Narrating for esports #1: Introduction and making habits
I’ve been meaning to start this blog series for a while and today is as good as day as any. And as every product from a guy who you’re not entirely sure who he is, this one, too, needs an introduction.
This blog aims to share the handfuls of wisdom I’ve acquired during my time writing and working as a journalist in the esports industry. You could say I’m a second generation journalist in the field: I started researching, following and writing about esports in my spare time around 2007–2008. I used to work in a video game store and whenever I could, I would devour WCG VODs, regardless of game. I watched StarCraft next to Dead or Alive; WarCraft III next to Project Gotham Racing. This was way before I had any intention of turning it into a career. I simply loved watching people compete in a video game. As I exhausted this content, I started frequenting Team Liquid to study BroodWar games and GosuGamers to learn DotA.
In 2010, I started as a volunteer StarCraft II writer for GosuGamers and eight years into the future I’ve held multiple supervisory roles in the industry, including crew lead and Editor in Chief for GG.net and currently a supervising editor at Cybersport.com.
The series will — hopefully — help you establish successful practices of creating narratives in esports. It will cover basic fundamentals of writing and learning, but also valuable resources and extra effort you can put in. Also, when I say “narrative for esports”, I mean not just writing for the page — although that is my preferred, most comfortable medium — but also creating scripts for videos and interviews, structuring podcasts, etc. A lot of these fundamentals and advice are also applicable to other forms of nonfiction writing outside esports.
Of course, you are free to dismiss any and all advice that you read on these pages, provided I am not formally educated as a journalist, am not a native English speaker, have not had any formal writing training and finished my literature high-school courses with just-about-average grades.
Or, you can see this as a free know-how, coming from a journalist who has tutored and developed some of the best writers and reporters in the scene (shoutout to Drexxin, Callum Leslie, Matthieist and more), who has broken some of the biggest stories in my field of specialty and who has made a career lacking all those things I mentioned before.
Whatever you choose, here goes.
Fundamental #1: Write shit down. Daily
You will often hear how X% of certain job is talent, Y% is hard work, Z% is luck, etc. Usually, it’s percents made up of someone’s ass, so excuse me if I don’t engage in phantom mathematics, but what I know is that the foundation of any good writer is his (I’m assuming genders here, but who doesn’t nowadays) habit of writing.
Establishing a routine for your creative process is absolutely essential (so if you do like phantom math, you could say it makes for 100% of the job, at least at the start) as it over time perfects the basics of your craft. When you make your first steps, tangoing with the quill on a daily basis will mean you will lose less time going over simple tasks in the future. There’s this saying that it takes 20,000 hours to become master at something and you want to get to this 20K as soon as possible. Skipping a week will just not do it.
For me, the habit of daily writing in my early years means that today I can take any game, any tournament, any player and cover the basics in a news post as if I have followed them all my career. I could not do that in 2010 when I first started. It took me literally thousands of publications to master the process (GosuGamers data says that I have published close to 4,200 pieces during my time there, and more can be found on SK Gaming, Cybersport, etc.). The daily writing routine helped me reduce publishing speed of a news report from an hour or so in 2010 to 15–20 minutes in 2017. I became 3–4 times faster by never stopping to write.
Apart from keeping the wheels greased, daily writing prevents one of writers’ worst banes: forgetting. The best idea is worth nothing if it doesn’t materialize in some way. This huge profile on Faker you rehearsed in your head can be gone the next day as your brain forgets details you wanted to accentuate, headlines you wanted to use, quotes you once read, interviews you wanted to embed… It is through procrastination and laziness that good ideas and good content wither.
Preventing all that is hilariously easy as soon as you realize “daily writing” doesn’t necessarily entail writing 2,000 words in one sitting. A few bulletpoints of ideas can save your editorial. A few interview questions in a Google doc can aid you when preparing for on-site coverage. A few kick-ass headlines that you thought of in the shower can result in an excellent long-read.
The blank page, in contrast, will result in nothing.
This brings me to my third and final point for this first blog: the habit of daily writing will help you overcome the fear of the blank page, a hurdle that has and will alienate novice writers.
One of the best writing practices I learned was when I studied Psychology as my second BSc in the Netherlands. The course had heavy emphasis on preparing students for PhD degrees, so learning how to write scientific papers was a central part of our classes. At the time, I was already working as an esports journalist, but the majority of my class-mates had no experience in writing. To them, the task of turning the new Word document into a 20-page paper was Sisyphean. We were then taught the most obvious and logical trick: break the order of page 1 to 20 and write it all from the “top down”.
It is through procrastination and laziness that good ideas and good content wither.
I will likely touch on this technique later on, but in short — it’s an efficient way to battle the blank page fear by — through daily writing — fill up the piece starting from the title and headlines and moving down. We would open the blank document and write the title of our paper. Then, we’d fill in the headlines of all the sections: Thesis, Experiments, Conclusion, References. We’d put our names there. We’d format the cover page.
Suddenly, we wouldn’t have a single page. We’d have one cover page with our title and name and a second page with sub-headings, giving us the basis to fill up the rest of the document. We’d continue with filling the thesis the next day — being the shortest section in a scientific paper usually — and now we’d have two and a half pages and one full section written down. The next day, we’d complete the Experiments section, the third day we’d finish with the Conclusion.
This technique isn’t exclusively connected to the daily habit of writing but this is how it is developed, which makes said habit even more essential. Even if you have no ideas, open the blank page and think of names, events, moments, anything. Write them down and pretend they are headlines. Walk away if you have to, then come back and write some words to fill them up. Repeat this several times and get to being an actual writer, and not just empty thinker.
In tandem, the habit and this technique (and other ones, too) will get you through that Sunday long-read your editor needs in a few days.