The PotP Podcast: The South African Scene | Response & Opinions

Not Clowning Around | The Mesopotamian Response

By now if you’re a fan of local esports (or just local DotA2) you’ve undoubtedly caught wind of the massive scandal that is Doni 2.0. It doesn’t include Doni, but the community has already decided it’s right up there with the alleged infamous anti-South African sentiments Doni shared on international media some years back. To sum it up, two pro SA DotA2 players (Wesley “oDu” Rose and Nicholas “Schlinks” Dammert) and Kaameel Chicktay sat down with complete outsider BlueOceanzTV to talk about the local South African esports scene. The result is 50+ minutes of what many perceive to be South Africa bashing and unfairly comparing our fledgling and isolated scene with the established scene in EU. Here’s a bit of the first three minutes transcribed from the YouTube video:

Interviewer: (01:34) First off I want you guys to say one word about SA scene as a whole. Anything, you can swear, you can do anything, you can say chaos, fun, shit, whatever. It’s your choice alright. In one, two, three I need you to scream out one word. One, two, three…

Kaameel Chicktay: Growing.

oDu: Clowning.

Schlinks: Trash.

Interviewer: (02:00) Perfect. Who said clowney?

oDu: I did.

Interviewer: (02:04) You need to explain why it’s clowney dude.

oDu: How can I put this? It’s just a lot of people who are like big fish in a small tank situation. I don’t know. I can’t explain it. It’s just clowney.

Schlinks: What you mean the games are clowney, or the approach players take? Is it just a joke? The big fish are ahead? I don’t know, what do you mean by clowney? Is it that the games are not serious at all? The players don’t take it seriously? The online matches for the seeding of the event?

oDu: Yes, I think everything. People’s attitude toward the game. The games in general. If you are comparing it to the professional scene, look at our local games, I don’t know.

Interviewer: (03:05) It’s just a huge difference, right?

oDu: Yes. I guess maybe trash is a better word.

(Laughter.)

Schlinks: I was just pulling a Doni there by the way.

Interviewer: (03:15) Perfect. Explain trash. Why is it trash? Is it because players are bad?

Schlinks: I was mainly kidding. I do have a point that extends from oDu’s point about it being clowney. I don’t think there is a single SA team currently that’s taking it as seriously as they should be. If anyone has aspirations to go pro they would not take it this clowney. Clowney is a very good word for it. The games. The practice, how much practice teams are putting in. Watching replays and stuff. It’s really not there. I think people are not incentivized to try make gaming a thing because of the whole ping issue with Europe. But we have such a booming scene I think it’s worth taking it seriously, and a lot of players and teams aren’t doing that.

This is going to be a long article…

An Analysis of the PotP Podcast

The podcast clearly aims to discuss various issues affecting players within the fledgling South African scene. The agenda here is to tackle issues like player dedication, team practice time, competitiveness, and viewership numbers. The above exchange (that outraged many in the community) is very much an unfiltered perspective many players might have.

The panel starts by outlining the huge prize pools in South Africa and the minimal practice or effort South African teams put in (all the while winning huge sums of money). The panel also criticizes players who don’t play in EU because they feel that ping is not an excuse that should hold South Africa players back from being more dedicated and grinding more MMR (thus accessing greater skill/growth). Schlinks points out that his team, White Rabbit Gaming, practice as little as three to four times a week. oDu agrees, stating Energy eSports put in the same amount of effort and only really grind prior to a tournament. While the panel does point out salaries might change things, and that some players have lives outside of grinding DotA, the main topic here is that ping is the largest complication holding South Africa back (which can easily be overcome).

The mistake these players make is that they’re primarily viewing the scene from within their own bubbles (as they attest by citing their own teams as examples which are then applied broadly to the rest of the scene). We know for a fact that there are tons more teams practicing significantly more than this in the scene. There are also more and more teams getting coached by high ranking EU coaches (Pulse Gaming, Sinister5, Bravado Gaming) and putting in tons of practice (and money) accordingly. Mythic Gaming while I was there, and Goliath Gaming currently, put in more practice weekly than these players cite as industry wide trends.

As for the likes of other teams in the top eight? Well we’re not provided any real numbers by the panel. Which is the major problem here. It lacks any sort of focus and unfairly categorizes the rest of the scene in a particularly negative way without providing any actual fair shake. There is no “other side of the coin” here. This is more about WRG and eN than the scene in general, and it’s important we realize that when considering what these players are saying.

