realm. If you did, and you care, take a look at the VODs – djWHEAT does a good job of moderating a debate that has been long overdue and you should make your own mind up instead of me doing all the hard work for you.

Without wading in deep enough to get the poop in my moustache, one thing should be highlighted. From both debates, be it sexism or journalism, it is clear that e-sports is full to the brim with passionate people. There's no shortage of individuals in our global community who give a damn. If you don't completely agree with someone, well, that's a fact of life, but it doesn't mean you can't respect the fact that you share a common passion – E-SPORTS. Whether you're a die-hard sexist, a red-blooded communist or really enjoy Nickelback, if you love competitive video games, well damn, go ahead and love those video games. You don't need to be outed for whatever nonsense you believe in, that's not our job as a community. There's no need for an intellectual gestapo to come knocking on your e-door telling you to pack your bags and go.

If you start to act offensive and derogatory as a result of your beliefs, then that is where you enter the danger zone. If we can have enough effective discussion, the numbers of people willing to conduct themselves in this manner can be swayed to cease their wrongdoing – this is the approach taken by a huge number of societies around the world and it is something that the e-sports sphere is slowly adapting. Respect your fellow nerds passion for e-sports and enjoy the colourful array of different beliefs as it's incredibly rare that so many varying creeds are connected by a common interest.

 "No time for footsies, Slasher!"

In the quiet neighbourhood of South-East Asia, the passion has been boiling for the past two months. With the announcement of the third SEA Clan League, professionals, semi-professionals and amateur gamers alike began bouncing off the walls with anticipation. If you're a competitive player who hasn't yet proven a contender, the huge amount of games in your Tier should be enough to go get that cybernetic arm you've always wanted. With enough new-blood in Tier S and Tier A, the opportunity to create your own glory is here. Last season saw the domination of Terran aces with Rossi, YoonYJ and iaguz all carrying the weight of their teams on their shoulders, and well, needless to say a lot has changed (subtext: patched) in a year.

The advent of the SEACL has nudged us into very interesting times. Battle-lines have been drawn between teams that once harboured training partners, this means that practice must now segregate and individual plans and strategies will be devised and protected – sharing replays and information at this stage is a risk most are not willing to take. In a scene that does not revolve around money, but around bragging rights and respect, stakes are high and a vicious and calculating mindset will prove advantageous.

For those who have already begun their story and reached the tippity top of the SEA-elite, this is all a warm-up. Playing for your team and representing your mates, sponsors and impressing your manager are important, sure, but for the best of the best, SEACL is a precursor to this years ACL season. In April, just weeks after Tier S concludes, gamers from around Australia will converge on Brisbane to make 2013 their year. Some are looking to prove the infamous 2012 Power Ranks wrong, others are looking to prove them right. It's critical to not lose sight of what is ahead of them, as for with everything in the StarCraft II world, life in the spotlight is fleeting. Victory is fickle, at least after a few weeks, and whilst an incredible run in the SEACL can be the motivation needed to perform well at ACL, it might not be worth sacrificing elements of surprise and confusion by revealing builds, timings or mind-games.

So instead of arguing, start discussing. Don't let distractions drain your passion as there's enough SEA action to concern yourselves with in the first half of this year. Go to the ACL event with a positive, inspired and energetic attitude. Tune in to every stream of the SEACL and participate in the SEA Fantasy League. Let's channel the good vibes toward SEA, to the players who deserve it and leave the negativity out of discussions. That way, we can continue to grow a scene that we're proud of.