Monday, 25 October 2010

SK Gaming ain't what it used to be

Warning: this shit is longer than most of what i usually write, even in my main column.

So, here's an interesting statistic for you, boys and girls. In a month where SK and myself finally agreed to end our tempestuous relationship, i still have the highest average hit count per article for the month.

I don't mean to toot my own horn - it's not like eight posts in 25 days is something to be proud of - but it perfectly shows the concept of quality over quantity, something SK Gaming seems to have completely moved away from. I guess there's two roads a coverage site can go down. One is massing news, however trivial. 1,000 people reading five news posts is the same as 5,000 reading one column at the end of the day. In the same way, having 15 teams that win a tournament each is ostensibly the same as five teams that win three tournaments each.

But is it really the same?

I know, for example, that bds thinks SK picking up a Source team is the dumbest thing they ever did. There was a time when SK represented quality over quantity in terms of teams as well as website content, but that time is long gone. Currently, on all fronts, SK is like a clusterfuck of undirected ideas and it is a pretty crappy place to try and be creative.

Indulge me for a moment as we go down Memory Lane, back to early 2008. Carmac was still fairly new as Editor in Chief, and i was his first new recruit. Honestly, i rarely visited the SK site before i joined but it was clear that GotFrag was on a downward spiral. More importantly, Carmac's enthusiasm was infectious and my time working under him was probably my most creative period in esports. I was still enrolled in a journalism course at University and he brought a bit of the professionalism i hoped for to esports coverage that it so distinctly lacked (and still does, by the way).

Without wanting to sound churlish, he was inspirational. He wrote opinionated columns and encouraged us to do the same. He gave columnists a personality by encouraging us to use our own pictures. On top of that, it felt safer to be voicing opinions in public when you knew others were doing the same. Oh, yeah, and his 1on1 videos were pretty good too.

But Carmac obviously wasn't a guy to settle in one job, and we were given Malystryx. Presumably, his promotion was based purely on the fact that he had been at SK the longest. When he left SK a few months later, that policy was quickly scrapped. Maly's tenure wasn't an unmitigated disaster, but it was badly timed. I never really got on well with Lawrence - call it a personality clash - so i don't feel like i should say too much about his time in charge, but he was EIC when SK's slip into decline began. Feeling within the previously happy crew was at a low point thanks to the communication issues and the pressure of covering tournaments (if you've never worked in esports at coverage, you really can't understand what it's like to cover a Chinese event, for example). Although immo and Binteh didn't actually leave until Duncan took over, the wheels of their departure were definitely set in motion before then.

Since that time, SK simply has not been the same place it once was. I can't honestly remember exactly when bds left, and i didn't actually have much interaction with him myself, but it was around the same time Duncan came along. It's no coincidence that SK has picked up seemingly random games since bds' departure. Even before he left it seems clear, in retrospect, that he had little to do with the running of the company towards the end.

Maybe one day i'll write about the Halo team's debacle...

Ironically, it was actually towards the end of Carmac's reign that i made The Zechs Files a weekly column. But there's no irony, and certainly no coincidence that it became less and less frequent in the time since Duncan took over. Since Carmac left i used my own picture less often too, and eventually removed it altogether. Just as it was comfortable to write opinion pieces while others were doing it, so too it was more difficult to do it alone. It's not like anyone from the upper echelons ever offered me support. The only time you heard from them was generally indirectly through Tim, after you'd done something wrong.

About three times over the past year i have been threatened with being sacked for not writing enough news. On the most recent occasion i just accepted it - despite having clearly told Duncan that i was in Spain on holiday, and thusly unable to work. Whether Duncan bothered to tell Tim, or exactly whose responsibility it was, is currently unknown to me. Communication and clarity of roles has never been a strong suite in esports, but this is especially true in SK nowadays.

I digress. After the other two threats, i promised to buckle down and work harder. For a brief time after each incident i did just that and forced out some of my poorest columns. It was genuinely comical to me to see Tim post "nice read!" on my first column after each "disagreement." In his defence, Tim is a nice guy, seemingly put into a bad situation by spineless people too afraid to do their own dirty work. I suppose every company has to have someone like that, but if SK had so much organisation in the rest of their business, it wouldn't be in such a shambles.

As for Duncan himself, the guy in a new-writing machine in a very real sense. My interactions with him have been few, but he seems to have the personality of a machine. Well, that's not quite fair, i have had one or two laughs with him, but only one or two. He is, however, a very hard work, and for all his manifold failings as an actual Editor-in-Chief, you have to respect someone who can average 100 pieces per month. He already has nearly double my post count in about half the time (though, i must point out, my average hits are over 2k higher - quality over quantity) and is just days away from having the record of most news of any writer SK has ever had (currently held by gosey, if you care).

