Lack of communication, top-down pressure and unprofessional handling of situations feature in the recent Shanghai Major controversy.
It was only a symptom of a problem as James “2GD” Harding was fired personally by CEO of Valve, Gabe “GabeN” Newell on the second day of the Shanghai Majors, a Dota 2 tournament with a 3 million dollar prize pool. GabeN went on to explain the firing of 2GD, officially firing the entire production crew of the Shanghai Majors as well. The most recent development is James’s personal statement on the event, titled “James is an ass”, a quote from GabeN in his statement about firing 2GD. I’ll bring you through the 17-page statement, telling you why everything he says matters to eSports. Most importantly, the statement focuses on how Valve is trying to validate eSports for Dota 2, and is actively taking steps (whether right or wrong is thrown into doubt by 2GD) to ensure that it gains the authority and respect the company wants for their game.
Page 1 – 3: How James got hired to host Shanghai Majors, some details about his prep work and some disclaimers.
James, in writing his statement, believes that the problem is a personal problem (aka human relationship issues) rather than a product problem (aka customer complaints). This is an important distinction considering James is an owner of a company, the GD studio, as well as the figurehead of his new game, “Diabotical!”. This changes the agenda of the situation towards the struggle for eSports to gain validity/authority, an important issue for such a new medium, instead of writing it off as a simple mismatch of personality to event.
Icefrog’s vision v.s. GabeN’s vision, a miscommunication or a mismatch?
Bruno, James’s best friend and now-employee of Valve, lobbied for him to host Ti 5 and did the same for the Shanghai Majors. Icefrog gave James his blessing, which means a lot as he is the creator of Dota 2, and decides the direction in which the game develops. His acknowledgement and blessing mean that he both knows what James is all about, “whatever you want to do is fine” as well as his approval of what James means for the broadcast and the game. This detail is worrying as GabeN sent a different message with his firing of 2GD, clearly disapproving of his style.
A short conversation clearing up the misunderstandings between 2GD and his handlers at the event.
Page 4: James disclaims that he’s difficult off camera
This addresses James being an “ass” according to GabeN. James insists that he was being professional, which suggests that he was fired through a combination of factors regarding what he represents rather than because he is hard to work with and was bringing the show down. This is pertinent relative to the incompetence of KeyTV, the production team, which is mostly the reason why they were fired by Valve.
Page 5 – 7: Day 1 – 2 recount, aka James steps on GabeN’s and Ali’s toes twice
2GD acknowledges his Day 1 joke about pornography (he was joking about jerking off in preparation for the event), how GabeN gives an ultimatum, telling him to stop these kinds of jokes effective immediately. Bruno was the one to deliver this warning. This emphasizes that not only does James have a professional stake in the event, he has a personal stake in not wanting to let his friends down.
James introduces Alireza “Ali” Razmpoosh as his arch-enemy. Think of him as a figure which opposes everything James represents – loose, low brow comedy, relaxed panels, anything that can be conceived as “unprofessional”. Ali brings up the fact that James’s usage of a whiteboard, “cheapen[s] the event”. James once again reiterates that his style of hosting is loose, and that in hiring him, Valve has expected his.
Day 2, towards the end of an extended segment, James makes a sexist “Bottom Bitch” joke regarding his friends Singsing/Wagamama, which is too much for GabeN. He fires James immediately after the segment, going through Bruno to do it. James mentions that this was shocking, and that the root of the problem is beyond a mismatch of personality to event, it is a communication problem from the top down of Valve. The proven incompetence of KeyTV at Nanyang is brought in to emphasize that it’s Valve’s responsibility in mishiring and James suggests that GabeN’s “James is an ass” statement is more of a host personality problem rather than a personal problem.
Page 8 -11: James recounts the past of unpaid eSports, suggesting that Valve might be overcompensating at Ti 4.
The intent behind the recount is to show that Valve is not perfect as everyone might think: feedback is extremely important for the welfare of talent. For Ti4, the signature system was called out and 2GD debunks the popular understanding of the system. Instead of it being a “top-up” tipping system, it originally was the entire payslip for talents, later evolving to a commission system but only if the total sale exceeded their base pay. Basically, unless they sold more signatures then their base pay, they won’t be seeing any of the signature sales money.
Ti3 is 10/10 for 2GD, but Ti4’s excessive scheduling put James off, with him declaring almost immediately after the entire event that he would no longer host for The International. He details the 12+ hour hosting days, his inability to dictate how panels are decided as well as the fact that there was no alternating host for the panel. Overwork and excessive demands on 2GD are the main reasons why he wanted to stop hosting The International, and it’s clear he was burnt out after the event.