Another part of the discussion was around the lack of viewership in South Africa, with Kaameel pointing out that numbers haven’t risen since last year. oDu points out that no casual fans want to watch the YouTube streams. The criticisms here apply all of the fault at the “fans” feet (even though there are no real fan bases yet). All the work is shifted to someone else to “develop” the “audience” with the panel barely attempting to problem solve the issue in any real sense.

Some very real problems with audience growth in South Africa exist, I 100% agree with this. Some of the issues affecting audience growth are:

  • Very few pro players are brand ambassadors for DotA2 and esports in South Africa.
  • Compare SA “pros” to EU “pros” branding themselves and garnering support/attracting viewers outside of their professional tournaments/games. If we’re going to compare the SA scene to the EU scene then we need to compare top SA players to EU players.
  • Grassroots growth/development? Who is using their skills to better the community, instead of just themselves? How are we making games more accessible? Are any pros currently speaking at schools about esports development?
  • Limited accessibility.
  • Data usage in South Africa – so player base/audience base use limited resources to play rather than watch. Or choose to watch international > local. Ginx a potential answer? But hard to justify fans support local esports teams when local esports teams do little to nothing to return that investment. Often pros have been caught calling potential fans “shit” in pubs. Hardly worth investment by fans or sponsors.

The majority of the podcast deals with issues like these by primarily relying on the narrow perspective of the players and Kaameel. Now, that isn’t to say that any of these points are categorically wrong. They’re not, they have merits. A lot of what these players are real concerns and need to be addressed. But the problem is, once again, that these players apply their very narrow perspectives here to a problem that spans a much wider scope. This is not going to earn you any fans, nor help solve the problems, because this isn’t a discussion with informative back and forth exchanges elucidating potential solutions. 99% of South Africans can’t really do as the panel suggests in an effort to get good (play with ping to EU or move to EU).

The vast majority of players are full-time students, full-time employees, and only part-time invested in esports (which is competing with all the other sports South Africans already love). Ignoring the socio-economic problems in the country and applying only your unique narrative to these problems mean you’re speaking to a very small part of the community. And for them, your points might hold true. But for the rest? Well… we’ve seen what a lot of people think.

Clowning Around | The Community Response

The community response (I saw a lot of it on Twitter and have stuck some of them throughout the article) was huge. It was dramatic. So a standard day for DotA2 in South Africa. However, there was significant backlash against the video (despite it raising points that were all fair when applied to specific teams). Even though Schlinks was clearly kidding when he called the scene, “Trash” both he and oDu 100% stuck by calling it, “Clowney.” Now I’m going to stick my head out here and say that neither of these players have a lick of professional communication training and might not realize that much of this could have been avoided by changing the narrative.

Clowney isn’t a real word. So it could pretty much mean whatever the hell these guys want it to mean. But the word does evoke a sense of clowning around, which generally means to not take something seriously. To mess about, dick about, and generally take the piss. In essence these players are telling us they think the scene doesn’t take itself seriously (which people who take the scene seriously naturally took offence to – obviously). But people also pointed out the far reaching consequences of top players echoing statements in this way. For instance, why would potential tournament hosts and sponsors continue investment in a scene where it’s top professionals consider it a joke? Already we’ve seen huge sums of money available for CSGO this year (and less available for DotA2). Why? Look no further.

A better way to frame this narrative? Call it an amateur or semi-professional scene lacking the resources right now for participants to yet become full professionals (as many can be in EU). Frame the narrative in a way that doesn’t immediately alienate every single viewer outside your immediate circle. And at the very least attempt to problem solve the issues in ways that don’t hamstring the scene you’re an integral part of. You have some responsibility for the scene you’re in. Act like professionals in public, and you won’t be treated like clowns.

Professionalism in South African esports | Branding & PR with Gabriella Brondani Rego

A lot of this issue has to do with branding and marketing (especially its fallout). So when the PR guru currently working with Mettlestate and Goliath Gaming approached me to share thoughts on these issues we jumped at the opportunity. Gabriella Brondani Rego does considerable PR work in and around the local esports scene and brings her business acumen and perspective. She’s a professional you listen to if you’re interested in getting money invested into esports in any real shape or form.

