Hate Speech: The Hype Train Derails; Countless Injured...

When I first sat down to write this week’s column I had something rather different in mind than what you’ll see here. I’d been called out and challenged to list my grievances with certain community issues, events, and so on.

It was to be my own version of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, though streamlined and updated for the modern digital era—a focused laser-beam of bitching—but then all hell broke loose. My topic slipped its tethers, busted out of its cage, and got water on itself while eating after midnight. I knew immediately that I was in serious trouble, but that’s just how hype rolls. . .

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And it was so cute, too! What a shame...

This column, like so many others, began its life as a series of discussions I had with a few of my friends. While only tangentially related on the surface, they all united around themes of presentation and the difficulties inherent in finding a voice. Beyond those deep-level issues, these conversations also shared a major character among them: hype. So what is hype? Does it help us? Could it hurt us? I don’t propose to answer these questions definitively, but I do intend to poke your brains a little bit just to see what falls out, and I see no better way of doing that by starting you off basically where I started, too: staring down the barrels of some damn awkward conversation-starters.

Conversation #1: “Well, SCV World’s got less attention on SRK than [random underwhelming, trivial thing above or below it]. Looks like the game’s officially dead.”

This one threw me for a couple of reasons. First, I heard it from someone who’s emotionally invested in the success of SCV, so it was by no means gloating or taunting, either of which would have been easily enough dismissed. Second, it struck me intuitively as wrong—there’s no way, in my mind, that an event displaying so much high quality play could kill off a game—but at the same time, it became necessary to really stop and think about why the event itself didn’t capture broader attention.

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Protip: It wasn't due to a lack of awesome player-names.
Defining a fighting game stream’s success is an incredibly tricky proposition. The most logical place to begin, like with so much else on the Internet, is to look at raw viewership, but that’s hardly cut and dry. First off, how do we derive those numbers? Roughly 3,000 people tuned in to watch live, Spooky’s channel currently show between 2,500 and 3,500 views for all of its archived pieces, and bits of the tournament have made their way to Youtube, gathering viewer impressions ranging from the dozens to the hundreds. We can use that data to sort of ballpark a rough number of total viewers, but the margin of error is pretty huge. Even were that problem to be eliminated, however, we still need to situate the number of viewers within a context in order to make that number meaningful, but what’s the appropriate context? Should we look at other major tourney streams? Maybe, but those feature multiple fighting games, which probably skews things a bit. What about other single-game streams like Starcraft 2 stuff? We could, but Starcraft 2 numbers are just. . .staggering. While we can and should aspire to that sort of thing, falling short hardly counts as failure.

In any case, let’s set aside finding a context for a moment and take a look at how the viewership numbers, whatever their significance, came about. The World Finals event seemed shrouded in needless mystery from the outset. No one had an especially good sense of when it would be held, which events counted as qualifiers, and so on, until the absolute last minute. The stream itself wasn’t promoted through 8wayrun’s in-site mechanism for doing precisely that, and the actual time of the stream wasn’t made known until the day of the event, which is especially problematic given that it took place late on a Tuesday night (the timing of which, I suspect, was due in large part to the costs of securing a venue, etc.). The net effect of all this, especially combined with Spooky’s migration from Twitch to own3d just before, made actually seeking out the World Finals a little frustrating for those of us who are plugged in, and prohibitively difficult for pretty much everyone else. As Sora mentioned last week, the event itself went spectacularly for those actually in attendance, but somehow that same consideration didn’t extend to those of us who wanted to watch things online. Bringing the hype to a small group of attendees at the expense of the larger, less-directly-invested crowd was as a strategic blunder, and in fact it makes the number of viewers we did manage to garner more impressive as a result.

Conversation #2: “That was awesome, but I really had no idea what was going on at a high level. Talking to you makes me feel like we were watching two entirely different events.”

Since the significance of our viewership is hard to pin down, and the numbers themselves were likely driven downward by an absence of promotion, we’re left with more subjective means of evaluating success, such as whether or not people are talking about it (which happens to be where Conversation #1 began). The relative mindshare an event or game gets is always based on a number of factors such as visibility, legibility, drama, and just blind luck. That last bit notwithstanding, this is one of those issues wherein hype as we’ve come to understand it is a double-edged sword. It’s crucial that we get people excited, but it’s equally important that we give people some larger sense of what’s going on both in terms of actual gameplay and the various storylines being played out in front of everyone’s eyes.

Sports, games, and really all forms of competition are storytelling devices at their hearts. Think about why we care about outcomes: they’re unscripted, they’re undecided, and we possess a rooting interest in the outcome. Would football (real, AMERICAN football or prancing European flopping-exhibitions, take your pick) be deeply compelling to people lacking an appreciation for its overarching narratives? I suspect it’d be a curiosity at best. So, too, is it with fighting games. The friend who provided me with this section’s quote went on to tell me that he basically sees most FG streams as screaming without substance. In fact, though he basically plays only SCV at this point, he confided in me that he’d still rather watch Starcraft 2 because it’s presented in such a way that what takes place on screen makes sense (read: is explained) and the drama of matchups, tournaments, and so forth are placed into a meaningful context, both of which enrich his viewing experience.

