Response to Town Hall Heroes–NA Professionalism

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On Town Hall Heroes this week, Zoia went on a tear about the lack of professionalism within NA teams. He brought up many interesting points about scrim cancellation, player grudges, and the general reasons why NA appears to be struggling.

I’ve written before about the region gap in HOTS, and I think many of Zoia’s points were valid based on my own observations of both the HGC, and the early days of the League of Legends Championship Series. Today, I want to explore some of those points a bit deeper, and discuss actual solutions for the teams in the HGC, the amateur scene as well as NA fans who want to see growth.

Overall, much of this article is going to be a direct criticism of Blizzard. I believe many of these issues have been solved well by Riot and the LCS, and those lessons were not observed by the HGC organizing team.

Scrim Professionalism

There are a few issues here. First, the core issue of player professionalism, followed by the fundamental problems with the HGC format. Let’s talk about the concept of player professionalism to start.

Zoia’s plan of “NA needs to grow up” is not a realistic solution. You are dealing mostly with children in a culture of individualism and self-promotion. There are too many deep-rooted issues in America that are exacerbated by the sort of personality that you generally find in hardcore gamers. Most of the players in NA were hobbyists one day and suddenly had a full time job the next. Many of them have likely never had a serious job before, or been properly taught the ways to conduct themselves in a business setting.

Now, let me make it clear that I am not saying any stereotypical garbage about “lul millennials” or “kids today are just lazy” or anything about “egos”. I’m sick of the NA meme about egos, and we’ll talk about that more another time. What I am saying is that the vast majority of NA players are simply not equipped with the knowledge and expectations that come with conducting themselves in a professional manner. Those are learned skills that you don’t acquire by sitting in your room playing video games. Obviously, some people have these skills inherently, but the vast majority will not.

Therefore, it is the responsibility of an organization to provide those players with those skills and expectations. Every team should have a coach and manager who’s primary jobs are to protect the players from themselves. They set up the schedule, and they hold the players accountable to that schedule. If a player does not meet expectations, that team must have the power to create discipline for that player.

If I were coaching a team, I would have a very clear policy in place. I would set clear expectations and goals for the team and the players individually. I would sell my team on the importance of these expectations, and make sure every player signed a written statement agreeing that these policies were for the good of the team. Then, if a player broke that agreement, I would have the power and authority to enact consequences. For me, if a player ever missed more than one scrim due to an insufficient reason, that player would be benched for an official game. If we were a sponsored team, I would ask my organization to deduct one game’s worth of salary from that player.

If the current HGC rules do not allow this, then that must change immediately. Players must have some level of fear that they could be replaced. There are certain personalities who need that in order to be properly motivated. I’m not saying that any coach or organization should exclusively use fear as a motivator, but that it needs to be a tool in the toolbox.

Now, let’s talk about the other problem. Scrims are a necessary evil. You are completely reliant on other teams for quality practice. Further, you are revealing strategies and weaknesses to your opponents. In the LCS, top pro teams constantly scrim against the Challenger League. These are amateur teams that are still working with a similar competitive structure. While the talent pool may be slightly lower, the quality of practice is largely the same. This is not true in HOTS.

The open division plays on a completely different patch than the HGC roster. They do not have the same access to the tournament realm. HGC teams are getting terrible practice when scrimming against amateur teams–some of whom may be better than current pro rosters, or more reliable for scrims.

This is a problem that must be addressed by Blizzard. If a team is blacklisted, or cannot locate good scrims from pro teams, they have to be able to look to the amateur scene for practice. As it stands right now, every team could decide to just not scrim Tempo Storm for a month leading up to playoffs, and they would be completely without recourse. That is not acceptable. As fans, we need to hold Blizzard accountable to addressing these fundamental problems that have already been solved in other comparable games. If teams can get quality scrims from the amateur scene, they can start holding pro teams accountable by actively blacklisting them for lack of professionalism. The blacklisted team will also be able to get some practice with amateur teams, but they will fall behind by not receiving any time practicing against the best teams.

Player Grudges

This is one area where I slightly disagree with Zoia. Player synergy is more important than anything in a MOBA. This is proven by the teams who attempt to bring in Korean talent in the LCS. It takes months of practice and hard work to build that synergy, and often the teams fail miserably in their first competitive matches with the new players. Super teams simply don’t work unless the players all get along and fit the system. I’ve seen too many attempts at this across multiple games, and they all fail. In MOBAs, players need to be friends.

Further, this is not an ego thing. Some people don’t like each other. That is ok. There is also a long history between some players in NA, and many of them have been genuinely hurt or wronged by other players in the scene. Yes, some of those beefs may be squashable, especially by good management, but it is ridiculous to suggest that players who hate each other should be forced to get over it and work together. That’s not practical, and it provably doesn’t work in this sort of game.

I’m so unbelievably sick of the false memes in NA. The concept of player egos and the whole “rosterpocalypse” meme are so completely ridiculous to anyone who understands how these games and teams actually function. When one team makes a roster change, it sends ripples throughout the rest of the region. If two players left Fnatic, the whole of EU would implode. We only see more stability in other regions because the rosters of the top teams are so dominant and stable. NA does not have that stability for a wide range of reasons, none of which have anything to do with player egos. Just stop it.

If an organization feels that they need to make certain moves, then they should work with their players to resolve existing grudges. They should treat those emotions and hurt feelings as completely valid, and work to repair those relationships. It isn’t useful to just tell people to “grow up”. That doesn’t teach anyone about interpersonal conflict resolution. Work it out, or if that cannot happen, find someone else.

Get Big Orgs

To me, it is unacceptable that the largest esports organization in NA HOTS is Tempo Storm. That’s nothing against Tempo, they are a great org. However, they are not TSM, CLG, Immortals, or Cloud 9. This is a Blizzard title with a global league, multiple international events, and at least 20k viewers per broadcast. How on earth is Team 8 still unsigned? Are these organizations not courting them? Are Glau and crew being too picky with their contract negotiations?

This is the big step for NA. EU has three massive organizations spearheading the region. Most of NA is still essentially freelancing. That must change. As fans we need to be constantly tweeting, sharing, and discussing the HGC. We need to be really hyping up our love for these teams, showing major sponsors that the HGC is worth an investment. When was the last time you tweeted to Reginald or someone at CLG and told them you’d buy team merch if they sponsored Glaurung? Give these teams the leverage they need to get signed by the right org.

To any of you who are going to be tweeting and commenting on Reddit in the coming weeks about “lul NA” or “omg rosterpocalypse” let me ask you something. What are you doing to fix it? Do you watch the stream? Do you watch supplementary content? Do you follow HGC pros and teams on Twitter? Do you retweet content from teams? Do you actually care, or are you just having fun copy-pasting a meme because you’ve never had an original thought before?

We literally have all the power to change everything. You want more professionalism, stronger teams, better competition? Get Immortals to sign a team. I promise you the whole league will change. If they see meaningful ROI potential, they will absolutely give a team what they need to succeed. Don’t just regurgitate the same tired memes we’ve seen for two years. We’re better than that. You can make a difference, go out and do it.
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