There seems to be a never-ending debate about whether casters, and to a lesser extent players, should listen to criticism posted on social media. Although there are some merits to taking online judgment to heart, I’ve come to the conclusion that the benefits of ignoring social media criticism far outweigh those few advantages.
First the merits. If you wade through all of the comments, you might be able to find one or two that hit on something you haven’t considered before and can improve your game or casting ability. You could even gain popularity by doing this as you will be seen as a man of the people, someone who listens to the vox populi and acts accordingly.
However those few boons come with problems in themselves. For every one or two posts that offer a valid point, there could be hundreds or thousands of bad ones that are different variations of “You’re shit, I don’t like you.” By the time you wade through the filth to the few useful nuggets, your psyche will have already settled into rage/exasperation mode, and you’ll likely ignore the good posts anyway.
Fans like to point out that the objects of their criticism should “get a thicker skin,” which is a waste of time. An individual’s psychological makeup isn’t easy to change, and it certainly can’t be altered on a whim for a stranger. If it was that easy, someone like John “TotalBiscuit” Bain would have done this a million years ago. No random fan has ever had thousands of comments flaming them, so few — if any — can empathize with the experience. For them, giving criticism is a 1-on-1 experience; for the caster/player, it’s a deluge of comments from thousands of people. Your job is to cast or play the game. It isn’t to calmly analyze thousands of destructive comments to find a few constructive ones. Even those few famous people who are capable of doing this don’t go around telling their peers to keep a stiff upper lip. They understand that having the fortitude to handle all that negativity isn’t as easy as flipping a switch.
In addition to that, the person in question doesn’t know the motives behind these thousands of posts. Some posters want to be genuinely helpful. Many others are deliberately hurtful. Others seek to subtly incite anger with seemingly innocuous posts. Still more can be trolls, self-absorbed people with no awareness of (or ability to care about) how annoying they are. A person can’t know how to discern the difference between all the comments.
Then we come to the content of the comments themselves. I’ve seen multiple threads with highly upvoted comments that directly contradict each other. One says “Caster X shouldn’t be so hyped about things as it doesn’t feel sincere.” A few months later, the caster changed his style and the new complaint was that “Caster X was no longer as hype as he was.” There are too many opinions to parse through, many of which can be valid yet contradictory. If you listen to these comments and react to every knee-jerk reaction, you will eventually lose your identity of what made you good to begin with. Instead of focusing on refining your strengths, you are now subject to the whims of whatever social media has picked apart at the moment.
Some point out that while this is true for players, casters should cater to the viewer experience. In that case, let us take the argument to its logical conclusion and play out the numbers. For instance, if you take Counter-Strike, there are hundreds of thousands of viewers per premier tournament and potential millions for a Major. A highly upvoted reddit thread will have a few thousands upvotes and a few thousand comments at best; many of these posters will be hardcore fans of the professional scene, not the casual viewers who supposedly make up most of the audience. In essence, you’re submitting yourself to the mercy of an incredibly small minority of viewers instead of the vast majority who approve or are ambivalent of your current style.
So if you don’t get criticism from social media, then where would a caster or player get it from? In the player’s case the best place to get it is from their in-game leader, coach, analysts and team. These are the only people they should be beholden to in any sense. What about a caster then? You can either do self-reflection or do peer review. Just like how players can re-watch VoDs of their matches to improve, the caster can rewatch their own cast and find things they want to change or improve. They can also ask their peers for help in critiquing what they are doing.
This is especially helpful as your peer group will have a much more intricate understanding of your craft, and they can give you concrete advice on small or big things to improve. Even if you were in a cutthroat environment where none of your peers want to help you, you can get help from outside the scene by consulting an expert from sports or a different esport.
Overall, there are way more detriments than advantages in trying to listening to social media for criticism. It is way too much work for something that gives little improvement, and in exchange you lose a ton of time and erode your psychological well-being. At worst, you can end up kowtowing to social media and becoming a machine with no independent thought of your own, losing all of the qualities that made you stand out from the crowd in the first place.
Illustration by Slingshot