Making Smashers into Stars

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Last week, an email I sent to The Set Count (a great Smash 4 podcast you should all be listening to) sparked a conversation about the star quality of our current smash pros. While we have outliers like Anti who bask in the warm glow of the spotlight, many seem to despise the attention, or simply lack the charisma to make themselves into stars.

Much has been said both on last week’s Set Count and elsewhere about why this is the case. There are no good MCs to hype up pros, the pros are super cringy during interviews, there are no good, real rivalries, and, frankly, smash crowds are simply disrespectful to the elite within their community. However, while all of these reasons are true, they were also true of the League of Legends scene in it’s early days. Before the LCS, before big organizations and production budgets we had five awkward teenagers standing on a stage being uncomfortably interviewed after winning a lan. It was no less cringy than any interview you’ve seen during a crew battle.

However, somehow those League of Legends pros became larger-than-life stars. Even before the very first season of play we had names like Reginald and Hotshotgg, Froggen and Snoopeh, Shushei and Xpeke. Their fans were ravenous and fiercely loyal, their word and opinion was respected. The rivalries were fierce and the passion of the fans kept them alive long after the original rosters faded away. Yes, LoL is an immensely popular game, but it’s esports stars were created before the rise of esports and the dominance of LoL within the genre.

I watched every competitive match from season 1 of League of Legends through to now. I know how that game grew to where it is today, and I know what Smash can learn from it. If you want more money in Smash, if you want real rivalries and passionate crowds, bigger view numbers and more attendance please read on. If you as a top level smasher want to make more money and have more Twitter followers than ever before, listen to my plan.  Don’t worry, there’s a TLDR at the bottom for you non-readers.

Part 1–Camera Time Makes a Star

Smash is about being inclusive. Anyone can attend any tournament, and anyone can get on stream. While this is wonderful for weeklies and monthlies, the attitude needs to shift for S-tier and A-tier events. These events are a business now, but streamers need to realize that their product is not Super Smash Bros for Wii U. Their product is Zero, Ally, Nairo, and Esam.

Every hardcore smasher just chuckled at that list for including Esam, but the fact is that he is more important to Smash than half the top 10 on the PGR. He plays a character that is immensely popular in the worldwide zeitgeist. He has a very distinct look. His Twitter is volatile but fun. He has enough talent to play an interesting match against anyone. Regardless of your opinion of his play, Esam has the potential to be one of the biggest stars in esports. Interesting fact–as of this writing, Esam has 2000 more Twitter followers than Anti. When big view numbers are on the line, the Esams of the world need to be on camera 90% of the time. Streamers, use the following criteria to identify your list of potential stars, and build your stream schedule around them. Follow these people through the bracket exclusively. Do not let a match happen on stream past round 1 pools that does not contain one of your stars.

  • Top 15 PGR–automatic star
  • Mains a unique character (and can take sets off the top 20 PGR)
  • Has over 25k Twitter followers
  • Has made a huge upset earlier in the tournament–automatic star
  • Is physically appealing (not necessarily attractive, but distinct)

Part 2–Restriction Make a Star

Our top players are simply too human. The beautiful thing about smash is that it destroys the barrier between the elite and the plebian. If you have a controller and pay the entry fee, you’ll get a shot at playing against the best in the world. The problem is, the smash community has taken this for granted. We see it as an expectation rather than a privilege.

Do you know how much money LoL fans would pay to get to play with their favorite pros? I do, because I’ve seen what they charge for coaching. One hour of coaching with Voyboy four years ago was $150. Would you pay $150 to play with someone on the PGR? How high do they have to rank? Which player specifically is worth that to you? Is anyone? By giving our most passionate community members (those that go to tournaments) such direct access to our biggest names, we’ve taken away their star power. We need to educate fans that getting to encounter someone on the PGR is a priviledge, not something you deserve. You don’t deserve to play catch with Tom Brady, why should you deserve any of Ally’s time? Obviously we should not affect the open nature of tournaments, because our ecosystem relies on it. However, we should restrict access to our stars in the following ways.

