“What would you change about MLG to make it better?”
I think before I throw out suggestions or make recommendations I should first share my understanding of the business of Major League Gaming. Over the past several years, I have seen the strategy shift from one about aggressive growth, to one being focused on selling the organization to now something that sounds more focused on steady, controlled, long-term growth. I want to make it clear that I am a fan of steady, controlled, long-term growth. Bromberg had to go. If this is not the goal of Major League Gaming, then my advice may be flawed from the beginning.
I humbly submit the following based on the assumption that Major League Gaming wants to grow its fan base, impact the culture of competitive gaming, and create dynamic partnerships that highlight the positive influences of competitive gaming, both as a tool to develop young people and their skills and as a valuable marketing asset for potential clients. This is written for the executive team at MLG, so forgive all the business speak.
A comprehensive Human Capital Strategy Plan
- Leverage MLG’s assets to influence and shape competitive gaming culture.
- Recruit and retain key community managers and competitive gaming personalities to evangelize both the ideal competitive gaming culture and Major League Gaming.
- Invest in employee training to ensure that all of Major League Gaming’s assets are consistently and stably managed so that interaction with the community is consistent and positive. To put it bluntly, MLG Clap needs to be trained, as he reflects poorly on Major League Gaming and sets a negative example of competitive gaming culture. I know others share this view, but I want to reinforce that from my personal observations, if I were the CEO of MLG, I would immediately retrain him and aggressively supervise his interactions to ensure he reflects Major League Gaming and competitive gaming in the most positive manner.
- Establish an advancement and promotional framework that not only advances high performers but removes boundaries to advancement because of personal friendships or loyalties. Major League Gaming must have a culture, from the highest levels all the way to the volunteers, of rewarding sustained, high performance. Loyalty is not enough. Loyalty must be matched by superior performance at all levels in the organization and across all assets.
The core of Major League Gaming’s advancement to the next level requires a serious examination of how human capital is managed. As Jeffrey Pfeffer from Stanford’s graduate school of business reminds us, “The only real, sustainable competitive advantage of any organization rests with the effective management and performance of people.”
If MLG adopts such a plan, then the following changes would be easier to implement and manage to success. The following changes would stem from an effectively trained staff executing a strategy understood at all levels of the organization and its assets. The culture of Major League Gaming must reflect the best traditions of sports. Although much could be written on the topic of culture alone, I will simply draw broad brushstrokes to highlight what I consider to be the most important ones. I know that changing culture is one of the most challenging things an organization can undertake.
Roster Consistency and League Point System
It is my understanding that Major League Gaming’s point system is in place in an effort to both maintain some consistency in top players, as well as reward those who attend league events, and I applaud Major League Gaming in making an effort to examine options that promote attendance and team consistency. After several years, I think it has become clear that fans want roster consistency but players do not, and here lies the dilemma. If you lock rosters in for an entire season, a team that does poorly at an event may decide to just give up and not play for the rest of the season. After all, these are children. They have no families or careers to worry about, so they are not invested, nor is there anything outside of their ego and pride on the line. Far too many people complain about wanting consistent rosters, but have failed to deliver a solution to keeping them consistent, and it is complicated for sponsors to connect with players if rosters change all the time. I want consistent rosters also, but I do not believe at this stage that is a reality.
I recommend Major League Gaming remove the point system, and accept that competitive gaming is not yet in a large enough market to provide the appropriate incentives to ensure a fair system in place that would meet the goal of maintaining consistent rosters. I’m very sympathetic to Major League Gaming’s dilemma, but the point system, although well intended, unnecessarily complicates seeding as well as giving the impression that certain players are given an advantage. Even worse, if players don’t do well at the first event they may not believe it’s worth attending the rest of the season.
I imagine that for some at Major League Gaming, getting rid of the point system would be a scary step, but I believe it will force teams to evaluate players based on skill and potential team chemistry and not unduly influence that process based on seeding points. Too many mediocre players float around the top 16 teams simply because of their seeding points. Just as Major League Gaming needs sustained superior performance in their staff, so must that culture be translated to the players. Loyalty is not enough. Loyalty must be partnered with sustained, superior performance.