But sadly, SK's personality and charm has all but disappeared. Where once there were the best esports opinion pieces on the internet there is now just copy-paste-edit news you can read from another dozen sites. Granted, there are many, many more of them, but look at the number of comments and the amount of hype they generate. SK is now completely devoid of originality and creativity in much the way GotFrag is and i fear the former is heading in the same direction as the latter.

I'll leave you, for now, with another interesting observation. I once worked for Clanbase as a Eurocup and Nations Cup admin, back when it was in its pomp. Shortly after, i left to work for ESL as a CSCL admin and Clanbase more-or-less died off as a real powerhouse in esports. Then i left CSCL to become a writer for Team AMD Gamer; CSCL proceeded to die. I then successfully applied for a job at GotFrag and TAG went under thanks to some baffingly stupid management. Briefly after GotFrag was bought by MLG, i left and joined SK. Look at GotFrag now - a joke, a shadow of its former self. And so now i leave SK to pastures new...


Monday, 18 October 2010

Game Politics - when good turns to blind

In case you don't know it already, is a great website for anything remotely bringing gaming into the political world (and vice versa). It's brought me numerous stories for SK over the years - especially the WoW vs China debacle - and a great deal more that don't really come under the esports banner.

Hell, even the comments are intelligent and readable from time-to-time and we all know how rare that is on the intrawebz.

However, sometimes the commentators' zealousness goes a little too far. Anyone with even the slightest bit of self-awareness has to admit that gamers aren't always right and that sometimes their critics are correct. I can understand the defensiveness in a world where ignorant politicians and officials use games as a scapegoat, but once in a while, rarely, the system is correct.

But what makes this particularly relevant now? Well in the last few of days, i've read a couple of stories about Blizzard taking on hackers in SC2. The majority of people reading this (can you have a majority when there's only two people?) would see this as blatantly being a good thing. Yet some comments on the story in question were defending hackers, claiming they had a right to edit the single player campaign and play the way they wanted.

Now, firstly, these people are obviously from a whole different world of gaming to you and i. I realise that a lot of people who play Blizzard games couldn't care less about online play, let alone esports, but i assumed - wrongly, it seems - that they were at least aware of it. The issue of hacking in single player is completely moot since Blizzard includes their own cheats in just about every game they make. Clearly, the bannings and legal action are about people who make maphacks and the like for online play. How you can defend people who are ruining the game for 90+% of the community is beyond me.

It's simply a case of ignorantly defending people who are "sticking it to the man." I'm fully aware of the dislike for the new Activision version of Blizzard, but ruining a fantastic game is not the way to make that dislike known and defending the people who do it is nothing short of moronic.

Good job, Blizzard - keep up the good work!

Friday, 1 October 2010

A much needed break in Spain

Well, i'm heading off to Spain today and, although the timing is a bit awkward, (WCG probably the last major WC3 event ever as well as GSL finals tomorrow) for me it's much needed. My coverage output has been average-to-low, and my creative/original content has been non-existent lately.

Frankly, SC2 is a bit intimidating and frustrating. I feel like a noob all over again. Despite being 'okay' at the game there is a lot more English-language content to contend with and people who are already well known thanks to their SC:BW fame. In WC3, quality English media was much less prevalent since the game was never really popular in America or England.

On top of that there is almost zero opinion-based content around nowadays. I've been toying with an article about this for a while, but it's quite frustrating when you're the only one putting your neck out and risking your reputation. Back in the Carmac era of SK we had several writers who would write columns and various other sites were doing it too (though, not with the same high level of results), which made it much easier to ignore the moronic flames. But in recent months 'the column' seems to have died off, including my own Zechs Files.

For me, it's hard to stay motivated recently. I feel a bit like i was a big fish in a small pond, but now SC2 has come along the pond has flooded. Team Liquid is now a relevant entity to me, as are all the clone-like American SC2 commentators ("Wow!"). Commentary was something i'd considered for about 18 months in WC3's dying days, but now SC2 has come along with a huge plethora of irritating mono-syllabic yanks and i feel a bit like i missed the boat. I didn't, and there's plenty of time for new blood in such a new game, but it FEELS like i did.

On top of that, i feel pretty out of the loop these days. Journalism is about connectivity, networking and contact-making - all thinks i'm not very good at. I was supposed to do an interview with Morrow recently, but i still haven't prepared fully, 3 weeks after he agreed to do it. This makes it all the more frustrating when SK doesn't send me to tournaments - the main reason i got into esports writing in the first place. Meanwhile, Duncan, who i was originally told would "not be attending any events at all," continues to attend every event under the sun, even cherry picking the ones he doesn't like (he didn't go to ESWC because he "doesn't get on with France.")

Yes, call me bitter, i am. That's why i hope this ill-timed excursion to Spain with my wonderful girlfriend's family will give me some perspective. Better yet, maybe it will give me some inspiration to write again. Otherwise, it might be time to enquire about MYM again.

Adios para ahora!