  • Every venue should have a restricted area reserved for players on the most recent PGR. This area should have food, water, and 3-4 setups
  • Have specific, scheduled times for organized fan interaction. A signing table, a queue for friendlies against specific pros, a Q&A panel–something where fans get direct access to the pros, but with clear organization and restriction.
    • Note: You are not trying to stop pros from wandering the venue outside of these organized times, but you are creating structured accessibility. If Zero wants to spend his free time playing money matches he can, but if he chooses to rest in the PGR Zone, his fans would know that there is a scheduled opportunity to interact with him.

Players and TOs would have to work together to make this a reality, and much of the community would lash out at first. However, it would ultimately be mutually beneficial–players have more structure to focus on the tournament, and events have more ways to use top players as a draw.

Part 3–Training Makes a Star

Our pros didn’t ask to be stars. No one told them that being good at a video game would make them have to be on camera constantly, to be attacked on social media, to be expected to trash talk in front of an apathetic crowd.Unfortunately, this is the reality of the sports world. If you want to make a living being a pro gamer, being good on camera, on social media, and in interviews comes with the territory. Talk to your sponsor about getting some training. Hire yourself an image consultant. Take a public speaking class or improv class.

There are people out there who can and will help make you a star. If you do it right, you can even be a star on your own terms. My DMs are open. I have a degree in Public Relations, a background in marketing, and four years of experience as an esports coach and journalist. Let someone help you get everything you deserve out of this industry by becoming larger than the game you play.

Part 4–Production Makes a Star

Obviously TO and streamer resources are limited. However, those resources can be better focused when the product becomes the stars rather than the game. Remember, you are not selling high level Smash–you are selling story lines. This goes hand in hand with building your stream around your stars. If you know who you’re selling to the audience, you build the tournament around them. What happened at their last tournament? Is someone in their pool that beat them recently? Did they recently say something interesting on Twitter? Give every commentator a list of talking points to hit each time one of your stars is on stream.

Notice how in football the commercials are never about the teams that are playing. Every game is billed as the star quaterback versus the star linebacker, or the two coaches going head to head. Sometimes its the battle between two quarterbacks (who aren’t even every on the field at the same time). Your tournament is not #CometoFrostbite cause we have x number of players in attendance and this neat crew battle. It’s the epic showdown between Zero and Leo. It’s the run of whoever earned the PG Key. It’s Dabuz’s shot at redemption against Japan after Tokaigi. It’s Japan’s chance at revenge against Nairo.

My wife doesn’t care at all about smash, but do you know what she does want to watch? She wants to watch the story of a young kid from Mexico who had a dream. This kid made a promise to his country, to his family and friends. He fought his way to America with one goal in mind, to win the tournament that inspired him–to stand above his idols on their biggest stage. Anyone else want to watch that movie? Cause it already came out, and it was called Genesis 4. Imagine that top 8 if that had been the story line all throughout the event.

Finally, a few things to keep in mind:

  • An MC is not an interviewer. They are two completely different skillsets.
  • Never interview a player without doing a pre-interview to prepare them for the questions.
  • If players don’t want to trash talk, don’t force it. Change the narrative to something that player will talk about, or just don’t do an interview at that time.
  • Whenever possible, don’t rush from losers finals right into grands. Take a commercial break, get on social media, have your commentators talk to the players, build the hype.
  • Send every PGR player coming to your event a questionnaire. Gather some fun facts about them as well as some insight into their thoughts about their competition.
  • Put Captain Zack on camera and in front of a microphone as much as humanly possible.

TL,DR

  1. Streamers and TOs need to build their business around stars, not the game.
  2. Know who your stars are and make sure they are always on camera.
  3. Have  PGR Zone where only PGR players can hang out at every venue.
  4. At every event have scheduled signings/meet and greets with PGR players.
  5. Pro players should get training on how to be better in interviews, use social media more effectively, and sell their personal brand.
  6. Production needs to focus on selling story lines rather than matches.
  7. Captain Zack and Esam have more star potential than most of the PGR.
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