Slingshot Media Column: lurppis interview, transcribing transparency, what should be a story?

(Editor’s note: This is a recurring column that will cover the ins and outs of esports media and journalism. With more interest than ever in esports, there has likewise been more interest in the reporting to this industry and what goes into it. I hope to shed a light on the industry through interviews with media professionals and news analysis from the perspective of someone with six years of professional journalism experience. Anything you’d like to see? Send me an email at Vince@slingshotesports.com. Enjoy!)

Tomi “lurppis” Kovanen has the rare distinction among esports media members of also having been a professional player.

Sure, some have enjoyed post-playing careers as casters, and others have dabbled into writing, but lurppis, the former Counter-Strike pro, has been the most prominent example of a former player switching to the media. He has written columns for a number of sites (including this one) and was also the co-editor-in-chief of HLTV for four years.

Lurppis took the time to answer some questions (via email) about the role of media in the growing esports world, his time at HLTV and how reporters can make up for a lack of game knowledge.

I think one of the most fascinating things about your post-playing career in the “media” was when you were with HLTV. How would you describe your time there? What was it like helping build that into the sort of conglomerate it is today? What kind of editorial approach did you take?

It was a decent learning experience in the sense that it is where I began writing a lot more and started developing a style of writing. Many of the site changes I pushed for were things that help the writers more so than users, but I’ve also continued pushing for certain changes through Tgwri1s that as a user I would enjoy (rolling rating graphs, scores on front page, etc.). At the same time, me and Tgwri1s put together a comprehensive list of site improvements we considered critical in late 2012, and many of them are still not done, so there is plenty of room for further improvement – but it is understandable why HLTV is not doing more, given they have a monopoly on Counter-Strike. Basic economics lessons apply here for sure.

I pushed for a couple of things when it comes to editing – one, I never wanted to leak news. I thought that was for the TMZs of the world, and not for us to do. Second, and this is something Striker and Tgwri1s still get whiny messages from me about, I tried to forge some basic rules for formatting of news posts. For instance, I always wanted the bold text in match result news posts to include map scores, and the very end of the article in roster changes to mention what events or leagues the team will be next playing in. Aside from that, I tried to (and still do sometimes, though only to friends) point out people’s mistakes to try to help them improve, and tried to lead by example – I have always believed it is unreasonable to ask others to do what you would not yourself.

What made you want to be a columnist/interviewer/writer after your playing career ended? You obviously have your day job that is in the non-esports world. What made you want to stay as involved in this space as you have been?

Originally Torbull asked me if I wanted to run their ESEA News site when I was thinking of quitting playing to do something esports related on the side. Shortly after, when I was still playing for WinFakt, Nix0n asked me to join HLTV, where I stayed for roughly four years. As for why I continue today, I generally enjoy working (which is probably the reason for my insanity in deciding to do esports-related work at nights after my day job), and I thought that I could bring something to the scene that few others can. I obviously watch a lot of Counter-Strike and always have, so writing about it comes easy for me. It is a bit as I often joke with people at events – I never do any research before the occasional event I attend, because I follow everything on daily basis so I already know the key facts regardless. Nowadays part of the reason I do less writing is that there are more good writers, so I do not feel like my contribution is ‘needed’ as much, and some people are writing articles not too dissimilar to what mine would have looked like. Obviously I still enjoy it, but some of the hours I was pulling a year ago were absolutely insane, which is why I have cut back a little now.

As someone who’s been on both the playing side and now media side of things, you have a different perspective than most. Aside from your opinion about reporting roster moves, what is one thing you think the media can do better with regards to reporting about Counter-Strike?

I feel many people in the media generally take the easy way out when it comes to research, especially when writing news. Some of the articles Thorin puts together are incredibly impressive simply due to the amount of research it takes to have all the facts nailed down. It always annoys me when news writers are too lazy to research proper background for a news post about a team, or figure out what their next steps would be. I believe many people are in the industry not only because they like the games – similarly, who does not like sports? – but because you get to work from home, so there is more slack to work with. As a result few are willing to put in the kind of hours that are required to produce good content – and I do not mean proof-reading or the like, but rather minor things such as looking up a couple of facts to give a sentence some color.

