The views of our five Rocket League journalists on whether a mainstream audience will damage our community?

10:07, 03 Jul 2020

It has been well speculated that the future of Rocket League Esports may collude with mainstream media outlets to open itself up to a huge audience through television deals and featuring in the Olympic games. In light of the recent RLCS X announcement, and the increase in Major tournaments that we will see throughout the year, this becomes increasingly possible. A $4.5 million prize pool across the entirety of the RLCS is ground-breaking for the Esport that we all love, however, will this lead to an array of TV deals in the future and therefore an influx in more casual fans?

We’ve already seen a mix of events be televised, such as the Spring Series EU on BBC and Ginx.TV, and Spring Series NA on ESPN, which lead to a huge boost in prize money. Throughout the Spring Series, there was a $350,000 prize pool, much of which will have come from the media outlets. Some of these worked well, some of them less so (we won’t bring up the Landon Donavon travesty). However, the main idea behind being accessible to the mainstream media lies with a philosophy that numerous journalists throughout the years have studied; mainstream media coverage leads to sponsorships, sponsorships lead to prize money, prize money and more competitive events lead to more media coverage. The three spokes of the wheel that leads to success.

It seems like Pysonix and Rocket League Esports will be boarding the bus built on these three-spoke wheels.

However, in the back of my mind looms one question, a bug almost. Are we actually ready, as a community, for the mainstream media to put Rocket League Esports under the microscope? So far fans and players have had little boundaries and formed a close relationship than most other esports. But having open personalities has lead to toxicity in the past, and dare I say drama, that with an omniscient media present, wouldn’t be acceptable in other esports. But we love it nonetheless. So, will the core esports fans prefer to keep things as it is right now, growing steadily and maintaining its community, or see a rapid increase in part-time and mainstream viewers which will increase the funding/prize pools/outreach of RL, at the expense of the juicy drama?

With this hypothesis looming, our five Rocket League Esports journalists here at GGRecon offer our personal insights.

Rocket League playing live in a bar in Iowa, USA
Rocket League playing live in a bar in Iowa, USA | Image via u/mtgheron | Reddit | https://www.reddit.com/r/RocketLeague/comments/h95dt2/surreal_rocket_league_on_espn_in_a_sports_bar_wow/

Jack Marsh – GGRecon in-house Journalist:

Looking at the previously mentioned cycle of coverage=sponsors=prize money and better competition, and so on, the mainstream media will probably be the best way Rocket League Esports can improve, whether we like it or not. The influx of money into RL has only improved the level of quality and competition, by making players hungry for success, not just to be the best, but for the huge prizes up for grabs. Looking at the reaction of players on social media after the RLCS X announcement, they’re all motivated more than ever to try and improve to be the best, and we will only see more players looking to enter the scene too. The Open Qualifiers are also a stroke of genius to be able to invite aspiring players to make a name for themselves on the games biggest stage. I personally believe the mainstream media and their money can push RL to the next level, and at the expense of some of the juice that we also love, I think it will be a warm welcome.

The optimist in me believes that our esport is in the position to be a leading force in advancing esports into the public sphere. Already being shown on television, and in pubs such as the above picture, it is in the position to entertain fans worldwide, if developers get it right. Fans getting together in a pub to watch the World Championships is a dream, but now a dream that is feasible.

In terms of the community, toxicity is fun to watch but can be detrimental to a team. In the interview I did with Stake, he expressed his thought on the previously toxic 'Tox', saying: “In the past, he has been young and known as being a little toxic, and when we first started teaming up I was afraid that people would hate us”. If a player thought this then it’d be unreasonable to think that orgs wouldn’t think the same way, and therefore it should be something that should be toned down. This doesn’t mean creating zero-personality robots, but by injecting their personalities into the scene and community in positive and funny ways. Let the content speak for itself. The thing about toxicity is that it gives the audience things to speak about, but this is possible through having a funny and outgoing personality and making funny content. I think if this is achieved, we’re in pole position to proceed into these exciting times.

John Nolan – John_aka_Alwayz, Journalist:

Firstly, I think in general, RLEsports community wants validation and to usurp the established top dogs. We always compare our viewership to Fortnite or OWL or something, and inversely always complain at our general inferiority to R6. That comes from being a game that honestly had no right to blow up as big as it has.

With that said, getting on MSM and TV is one route to achieve that goal that other games may struggle with (i.e. FPS titles), and it is a route Psyonix has shown great interest in, albeit to mixed results (ELEAGUE on TBS & Universal Open on NBC were awesome, that ESPN broadcast for NA Spring Series not so much). Whether we should heed to MSM wishes or it should be the other way around, or some compromise is another discussion altogether, to be honest, but especially after the ESPN broadcast, I don’t think anyone wants to completely conform to MSM.

