A catalyst for growth
Creating invitational tournaments is easy. Small events can succeed with a relatively small prizepool and have strong viewer draw with 8 handpicked players. They are easier to organize, shorter and designed with one goal, maximum possible viewership with least possible investment. The community often speaks out against invitational formats and with good reason. They do not promote growth. Invitationals generally reward players who are already popular to begin with. If it's your goal to attain maximum possible viewership then of course you will use these players existing fanbases to gain that. Lets think of what SHOUTcraft America could have looked like.
You want 50k? That'll probably do the trick. A perfect mix of strong US competition with existing strong fanbases for each player, a couple of Koreans with American ties to spice up the competion and provide that all important foreiger vs Korean storyline, some drama from IdrAs invite to drum up publicity, a Mexican player to hit the Spanish speaking demographic, Hey, that has it all. But what would have been the point? It's just another online invitational at that point, doing the same thing we've been doing for years, over and done with in 2 days and then forgotten. With SHOUTcraft America we wanted to shoot for something bigger, riskier and most importantly, something that actually made a difference. The scene that really needed it? The NA server.
SHOUTcraft America was designed as an experiment with a few goals. Firstly, would a significant number of people actually watch NA-only Starcraft with a roster of players that may not contain the usual faces? Secondly, is it possible to succeed where Blizzard has failed in raising the level of the NA ladder by turning it into a more competitive environment, handing out qualification spots based on ladder ranking? Thirdly and most importantly, can we bring out the fighting spirit of American players and give the scene a much needed shot in the arm after WCS NA stacked the deck against them? All good questions, let's discuss how close we got to those goals.
An ambitious goal that we would almost surely have hit with that 8-man lineup I just listed. EZPZ. SHOUTcraft 4 hit close to 50k concurrents with a lineup of EU pros. The 50k number originated on DJWheats show as he threw out an ambitious prediction. I went along with it because I think it's important to have a lofty goal to aim for, it means you push yourselves harder to reach it and never sit in your laurel. Did we hit it? No. Did we come close? Yes. Day 1 concurrent stats show 40,000 viewers across all SHOUTcraft streams. Could we have reached 50k? Yeah I really do believe so, but it was not to be.
SHOUTcraft America is without question the most technically disastrous event we've ever done. Naturally a 7-show run is going to have more problems than a 2-show weekend warrior invitational, but the sheer scale of problems surprised even me. What went wrong? Oh let me count the ways
Xsplit crashes requiring stream and sometimes computer restarts
Xsplit delinking itself from Starcraft resulting in Gamesource software capture refusing to work, forcing a switch to screen-region during a cast
Severe lag problems resulting in frequent frame-drops and outright disconnects from the stream
Routing problems to the Twitch ingest servers resulting in yet more stream hiccups
Player and game lag, including disconnections resulting in resuming from replay
Foreign language caster disconnections due to lobby bugs
Severe weather causing internet outages in the area lasting upwards of an hour during at least 2 days of play
Co-caster disconnections and Skype problems
Modem hardware failure requiring a complete replacement and setup procedure with the ISP
Occasional mic crackle caused by intermettent Xsplit audio bug
Other minor cosmetic production problems including some incorrect race icons on virtual jersey, misaligned cameras during faceoff interviews.
What did all of this cause? 2 fairly key factors in maintaining consistent viewership
Uncomfortable viewer experience.
Oh man did we fail to meet the downtime expectations in this tournament. I knew it would require more downtime than our usual events simply because it was a tournament that required the use of more complex, variable assets which required more production time inbetween games. The setting up of the webcams with different overlays for each matchup, setting up the vs screens for each match, altering virtual jersey for each match, all of this stuff takes time to do correctly. This is especially true when you use the dual-tournament format because you can't be sure exactly who will play after the first 2 games, you need assets designed in a modular fashion, which is exactly what we created, however they take time to swap around inbetween games. All of this is by the by though, the real cause of the downtime was the internet issues. This was the first big event we did using Timewarner Cable in the US and boy did they fail hard. This ISP is grossly incapable of handling even reasonable uptime requirements and despite having 5mb up, the stream struggled to maintain the steady 3mb required for high fidelity 720p60 streaming. I went into this event concerned that this would happen and boy did it live up to that expectation. A disastrous inability to handle reliable streaming resulted in massive delays, severe problems in the first match which resulted in it being unwatchable and an overall poor viewing experience. As the days dragged on, viewers were turned off and Europeans could not stay up as long as we needed them to in order to maintain strong viewership figures. Days that should have been 4-5 hours of play ended up being 6-7 with the RO8 dragging on for over 8 hours.
