The Strange (and suspicious) State of Overwatch Esport Content Creation
As my chosen title might suggest, I think Overwatch esport content is currently suspended in an strange position.
That isn’t to say I believe there is a lack of good content, quite the opposite in fact. Flame, Kirby, and Montecristo are creating very polished video content. Sideshow does a fantastic job of interviewing players at events, and his Twitter feed is often what keeps me up to date on Overwatch news. There are great Overwatch talk shows as well from The OverView to Oversight and Around the Watch. And I have to mention my boy Harsha, who is putting his thoughts out there to stir discussion.
These are far from the only content creators, they just happen to be a few of the most prolific (and some of my favorites). When we examine all of the names above an obvious trend emerges. That each and every one has created more pieces of video content than written content (I believe, definitely could be wrong here). But regardless there is a general trend of favoring video content in Overwatch, whether esport related or advice on ladder climbing.
I find this in stark contrast to the League of Legends scene where there are so many incredible and prolific writers. Of course Overwatch is a younger scene with less fans and writers, but I still can’t help but feel the ratio of written content to video content is significantly lower in Overwatch compared to other games.
I’m not sure if this is due to the fact that Overwatch in general has a more casual fan base who has yet to dedicate themselves to the esport scene yet, but it’s an interesting point I just wanted to note.
However the real reason I wanted to write this piece was due to the issues or potential issues I see in how Overwatch content currently reaches fans. This will be broken up into two categories. The shorter topic is the larger websites and the content of their publications. The second, longer discussion will be focused on the /r/overwatch and /r/competitiveoverwatch subreddits.
So to begin with the larger sites such as Yahoo Esports or TheScore Esports I specifically want to point out their social media presence, primarily on Twitter. Yahoo Esports has well over 30,000 followers with TheScore sitting pretty at 293,000.
Compare these numbers to the GosuGamers Overwatch Twitter at just 17,000 or Over.gg at under 400 followers.
The next subpoint I want to highlight is the differences in content between these sites. I have no qualms with the Yahoo Esports Overwatch content, but I am saddened that it is primarily just news. Meanwhile TheScore is beginning to turn into Buzzfeed Esports.
With the available audiences these sites possess I wish they were promoting as much quality editorial content as the much smaller sites like GosuGamers or Over.gg (Or Gamurs :D ). It concerns me that casual fans of the game might be introduced to Overwatch esport content from the larger sites first, not see something they enjoy, and then miss out on the fantastic work from elsewhere in the community.
But time for the real topic I wanted to discuss. The spread of content through Reddit. Firstly, /r/Overwatch is awful. If this is news to any of you I’m disappointed. The subreddit lists that low effort content is not allowed, yet according the work done by Montecristo and Harsha an estimated 22 out of 25 pieces are low effort content (gifs, memes, or Easter egg suggestions).
This is worrying on two fronts. Obviously the moderators not seeming to enforce their own rule set is worrying. But secondly this is a concern because of how large the audience is of the /r/Overwatch subreddit. At over 700,000 subscribers it is one of the largest non-default subreddits there is.
Because of the low effort (IE: bad) content that floods the front page the engagement rate is horrifically low. With some posts reaching over 20,000 upvotes, with a scant few hundred comments. The subreddit has essentially become a karma farm and contributes almost nothing to the spread of quality content or information.
This concerns me because this sort of content being the norm keeps the average fan in the pleb zone. Instead of having critical thoughts about the game, they simply view memes. It means that esport content has low views, which lowers less dedicated content creators motivation, and the esport scene is generating less interest than it could given the sheer number of Overwatch players.
Side note: If you want to help change this the competitive community is petitioning the /r/Overwatch moderators. Here is the link (https://www.change.org/p/moderators-of-r-overwatch-bring-more-diverse-content-to-r-overwatch)
Because of the lower viewership content creators on the /r/CompetitiveOverwatch subreddit have began to go a little crazy. I’m not going to comment on the validity of these claims, but there are content creators having arguments and accusing each other of vote brigading.
This brings me to my discussion of the /r/CompetitiveOverwatch subreddit. I appreciate the community’s efforts to improve the primary sub, but we have a long way to go with the competitive focused sub as well. Primarily focused on the couple conflict of interests prevalent in the community.
