The current system of live journalism at esports events is both staggering to newcomers and yet wholly unsurprising given the youth of the medium. There are many different websites you can find that cover the games in detail, but unless you can afford a full-time employee, the odds of you getting consistent weekly coverage is low. Without a good cameraman, high-quality microphones, and a prominence in the scene that will guarantee viewers, smaller websites are almost certain to be outclassed by already established coverage, which can discourage sending writers in the first place. This could lead to a scenario in which only the big sites send writers on location, edging out any potential freelancers trying to make names for themselves.
In practice, however, this is far from the case. Veterans of the esports scene likely already have enough Skype contacts with the biggest organizations to be able to grab an interview at a more convenient time where you don’t have to worry about their mental state being affected by the games they just played. This is how the ELEAGUE Last Chance Qualifier last month ended up in a situation in which a press room didn’t even exist; there simply weren’t enough people there to justify having one. None of the incentives that would drive larger organizations to go big on the beat writing scene stand up to the money and time saved by just using your established connections to put together the piece independent of the actual event.
The end result is that tournament organizers don’t see much of a need to cater to these beat writers outside of major events, since there simply aren’t enough of them to justify the cost of doing so. More often than not, there isn’t a press room at all. Whether it was the European League of Legends Championship Series studios in both Cologne and Berlin, or the LQQ stage at the ELEAGUE, press room meant “whatever open space you can find that we haven’t already given to teams.” It’s easy to see how this might discourage beat writers from wanting to attend, but it’s also understandable that tournament organizers wouldn’t see such an investment as being worth the effort. During the group stages of ELEAGUE Season 1, I was one of only two media members there. The last chance stage introduced a third media outlet, Mashable, that was covering more as a human interest piece than from an esports perspective.
Esports hasn’t reached the crucial era that traditional sports have in which secondary media sources are considered valuable and worth courting with these kinds of perks. Outside of the finals, there are no press conferences to be found, and media aren’t allowed into player rooms the way you’d see in traditional sports. In fact, teams aren’t even required to take interviews outside the main stage at all. Suddenly, the nearly-empty press rooms start making much more sense when you realize you’re more likely to get an interview through direct contacts with a team than you are by being at the actual event.
The biggest loss in this system is easily the freelance writer desperate for a big break. In an Internet news cycle in which even the best articles are often forgotten within a day, and your success relies almost entirely upon spinning the social media wheel of fortune and praying your number comes up, the odds are slim you’ll ever be noticed. When it comes to grabbing interviews, my experience at ELEAGUE was no different than my experience at the European LCS in 2014. As long as Turner and Riot get their interviews, why should they care whether a newer journalist gets a big break? The tournament host will rarely ever see a tangible benefit from your work, since their biggest media attention comes from the event itself. The fact that five minutes of their time could double a freelancer’s daily salary means nothing to teams and coaches that have games to prepare for, or to tournament organizers that need to keep these teams happy so they’ll continue to be big draws the next time around.
There are opportunities where a small change could make the difference in cultivating the next great generation of writers in an esports world that is constantly growing and evolving. It’d be easy for tournament organizers to add a clause into contracts that forced teams to make players available for the press after every game, and given the prize pools in play, there probably wouldn’t be much of an argument. After all, in theory, the on-site media is there to promote the tournaments at play, and giving the media access should be a win for everyone involved.
There are plenty of reasons to change the current system that have nothing to do with a freelance writers’ pay, of course. The idea that teams, rather than tournament providers, hold the power of whether they are willing to talk to the media creates a dangerous precedent that they are above it all, unwilling to give the fans that support them the time and energy to get their stories out there in interview sessions. There’s also the worrying trend of losing teams refusing to do interviews, as if players are children to be coddled rather than professionals who should be using their experiences to learn how to overcome and persevere through losses for their own emotional growth. Post-game interviews are effective in helping both of those issues, but when the biggest media outlets feel like sending an on-site representative isn’t worth their time, it’s an admission that no one involved in this system cares enough to address and fix these problems.
Ultimately, growth will come from tournament organizers stepping up and providing tools for writers from both big and small media outlets to have a reason to show up to the games every week in person. By recognizing the immediate growth and connection with an audience that interviews can bring, organizers like Riot Games and Turner Studios can foster an environment in which far more writers would be willing to spend their time and energy increasing the tournament’s exposure, creating storylines that may not come up in their own quicker post-game segments, and grow the next generation of writers that may very well come back and work for them once the time is right. Until then, the insider culture that has engulfed esports has divided the haves and have nots so decisively that for most freelance writers, it’s not even worth the attempt any more.
Photos courtesy of Riot Games.