President George Washington’s collected writings include a handwritten copy of a 16th century Jesuit manuscript, entitled 110 Rules of Civility & Decent Behavior in Company and Conversation, which he copied around age 16 (Source: http://www.foundationsmag.com/civility.html). In it is a frequently attributed-to-him proverb:
Associate yourself with Men of good Quality if you Esteem your own Reputation; for ‘is better to be alone than in bad Company.
Strange capitalizations aside, this proverb (and others, collectively) is often paraphrased as “you are the company you keep.” Truly, by associating with people of particular character, you will soon find yourself adopting that same character.
So what does this have to do with esports?
Over a year ago, I wrote an article on the necessity of professionalism in esports. In it, I noted,
I think it is imperative for organizations to be vigilant to stifle the rampant negative atmosphere often perpetuated by their fans.
To me, it was a fairly nondescript finding. “To be a good organization, stop supporting or allowing negative feedback.” Simple, right? Incredibly, this is where I received the most pushback. Although due to Gamurs.com’s acquisition by Dot Esports, the comments section is purged, I received some feedback that the negativity in esports, particularly Call of Duty, was a feature of the scene rather than a detriment to it. “The audience is immature,” the argument went, “we’re ok if our players are and expect that drama to keep things interesting.”
I couldn’t disagree more. Yet rather than dive in on this argument, I’d like to use it to make a parallel argument.
The esports landscape is full of toxicity. You know it by watching episodes and/or blowback on #DRAMAALERT, reading Twitch chat during any match involving OpTic Gaming, and reading feeds anytime something “newsworthy” enters the conversation space (i.e., Logan Paul, Snapchat changes, and on). We briefly made national attention when a gamer’s SWATting got an innocent man killed; prior to that we made major headlines with Gamergate. The negative press is an exception, certainly; however, do you honestly believe a majority of the esports fanbase is mature or toxic? Something in-between? Something else?
I don’t have an answer to this one; further, that’s not even the point. If there’s at least one toxic person out there (and believe me, there are plenty, even if you disagree with me on extent), their association with an esports organization is similarly toxic.
How much moreso is that toxicity when the association in question is between an esports organization and a toxic sponsor, or a more widely-known individual in the esports space?
I see it too many times in the esports world. The constant push for more funding, more support, more legitimacy leads organizations and their leaders to make fatal decisions regarding the individuals and organizations with whom they associate. I’m sure part of the thought process is, “sure, this group may not be the sort of people I would go out and have a beer with, but they have a following, and are at the core good people.” I think that argument is faulty.
Your brand is your single greatest asset.
I won’t name names. That isn’t my place. Plus, my own consulting advantage is knowing these pitfalls and being able to warn companies of specific threats to brand integrity.
But here’s the main point: if you own a company, organization, or team, your brand is your single greatest asset. I mean it. When sponsors approach you, fund you, invest in you, they are investing singlehandedly in your brand and want to accompany that brand on its journey. Why would you risk tarnishing that asset for the sake of an extra few thousand bucks a month? Do you think the budget benefits will outweigh the risks? Why even engage in that sort of risk?
I know, I know, growth is impossible without some amount of risk…but that risk? That is an infinitely avoidable risk. You can say “no.” Don’t take a risk that involves fastening your brand to that of a questionable company. There are enough risks – save your risk-taking for jumping into new titles, taking on new rosters, and releasing new products.
You don’t want to lose your company over the company you keep.