You know what the sad thing is? If Day 1 had not suffered internet problems I believe we could have hit that 50k. Topping out at 40k despite severe problems is actually really impressive. It showed a passion from the audience for this tournaments goal and they would support this event through thick and thin. I genuinely appreciate the fervour of these fans and because of them I have hope for the future. At the same time though I feel like a complete failure for letting them down. I pride myself on quality within the best of my ability. What I can't do either due to budget or expertise, I'll try and innovate around in some way. I also felt I had enough experience to handle casting, production and observing all at once but I was mistaken. The complexities of this events production combined with the stress of trying to handle the unexpected issues resulted in failures on my part. I am truly sorry for this, you deserve better than amateurish mistakes. While we clearly blew previous SHOUTcraft events out of the water in terms of production value and anyone who claims otherwise is out of their mind, what good is production value if you can't stay on stop of the production to begin with? What good are flashy graphics if your observing is poor?
Stats don't lie
32152 SCI4 Day 1 Maximum concurrent viewers
49337 SCI4 Day 2 Maximum concurrent viewers
449405 SCI4 Day 1 Total views
445978 SCI4 Day 2 Total views
198120 SCI4 Day 1 Unique viewers
184462 SCI4 Day 2 Unique viewers
36315 SCA Day 1 Max Concurrents
22231 SCA Day 2 Max Concurrents
21604 SCA Day 3 Max Concurrents
13426 SCA Day 4 Max Concurrents
34058 SCA Day 5 Max Concurrents
27550 SCA Day 6 Max Concurrents
18322 SCA Day 7 Max Concurrents
334620 SCA Day 1 Total Views
155060 SCA Day 2 Total Views
147480 SCA Day 3 Total Views
85220 SCA Day 4 Total Views
255960 SCA Day 5 Total Views
161440 SCA Day 6 Total Views
59780 SCA Day 7 Total Views
181360 SCA Day 1 Unique Viewers
86640 SCA Day 2 Unique Viewers
81540 SCA Day 3 Unique Viewers
55420 SCA Day 4 Unique Viewers
145880 SCA Day 5 Unique Viewers
98140 SCA Day 6 Unique Viewers
41460 SCA Day 7 Unique Viewers
Stream ad revenue: $2,957
Tournament cost: $12,000
$10,000 - Prizepool
$500 - Payment for tournament assets
$1,500 - Ancillary costs such as travel, cab fares, accomodation for NY final
Undetermined cost to MLG, quoted as being "several thousand".
VoD stats to be determined.
Ok, so what can we derive from these. Does the failure to reach view/concurrent records set by SCI4 indicate failure? The answer to that is no for several reasons. SCI ran longer tournament days which naturally results in more actual views. The longer you run, the more people tune in to check it out. Day 1 of SCA was actually half the length of SCI4s day 1, which was 2 large groups showing 10 BO3s rather than 5. SCA Day 1 beat SCI4 soundly in terms of both max concurrents (which is even high when taking into account the foreign language streams and in terms of hours played/total views ratio. However, as we can see there is a falloff that rallies somewhat around the RO8 onwards with a disappointing slip in the finals. The view count is not so important for the finals because it is 1 BO7, the shortest show of the lot. Total views can be a very misleading stat and one must be careful not to take it out of context. Day 4 was also disappointing. I attribute its performance to being the group with 3 team-less, low-profile players and the fact that it was on a Friday, meaning US viewers may have been at work or school.
