Esports feuds are like toybox trainwrecks: onlookers can’t help but look despite how pathetic they are, in part because of how seriously they take themselves. The average fan may roll their eyes at Flashpoint’s attempts to use a WWE writer to generate interest in tier 2 tussles, or how “the juggernaut” and “the colossus” ascended to memehood on Twitter, but we’re now starting to see the tangible value of these efforts. Thirty thousand eyeballs on a Finnish broadcast on a Friday afternoon can’t be wrong, after all, and it was all due to drama rather than the gameplay.
The final of Pelaajatcom Series Showoff 2021, essentially a qualifier of a qualifier, had over 30 000 viewers yesterday. The broadcast wasn’t even in English: a metric fuckton of fans listened to the machine gun-like bratatatat of jjyökkeles and laatalas, all for a chance to witness the reunion of xseven and Aerial on HAVU with allu, the ultimate impostor on the other side of the server with what remains of ENCE.
HAVU were coming in hot with a sixteen-match win streak behind their backs and the win offered one of the two teams a chance to fight on for a spot at BLAST’s Spring Showdown. Of course, that’s not the reason why the game garnered such an audience. When was the last time you had so many people tune in for a game between two functionally irrelevant teams, #27 and #39 in the world at the time of writing, especially for a foreign-language broadcast? Most likely never, barring some gaules-fueled MIBR craze or something in the depths of the CIS region.
No, the reason we were glued to the screen was the ongoing ENCE soap opera, the tale of how one of the most beloved underdog teams disintegrated after controversially removing their big brain IGL, poisoning the atmosphere so much that their young talent opted for a stint in the army rather than to keep playing with them, falling apart so much that they had to shed their Finnish identity for a Scandinavian one, the only constant being allu and his apparent iron grip on the side.
So why the growing interest in HAVU? Well, it’s the two ENCE outcasts, xseven and Aerial, fans hoping for a sort of cosmic justice that catapults their new team above the one they’ve left. This was their first reunion with allu, with some tangible stakes to boot – and people flocked to it despite being far from tier 1 Counter-Strike.
This is the power of hype and narratives, and it highlights why we should all cut some slack to those who peddle in selling them to us, even when they’re clearly peddling bullshit on Twitter and beyond.
The idea of “attention economy” is that our eyeballs are the scarce community to compete for nowadays, which is an assumption that makes a ton of sense in the entertainment industry. We can only watch one (okay, three) streams at the same time and only pay attention to a limited number of storylines in esports at once.
Of all the teams languishing in the purgatory of 20-50 in the HLTV rankings, only one or two will gather some sort of attention from the viewer base. Let’s not even get started on whether their exploits are compelling enough to stop you from booting up Fortnite or checking out the latest top show on Netflix because that’s a whole different can of worms – but it’s nevertheless worth mentioning that these media entities see each other as direct competitors.
This is why Jason Lake, a savvy businessman who survived in a space that chewed up so many like him, took to Twitter to savage his existing squad while promising a new one. It got people’s attention. This is also why HenryG opted to make Cloud9 the Pepsi to Cokelexity by playing into the whole juggernaut angle. And if you think these are cringe-worthy endeavors, you haven’t seen anything of what’s going on in the Call of Duty space or on Twitch in general.
Stories are powerful, especially when the storylines are legit. Most of the shit-flinging in the esports scene comes across as forced and pathetic because the people in question have the charisma of a cardboard cutout and the select few who do never really figured out how to set boundaries as they were too busy practicing the whole shooty-shooty bang-bang shebang.
If you find this tiring and dumb, I’m right there with you. However, I think we’d all be better off by learning how to stop worrying and love the bullshit, if only because we don’t have a lot to lose by accepting its presence in the scene.
Flashpoint’s organizers were widely mocked for hiring a WWE writer to create storylines about their crappy teams. The criticism doesn’t survive scrutiny though: after all, what else are you going to do to make their subpar gameplay interesting? For someone focused on top-tier Counter-Strike and little else, no broadcasting magic will make Flashpoint’s partner teams appealing in their current state. That is fine – but why not embrace other opportunities in the meantime?
Thankfully, the presence of such endeavors in the scene doesn’t magically take away from elite competition elsewhere. Similarly, even if it’s the tabloid streamer bullshit that gets the clicks, it’s fine as long there’s high-quality analysis content to be found elsewhere. Seeing the Flashpoint format embraced at a Major or a global final would be pretty sad for me, but we’re nowhere near that dystopian timeline just yet. Better still, it’s not like these toybox trainwrecks take away from more in-depth content elsewhere, precisely because the audience overlap is so limited at the end of the day.
For every highly upvoted Twitlonger confession, there’s a tactics breakdown video to be found. Taking away the former wouldn’t increase the latter, much like how turning the New York Post into an academic paper wouldn’t turn their readers into aspiring doctoral students. They’d just go elsewhere for what they’re looking for.
This is why it would be foolish to deny the value of such endeavors, even if we’re not part of the target audience. In effect, we’re already converts, willing to consume the hardcore content without any tabloid incentives: this stuff isn’t for us but for those who are legitimately deciding whether to focus their attention on TMZ, CoD drama, or the happenings of CS:GO esports. It’s a numbers game and it’s good to have those folks around as well for the health and growth of the scene. At the end of it all, if it’s stupid CoD-esque crap that makes CS esports more appealing to the masses, let’s have some of it! Preferably far away from me, but that’s beside the point.
If this gets 30 000 people to watch ENCE versus HAVU on a Finnish broadcast, why shouldn’t we pursue this angle? Eat shit, a billion flies can’t be wrong, goes the quote – perhaps we shouldn’t go this far, but if a five-star restaurant has to offer up a buckle of feces two floors below to keep the lights on, who are we to complain? We’ve still got our gourmet meals to eat if we want to.
Photo credit: HLTV