Last week, controversy struck the eSports community as League of Legends developer Riot Games appeared to be restricting professional players from streaming a variety of games in their free time.
For those outside the eSports sphere, all this news was doubtless somewhat confusing -- but it's nonetheless important for the future of this aspect of gaming. I chatted with our resident competitive online gaming expert Cassandra about what all this might mean.
Pete: So I guess my first question about this whole situation is: why were Riot's restrictions on streaming content a big deal in the first place? A lot of people seemed to get very upset about it, but for those not entrenched in the eSports, livestreaming or competitive online play scenes it may have been a little confusing. What's your take?
Cassandra: Part of it is the love for their favorite players, I think. Streamers very often make the bulk of their income on, well, their streams and much of their revenue, in turn, is dependent on how entertaining they are. So, a streamer that does nothing but blandly play Minesweeper while waiting for his queue to pop is going to draw less attention than the guy who plays Hearthstone while waiting for his turn to kick butt in League of Legends. You see where I'm going here, right? Riot Games' restrictions could have potentially neutered the appeal of these streamers and no one wants to see their star player become destitute.
The other part of it, I think, is the perception that what players are doing in their free time is entirely their problem. We're the Internet, after all. We're built on free speech and the right to do as we want however we want. The idea of a big, bad corporation barreling down to strip rights unnecessarily from people is absolutely mortifiying for many.
Also, Riot Games purportedly has a history of wanting to monopolize the market and people seem angry at that still.
Pete: I'm not someone who watches a lot of livestreams of games, nor do I play League of Legends, so this sort of thing is pretty new to me. Is it a fairly commonplace thing for people to play other games while waiting in a queue for a League of Legends, then? Are queues really that long that you can get in a complete game of something like Hearthstone while you wait?
Cassandra: I can't tell you. I'm strictly a Dota 2 kind of girl and I spend too much time working to watch streams. But, as far as I can tell? Yes.
Pete: I guess I can kind of see the point then. Staring at a "please wait" screen for a protracted period of time isn't fun for anyone -- and so they might as well play something that's entertaining and fun to watch while they wait. I get it.
Riot's restrictions did seem to be a little harsh, what with banning all Blizzard games and a number of other games only tangentially similar to League of Legends. But in the case of stuff like Dota 2, I can sort of see both sides of the argument: Dota 2 is a big rival to League of Legends and thus it seems understandable that people who are on Riot's payroll shouldn't be seen to be "promoting" the competition. But at the same time, I would have thought that if someone enjoys watching League of Legends, they'll probably enjoy watching a similar type of game like Dota 2.
So onto Riot's response; apparently, according to Riot's director of eSports, "there've been instances of other game studios trying to buy access to League fans by using (or trying to use) LCS teams/players to promote their competing games on stream" They've admitted that "this was clearly an overreach" and that, despite hitting their goal, it also "encroached on pros' ability to have fun and entertain viewers during long Challenger queues."
It seems that Riot's changed its policies so that LCS teams and players can't accept sponsorship from other game companies, but can stream any other games they want and monetize that footage. Does that seem fair to you?
Cassandra: Again, I'm probably not in tune enough with the League of Legends fan base to be able to provide any concrete answers. But it seems safe to say that MOBA fans aren't just superficially interested in their sport. And actually, outside of the stuff from Wargaming.net, I think every single one of those games are more than just tangentially related to League of Legends. Awesomenauts? MOBA. Guardians of Middle-Earth? MOBA. Warcraft/Starcraft franchise -- er, not really. But we don't know what Heroes of the Storm qualifies as so I suspect it's Riot Games hedging their bets there.
And, yeah. Fans of League of Legends may well enjoy watching Dota 2. Given that the basic mechanics are so similar, they might like it enough to waltz over to Dota 2 in an attempt to emulate their favorite players. One of the biggest things about eSports and the games that support eSports is the fact that they are accessible. Anyone can be a superstar. Anyone can join a tournament. Anyone could potentially get scouted by a big-name team and taken to a grand tournament somewhere. Anyone can decide they'd much rather watch Dota 2 and take all their money over to Valve instead. Which, I suspect, is bloody scary.
To the players? Yea. I'm still not certain what the ramifications of that decision are, though.
Pete: I guess that's something we'll have to wait and see about! It seems like an interesting time for the eSports sector as a whole; I get the impression that a lot of the stuff being decided right now will help set a precedent for how eSports as a whole will continue to develop going forward. It's a learning process for everyone involved, I imagine.
And what about you, readers? What do you think about the situation? Any eSports or livestreaming fans in the community want to share their thoughts on Riot's proposals and subsequent changes? Jump into the comments and notes and let us know.
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