Long story short, we had a very limited time frame to execute this tournament while dodging WCS before the summer tournament madness began. The execution of this event now was vital to pushing the event into a successful second season later in the year. We based the original dates on WCS dates given by Blizzard and promises of no “weekend WCS broadcasts”. These dates were then changed and the promise of no weekend broadcasts did not come to pass. WCS broadcast both an important qualifier during one of our scheduled shows and scheduled the EU regional finals on a date that would have been ideal for our finals. While we could have pushed the broadcast much later in the evening it was impossible to know how long WCS EUS cast would have gone on for and we would have suffered viewer fatigue and the EU audience leaving due to the late time schedule. Originally our projected finals date would have clashed with WCS NA, which we did not want to do due to futility of splitting the US audience and hurting both tournaments. We also had to push our starting date one day to dodge WCS NA Challenger qualifiers, which were being played in by most of the players in our tournament. Due to all of these changes our schedule was pushed into days we did not want to use, including 1 Friday show and 1 Tuesday show, both of which suffered heavy hits in viewership. The MLG collaboration came about in support of the American scene and due to a lack of desire to clash with WCS NA (which we would have on our original schedule). We also desired the prestige for our players, giving them a chance to travel in a real offline final with good production and reliable, safe conditions. In hindsight, it hurt the tournament due to low viewership resulting from a Tuesday schedule. However, this tournament was about the players not the overall viewing figures and if asked to do it again I would. Giving our eventual champion Kane a chance to travel to New York for the first time and win his first big event was worth the hit we took.
Is it all bad?
No actually quite the opposite. As much as the 50k figure was touted by DJWheat, SHOUTcraft actually did phenomenally well considering the following factors
Lesser known players
We beat WCS and not just by a small margin, we buried it. WCS NA could not compete with us in terms of concurrent and overall views. We were soundly exceeding their numbers by upwards of 10,000 concurrents on our good days. We were even competitive with WCS EU. I have it on good authority (and of course common sense) that SHOUTcraft generated significantly more ad revenue in its run than WCS NA has throughout the entire RO32. Add into the mix that our vods are significantly more popular than WCS, particularly when Husky posted some on his channel and you actually have a tournament that is punching way above its weight class and crushing in the numbers far more than it has any right to. What does it show? In my opinion a few things.
There IS a ground-swell of support for NA talent
No actually, not everyone just wants to watch clones of GSL with the same Koreans all the time
Regardless of the complaints about low quality games, a ton of people showed up and watched them anyway
Now, can some of it be attributed to the caster lineup? Most definitely. An all-star lineup of Husky, Day9, IdrA, Frodan, Rotterdam and Axslav was able to overcome the deficit caused by my terrible casting and no doubt contributed strong viewer numbers, although not necessarily what you might have expected. One might expect Day9s presence to be the overriding factor in viewership but that was not the case. Day 3s figures which featured Rotterdam were extremely similar to Seans appearance on Day 2. Casters contributed greatly to the success of the event but it was not as strong a draw as people claim. Weekend vs Weekday was by far a much stronger determining factor in the overall viewership, with weekend shows beyond Day 1 getting relatively similar numbers across the board regardless of caster.
So maybe we didn't hit the magic 50k, but look at the big picture. A tournament filled with players with lower profiles lacking several big name star “American” SC2 players, beat WCS NA over and over again who had the benefit of high profile Korean and foreign stars and the prestige of a huge prizepool and the endorsement and backing of Blizzard themselves.
Riding the hype wave
I've made no secret that I will use smart methods to promote my events and my brand. This tournament deliberately took advantage of the negative attention that WCS NA had been getting due to its lack of local players. We also took advantage of IdrAs recent dismissal and brand value to benefit the event. I make no apologies for that what-so-ever, I run a business and if you don't take advantage of that stuff to further promote your event then you are bad at your job. I'm also very much an ends justify the means kind of guy. If I have to ride a wave of anti-WCS sentiment to get more eyes on NA pros who are sorely under-represented and being thrown under the bus by the very company that is supposed to be helping them succeed, then I'll do it without a second thought every time. I'll never apologize for doing what I think is right, even if it steps on a few toes along the way.
