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Building Better eSports, Part 1: the simple things

As the new year gets started and we all return to work, I’ve been working on setting coverage priorities for eSports and trying to set a calendar of events that I want to follow. It’s harder than you might think: eSports features a ton of different tournaments, leagues, and formats that can make it hard to identify and stay on top of the major events.

I’ve only covered eSports for about one year, and at some point this will all probably become second nature to me. But I’m also no fool, and yet it still took me about three hours this weekend to find all the info I wanted on tournaments taking place through March. Tellingly, a writer at another site got in touch to ask for help with the same thing. Even for people who watch a fair bit of them, eSports can be frustratingly obscure and hard to love.

They don’t have to be, and really shouldn’t. Esports are established enough that they should be ready to welcome the new viewers they’re gaining as they grow. Here are three fixes that would drastically lower the barrier to entry for new viewers, and would also make eSports a lot more enjoyable for fans to follow.

Easy-to-find scheduling

I love Liquipedia and Leaguepedia, two incredible resources for following the SC2 and LoL scenes (sorry, but Liquid’s Dota coverage has a ways to go). But both as a fan and as someone who has to cover eSports events professionally, I get frustrated by how hard it often is to find crucial date and time information about tournaments from the tournament websites themselves.

DreamHack often seems to hide the crucial “when / where / who” information about its own tournaments. It’s almost mid-January, and MLG hasn’t announced its Winter Pro Circuit schedule. If you check out IPL’s events page and schedule page, you see nothing about IPL6 or any of their regular season programming beyond this week. There's an IPL6 logo on the main page that looks exactly like regular IPL branding, almost like it's wearing camouflage.

It shouldn’t be this hard just to figure out when a tournament is happening, and where to watch it. Reddit, Team Liquid, and Leaguepedia are doing a great job filling the gap, but they’re also geared toward fans who are already used to hunting down tournament info.

Compare this to the NBA’s website. Right there are at the top of the page you can look at a schedule that, hallelujah, actually gives you a complete schedule! If the NHL had announced its schedule by now (thanks lockout!) you could see how the NHL even makes a point of telling you exactly where games will be broadcast. Long-term scheduling is the kind of thing you can do if you’re a monopoly, it’s true, but just making basic information available to casual fans isn’t rocket science.

Within eSports, look at GOMTV’s website, where you can look at the upcoming GSL and GSTL matches for the next several days and see who will be playing and when. Either is a better alternative to the current system of Googling the event you want to watch and appending “Liquipedia” to the end of it.

Stream reliability and quality

Do you remember that time the Riot Season 2 playoffs came to a dead-stop due to a connection outage and we all watched CLG.EU try to play World Elite for six hours until djWHEAT saved us all by quietly placing a pillow over the playoffs’ face and smothering them to death? No? Well, that’s how I remember it happening.

I also remember a lot of MLG events being marred by lag and stream crashes, culminating with the Dallas event where midway through they apparently had to give up on making Own3D work and redirected everyone to Twitch. Blizzard’s World Championship in Shanghai was a trainwreck on its first day and never really came close to approaching industry-standards for quality.

Fortunately, their  massive public setbacks chastened both Riot and Blizzard, and Riot put their house in order fairly quickly, offering local server support for future LoL tournaments and putting their finals in a more secure venue. Blizzard are counting on Heart of the Swarm to address their problem with dropped games, thanks to “resume from replay”, but we won’t be able to judge their adjustments to production until we see the next Battle.net World Championship.

I suspect it will be a long time before we banish lag entirely, but I really hope we’ve seen the back of show-stopping outages from most of the major tournaments. “It’s fine... most of the time” isn’t good enough anymore, especially because there are couple tournaments like IPL and DreamHack who do high-quality streams that are just about rock solid. That goes triple when you’re charging for high-quality or ad-free viewing.

Give us the replays

There is nothing that frustrates me more than watching a great tournament conclude after dozens of good games and a handful of great ones, and not being able to show them to friends. Great games are eSports best product, their most powerful tool for evangelism. So let’s make sure that they’re available within a few days of every tournament, if not the day after.

Ideally, they’d all be indexed so we can just search for “Grubby vs. Slivko IEM Singapore 2012” but I understand that’s a more complicated task. But at least give us a broadcast VOD and let us find the highlights for ourselves via timestamp.

The important thing to remember here is that these things have a short shelf-life. The day after a tournament I’ll name six great games that everyone should see. They’re topical, cool, and fresh in the memory. In no time at all, however, everyone has moved on and those VODs have become archival footage. Take advantage of the hype generated by a good tournament to show non-viewers what they missed.

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