GDC 2016: Reporters Face Unique Challenges Covering eSports

During the “Storytellers of eSports” panel at this week’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, creative execs and journalists for Twitch, Yahoo Sports, Team Liquid and 1UP Studios discussed how they cover eSports, and how their approaches differ from coverage of traditional sports. The challenge for writers is to bring life to a sport in which the players barely move, but their hand and body twitches translate into incredible feats within the game. The stories are more about eSports personalities, and less about the actual gameplay, than traditional sports.

Highlights of eSport game play don’t always resonate. Personal narratives, regardless of whether the story is about the winner or the loser, is what captures the fans’ interest.

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Videogames have been, as one panelist put it, “the pastime of the dispossessed.” The people who aspire to be eSports champions are in their teens and twenties. They sacrifice everything, and it is more often than not for nothing.

Because they are so dedicated to putting in long hours practicing their gameplay, these players may not have well developed social skills. They know how to use media, but they are not necessarily media savvy. So they will write unfiltered comments with little concern for the ramifications.

eSports is also a team activity, so team dynamics and the relationship of the team with its fan base come into play. One writer for a team discussed how he dealt with his team making a mid-season replacement of a popular American player with a Korean player who didn’t speak English. The teams’ fans immediately turned against the Korean.

Seeing this, the writer, working with a translator, became friends with the Korean player. He wrote stories that personalized the player until the fans were won over.

Within the last six months, up to half the teams in some eSports leagues have brought in in-house content creators to shape their stories for their fans and help build their fan base. It is getting harder for outside reporters to have direct access to the players and write stories with spontaneous player comments.