2016 is over and that means you can’t look anywhere without seeing lists; click-bait lists, self-congratulatory lists, virtue-signalling lists, lists that are little more than veiled attempts to network and lists that are reactions to lists. Then there’s the social media deluge in response to all of the above, people trying to congratulate the acknowledged “winners” through gritted teeth, tense fingers resisting the urge to type “it should have been me.” You ever know anyone who rejects these end of year lists turn down an award for being “pointless?” Didn’t think so. The end of the year, fueled by booze and feel-good festivities, brings out the worst in a narcissist, egos fed or beaten back, setting the tone of behavior for the year to come.
Esports is quite possibly for the worst for this… A clamour to be king of a tiny hill made from stale turds held together by the tears of serial failures. 2016 was the year we became mainstream and anyone who wanted to shine a light on the fact that the industry is still home to vast numbers bungling amateurs and emotionally stunted megalomaniacs was very much kicked out of the treehouse. But they can’t do it to all of us and these awards, in existence now for six years, are the recorded documentation of all the liars and thieves that hope to slither away forgotten and overshadowed by the industry’s successes. I have taken these wherever I may wander, like a troubadour spitting songs of comedy and poison, and this year will be no different even though I finally cut a deal and went corporate.
So, buckle up and prepare for a trawl through everything rotten and foul as we recall the low points the money-men would rather we all forgot.
Worst Event of the Year
2013: HoN World Tour Finals
2015: Gaming Paradise
2016: Shanghai Major / Nanyang Cruise Cup
Typically I stay away from Dota for a variety of reasons. The talent is insanely insecure to the point where they can’t handle any input from anyone who isn’t from “their” game, an outdated form of esports tribalism that doesn’t make sense in the new economy… Not their fault. They walk on eggshells for eleven months out of the year in hope of landing the best gigs, too afraid to speak honestly about professional players and pandering to the community. That isn’t their fault. The fans remain as entitled and elitist as ever but now seem to have added a “Swedish” mindset to their outlook, the progressive politics that make it impossible for anyone bar a select few to say anything without an offended mob turning up on their doorstep to take their livelihood away and bury their careers in an unmarked grave. Hell, they still try and do that with me on the basis that CS and Dota 2 are created by the same developer. How’s that working out for you?
Yet one of my dirty secrets is I like the game, play the game and even watch the events. I pay attention but rarely comment because why the fuck would any sane person want the headache that comes with it… How many times can I listen to that silver-haired guy from Mad Men tell me he doesn’t like drama, while subtweeting drama? Yet I think we can all agree that while The International remains a high watermark for esports in terms of everything it does, Dota 2 had some of the worst events in 2016.
This is the first time that there’s a tie for an event but it makes sense when you consider both were run by the same company, namely the Chinese company KeyTV. Without putting too fine a point on it they have quickly acquired a reputation as one of the most incompetent tournament organisers in the whole world. Hired by Perfect World amid very valid allegations of nepotism, they ran the Shanghai Major, an event that should have been one of the calendar highlights for Dota fans. It quickly descended into absolute farce. It’d be impossible to capture all of the fuck-ups in anything less than ten thousand words but here are the broad strokes.
For those in attendance the amount of cut corners were incredibly obvious. A “VIP Room” that had nothing more than a few plastic chairs in it, barely built areas, cramped confines for foreign broadcasters and painfully thin walls that would make a London landlord blush. The sets leaked toxic fumes so potent that it made some players woozy and some even took to wearing masks to avoid them. The staff seemed to alternate between sleeping on the job or fucking things up in ways that led to lengthy delays, such as losing player equipment or suddenly deciding to leave the venue in a fit of panic.
All of this could be forgiven if it doesn’t affect the broadcast. Well, in terms of the on-screen production value it was equally atrocious. The sound was a constant lottery, the stream either having random sounds (think animal grunts or machine-gun fire) bursting through, or the commentator audio being so low or echoing so badly you couldn’t understand what they were saying. Sometimes those thin walls would be a factor, teams playing and even staff arguing would go out on the broadcast, sometimes even over player interviews. Sound wasn’t the only issue. Games that weren’t over would have a winner graphic pop up on the screen and sometimes the broadcast would just stop in the middle of a game. Strict venue times meant that the delays saw the fans who had paid money to attend have to leave while the matches were played out online.