As many of you no doubt know, a lot of my work has been about building this area of esports for some time now and it’s great to have additional like minded professionals enter the scene. In addition, now it’s not just my voice you have to listen to. Let’s hear what Gabriella had to say.

@SargonDotA2: Welcome, Gabriella. My first question, is anyone going to spend money on a clowney scene?

Gabriella Brondani Rego: To give a little bit of context, I was only formally introduced to the esports scene about three or four months ago. Before that I knew of esports through Stickalish, but formally in terms of my career I’d never touched the esports space. I only have as much as three months experience within esports. I’m very much learning, but what I do understand really well having spent 10 years in a PR space is PR and branding and relationships alongside reputations. 

So what happened yesterday must have been a major blip on your radar?

When I saw people engaging on Twitter yesterday, and I listened to the YouTube podcast, my immediate reaction was as you covered in the article. You can see the guys don’t have enough media training perhaps. I understood the points they were trying to raise that even if you’re the best players people are going to want to get involved with you. Whereas I don’t think that’s the case.

Do you mind explaining why?

If  you want to convince brands, organizations, investors, or businesses they’re going to always look at the whole package. If you’re saying the South African DotA scene is clowning, people don’t take it seriously, then you’re going to them and saying, “We’re the best team in South Africa we want to compete internationally please give us money.” They’re going to ask, “Why must I give you money when the scene isn’t taken seriously? You’ve even said you don’t take it seriously? Why must we invest our money into something that’s not credible.” If that makes sense?

I 100% agree with this. It’s a really good point. What would you tell players to instead do? How would you ask them to frame their narrative? That’s really what’s missing here.

Yes. One of the guys pointed out that you can’t be fake and pretend these problems aren’t happening. I understand that point. I just think players could be a little bit more mindful in what they say because everything a player does, says, or even doesn’t say sends some kind of a message. It’s important to really think, “How is this going to come across for my own personal brand? How is this going to come across to anyone I’m going to want to ask to invest in me?” This is important to consider before players react in certain situations. 

Why are personal brands important? Should players be doing this?

It’s really important especially for players. At the moment, from what I’ve seen, the brands are the teams. That narrative needs to start shifting towards the players being brands. We need to start elevating individual players into their own brands. What happens if player ABC from team X moves teams? They often get lost in the system. They haven’t created a brand, so there’s little longevity there. They do have fans that will follow them, but they also need to build up something strong enough for brands to want to buy into them. Shifting to traditional sports which is what I’m a little more familiar with, it doesn’t matter who Ronaldo plays for. He is his own brand. Brands want to get involved with him. People buy into brands, so other brands are want to get involved with him. It would do players well to understand the importance of owning their brand and thinking about what they’re putting out and the reputation they’re building for themselves and the scene in general. 

Do you think that then, players investing more into their own brands and growing their own brands would help grow the scene as a whole? 

Yes, absolutely! I’m sure now managers approach brands, so it’s maybe not necessarily the players themselves being exposed to those meetings and discussions between brands and the team. A lot of the time the brand manager will say, “Can you send me a list of your players with links to their social profiles.” They do look at those kinds of things. They want to see, “What is my brand going to get involved with?” If the players aren’t aware of that then of course people are going to go run their social media however they like and they might not understand that people are watching, looking, and analyzing those profiles. They often base their decision on if they’re going to invest in a team or a player or not on those profiles. 

Couldn’t agree more with that. It’s really good to have another voice here saying these things. 

I’m happy to offer that perspective from outside the bottle where I think a lot of people are looking at it from trying to read the label from inside of the bottle. They’re maybe a little too close to the issue. I also just want to add that it wasn’t my intention to attack any of the players. It was more just constructive criticism. Like you pointed out in the article, they had relevant criticisms but they weren’t trying to offer solutions and that was a problem I think a lot of people had, including myself. 

Awesome. Again, thanks so much! 

It was a pleasure! Thanks!

About @SargonDotA2

Chris "@SargonDotA2" House started writing about competitive local esports in 2016, focused primarily on DotA2 since he played competitively around that time as well. Since then we keep him locked up, churning out DotA2 articles as often as we can make him do it. @SargonDotA2 is sometimes referred to as the Batpanda...