Adding fuel to a dwindling fire
Most viewers have not touched upon this but many NA pros have managed it. One of the best things this tournament accomplished was turning the NA ladder into a competitive warzone as players vied for precious top 16 spots. Everyone we've spoken to reported an immediate increase in competitive play resulting partially from top pros returning to American ladder from Korean or European grandmaster as well as everyone simply taking their games more seriously and giving 100% to win. The ladder became a better place to train due to those factors and the very thing that Blizzard claimed it wanted to do, “elevate” the level of play on the weakest ladder, was accomplished here even if only for a short time. If you want to elevate the ladder, you have to give it meaning. WCS does not do a thing to encourage that. If you want to beat Koreans you have to prepare specifically for them, you cannot just play ladder and hope to carry the day. Koreans will not come and play on NA ladder just because they are in WCS NA, that is inferior practice. Most Koreans treat NA ladder as stream fodder where they can slap around some foreigners with inferior builds and not have to show their true strength. Don't get me wrong that's totally fine and it's cool for NA streamers to meet up with these guys and show exciting battles, but true competition is needed. I believe Gennas decision to base on the tournament on the ladder was the correct one and if a second season occursI want to emphasize that even further, giving seeding based on ladder rank and playing over a much longer period to really get the ladder fired up. One of the legitimate criticisms of this event is that we did not give players enough time to qualify and that some pros were locked out of GM even though they shouldn't really have been. We aim to address this in future events by ensuring a longer qualification period before the ladder locks.
Region locking. I'm gonna be honest I still believe in it. I think we need it and the sports industry agrees with me. Every major sport on the planet has significant local competition that is the backbone of their respective scenes. Without strong local competition it is impossible for a sport to flourish in that particular area and it eventually results in the local audience in that region dying off. There is an idea floating around that he majority want “the best games”. I don't believe that's true. I feel that large events like the olympics, world cup and superbowl are as popular as they not due to hem having “the best games” but due to the prestige and importance of being an apex event, the pinnacle of what those sports can reach in terms of size and spectacle. In theory that should mean they show the best games but that's not necessarily true. The Superbowl is an event that people gather to watch regardless of who plays but the regular season is driven by the supporters of those local teams. British football is the same way, you support the team from your area and you watch not for “the best games” but to see them play. That emotional investment in local heroes is such a key factor of the success of broadcast sports and we must maintain that within SC2 if we want this scene to prosper. There must not be a time when the only competition available to watch consists exclusively of Koreans. NA players will not improve without competitions to play in. There are no Americans left in WCS Premier league, who knows how many will manage to claw their way back in after this season with increased Korean competition? Then where will these players compete, what will they have to aspire for? The paltry challenger prizepool against Koreans that don't feel like dealing with the flood of Kespa players overwhelming the GSL? Maybe IPL? Oh wait. What about NASL? Oh...MLG! Maybe, but who knows how many live events will happen this year and with still no news of Anaheim so close to the event, one has to be extremely concerned that we will not see a return to the open bracket play of old and a Korean focussed invitational/qualification format will be used. With ESL focussed on WCS rather than IEM events, Dreamhack stands as a bastion of independence yet one that favours Europeans over Americans with prohibitive cost factors in play.
Ultimately this is Gennas call. I personally believe that if we choose to continue and expand to a RO32 format, the relaxing of the region lock rule to allow players who have resided in the US for a set period of time and are in the US at the time of the tournament, may be a good idea. The exclusion of players like Demuslim made sense in the RO16, in a RO32 not so much, he is as much a part of the American scene now as anyone else and even players like Polt would be good targets to takedown in a tournament like this. The overall benefit of including these players may outweigh the loss of a few spots that could have gone to natural-born citizens, one can make a name for oneself by knocking out a big name favourite and the American brain-trust will no doubt conspire against players like Polt in order to bring him down in a format that encourages careful preparation and planning. That's the level of compromise that I personally would be willing to put into play.
Is it feasible to resolve many of the issues this tournament suffered? Let me be frank, I'm fucking serious about this. If it is at all possible to acquired a real leased line, I'm talking T3 level here, I will do it. It is unconventional for residential home offices to use something that hardcore but it's not outside the realms of possibility. My business relies on the internet, I need it to work 100% of the time. A dedicated unshared line with a service level agreement and ridiculous upstream would do the trick, even if it costs thousands of dollars a month to maintain. Our area sucks and so does Time Warner Cable, but where there is a will there is a way.
What about the other issues like observation? This is a very tricky problem to solve in an online environment, you cannot use a dedicated obs in an online tournament unless they are physically on location. Can I make that happen? Maybe...? Again, not impossible. Alternatively I could just practice much harder in my observing, ladder more to improve my gamesense and minimap awareness and just suck less next time.