A vast majority of Major League Gaming’s fan base is teenagers. I believe it to be a critical mistake to not aggressively market Major League Gaming to parents. Parents control, or at least heavily influence, their children’s access to events and hobbies. Major League Gaming must make a major push to do the following:
- Translate the benefits of competitive gaming to parents.
- Create media and articles that are specific and simple to understand that engage parent’s concerns, and invite them to be active partners in their childrens’ competitive gaming experiences.
- Get some fucking seats so parents can sit the fuck down.
- Aggressively sample event attendees through both quantitative and qualitative surveys to accurately gauge attendee event satisfaction.
- Never allow MLG Clap to address the community until you retrain him. You need community managers with patience, respect and who, regardless of what is written or said, always respond in a positive and constructive manner. Period. End of conversation. No exceptions. You must have a zero tolerance policy on immaturity, unprofessionalism, and any type of engagement that does not leave fans feeling respected and valued.
Improve Live Streaming
It is my opinion that competitive gaming leagues that came before and failed believed that they must be on television to succeed. Even a novice analyst can see that streaming media is the future. Streaming event coverage is a critical competitive advantage the Major League Gaming has, and it must be improved. I believe a pay-per-view model is one option. Another option would be an actual online network. For example, the gym that I attend has a captive audience, so it has its own TV network called Xsport TV. I’m quite sure that Major League Gaming would also like something similar. If you do, be open about your plans, and let the community know what you envision, and then engage the community to leverage key personalities. Charging $10 for “HD” is not the way to go.
Let other organizations retain some right to their players
Just as conventions don’t need to contract people, so it is that Major League Gaming does not need to contract players such that it retains all rights. Gaming communities like vVv Gaming invest an enormous amount of time and resources to finding top talent, developing top talent, marketing events and getting players to events. Major League Gaming, and although I understand its concerns, must create a system that encourages entrepreneurship and involvement.
Major League Gaming is far from a financially sound company. Therefore, MLG is just as much in the phase of trial and error, trying to figure out which parts and pieces, which revenue streams, to piece together to make this a viable league. I will admit that there have been leaders of various communities who, quite frankly, are not the type of people who are a good fit for Major League Gaming, nor set a good role model for players, and are not the kind of people that parents want around their children. I do, however, believe that organizations like vVv Gaming, Evil Geniuses and Complexity have had a history of passion, performance and understanding of the ever changing landscape known as competitive gaming, or dare I say eSports. You must bring brands like this on board and legitimize and evangelize those that add so much value in this space. By ignoring us, as has happened in the past, it fails to legitimize the very organizations that promote and strengthen the brand of Major League Gaming.
Encourage coaching. This allows many gamers, friends, relatives and parents to be involved with competitive gaming. Never has mentorship been more needed, nor has the research linking performance to healthy mind and body been stronger than right now, today. Coaching cannot just be lip service!
Yes, you will need to train good coaches. Yes, you will need to create a standard and define the role of coaches. It was never what a coach did on game day that counted. It’s not what a coach does on the field, it’s everything that happens before game day and off the field that defines the value of a coach. Most young players have the misconception that a coach merely moves chess pieces, and don’t get me wrong, the best coaches have developed that type of trust and respect from their players such that on game day it appears that they are merely moving chess pieces. But it’s much more than that.
I have coached, I have fired coaches, and I have always advocated that there needs to be a culture of coaching that translates for young people the best practices of coaching specifically about the role a coach plays before events. You just can’t throw respect out to coaches and expect good things to happen. You will need to invest time in training them. They should be an integral part of your human capital strategy and how you engage players, not just for performance, but to shape their conduct and their ability to market themselves, market Major League Gaming and Major League Gaming’s partners. Coaches should be your front line. I know this will take time, but investing now (in this important part of any human capital strategy you may have) will pay off down the road.
Healthy Lifestyle Options
As I often say on our podcast show, nothing is less appealing than an obese, foul-mouthed monster stuffing his fat-ass with Hot Pockets while slurping down a sugary DrPepper, screaming and fundamentally believing that his fat, disgusting ass has value.
I respect and understand the need for sponsors such as Hot Pockets, Doritos and DrPepper. You must aggressively seek sponsors that provide a more positive image. There is a diabetes crisis in this country. Parents and teenagers that are overweight have dietary restrictions. Can you get a fucking water sponsor? I don’t care what you have to do, but you secure some brand of water tomorrow. It should have been done yesterday.
