Esports: Creating Something out of Nothing
Embracing New Media — Ash Whyte
Esport is hailed as an industry on the rise, that is here to stay as it revolutionises traditional sports media and how we as a society interact with a product that we can be involved in so many unique ways. The discussion regarding the enablers of this ‘rise’ is often overlooked for more sensational topics within the space. Social Media and the era of New Media has defined the industry and brought with it the ability to seemingly create jobs, communities, businesses and large amounts of attention from what was essentially nothing but some enthusiasts and their games. But what has the cost been to get to this point?
The nature of esports has allowed it to facilitate many social media ecosystems; where you will see the traditional social networks, user generated content from personal blogs and sites, trading and marketing sites that cater to the gambling audience for example and of course the sites and platforms to which the user can play these games (van Dijck, 2013. Chap 1).
As a consequence of being multi-platformed and across a large amount of media, esports is churning out thousands of jobs in hundreds of positions that did not exist a decade ago.
Convergence of individual components such as; esport games titles and the developers, content creators/producers, social media platforms, competitive sports and, traditional sports media have led to this industry that looks like a disorientating mix at times. Likewise, as society idolises talented sportspeople and comedians, esports has their own professional players and influencers who support the idea of technosocial hybridity existing as they were enabled through the digital revolution (Baym 2010, 21).
Thus, through blending an array of tradition social media methods and platforms with a niche community that itself shares traits to mainstream sports media; the industry has been able to develop and sustain itself on the global stage.
Throwing Rocks in a Glass House
Social media has spawned an environment where private conversations and exchanges can be and are made publicly visible, defined by Pearson (2009) in The Glass Bedroom. This has blurred the lines of public vs. private on social media and is only fuelled within the esport community, as it exists predominantly within the confines of social media already. Furthermore, this is fuelled through players, fans, businesses, and organisation directors and owners all competing for attention on platforms such as Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube. This constant requirement for professionals in the industry to always be conscious of their interactions in order to please the masses has proven to be difficult and is one of the more widespread problems in esports.
“Sociality has always required some (voluntary) abandonment of privacy. In order to become social, we must give up some of our private time and space so as to share it with others.”
(Papacharissi and Gibson 2011, 78). Suggesting that in order to be social a level of privacy is sacrificed can be supported by one of the headlining modes of content distribution in esports: Live streaming. Richard Tyler Blevins or Ninja, is one of the most spoken about personalities in the gaming sphere as a result of his live streams and many other esports personalities and players do similar work full-time, in their spare time or as a result of contractual obligations. In a similar vein, vlogging for YouTube is still widely popular and results in the same blur between personal and private life for these individuals.
While the path to media prominence in this space is seen to be delicate, disruptive and exposing endeavour, it is essential to the success of the individuals who are achieving at the top such as Ninja or the some of the professional players across esports titles.
Who is playing who here?
The esports industry displays many key characteristics of New Media enabled labour such as; being ‘always on’ and active at all hours of the day, global, mobile, instantaneous and highly social. Of course, this has led to the disruption of the distinction between work and play as well as consumption and production. Amongst the masses, being paid to play video games or to have a role in the industry that is paid is very foreign and for those in the space an enjoyable experience that many would still do out of pure leisure. Thus fuelling the disruptive nature of both the industry and the tools that enable it.
If “Society has become a factory” (Fuchs 2014, 118), then esports is doubling down with its strong gamification tactics and components. Many parties utilise an audience or player base through game-related approaches in a way that is productive for the business and positive for the user. League of Legends developer ‘Riot Games’ are known to deploy these tactics in order to develop their game and enhance both the casual experience, but also the esports version which is their product to the industry. By recording data from casual player matches, developers are able to make informed decisions about how to tweak and change the game for the better.
Essentially, millions of people are working for free by playing the game. “Working for nothing has become normative because it is not experienced as exploitation” (Ross, 2013. p17).
Outside the game, this is also still the case. Production companies and organisations that represent the players are able to take advantage of their audiences and fanbases to enhance their own social media presence. Twitch and YouTube remain as hubs for long-form video content, but users are able to clip their favourite moments and are encouraged to discuss using relevant hashtags. In doing so the businesses are able to cater specifically to what people want to see on their social media feeds and are now the standard in tournament broadcast and live coverage for games.
Despite the drawbacks, new media labour has advanced the industry immensely, especially within the last 5–10 years in a way that empowers users and is quite egalitarian, fair and therefore accessible.
Of course, this indicates the importance that social media has as primary means of business and communication within the industry. It defines what has developed over the last decade and informs us of not only the direction but the potential of the coming years. New media has triggered rapid development and growth in an industry that stagnated for many years but also drastic change when it comes to job opportunity and options, the state of privacy and community discussion, as well as new media enabled labour and the now highly gamified landscape of esports.
• Baym, Nancy. 2010. “Ch 1: New Forms of Personal Connection.” In Personal Connections in the Digital Age, 1–21. Cambridge MA: Polity Press.
• Fuchs, Christian. 2014. “The Power and Political Economy of Social Media.” In Social Media: An Introduction, 97–125. London: Sage Publications.
• Papacharissi, Zizi and Paige L. Gibson. 2011. “15 minutes of Privacy: Privacy, Sociality, and Publicity on Social Network Sites.” In Privacy Online: Perspectives on Privacy and Self-Disclosure in the Social Web, edited by Sabine Trepte and Leonard Reinecke, 75–89. Heidelberg and New York: Springer.
• Pearson, Erika. 2009. “All the World Wide Web’s a stage: The performance of identity in online social networks.” First Monday, 14(3): 1–7.
• Ross, A. 2013. “In Search of the Lost Paycheck”. In Digital Labour: The Internet as Playground and Factory, 13–33. New York: Routledge.
• van Dijck, J. 2013. Engineering Sociality in a Culture of Connectivity. In The Culture of Connectivity. Oxford University Press, pp. 3–23.