Opening the Pandora’s Box of Numbers ‑ Transparency in eSports

With talk of more people entering eSports, the lack of standard rates is worrying to newcomers.

At what cost, privacy?

On a normal day at Twitch.tv, Riot Game’s League of Legends brings in roughly 120k viewers. Riot’s previous broadcast of the World Championships in 2015 on Twitch alone peaked at over 320k concurrent viewers, with Riot reporting 4.2 million average concurrent viewers across all viewable media. In spite of its commercial success, the industry leader fell behind in terms of negotiating adequate compensation for freelance casters.

In a statement on Medium, Christopher “MonteCristo” Mykles, Erik “DoA” Lonnquist and Christopher “PapaSmithy” Smith announced that they would not be joining the broadcast crew for the Mid-Season Invitational and more importantly, they cited their reasons for being unable to do so as they “failed to arrive at an industry standard rate for [their] services and therefore cannot work as casters in Shanghai”, further clarifying that the amount offered “was approximately 40% to 70% of the rate received by talent for major events in [CS:GO, Dota 2, Starcraft 2, Halo 5 and Hearthstone]”.

What is the industry standard for casters exactly? I think that it has taken too long to ask this question, especially since casters have more or less been volunteers since eSports started on the grassroots level. A more important question to ask is: How much money are events earning, and should the casters, whom are the personalities which generate most of the broadcast content, be given a good portion of the revenue to reward them for their work?

It is clear that a broadcasted event serves as an advertisement to the public. From PC peripheral vendors to the game and its community, the broadcast spreads awareness of these brands to viewers on sites like youtube and twitch. That is where the question of benefit comes in and where a lot of new casters and talent get utterly shafted: is the caster on the same level as the PC peripheral vendor, who sponsors the monitors in order to advertise their products?

The exposure argument has long been proven fallacious, and I would place extra emphasis on how important it is for everyone to say no, like the three casters did. More than just exposing themselves to the community and the public at large, personalities do much more than just build their own brands on stage. They are also creating live content, and thus improving the quality of the broadcast. Compensation is more than just a pat on the back for casters; it’s a measure of how much clout they have on an event’s success as well as a signal whether they can fully transition into building themselves up as a brand in eSports.

We aren’t seeing it publicly in Dota 2, but plenty of casters still do their work for free on a grassroots level. In these cases, the exposure argument finds purchase since these grassroots casters are none the wiser to their own devaluing. Broadcasts, however, do not thrive unless there’s a personality backing it up and pushing it forward, which makes the purpose behind brand sponsorship that much less effective. It seems then, on a grassroots level, eSports broadcasts as an advertising platform still does not prioritize personalities, instead only looking toward the event’s numbers for their predicted “live” impressions and numbers.

That is why there needs to be compensation numbers and clear areas of responsibilities which are public and publicized to demarcate a standard for casters even on the grassroots level. For industry leaders, it will only improve and even serve as a reminder of how well they are doing, and for the grassroots caster, it will give them a target in which they can strive towards. It is extremely important for the new caster to know what potential market value they have, if just simply to protect them from being taken advantage of.

Not only will this begin to create guidelines which protect casters and personalities, it will also bring much needed transparency to root out exploitative practices and brands. I have heard tell of horror stories from casters in their fledging days, working with and misplacing their trust in known brands, and they mostly involve 14-hour days of work with minimal compensation. Most casters are hardworking individuals, but lack the proper resources to obtain the skills they need. Instead of blaming them for being skill-less, there needs to be an attempt to create an environment in which time can be devoted in order to obtain such skills. Amateur casters are often overworked before they get recognized, and most burn out juggling casting and working a day job while they remain unnoticed.

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