You tweeted a few weeks ago about press conferences generally resulting in bad questions because media members just don’t/can’t know the game as well as the players do. How do you think that could be fixed? Especially considering that it won’t ever be possible for media members to know the game on that intimate a level?

Something Thorin said years and years ago when running SK’s website resonated with me when it comes to interviews: it does not matter what your question is, but what the player answers. Though it depends on the player, often you do not need to ask a highly specific question, but rather something open-ended that allows the player in question to speak about what they believe is important. Part of this is also knowing what kind of an answer you can expect from a certain player. In addition, I also believe you should not be asking questions that do not in any way relate to the game. It is your job to figure out what fans like to hear, and even if they think so, it is not what player X had for breakfast – this is one of those Henry Ford-type scenarios in my opinion.

What do you think in general about anonymous sourcing? Again, you’ve been a player and are now a media member, so you’ve at least been exposed to both sides of it.

I am strongly against anonymous sourcing when it comes to things such as roster leaks – obviously I understand it if you are reporting wrongdoing. I honestly believe the people leaking things such as roster moves – which serve no greater purpose – are done 100 percent because the (reporter) knows they personally can benefit from it, whether through money directly now, or by building their brand and receiving compensation for that later on. I realize some fans want to find out things before they happen, but it is one of the things where you as the person with knowledge do have the power to withhold it – no one is forcing you to share it. Furthermore, many fans seemed much more excited with the initial Swedish shuffle in August, because there were no leaks or rumors before it was announced. More generally, it is simply something I believe has a right and wrong, and expect people to stay on a specific side of.

With all this money coming into the space, do you ever see it trickling down to the media? Based on your experiences with HLTV, what good would that do for the media?

Plenty of money has already trickled down to media, as nowadays there are many writers making a full-time living off of writing. Consider that while the top dogs in Counter-Strike now make more than $200,000 in salary annually, it is not too long ago that few teams made median western world salaries. Media will come behind, but it is doing decently. As for the websites, I do believe most are sending people to all events to do interview with players, so short of beginning to do more long-feature type articles – which you can already pay others for – I do not frankly think that a vast amount of money coming into media would directly make content better. The only indirect consequence of more money coming in would be perhaps more qualified people coming into it, and the quality thus increasing over time. But the problem is that game knowledge tends to reside within those with a background in the industry, thus making it easier to learn how to (for example) write than to understand a game well.

How do you feel about the role Reddit plays in the distribution of CSGO (and all esports, really) content? Is it too much? Are there any feasible alternatives?

This almost seems like a philosophical question. Reddit is great for collating information; it is a bit like a secondary Twitter (for me) for finding things I am interested in. However, when it comes to Counter-Strike, my taste of what is interesting does not even closely resemble that of the average Reddit user, which is why it is not a particularly useful tool for me in CS:GO. I believe in free markets, and as long as the public thinks Reddit is the way to go, there is little you can do about it. But I do believe there is a growing population of people who are not getting that excited anymore about everyone’s first double AWP kill or ace clutch clip, and slowly the type of content doing well on Reddit will also evolve. One thing I can say though, is that I do not at all agree with some of Reddit’s own rules, made by their moderators. But then again, I much, much, prefer Twitter over Reddit for staying on top of anything – and that is the alternative I personally use the most.

What do you read? Not even necessarily CSGO or esports, but just in general?

When it comes to esports I enjoy reading Thorin and StuChiu’s articles the most. I sometimes read others’ writing as well, but I need to feel they are adding something I do not see or at least giving me a vastly different point of view to re-consider my stance. Thorin obviously is a much better writer than I will ever be, and StuChiu also seems skilled at crafting story lines – plus his vocabulary is much better than mine. I love it when Tgwri1s puts together any writing, and I always try to push him to write more, because it is so insightful. When it comes to sports, some of my favorite writers are Bill Simmons and Zach Lowe. I think Grantland’s death was a tragedy (though The Ringer is solid), and I’ve devoured ESPN’s Doubletruck archives as well.