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Nevertheless, only one sort of football is welcome in stately Hates Manor.

Tempting as it may be to dismiss that sort of critique as coming from someone who simply doesn’t “get” fighting games, step back for a second and really think about it. First and foremost, the best presentations of any sort establish a relationship between form and content. When most people talk about FG hype, they seem to be pointing not toward solid, pro-style commentary like we see from Ultradavid and James Chen talking Street Fighter, but rather the over-the-top madness of the Marvel scene. SCV wears MVC2-style hype like a cheap suit. Our game is intense and exciting, but it’s a deliberate sort of intensity, not a sensory overload, and thus too much hype in that particular vein feels forced and even awkward. SCV’s aesthetics can be both brutal and elegant, but above all the game creates an epic fantasy feel, and our hype should somehow reflect that, or at least be sensitive to it in some fashion. It’s the difference between the badass, cohesive world of Conan the Barbarian and the cheesy anachronisms of A Knight’s Tale.

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"Hold up! Which one of you assholes started humming 'We Will Rock You?'"

Beyond that, it’s a matter of education. We as a community need to focus on tempering our hype with information. We don’t need exhaustive explanations of every minor gameplay detail in real-time (though, as an aside, what would you guys think of post-event video breakdowns?), but we could very much benefit from at least some player context to increase the drama. Noface’s impressive showing at the World Finals, for example, might have been even more interesting to the uninitiated viewer if that viewer had a sense of how many within our community openly said NCR didn’t deserve to have a qualifier. That’s instant underdog status and instant drama.

Showcasing little things like this is imperative for all of us who want SCV to succeed and grow because it’s probably the best way to bring in new eyeballs. Returning to Starcraft 2 as an example, that game proves that there’s a ridiculously large number of people willing to tune in and watch competitive gaming streams—in fact, that number’s much larger than any fighting game gets now, period—so why not make a play for those people? We can make inroads, but in order to do that we have to present our tournaments and our community in a way that is recognizably meaningful and distinctly our own, not some derivative caricature of formulas better suited to other FGs.

Conversation #3: “You have POWER but nobody wants to speak up and USE IT.”

We absolutely must work together to ensure that our tournaments, streams, and other content are as good as they can be in order to ensure the success of our community, and the best way to do that is to open and maintain real, substantive discussion regarding what works and what needs to be improved. This doesn’t mean we should tear each other down or devolve into a quivering, screaming mob, of course, but it does mean that we can’t just dogpile on people at the moment of their first critical utterance. This goes beyond covering my own ass, by the way, and gets down to some fundamental issues with our community’s personality. As my anonymous hectoring-ass friend pointed out, we all have power, but we must choose to employ it.

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It was this or He-Man. Deal with it.
Namco’s willingness to support us and engage with us thus far has been absolutely amazing, and I don’t think anyone questions that, but now it falls to us to step up and become collaborators. They gave us the game, but we give it meaning. They give us events, but we have to tell them how the events can get better. Honestly, I’m shocked that nobody has gone publicly ballistic over how difficult it was just to figure out when the world tournament was being streamed. It’s time we stopped living in fear of being perceived as ungrateful and stepped forward to take some degree of ownership over the SCV content being created. If we play it right, we can bring in new people, have even better events, and continue to grow. Hype is a part of that. Being proactive is a part of that. Pushing content with a uniquely SOULCALIBUR point of view is a part of that. Above all, we simply need to be invested in the game and willing to blaze some trails. It’s all very much in our hands. Do something about it.

Homework:

Well, whaddaya think? Am I right or wrong? I’m going out of my way to say there’s a place for criticism, so feel free to crucify me. While you’re at it, though, why not talk about some of the things you’d like to see change? Tell me what kind of content you’re looking for, etc, or how you’d reconcile hype with explication, evangelism, and so on.
 

Comments

I should be more constructive. Maybe looking into the open-source model and how it's created, improved, patched, and passed on throughout the community would be beneficial. I've used Ubuntu for years and I'm completely surprised by the interaction between developers and users. Most software has one or more developer's direct e-mail address in it's "about" menu. I've personally emailed developers and have gotten responses with fixes in a matter of days. Issues are triaged through a site called "launchpad" which is used more by developers. These developers also know to watch the Ubuntu forums and Ask Ubuntu. It's amazing how efficient a global network of volunteers and enthusiasts can be.
 
I'm not 100% sure what could or should be done.

Stream wise, hell event wise in general, there always needs to be a good window of time between it's announcement and the date it's held. It should have all the details required for us to view or attend with no problem at all. The World Finals and some MLG events are just ridiculously short when it comes to this and makes it frustrating. For t he World Finals I didn't even watch it live because I had no idea that it was on during the hit FX original series JUSTIFIED that I watch every Tuesday mixed with the FOX comedy New Girl.