Also spare a thought for James “2GD” Harding. Sure, his jibes about Chinese censorship, dubious pornography and his choice of props might all have been ill-advised but with hours and hours of time to fill a misstep for an outspoken figure was always likely. Valve were obviously displeased with everything that had taken place and when they promptly took a flamethrower to everything in a bid to turn the event round, Harding got caught in the flames. Publicly declared “an ass” by Gabe Newell, the production team were also shit-canned but people mostly wanted to talk about James. It created a sense among talent that if you go and work with these folks you best be careful… Nothing kills careers quicker than hot mics and unscripted filler.
How do you bounce back from that? I’d suggest running something small and unambitious, just to show you are actually capable of doing the job you want to get hired for. KeyTV don’t fuck up by halves though and so this time they ended up running an event on a cruise ship. Both monumentally stupid and needless (has anyone ever requested nautical esports before?) the Nanyang Cruise Cup will remain a better satire of esports than anything in Will Farrell’s upcoming movie.
original image from PCGamesN
Held aboard a ship called the Sapphire Princess this wasn’t and never could be a serious tournament and was rather a needlessly expensive vacation for those who had planned it. The logistics of trying to get a stable internet connection while at sea were as nightmarish as you’d imagine despite pre-tournament boasts that the issue had been conquered by renting a satellite. In an interview with joinDota the tournament director Wang Zilin said “Cruises are not very popular among young people, no internet on the high seas, slow pace of life etc. We decided if we could solve the internet problem, and add some activities that young people like, the cruise journey will be interesting.” He then ominously added “As far as I know there have been some attempts to use a satellite for an online stream, but no one has ever tried to host an Esports tournament and Esports Festival on a Cruise ship before.”
It turns out there’s a very good reason for that. The internet wasn’t fit for purpose meaning that for any games to take place they would have to use a local host for matches. This meant there could be no observers or commentators, nor any replays available for the public to watch. Fans watching the stream had to watch taped footage with a one game delay, with the added bonus that the observer in those matches making some “creative” choices about how best to show the teamfights, including being zoomed in as far as possible. The English speaking stream had zero consideration from KeyTV prompting them to leave a static overlay that read “sorry guys looks like there’s no dota today. The organizers have given us 0 information and are MIA. Hopefully we’ll get this rescheduled some time. Thanks.”
If the fans at home had it bad, spare a thought for those who had paid over $1000 for tickets to be there in person. For that princely sum they had no way to watch the games, despite promises that provisions would be made so they could watch them from their bunk. Perhaps tellingly the highlights were a Texas Hold ‘Em poker tournament, that incidentally had a prize pool almost ten times that of the Dota tournament, and the scantily clad women slowly serving drinks that drew comparisons with popular adult nightclubs back on the mainland. When Wings Gaming eventually won most on board only knew because of an announcement… They had little to no idea how it was achieved. It was, in short, an absolute mess. The only thing KeyTV got right in both cases were the apologies they had to issue after each event and it’s unlikely that with their tattered reputation they will enjoy working alongside any credible partners again.
Worst Decision of the Year
2010: ESL UK
2011: CS:GO Beta Key Distribution
2012: Absolute Legends Ghosting
2013: Alexey ‘Solo’ Berezin of Team Rox.Kis Match Fixing
2014: “I’ll just boost you up there” – Fnatic
2015: Leigh “Deman” Smith Leaves League
2016: PEA Enters The Fray
The announcement of the Professional Esports Association was doomed from the start. A seemingly benign title obscured what the organisation really was… It was as much an “association” as the Gambino family, a group of North American organisations who wanted to protect their investments and use their collective leverage to maximise profits at the expense of anyone else who wasn’t on board. Keeping the mafioso comparisons intact, anyone joinign did so on the understanding that you would have to pay fealty to the original founders. It’s their territory and they let you exist in the space and never forget it… Kiss the ring and stay away from any player or sponsor we might want for ourselves… just ask Rick Fox and Alex Garfield.
Still, that level of politicking has always existed in esports and, for the most part, can be handled without any drama spilling over into the public domain and everyone getting some of the pie, even if the slices are decidedly different sizes depending on who you are. Any hope for peace and stability was ruined with PEA’s first major fuck up was, the appointment of Jason Katz. If there’s something foul afoot in esports chances are Jason Katz has been involved in it… Part of CGS, Riot Games and Azubu, three entities that have abused power and been happy to wallow in corruption of various forms down the years, Katz’s CV could have been written by Stephen King. Shortly after being appointed as the Commissioner of PEA he set about doing what he does best… Needlessly fighting with people who had forgotten he existed and trying to corner a market that has resisted monopolies for over a decade. According to those on the receiving end a meeting with Jason Katz is like the scene where Jack Nicholson breaks down in “A Few Good Men.” Aggressive, of course, and powered by hubris that ultimately leads to his downfall.