Player recognition. How do we solve this issue? How do we get people to care. We already did. One of the problems SCA Season 1 had, it also simultaneously solved for SCA Season 2. Now you DO know these guys. With the addition of the more traditionally strong and high profile NA players, I believe a second season would have an even bigger draw. I believe the “ONLY THE BEST GAMES” guys are a vocal minority. WCS EU numbers alone show this, consistently higher than WCS NA which has stronger Korean players. Actually yes people would rather watch Dayshi build hellbats (<3 you Dayshi) than watch 2 more Koreans fight in the MLG studio. Game quality takes second place to how relatable a player is, his personality and how entertaining the games end up being. Scrappy games are sometimes the most fun to watch and self-important viewers who boast of their superior taste and knowledge can't even name he players that rock the NA ladder, so how knowledgeable of the scene can they really be? We had a word for those guys when we were younger, the guys who supported the winning team not the local team, we called them glory supporters. SC2 might not be the same as traditional sports, but there's no question that a more positive attitude towards local talent will benefit the scene. SCA is a means to that end and the more success we have with it the more momentum it will gain. SCA will break the laws of thermodynamics and be a tournament of perpetual motion.
Is Blizzard the enemy?
No. As much as I'm happy to use emnity towards Blizzard to my advantage, Blizzard has cooperated with SCA and shows signs of continuing to do so. Blizzard has it's own ideas about how the scene should operate and grow and who is to say that they are wrong? Their plan may indeed show long-term benefits even with short-term damage. However, I would like to continue to produce content that both competes with and compliments WCS. I see no harm in putting on a strong show to keep Blizzard honest and make sure they're always questioning themselves. Being your own worst critic is so vital in this industry and often large companies get carried away with their internal echo-chambers of opinion. I'd like to particularly thank Kevin “Cloaken” Johnson who has been instrumental in providing support for this event as well as all Blizzard eSports staff who assisted us during the venture.
However. The elephant in the room is WCS schedule. With 16+ hours a day of Starcraft going on and an intense, rushed schedule within the first season, who is to say if it is even feasible to run anything other than weekend-warrior events in future? This is the immovable object we are fighting against and trying our best not to meet head on. Even if we can beat WCS NA in numbers, why would we want to fight them anyway? We certainly don't want to go against WCS EU and when we did run into them we suffered. I don't even know if there is a solution to this, I'm just hoping for a more manageable schedule that does not take over weekends as much as it does or shows that massively over-run that we have to try and dodge.
Perhaps. We have not decided whether or not to do a second season yet. This tournament was a large financial and mental drain on myself and Genna, who was already dealing with a severe ankle injury that has left her fairly immobile for over a month. The stress has been almost crushing at times, it's always the projects and causes you're most passionate about that can give you the most grief. A re-evaluation of format, production and many other factors must be made. SCA was undoubtedly our shakiest event but it was also the most difficult to pull off. I let my main channel, the thing that pays for all this, suffer during the tournament, that's not something I can do again. I must improve in all aspects of my production and observing and push our promotion and hype for the next even higher with supporting content, interviews, highlights, trailers and more. There is always more to do and we suffered many problems, some of which were self-inflicted during this tournament.
But did we fail? Hell no. Will we give up on the NA scene? Not a chance. America fighting!
Manager and Director : Genna Bain
Production and Casting : John Bain
Guest Co-caster : Husky
Guest Co-caster : Day
Guest Co-caster : Frodan
Guest Co-caster : Rotterdam
Guest Co-caster : IdrA
Guest Co-caster : Axslav
Finals production : Major League Gaming
Finals director : Adam Contini
Finals interviewer : Axeltoss
Finals observer : AGIANTSMURF
Graphic designer : Cristian Baltoc
Intro designed by : Brum
Tournament admin : Vequeth
Stream support : Thegunrun
Player announcer: Clutch
Champion : Kane
Runner-up : State
RO4 finish : Minigun
RO4 finish : Goswer
RO8 finish : QXC
RO8 finish : Hellokitty
RO8 finish : puCK
RO8 finish : Drunkenboi
RO16 finish : rsvp
RO16 finish : Xenocider
RO16 finish : Suppy
RO16 finish : MaSa
RO16 finish : Vibe
RO16 finish : Maker
RO16 finish : Neeb
RO16 finish : Hendralisk