Before I begin let me make this very clear. I have no proof that anything I speak of is actually happening. I do my best to remain apart from the politics side of the subreddit. But I see two situations that if certain parties wished could very easily be exploited to promote their content and obscure or remove other’s work. Again, I have no proof or reason to believe any of this is actually happening, but these are simply ethical issues I want to call into focus.
First, some content creators have their own discord servers where they invite fans of their work. In some cases there are hundreds, or from what I’ve heard thousands of members on these servers. Frankly I think that is fantastic to be honest, because fan interaction only strengthens the content creators place in the community. It builds a loyal fan base who feels personally invested in the work that creator is doing.
However this is so obviously able to be exploited with vote brigading. As a content creator myself with access to the number of hits my work generates I can personally attest to there being a direct correlation between how high a piece sits on the front page, for how long it sits there and the number of views it will get. Especially on Reddit where you will gain views from those who do not follow you on social media platforms.
For some content creators like me this is more of a pride issue, as I’m paid per piece. But for many content creators they are directly paid by the number of hits they generate, particularly those who monetize their YouTube videos. Obviously money is a motivating factor, and obviously the second type of creator is interested in generating views to promote themselves and to make money.
It would be brain dead easy for a content creator with a way to directly message hundreds of fans to affect their contents performance on Reddit. Of course it would be stupid to say “hey go upvote my shit”, but imagine how easy it would be to just leave a message on your discord server that said “God that video took forever”.
In no way is that directly vote brigading, but it has influence over an already loyal fan base. That fan base now has a notification that informs them you have a new video out, and are likely to seek out that video on Reddit to upvote and support their favorite content creators.
The other instance personal discord servers could be abused would be a simple “wow that video by X was bad”. Now those same loyal fans (who rarely are the most logical beings) have an opinion they respect telling them a piece of content was bad. Now they are likely to irrationally down vote that content.
The scary part about both these scenarios is as long as nobody actually links a post in question it breaks no rules. It’s a classic ethics vs legality issue. These situations could virtually control what succeeds and fails on Reddit and directly influence what content reaches the most viewers.
However the absolute worst conflict of interest with the /r/CompetitiveOverwatch subreddit is the fact that some of the moderators are content creators themselves. I still won’t name names, but these ones are easy to figure out.
Some moderators have entered into professional relationships with websites who then publish that moderators work. I’m unsure if the moderators are being paid for that work (and given the cheap nature of the sites they are writing for I seriously doubt they are being paid) but the conflict of interest still exists.
These moderators are listed on the mod list as having “full permissions”. So these content creators who have personal interest in promoting their work to grow their brand, and possibly financial interests, also have complete power over the forum they are promoting themselves on. It’s logical to assume then that the odds of their content being taken down, or examined for vote brigading and the like are much lower because of their influence on the mod team.
Even worse some of the individuals are involved with websites who regularly have content being shared on the subreddit. It also follows that they would not only be favorable to their own work, but the content that is being published on their home website.
Once again, I would like to remind you that I have no proof that any of this is happening. But instead I want to highlight the potential conflicts of interest at play here. Moderators especially are supposed to be a neutral third party, and them promoting their own work on the forum they control violates that neutrality.
So what would I like to see be done? I’d like to see the /r/Overwatch petition go through, and higher quality content actually be able to succeed with the huge audience. I believe for ethical reasons it would be best of the moderators or /r/CompetitiveOverwatch who are creating their own content to either stop creating content, or give up their moderator position.
When it comes to the content creators with their own discord servers I find that to be a trickier issue. I could see how the system could be abused heavily. However I also personally really enjoy the idea of esport teams and content creators increasing their fan interaction rates by using these sorts of servers. It builds loyalty and obviously makes fans more invested in the scene.
Due to the potential benefits for teams, content creators, and the fans themselves I don’t want to see these servers be closed. Especially without proof. However if there ever is proof of these servers being used for vote brigading I believe it would be appropriate to shut the server down and temporarily ban the content creator’s work.
Thank you to everyone who actually finished this piece, and especially to everyone who has read my content in the past and supported me.
I would like to leave one final reminder that I have no proof or reason to believe that anything fishy is occurring, I simply wanted to highlight some potential future issues that could be exploited. I also want to quickly mention I will be making no money from the publishing of this editorial. Although whatever website I publish on will probably make some.