29 Jun 2017
Be Brave, Lead And They Will Follow

Be Brave, Lead And They Will Follow

“We should all be very ashamed of ourselves for failing as parents”
Jimmy Kimmel, August 2015

This admonishment wasn’t over a failure to develop good eating habits or vigilance over vices. The US talk show host’s outrage stemmed from a younger generation *gasp* watching competitors play video games.

There’s even a dedicated outlet (Youtube Gaming) to watch it if you can believe it. Why Kimmel fumed to his massive audience, would you watch someone do something as silly as video games? Where’s the fun in watching not playing?

 

Ignoring the stupidity of the rationale (you can apply that logic to the NRL or AFL), there’s a lesson here. Pioneers will face severe resistance. The backlash doesn’t even need to make sense. It will happen, so be prepared.

Two years later, Kimmel’s position looks even more absurd than ever. eSports is on the rise, with Goldman Sachs predicting that the market will double in the next three years to $US1 billion. Furthermore, even traditional sport is getting into the act, with the NBA launching its own gaming league next year.

It will be interesting to see how this tendency to knee-jerk scorn manifests in the discussion of automation and artificial intelligence. Much of the media coverage is cautiously optimistic , focusing on the promised advances. But will this last once this technology makes real inroads? Will Google find itself held responsible for every truck job lost in the country, even if it’s the truck companies that purchase self-driving trucks?

All the evidence would indicate yes and it will be from the same media outlets that praised it years or months before. So, for players in this and other emerging fields, it’s worth examining how eSports turned the tide from symptom of parental failure to a legitimate career path.

Preach To Those That Listen, Ignore Those That Don’t

eSports’ success stems from growing its own media industry, as mainstream sports channels shunned it. You couldn’t watch Counter-Strike on ESPN, even though it commanded a similar audience to a top-tier football game.

The eSports publishers quickly adopted an open arms approach to any mainstream media attention, but otherwise made no real attempt to woo it. They focused on smaller, niche influencers such as MonteCristo. They also devoted employee time to online forums such as reddit or their own web sites’ communities. This let them speak directly, and frankly, to those who cared. It also bypassed the need to convince a skeptical journalist, especially when their audience didn’t engage with traditional media anyway.

As eSports scaled from selling a few tickets and t-shirts to selling out Madison Square Garden, so did mainstream favourable coverage. And with a limited investment of resources.

As technology brings social change, I’d suggest big software developers (Facebook, Google, Apple, Uber et al) may need a similar strategy, despite their size. They must define their audience, identify the best way to talk to them and stick to their guns.

They will no doubt blaze the trail, but they shouldn’t count on the media to help them. It’s more likely that they’ll be dragging them, kicking and screaming, into the new era when it finally comes.

 

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