Say what you want, but fans deserve and need to demand more because without money spending zealots, esports dies—period, full-stop. It’s time for publishers, tournament organizers, teams, and players to embrace strategies that have been shown to help the growth of professional sports. It’s time to bury the antiquated, anachronistic media policies prevalent in esports and show fans that growing the game is a priority. To sit back and continue the policies of old will stunt growth or in the worst-case scenario, send esports back to the basements and ball rooms they once came.
There have been a few examples of players not doing interviews because they are mad or some other reason that has them quiet; Team Liquid being the latest at the IEM Katowice Major. However, it is the esport organization that they are playing for that sets the rules for media encounters in most cases. The bottom line is that the ideas of not having to talk to media or fulfill obligations as set forth in the tournament contract because your team lost or you simply don’t want to talk needs to come to an end—for a lot of reasons.
I get it, this coming from someone in the media. It’s self-serving. But the reality here is that we are all in this together. Yes, sometimes it’s an adversarial relationship because we as the media are critical of everything and print pieces that don’t always paint people in the best light. However, our fates are intertwined. Believe that.
But if you don’t believe me, listen to what Arash Markazi of the Los Angeles Times had to say.
“I think traditional sports teams know the importance of traditional media in reaching their audience and fans,” Markazi said. “Media is so vital to spreading unfiltered news and info on players and teams. It’s important for fans to realize that though and demand that coverage and not just be content with a team’s social feed and Twitch channel, which they control.”
Markazi hits home on a myriad of concepts that should have you thinking. The first of which being the understanding of why traditional sports leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) have very liberal media access policies. The best answer to that, as far as I can see, lies in the opening paragraph of the 2018 NFL Media Access Policy:
“The NFL’s media access policy ensures that national and local media have regular access to the game’s biggest stars, head coaches and other key personnel. Giving fans an inside look at their favorite teams deepens their connection with the league, increases the NFL’s audience, and keeps the focus on the game.”
The denizens of the esports community do not seem to understand this. In 2019, there have already been reports of multiple teams saying they don’t do interviews after a loss when their traditional sports player counterparts speak with outlets big and small–win or lose.
The publisher often sets the tone, some just talk to the big outlets like some league commissioners while other publishers are completely hands off when it come to media. Growing the game creates more opportunities and bigger salaries.
The second point Markazi drives home is that some esports organizations say they are doing enough because they are producing their own creative content. While there is definitely a place for their own creative content, that content will inevitably lack a neutral focus or accurately address controversial issues that occur within the organization itself.
The reality here is that fans know organizations create biased content. Organizations produce content about their players and staff members shown in a positive light not talking about any controversies. But, knowing that there are negative incidents that will take place in esports, it’s the media job to hold teams and organizations accountable by reporting these events in a fair and neutral tone without editorializing. As esports journalism is in its infancy, some outlets are simply not experienced enough to cover those types of events in such a way. Which leads me to one caveat that’s important in understanding one of the reasons some esports organizations have the policies they have.
It’s the absolute right of teams to choose which members of the media they wish to interact with doing interviews or giving comments and such—understood. There are in fact some journalists that are new and inexperienced that have made some mistakes in covering some organizations. However, knowing that and knowing that esports organizations need to protect their branding and image—as does every professional sports team in existence—adopting policies where players are allowed to refuse interviews because they lost or simply don’t want to show up to media day, even when contractually obligated, does nothing to legitimize esports or help it mature into a permanent and lasting global fixture.
When will esports tournament organizers understand that it is better to be written and talked about than forgotten?
Do tournament and esports organizations want to be speculated about or reported on? Media coverage is free advertising. Think about the reach of all the media outlets that attended The International 8 this past August.
What some teams and tournament organizers are doing is directly hurting their esport. The less media coverage an event receives, the fewer people that know about it. With fewer people watching the event, advertisers turn and run. Yes, right now, esports is thriving. The IEM Katowice Major and the Overwatch League are having success in terms of viewership. However, what would happen if all the media in the world decided not to cover the event. It may be getting to that point already since smaller outlets are getting shut out in terms of interview content.
Media outlets, big and small, spend thousands of dollars traveling to world-wide esports events, having been told that they would have access to players by press conference or interviews. However, on multiple occasions teams have refused to do press conferences or any interviews, forcing media outlets to do generic coverage which isn’t as popular and quite frankly doesn’t pay the bills.
Do players and orgs want us to guess instead of seeking the truth about a situation? Tournament organizers and teams are better off giving us access and we’re better off knowing what their thoughts are instead of guessing about into what happened.
Lastly, game publishers and tournament organizers have really learned how to leverage the press over the past 20 years. That’s why they have all the money. They know that the media can absolutely be used for free advertising, even if they occasionally write a negative piece.
When tournament organizers and esports organizations realize that the media is the number one driving force of advertising your league and team, you’ll reverse your policies and let the symbiosis begin.