The plan for PEA had been simple… To lock up their teams in an exclusivity league and then share profits among all who agreed to come out to Fantasy Island with them. Behind the scenes there was boasting of $10 million of sales already completed and that everyone was going to stop supporting their rivals, most notably ESL who Katz had told to get off the continent or face the consequences. So far, so typical… The key issue was that they had assumed the players would simply agree to these terms: to compete almost exclusively in a league that didn’t exist, with no planned broadcasting package and no proof of the strangely pyramid shaped trickling down money that was definitely going to be paid out. Having held no meetings with players whatsoever about this naturally when players got wind of the plan, through third party reporting and the ever spinning rumour-mill, they refused to co-operate and said if it was a choice they would rather play in ESL over PEA, even if it meant losing their spots within certain organisations.
Suddenly understanding the need for some form of public relations PEA tried to justify all of this but it was too late. PEA had completely flubbed their one shot and will forever have to live with indignity of losing a PR battle to ESL, who think that stands for “private retaliation.” The year ended with PEA left in an uncertain position, announcing they wouldn’t support CS:GO any more and vowing to run leagues for other games without being able to state what they are. 2017 saw Katz ousted, keeping his Cal Ripkin like record of esports failure intact.
Most Irritating Fanboys
2010: The French
2011: The French
2012: 1.6 Enthusiasts
2013: Dota 2
2014: Team SoloMid
2015: League of Legends Community
2016: Brazilian CS fans
A lot has gone unsaid about the rise of Brazilian CS. Always a nation that has made a contribution, the sudden emergence of their teams as champions seems to have brought out the worst in the hardcore. I’d struggle to think of another event where one specific player has had to be escorted by enhanced security when walking round a venue. However, that provision was made for Spencer “Hiko” Martin when he attended the ESL Pro League finals in São Paulo. If you’re wondering why simply cast your mind back to Team Liquid vs Luminosity at the RGN pro series in November 2015. A power outage occurred during a crucial round due to a photographer kicking a PC. Liquid got the better of it and, as there were no specific rules that meant they had to reply, let the round stand. Cue hysterics from the Brazilian team, with Marcelo “coldzera” David specifically targeting Hiko on Twitter. This meant the American player received multiple threats from those fans and as such had to be assigned a security detail for something that even the RGN CEO said wasn’t the fault of either team.
Similar scenes took place during the final of 2016’s Northern Arena event between Cloud9 and immortals. When it was noticed that Henrique “Hen1” Teles wasn’t wearing a noise-canceling headset for the first three rounds of the deciding map, the admins ordered a replay, as you’d expect. Except instead of that simply occurring because, y’know, rules, there was the usual assault on social media that feed into this insane victim complex that Brazilian pros seem to have. Under immense pressure to show “sportsmanship” because “only pussies try to win no matter what” Cloud9 declined the admin ruling, played on and lost the final. None of this stopped a barrage of threats from Brazilian fans on social media who, without any sense of self-awareness, started to refer to Cloud9 as “Cry9.”
I am no stranger to the ire of Brazilian fans either. During the run of “By The Numbers,” the popular CS:GO podcast featuring myself and Duncan “Thorin” Shields that ended in March of 2016, it was par for the course to be threatened by angry Brazilian fans for expressing our opinions. My colleague received so many threats of violence, including rape threats if memory serves me correctly, that we vowed never to travel there for the purposes of esports because why would we?
Not even their own representatives are safe from their hysterical ire. The players for Immortals and now SK Gaming have all said that when they lose their own fans berate them in a way they find hard to comprehend, which probably explains why they are so fond of deflection. It really frames the “we smart, we loyal, we friendly, we from Brazil” meme in a different light because only one of those labels seems to apply to the least vocal of the number. For all we know it could well be a sizeable silent majority but as things stand there are few worse online mobs to be subject to. It might well be time for all of the smart, loyal and friendly Brazilians to start drowning out their counterparts before this reputation is cemented.