In the interests of full disclosure, I should admit before we begin today that I’m at the more mature end of the MMO demographic. I remember when that Lara Croft lass was all pixelated breasts, for starters, not the realistic and clearly rebooted young woman she’s become. In between then and now, a lot has changed in gaming. Back in the day, streaming was what you did with a fishing net and Wellington boots (or possibly as a result of an allergic reaction) while the World Wide Web was merely a twinkle in Tim Berners Lee’s fertile imagination. Now it’s all Twitch and Kappa, plus that bloke who’s been dead for a decade still painting pictures. On top of it all, there’s a cult of celebrity that frankly puts early Norman feudalism to shame. And today I am here to stick my head in the mouth of a beast that frankly scares so many people I know into swearing they’ll never go near You Tube even if paid.
For a title like Warcraft, there are streamers now for everything. You have players of both sexes, Lore, PvP, questing, pet battles, farming vanity mounts and that’s even before I get started on the Gold Farmers or the Role Players. The last two weeks have been positively rammed full with Blizzard using streaming to promote their eSports ventures. The company’s about to get very seriously involved in a new business direction, sticking all their titles front and centre into the collective mentality, with eSports at the core. As you read this Blizzcon will be hours away and for the faithful Warcraft fan, that means Legion finally gets some love. Once upon a time you’d not hear about Expansion news until someone reported it, but with streaming I can watch the entire thing live and it’s probably better than being there. I won’t catch Con Crud, I can stay in my PJ’s plus drink beer as I watch. It’s no wonder streaming is as popular as it has undoubtedly become.
However, it’s the Cult of Celebrity I really want to highlight in my time here with you, because I realise that for people my age, this whole thing seems a bit… well, ridiculous. Watching other people play is all well and good, but this often involves sacrificing a part of yourself to the rules and regulations you’ll find in a stream: donate for a mention, subscribe for perks, get the shirt to become part of the crew. For many this is thinly veiled exploitation, and often to people who seem to possess little or no care about what they do, or indeed who they insult along the way. Having an audience in the hundreds of thousands, as many of these people do, is not an indicator of quality or consistency. In fact, in many cases it simply shows that the people can do as they wish, with their own rule sets and laws, and woe betide those who attempt to intervene or object.
Of course, there are many, many decent people doing this ‘job’ (or hobby I think you should probably call it because so few can legitimately claim to earn a consistent wage.) A lot of these girls and guys never get massive exposure, and simply play and record as an excuse to just have a bunch of people in their lives. For these individuals, there’s less celebrity and more celebration, and frankly I think that’s the way this should be; small groups of like-minded souls who sit with each other and enjoy what’s being shown. They are the true heroines and heroes of the streaming ‘genre’ and one can only hope over time that big organisations like Blizzard notice the best and give them a chance to shine. The only problem for the corporate arm of the business is that if you want to sell things, you need an audience, and that’s why the bigger feudal lords are always more significant. It’s a shame, because however good many of these people may be, they’re not truly representative of the Community they’re supposed to mirror.
I’ve watched a lot of crap in my time, and over what’s coming up for eleven years now in Azeroth, there are those who do the job of selling the game far better than others. Ironically, Blizzard will poach the people they think are most adept with very little prompting: Community Managers, eSports Managers and even presenters have been shamelessly integrated into the company’s ranks over the last few years. You can’t blame the company for taking the best on offer. What it does for those who remain outside the ‘system’ is offer the possibility of true fame and success if you happen to hit the right combination of followers plus output. That puts a great deal of pressure and focus on those that stream as a result. Of course, nobody makes anyone do this stuff, and yet people continue to try and persuade me to follow them on Twitter almost daily, with promise of what I’ll get if I subscribe to their Channel.
Once upon a time, everybody wanted to be a train driver or an astronaut, and now all the kids wanna be PewDiePie or that bloke from Yogscast. I’m not sure I approve of this devolution, but it’s easy to grasp the appeal. In the end, I don’t get why people watch others play games, and I know that this concept appears to have become the Internet version of Marmite: you either love it or hate it. What’s apparent is that Blizzard hope to make several supertankers’ worth of money in the years to come doing just that, giving people games to watch that others play. Knowing this is coming does not make my life any more difficult or frustrating, I just suspect I’ll be watching more TV Box sets and maybe going outside a bit more in the years to come, which is no bad thing. Because I’m not a follower of cults, and I’m certainly not a fan of feudalism, and this appears to be the future, at least in certain sectors of my current MMO Community de Choix.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ll need to get these kids off my lawn.