Scene wise and hype wise....... I don't know. For me the 1.02 patch pretty much killed the game. I just entered a Dallas tournament over the weekend and only saw ZBeast and Cepzeu..... saw no ICE, no Link, no Funkpanda, no JOP...... no known traveling Dallas players at all. It took Austin coming up to show me a true challenge but I won't be playing them regularly. The game lost it's interest to most of the players here and it's killing it. I think you can even see the same thing for online as even online is much more silent than before the patch.

Sad times.

BUT HEY I WON ME SOME COMICS
 
Scene wise and hype wise....... I don't know. For me the 1.02 patch pretty much killed the game. I just entered a Dallas tournament over the weekend and only saw ZBeast and Cepzeu..... saw no ICE, no Link, no Funkpanda, no JOP...... no known traveling Dallas players at all. It took Austin coming up to show me a true challenge but I won't be playing them regularly. The game lost it's interest to most of the players here and it's killing it. I think you can even see the same thing for online as even online is much more silent than before the patch.

Sad times.

BUT HEY I WON ME SOME COMICS
Link is taking a break to re-assess 1.03. He said so himself. Did that change?

(though, as an aside, what would you guys think of post-event video breakdowns?)
Damnit Brian, stop spoiling the surprise. Lol.
 
Note to Scrubs: Leave Hates alone, hes a man like all of us, but he will probably beat you in soul calibur.
 
I feel that its somewhat difficult for me to suggest types of commentary since I'm decently knowledgeable of things SC and could quite easily watch SC content without commentary. One thing I can say for sure is SC 'hype' is completely different to Marvel 'hype', for example. Take Winter Brawl SCV GFs, as I recall, the room was silent during that match, but that sure as hell didn't mean people were bored stiff. It was super intense and I'm sure viewers present at the event and at home watching the stream were on the edge of their seats.

I don't think SC is a game that lends itself well to the kind of commentary that Marvel can get away with, but I felt that Markman/FilthiRich did a fantastic job at SCV world finals. It felt appropriate considering they were in front of a live crowd, rather than tucked away in a dedicated commentator's section.
 
I couldn't agree more with this article!

Soul Calibur needs it's community to step up and help it get to where it needs to be. It's not just going to magically happen on it's own.

I'm doing all I can to push content right now, but my life has grown excessively overwhelming as time has pressed on. I dreadfully attend a university full time, only to come home burnt out; and stressed to try and push the best Soul Calibur content I can.

With my recent Machinima partnership, I'm beginning to have the chance to reach more of an audience. I have basic tutorials and informational videos in the works, to help draw people in to Soul Calibur, and help them better understand the game. Like the article, and already some of these responses has said; Soul Calibur needs content, and commentators that are more than just hype and shouting: we need to mix in some educational value so people can really attach to what's going on.

That's tough though, you know? It's definitely no easy task, we're going to have to do some serious work to bring out the content we need to IMO! I'm doing what I can, and I'll stand up and say here; I'm open to any assistance, ideas, or criticisms people would give me.

Together we can make this happen! Soul Calibur deserves just as much recognition as any other fighter...it's our task to find a way to relate to the rest of the FGC, and get them interested! And even draw in people outside the FGC!
 
This is probably one of the single most important topics for the SCV community.

I am a long time player of the series (since Soul Blade), and your typical intermediate regional tournament player, and I think SC is the best fighter out there. Despite all of that though, I have no idea where the hell I can point someone to see some really accessible media to get them into the game.

Is there an official youtube channel for 8WR? Is there a Day9 equivilent for SCV? Where can I point online players I meet on XBL to convert them from casual to enthusiast?

You would think that a middle ground player like myself would know these things but I don't, and I want to work to change that.

One thing we need are dedicated replays online, broken down by someone explaining things in very simple terms.

An announcer yelling about how awesome 3B is doesn't tell the average player anything, it just confuses them. An announcer talking about how a player is getting hammered by vertical attacks because he refuses to sidestep puts it in simple enough terms to give commentary value to players of most levels.

Proof of that is how Day9 breaks down replays and calls Starcraft matches. Even though you may not be a master at the game or know build orders, they break it down for you so you do understand whats going on, its still entertaining to watch, even for people that have stopped playing (like me).
 
Filthie Rich is one of the best things Soul Calibur has going for it, all things being said...

While I spoke about Soul Calibur needing informational content / commentary, like Hates did in his article; and how that's completely true... Filthie Rich is the hype side of things; and he does it perfectly. He did an amazing job hyping up the game pre-release, and has supported it all the way through. I credit that man for a lot of this game's success.

It's us as the community who need to mobilize though, and continue to give all the positive exposure we can to SC.
 
Filthie Rich is one of the best things Tekken has going for it, all things being said...
Fixed.

It's us as the community who need to mobilize though.
Also, I do not fall under this category (Needing to mobilize as in terms of what one would call mobilizing, I have done a great deal.) =P *

*Because you quoted my post, I am assuming that you are including me in this statement, if you are not however, I apologise pal. =)