The Cauldron #1 – And the Winner Is…

“The Cauldron” is a weekly column in which I address topical concerns, express opinions not represented elsewhere and/or hold court on matters which have been bubbling away inside me for seven days.

Western esports is caught up in a rapturous adoration of all things StarCraft II right now. The scene has fully embraced the new RTS title and is falling over itself to cheer on its every progression and hailing it as both the saviour of esports and the lightbearer to a new land of plenty where Western esports will be transformed by the effects of SC2 much as South Korea was by those of Brood War. New sites are rushing into the fray to provide coverage of the game, regardless of their backgrounds, and even hardened FPS players seem smitten by the spell of Blizzard’s newest offering. There is one area in SC2 though where Western esports has most certainly not caught up: anti-spoilers.

It’s understandable that those who have come into SC2 without a background in South Korean SC:BW, or merely one in WarCraft III, have simply taken their existing models and applied them to SC2. The context of why things were done a certain way in BW is lost on them or never registered in the first place. Yet the old ways have their reasons and understanding those will lead to a better scene for all. To explain what I mean let’s first make the distinction between South Korean StarCraft II and the rest. The rest covers everything that isn’t the GSL, or subsequent South Korean-based leagues which may open one day. So MLG in the US, IEM in North America and Europe, cups onlineā€¦ whatever it may be it all falls under a different umbrella and must be treated accordingly.

If I come online today and I check the news sites it’s perfectly understandable that anything from “the rest” will be out there in the open and in the fashion one has come to expect from coverage of Quake, WC3 and CS. If someone has won a big game it’ll be right there in the title and if someone has lost a big way I’ll likewise not be capable of missing it as my eyes scan the page. When a player wins an event it’ll be on every site covering it within minutes and soon have spread throughout the web of coverage that is the Western Esports scene. This is all well and good and nobody expects anything different.

Where it becomes a problem though is where South Korean esports is concerned. It’s absolutely vital to the integrity of the viewing and fan experience that results from this type of coverage be published in a very tight-lipped and responsible way which requires a little planning and forethought. Anti-spoilers are not simply a mere luxury in this regard but an absolute necessity for that sector of the scene to be enjoyed as fully as it can be.

In BW when one goes to TeamLiquid, the hub of interest amongst Western fans, the standard protocol is to apply anti-spoiling techniques. If two teams play a game in the proleague, let’s say KHAN and OZ, then the results of the match are hidden in a spoiler tag in the thread. An interview conducted with the winner and posted shortly afterwards is entitled something along the lines of “Interview with winners of KHAN vs. OZ”. If VODs are posted then anti-spoiler VODs are included. That is to say if two players are to play a Bo3 then if one wins in two straight maps a third VOD is uploaded which to a user who hasn’t clicked it will appear to be a legitimate set/map but upon clicking will be discovered to be an anti-spoiler method to prevent someone from seeing the first VOD and then having the second ruined by knowing that one specific player lost before he even presses play.

This is vital because the majority of those games are taking place at times which aren’t feasible for non-Korean fans to follow them live. It’s one thing to have a big three day tournament and take the weekend off and set your alarm and wake up at 9am to watch the games, as hardcore Western esports fans are known to do. It’s another when the tournament takes place over a month and matches are every few days, and during the work week also. In those circumstances it’s not only unrealistic to expect that the majority of the audience can follow live, and thus not have the game spoiled by fast and open reporting, but also unreasonable. We have this wonderful network of commentators, restreamers and the VOD hosting sites which ensures that if a user wants to view a game he can eventually. Those take time though, both for the person commentating/uploading and for the fan/user who needs to set aside a period to watch them. When anti-spoiler methods are applied that fan can watch games at his leisure, knowing they won’t and haven’t been ruined.

A tournament like the GSL falls well under the scope of that description of circumstances and yet Western esports sites are covering matches as though it were a live three day tournament where games took place every hour. These sites need to be responsible and understand that they share some of the blame in spoiling results and the viewing experience. It’s not enough to say that a fan should simply ignore their website altogether if he hasn’t watched the games.

Firstly there are so many games going on that not every fan can follow mentally exactly which day a round of the tournament will be played. That’s not his job, that’s the job of coverage people to inform him and keep him in the loop. How do they do that? Via their website which he is going to visit now and have the results spoiled at. The same moment he finds out matches were played is the same one at which the results are spoiled.

Secondly sites needs to appreciate the scale and scope of how the coverage web works in the modern era. In the past when a site posted something it would only reach other websites when reposted or sourced there by those websites. This meant news was slower to travel and its reach was more variable. Now we live in the era of full connectivity so that as soon as a post is made on an esports site it becomes a listing on a, genuinely wonderful, service like EsportsPress, shows up on other sites through RSS feeds or hits twitter. Even the old manual method is far far quicker and within half a day news can be expected to have hit most, if not all, of the large and medium sized outlets at the least.

No more posts like “[big name player X] eliminated from GSL!” or “[big name player] vs. [big name player] in RoX” moments after the match ends please. Rather than trying to scoop each other let’s instead all adhere to some previously established basic rules of etiquette in handling these sensitive matters, using techniques which have been proven over the long haul to work very well. Let’s use a little tact and forethought so we can all cover these incredible competitions to get news to those who want it fast, but not at the cost of robbing others the joy of experiencing those epic moments first hand and within the appropriate context.