I also try to read as many books as possible. I would say I have probably averaged around 30-50 books a year for the past few years, though I’d like the number to be much higher – reading is by far the best way of learning as far as I am concerned. I’m generally the curious type, and I believe knowledge is something that heavily compounds, making reading even more beneficial over time. When it comes to books (most recent in parentheses), I read a fair bit related to finance and investing (Narrative and Numbers by Aswath Damodaran), with books on history (Collapse of an Empire by Yegor Gaidar), autobiographies (Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson), and other intriguing subjects (Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom) thrown in every now and then.  I generally am reading two books at a time; one hard copy, and another one on my Kindle app, because it allows me to read more often – if you struggle with reading, I highly recommend using Kindle.

On The Radar

(A rundown of important stories in the esports media realm and analyzing what they all mean.)

In a conversation I had with Duncan “Thorin” Shields before talking to him for the media column (an hourlong interview that will be split into two parts starting next week), he mentioned the concept of media outlets being transparent and explicitly stating when an interview is recorded and transcribed rather than conducted via text.

The thought had never crossed my mind. My background is in the newspaper world, an archaic form of journalism where all interviews are assumed to be audio transcribed unless otherwise noted. In that realm, reporters have long been instructed that interviews should at every possible occasion be done live, either in person or over the phone/Skype, because that creates more candid answers, allows for follow-ups, and lets the reporter get a better feel for the subject based on body language, tone and other potentially important cues about their demeanor. But there is indeed value in written interviews that the newspaper industry has slowly started to realize. (“Change” and “newspaper industry” don’t tend to go together well, but that’s an entirely different topic.)

Thorin’s point is that what somebody says in the heat of the moment and what they’ll say when they have time to think out a response is potentially radically different (he’s right — and I prefer live interviews for their candidness), and media outlets should make clear how interviews are conducted. To this pint, we at Slingshot have operated as if every interview is audio and transcribed unless otherwise noted (like the one above with lurppis). I can think of only a handful of written interviews that we’ve even done in more than a year since we launched. It is important to differentiate between them, and it’s worth exploring the idea of explicitly denoting every interview that was conducted via audio transcription.

A handful of Counter-Strike professionals seemed flabbergasted to find a couple tweets of Jonathan “EliGE” Jablonowski turned into a news story yesterday on Dexerto.

EliGE — seemingly playfully and innocuously — tweeted a joke about the hashtag used on Twitter by North, and the team’s account (which was run by Phillip Rasmussen, an active social media presence in the Danish Counter-Strike scene) replied with a joke about Liquid failing to qualify for IEM Katowice. Dexerto then wrote about the exchange.

It’s worth noting this is a common practice in the sports world. Social media has become such an foundational aspect of traditional sports that news outlets report about tweets from players, ex-players, teams and sometimes even random fans. Look, it’s not my favorite practice, but I understand the value — sometimes — in the newsworthiness of what athletes and teams say on social media. The same applies to esports.

The practice certainly has a downside. Does it really matter is EliGE and North are playfully jabbing each other on Twitter? No. In traditional sports, the NBA reportedly sent a letter to its teams urging and players and team accounts to be nicer to each other on social media, a development that — at least in part — had to do with the amount of coverage stemming from tiffs that arise on the social platforms.

It’s as if sometimes we in the media can’t help ourselves. Reporting about social media can certainly be useful — especially in esports, where teams and players make important announcements on their accounts more so, it seems, than it happens in traditional sports. But there needs to be a distinct line that constitutes what is worth reporting and what is not, and two important questions arise in determining that: What information are we adding, or what are we contributing to the conversation by reporting something? And what is that worth?

In this particular instance, I don’t see much of either.

The lackluster feel to League of Legends IEM events can be seen yet again through media coverage. It does not appear any North American outlets (and if I am wrong, please correct me) attended the League of Legends portion of Katowice. Last year, TheScore Esports was the only one, and it did not return this year. Likewise, Yahoo Esports will have coverage of the Counter-Strike portion of the event this weekend after electing not to have anyone there for the League of Legends portion.

Budgeting for trips overseas is delicate for North American outlets (us included), so it’s not surprising to see a lessened media presence in Katowice. That said, the decisions have made it abundantly clear that the media holds League of Legends IEM events in the same esteem as the teams and community do — not high.

Slingshot Editor-In-Chief. Former newspaper reporter from Cleveland, Ohio, who appreciates clean copy and good Counter-Strike.

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