Regarding toxicity/drama, I think our drama pales in comparison to other games, both for better and for worse. Personally, I don’t envy the CS community right now with their societal problems. Thankfully we're much tamer than that and even if there was neutering, I don’t think it could ever match the level of what Blizzard does to OWL/CDL players. Psyonix takes a lot of heat, and credit to them for taking criticism.

I think that a bigger change would be a general sense of professionalism. Players 100% can’t be cussing in interviews. Orgs already don’t like how a bunch of teenagers run their rosters essentially, so such a huge influx of funding could force org hands at enforcing contracts/locking players down long term or even trying to get org owned spots for RLCS.

In short, I don’t think the publicly presented toxicity needs to be neutered much, I think near everyone agrees taking a Blizzard approach is detrimental. Obviously, bigotry needs to be punished and it already is. The biggest change going Mainstream would have is just making the players more professional, which is something I think everyone would like.

Ben Hurst – notblondemonkey, Journalist:

I think that in terms of core esports fans, whilst the experience wouldn't be quite as enjoyable for fans if RL were to become more mainstream, we would appreciate RL's broader reach. As long as it resulted in many things that people have been requesting for a long time to happen, for example, larger prize pools, a better esports shop and, most importantly, better integration in-game, such as designs such as AspectRL’s concept esports tab. Furthermore, it would be welcome if it led to more events and better support for grassroots tournaments and players.

In fact, I think the lack of drama and (possibly) ability to communicate directly to players could be offset by the increase in frequency of large events.

Jens Koornstra – Yens, Journalist:

As I see it, organisations should crack down on toxicity anyway, under any circumstances. Even without a mainstream media presence, the players still represent their org and their org's sponsors. It's up to the orgs to avoid a bad reputation at all costs. If by 'integrity' you mean that the players can freely create drama on social media, then I'd rather not have that integrity. As esports and Rocket League are maturing, so should their outlook on toxicity. If a player is toxic on Twitter, the organisation should shut that down behind the scenes. Honestly, the organisation might not have done enough research before signing the player if that happens. But that's hard to judge from an outsider's perspective. Don't get me wrong: drama is fun to watch. It just doesn't suit anyone in the professional scene.

Whether entering mainstream media and expanding Rocket League's outreach is a good or bad thing, this mostly depends on the way it's handled. I think everyone welcomes bigger prize pools and more viewership. Sure, both of those things have been growing over the past few years, but only slightly. If you look at the whole picture, it looks more like stagnating than growing. A bigger audience and everything that comes with that could definitely help to take RL esports to the next level. How it is done, however, might not be that easy.

In the past Psyonix has shown interest in broadcasting RL on American TV, with Eleague airing on TBS and the Spring Series finals on ESPN 2. Decent efforts, but not a breakthrough in mainstream media attention. Viewers on ESPN 2 are probably unfamiliar with esports as a whole, let alone with Rocket league. We don't even know for sure if those viewers can be persuaded at all to watch more (RL) esports. It would be a safer bet to introduce young people with an interest for esports to Rocket League esports. They would be more likely to stay and engage with the community. And those people don't really watch TV.

Jake Bannister – GGRecon Head of Operations and writer:

From a business perspective, I would say that in all esports games, organisations already crack down on toxicity within their players. Looking at organisations such as NRG and G2 who have teams across multiple esports and content creators, they already handle this well. I would just say so far it has been some bad apples at some bad orgs that have been the problem thus far. The bigger orgs know what they’re doing to create the right environment to gather sponsors and conduct themselves in the mainstream media. Their ain, ultimately, is to make as much money as possible, and this isn’t going to be achievable if their players are being toxic on Twitter, it doesn’t make for a good brand. If it does go more mainstream, we will see more orgs conduct themselves in this way,

In terms of the established fan base, I think they don’t particularly want to become mainstream, but there are ways around this. When we see players and teams having arguments on socials, it makes them human, not just a flying car. It is natural for players to take to socials to express their human emotions, for instance, after being beat in a championship game emotions will be high, and taking to socials just to say ‘GG’ isn’t a human process, and we like the way it works now. The current climate makes fans feel more in touch with players, in comparison to other esports. Even if it is toxicity, it creates a tighter community.

If it becomes mainstream, this will be toned down somewhat, to more a banter vibe rather than toxicity, but to replace this gap between fans and players, it’ll be down to the organisations to allow this. There are other ways of connecting the community to the players. G2 does this well, with community nights where fans can play with players. Things like this will help the established fan base remain close to the players whilst seeing much more competitive Rocket League.

For more insights into the Rocket League Esports industry, stay tuned here at GGRecon.

Image via the BBC

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