Page 12: Valve’s employees
2GD brings Ali back as Ali is a lynchpin in the organization of the majors/The International. Remember Ali complained about 2GD’s cheap props at the Shanghai Majors, and 2GD acknowledges he was “an ass” towards Ali by communicating that the event sucked for him, and that his public declaration over twitter that he is no longer going to host any more Tis affected some Valve employees. In short, everyone’s impression of 2GD at Valve defaults to “he’s an ass” other than the people who really know him.
The more casual end of Ti5, hosted by eSports veteran ReDeYe
Page 13 – 14: Ti 4 Professionalism vs un-Professionalism, Political-correctness vs non-Political-correctness
2GD expresses one of the final straws for him at Ti4: having to put on a “very very professional” 1hour 45 minute introduction typical of sports broadcasts without control over his panel. This panel is due to the fact they’re being broadcast on ESPN2, and whatever decision made effectively would represent Valve’s vision for Dota 2 eSports towards the mass audience. Sheever is made to go on the panel due to Valve wanting to represent diversity, and James mentions that their incompatibility/lack of chemistry made hosting the panel difficult. Also on the panel: Ben “Merlini” Wu, Bruno, Sébastien “7ckingMad” Debs – who 2GD mentions is the saviour of the show with the sheer amount of player knowledge he has. If you watch the panel, 7ckingMad dominates the panel.
A sports panel in comparison to the Ti4 panel in question, which was broadcast on ESPN2.
7ckingMad’s content is one of the defining features of a professional broadcast, in-depth knowledge off the top of the head, and plenty of pointers for every player and team. The format and style of the introduction panel mirrored a sports analyst panel almost perfectly.
Most of the details surrounding his firing revolve around his focus on entertainment instead of what he dubs as “sports” professionalism, that is, the mirroring of formats and style of presentation used in sports broadcasts. People in suits, desks, serious tones, etc., all these features have been mirrored from sports broadcasts, which lends a supposed sense of professionalism and seriousness to the broadcast.
Page 14 – 17: Valve losing focus of the customer as a result of wanting mass appeal
This becomes, as 2GD suggests, the focus of GabeN and Alireza “Ali” Razmpoosh towards the broadcasting of Dota 2: Make it as professional as possible. This has been consistent ever since Ti5, where hosting veteran ReDeYe was brought in. ReDeYe represents the model of what can be considered “professional” broadcasting – extremely structured, fluent, high-brow content, with occasional comedic elements. The focus can be said to be on content instead of entertainment, which caters mostly to the casual fans of the genre, with the appeal to mass audiences mostly due to the strength of the content (or how “professional” they seem/sound).
2GD reiterates that he doesn’t know GabeN well, and neither does GabeN know him well, which reminds us again that the issue is a mismatch of James’s personality and the vision that Valve has for their events. Effectively, what Valve is trying to say is that they want to move towards the format and recognizable authority that sports broadcasts enjoy, away from the more community-friendly humour and appeal that 2GD has brought to the table. 2GD voiced his disapproval of such an idea, suggesting that eSports should find their own validity without having to borrow from other formats/mirror “real sports”.
Twitch chat on Day 3 in response to replacement host KotLGuy’s hypothetical question to Blitz: If you got fired from your team … Regardless of the format, personalities will always bring appeal to the medium.
This comes off the back of the extremely successful broadcasts of CS:GO as well, which uses the same professional format. However, CS:GO personality Thorin can be said to be the equivalent of James, but his banter revolves around masculine bashing rather than sexual innuendo and gender. Although there is a difference, Valve should be more consistent if they want to represent inclusiveness and professionalism in their broadcast.
Should Valve be taking their eSports towards the sports broadcast format? At this rate, it will be the norm for all eSports to adopt such a format. What 2GD seems to be suggesting is that eSports should be relaxed, much like how the game is enjoyed. Think about the couch discussions in The Summit and casual player-community interaction as a staple for all eSports broadcasts. That way, it appeals organically to the community to large, instead of trying to making it more mass-friendly by the matter of being authoritative.
This is a personal opinion of the writer, and it doesn’t necessarily represent the other writers (nor The Gaming Ground´s) opinions.
The Gaming Ground
More by Chen Yiji:
Save 3$ with our Play-Asia coupon code "thegg"