[b]Lesson #1 of the XPL postmortem: if a website is critical to your operation, make sure you own the damn domain.[/b]
[b]Lesson #2 of the XPL postmortem: we've seen this movie before, and will continue paying admission to see it again until we see true unification in gaming amongst players and teams.[/b]
Bubbles: they pop.
Look, if the status quo continues in competitive gaming, this bang-bust cycle will never end. That much is obvious. However, the problem is not the long line of clow ns looking to scam kids playing video games. You enable them by giving them a warm undeserved welcome on arrival, and relying on them for every last penny they may or may not bring in. You - the competitive community - are the problem.
Early in competitive gaming's formative years, it became normal that the league was an entity entirely separate from teams and players, and became acceptable that they could exist for their own exclusive profit. This situation, where the interests of leagues were quite often at odds with the interests of teams and players, could very well be the single greatest factor in the list of things holding gaming back today.
Just look at the 'Ghost of Gaming Past' that just won't go away: the CPL. Putting aside the pages you could fill with reasons not to trust these guys, grab a gander at just how it is they were able to get away with everything they pulled: changing prize pots at will, halting 'b-list' tournaments already in progress, not paying out prize money to no-name teams, and still profiting comfortably. How did these guys last for the better part of a decade, and are even, as you read, trying to revive this brand?
Two reasons: the gaming community could not and still cannot pass up the promise of a few bucks - real or not; and the CPL was not accountable to the teams and players in any way, nor is a single gaming league in existence today. Fix these two things and I think gaming actually has a chance to see legitimate, sustainable, robust growth.
In it for the long haul
A lot of you are great players that pour a lot of time, energy, and emotion into playing TF2. I understand the desire to turn your efforts into a slightly larger bank account; I get it! But if you as gamers continue to bend over for every Tom, Dick, and Harry that sets up some shiny (or not-so-shiny) website and promises to throw a couple thousand dollars at you, you're not doing anybody any favors, including yourself. What happens when they don't come through as agreed? What happens when they inevitably close up shop? How can the practice of relying on random guys throwing money at the gaming scene be justified as the only means of growing it?
I understand that the developments regarding LanChamp are exciting. But take a good look at what's going on there...where's the $12000 coming from? Do you see any sponsors? Any means where they might actually be generating revenue? If it's too good to be true, IT PROBABLY IS. Even if this guy is mega rich and is just dumping three months worth of living wages on TF2 out of the kindness of his heart, how is that in any way sustainable? Or - if we're being more reasonable - these folks are dumping their meager life savings into prize pots, or worse, are taking out loans hoping that some other rich asshole or angel sponsor will swoop in and buy the whole operation. How is that a reasonable approach to growth? Feels more like gambling to me.
Now for the tough love bit: if you all do what's best for gaming, if you do what's necessary to bring the scene as a whole out from the stinking morass of 1998, you will not profit greatly from it; it will be your children that will reap the benefit. Sorry if that's a bit sappy, but it's the damn truth. You can continue to prop up the status quo, and continue to take little greasy wads of cash from random strangers every once in a while and continue to go nowhere; or you can do things right, build the same foundation that is the bedrock of any sport, and share ownership in the growth that follows.
What essential functions do these third-party league constructs serve that a collective of teams couldn't figure out or support on their own? Selection of administrators, defining rules, conducting seasons, producing schedules, ensuring fair play, providing servers (sometimes), marketing the league, and bringing in sponsorships - all these are primary functions of a league construct, and all are functions that a third-party for-profit entity is completely unnecessary for. Add "profit at the gamer's expense" to the list and you pretty much have the current situation.
Gaming won't grow as long as you - the gamers - are the consumers of the league product as opposed to the producers. Pay to play leagues will never grow gaming because the league has already made their money from you, and they already have their sponsorships tailored towards YOU. Why should they feel the need to waste money marketing it further? Their product is participation in the league experience, you are the consumer; that's the totality of the market, and you will always be at the bottom of this picture. If you want gaming to grow, if you want to see people make sustainable livings from competing in video games, if you want to flip that picture around, you have to understand what your product is as a gamer, and you have to own it yourselves.
[b]Next installment: how to do just that.[/b]
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