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Esports and Media: How Should the Two Interact?

The media wants more access, and eSports organizations want the freedom to opt out of that access. No matter which way you slice it, there’s no easy answer.

 
Should media access to players and post-match press conferences be mandatory at major esports events? The ongoing question was brought up by former Yahoo! Esports Director Travis Gafford, who while covering the League of Legends World Championships in China tweeted the following: “It only took about 75 seconds for me to hear “Immortals has declined all interview requests” after that game finished.

Esports (without the “E”)

As esports continues to move more in line with its traditional sports bretheren, looking at the policies of traditional sports leagues can provide context to this issue. The most popular professional sport in the United States, the NFL, mandates Super Bowl attendees to be available to journalists during their annual media day. In 2015, at Super Bowl XLIX in Phoenix, Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch came to the stage. “I’m here so I won’t get fined,” Lynch replied to every single question.

While his remarks are now a trademarked joke, there’s an underlying point. While not entirely productive, Lynch at least appeared at the event. Also, the NFL has a pre- and post-game policy regarding media access:

“After a reasonable waiting period, defined as 10-12 minutes maximum after the completion of the game and the players have entered the locker room, the home and visiting team locker room areas will be opened to all accredited media with immediate access to all players and the head coach.” 2017 NFL Media Access Policy

Traditional sports leagues see working with media as a symbiotic relationship; media creates the content which fans consume which then turns into revenue for both parties. However with esports, universal access hasn’t been as consistent. Media is not always guaranteed access to players, coaches and organizational staff — and the issue goes much deeper than simply not being able to do interviews with players that have just lost a match.

Friend or foe?

It’s no secret that esports doesn’t always get along with the media. Players, coaches and owners have made it known that the media isn’t a priority and that — at times — it is a privilege to talk to them.

As one former Counter-Strike: Global Offensive manager said, “We don’t owe the media anything.” They weren’t wrong, either — without statutes in place, there’s no requirement for teams to do anything with the media if they so choose.

Take for instance Dota 2’s yearly world championship, The International. The event, just like most, has a media day where teams come down and meet with journalists and do various interviews. But unlike other developers or tournament organizers, Valve does not facilitate these interactions. It creates a risky scenario for press outlets hoping to cover the event: those who show up without industry contacts may be unable to garner a single interview, and especially for non-endemic outlets this can become a wasted coverage investment.

 

Be careful what you ask for

In situations like the latest League of Legends World Championships and The International, it’s easy to see where the frustration comes from. When there’s no guarantee the largest events of the year won’t yield the results outlets are looking for, who wouldn’t be? However, some events are starting to get on board with mandatory press conferences — and it’s not as simple a solution as some would imagine.

ELEAGUE attempted to increase media access during their Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Major held back in January. The organizer asked the winning teams to do press conference immediately after their matches and while some teams obliged, bringing their entire roster, other teams sent only one or two players — and some didn’t show up at all.

As the discussion continues, one major theme in regards to players, coaches, and team staff have separated themselves from the rest: esports players aren’t always prepared for life in the spotlight.

The above reason isn’t just a lazy excuse, either. Good players in the esports space can rise to prominence quickly; according to a study by ESPN, esports players are as much as five years younger than their traditional sports peers. This sometimes comes at the cost of post-secondary education and life experience. Going from playing a video game in a bedroom to competing on a stage in front of millions with the hounds of Reddit scrutinizing a player’s every move is hardly a smooth transition, either.

Given all that, is it really that hard to believe that not everybody is prepared for the spotlight? Nobody wants to see a sobbing teenager pelted with questions right after a loss, or an angry player lose control and say something in the moment that could damage their career forever — and when media demands access no matter what, teams often do (and in many cases, should!) push to protect their teams from those types of situations.

So what now?

It’s fair to say that there’s not a lot of trust between esports organizations and the media right now. Plenty of people on the organizational side have heard a horror story or two about overreaching media figures who push too hard when working with talent. Likewise, the frustration of inconsistent access continues to be a thorn in the side of outlets looking to enrich the space with deeper narratives. But at the end of the day, it’s not one side or the other that has to give. Both can be better.

On the organizational side, it will continue to be important that players be educated on how to live life in the public eye, and help guide young players as they learn how to navigate that lifestyle — which certainly includes media relations. It will also be important to come to grips with the fact that all press won’t be good press. Leagues, teams, players, talent and everybody in between are capable of making mistakes, and the media should feel comfortable to talk responsibly about the positive and the negative sides of esports without fear of retaliation.

Media can continue to improve, as well. As young a space as esports is, esports coverage is even younger. The word ‘responsibly’ is bolded above for a reason; it’s not uncommon to see coverage that blurs the line between opinion and fact, nor are stories of players feeling unfairly pressured or miscontextualized during interviews. As players and teams mature, so must the industry that covers them.

 

Will the two sides be able to come together? For the sake of everybody involved, let’s hope so.

 

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