DOTA 2: A game I have never played, yet here I am reading a Kotaku article about the firing of a host during the recent Shanghai Major Group Qualifiers.
Why? Well, because of Valve, Gabe Newell, eSports, millions of dollars, and what it all means within the game culture.
I'll let Kotaku commenter Rinsako outline why this specific case has caused a bit of an uproar:
James “2GD” Harding was a known for his edgy commentary, but had recently been taken off more recent DOTA events due to "a history of skirmishes" with Valve, but was brought back due to fans calling for a second chance. He promptly went into his normal shtick, and after a day and a half of the 4 day group stage round, was promptly fired and call "an ass" by Gabe Newell on Reddit.
Rob Zacny does a good job of summing up the current context and intrigue for those not in the know:
We're at something of a cross roads when it comes to eSports. With millions of dollars now being put on the line for participants (a 3 million purse for the upcoming Shanghai Major) and the some of the most fervent online viewership (estimated at 20 million unique viewers for the 2014 Championship weekend, or almost 10x the amount of people who watched that year's Superbowl online), it's not exactly peanuts we're dealing with here. With that much financial and media sway, DOTA events are a digital powerhouse even if they're not a household name.
But, as is the case with all niches that achieve the jump to/towards the mainstream, there is a certain amount of push-back from hardcore fans or those already a part of the existing structure as to the direction DOTA covage (or eSports in general) moves in.
With all the money and attention, there are outsiders (and some existing insiders like Valve) who want to invest in the growing trend and may seek to broaden the appeal by creating a look or format that appeals to the mainstream. Blizzard has purchased MLG to control their own eSports exposure, and ESPN has now signed on to cover eSports going so far as to include a Halo tournament in the latest X Games. For the fans, there is a real fear of "professional" sports people either forcing a suit-and-tie, politically correct, Sporter Center approach, or replacing the current commentators altogether. This latest action by Valve has prompted some to say this is already happening - that Valve themselves are beginning that transformation into a more mainstream broadcast.
From my seat on the sidelines, I don't think a more professional broadcast is a bad thing, but I'm not advocating for the Sports Center makeover so I certainly understand the concern. Of course having opinionated, edgy broadcasters can help bring in viewers, but there is a line that does not need to be crossed in order to be entertaining and it seems Harding crossed it more than once - either on camera or behind the scenes. Does this take away from the authenticity of the coverage? No, but it does move slightly away from it's core audience who has been watching all these past years and may see Harding as one of their own. Fair or not, this is the kind of balancing act you have to play when you enter this space.
So I'm a huge fan of this conversation - it's nice to see our community and culture grow and evolve and become more commonplace, being mentioned in the same breath as ESPN and mainstream "sports." The public has unwittingly become more savvy about game systems and titles and most play some kind of game themselves on their phone or tablet if not a console or PC. We're reaping those rewards with hardware and software advances, as well as increased quality and quantity of games.
At the same time, I don't advocate for some kind of exploitation of the industry by outsiders (or anyone really) with the means to co-opt and potentially cause inadvertent damage. The game community can be fiercely loyal (at times to a fault), so an outside group ignorant to or spurning them could result in a kind of exodus with little to no casuals to fill the void that's left. It's not going to ruin the industry, but it could create apprehension for the next group of investors - are we sure we won't cross the core audience that we hope to monetize, or is it too hard to do and not worth the effort?