Engage government agencies, engage agencies that advocate for healthy children, engage agencies that advocate for healthy school lunches, and leverage their networks to engage the services of brands that promote healthy lifestyles. You have a huge opportunity here to do something positive. Do not waste it.
Partner with Higher Education
In today’s competitive work environment, having a college education is no longer an option, it is a requirement. Those who do well without one are the exception. There are a wealth of schools that do not have traditional sports programs, that could become valuable partners and possibly provide scholarships to Major League Gaming players who may be interested in such careers as video game development and design, film production, graphic arts, etc.
I recommend that Major League Gaming actively secure partnerships with higher educational institutions that do not have traditional sports programs and brainstorm potential engagements that will encourage parents and players to pursue education. Not only is this good for players, it’s good for gaming and it builds strong relationships with parents who have concerns about the future of their children.
Properly Managing your Assets
I think selling MMO Champions was a good idea, and I also believe that you need to sell GotFrag. If you can’t sell it, find a way to write it off. Right now, one of the single most important management challenges is properly managing Gamebattles.com. This one asset requires the most creative thinking.
I’m not sure if bringing on strong communities like vVv Gaming to help manage is the right solution, or if you need to hire more staff and train volunteers to have more customer relation skills. As Gamebattles.com currently sits, the moment a competitor comes along who can get critical mass, this asset will quickly turn into a liability.
As a side, and somewhat humorous note, I have been banned for life from gamebattles by a 19-year-old kid who has no idea of the value I provide to Major League Gaming and competitive gaming as a whole, and who could not adequately explain his reason for banning me. I can assure that it’s not a big deal, but I can also assure you that it sets the wrong message. Sundance himself has said that he believe the relationship between Major League Gaming and vVv Gaming is too contentious. As you can see, Sundance, your own staff makes it contentious. Now, I want you to imagine how they treat your fans. What message they send about the brand identity known as Gamebattles and Major League Gaming. I can assure you it’s not positive.
Understand the Value of Identity
Identity formation is a human need. Everyone needs an identity. There is no better example of the need for identity than the term “random.” A “random” is someone with no organization, no community, no accomplishments. It is synonymous with saying, “You have no value.”
Competitive Gaming needs vVv Gaming and other organizations like vVv Gaming to provide a space in which gamers across all skill levels that, by meeting certain criteria, engaging in a culture where they’re expected to add value, and conducting themselves in a manner that is positive, can have an identity and can feel that they are a part of competitive gaming. I am well aware that this challenge is not an easy one. When it comes to community engagement, providing open access for all gamers who want to meet certain standards and be a part of competitive gaming, I humbly believe that we do it better than anyone. It would be in Major League Gaming’s interest to promote and evangelize some of our best practices, as well as adopt the best aspects of our culture as your own.
Major League Gaming may be North America’s last best hope. I have critiqued it, I will keep critiquing it, but I want to make it clear this is not about ego or competition. Analysis and critique are a critical part of any successful industry. I know that Arctyc has written a blog incorporating many tweets, and has done a rudimentary qualitative analysis of the themes and concerns of players and fans. I applaud his effort, and I applaud Major League Gaming’s effort in taking notice. We purposely delayed the release of this piece, because he tweeted that he was going to write a blog. What I am about to say is not a veiled attempt at patting myself on the back, it’s said to set an example. I don’t need to be the first one to tell Major League Gaming what they can do better. I was careful to specifically mention areas in which I agreed with Arctyc. Those should be obvious from reading this.
I also want to address things that can only come from someone with my background and experiences. I have no intention of representing all the concerns of all the players, all the parents, or even all of vVv Gaming. I’m a consultant by trade, and I am just as passionate about data, data analysis, strategy formation and implementation, human capital strategy and management as I am about gaming. vVv Gaming is a synthesis of my passions and Major League Gaming could, in my best vision of the brand and the services it could provide, be the grand stage for many gamers’ passions, regardless of their skill.
I submit this advice in hopes that Major League Gaming, who does many things very well, will now pause and invest time and resources into repairing and developing those areas that I have identified above. I want to see MLG succeed.