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.