The burden of journalism.

This year I’ve probably learned more about writing and journalism than during the whole of my college career. For a few months, I went to the nearby college library and read books upon books about the subject, and I became much more literate in a relatively short span of time. Nonetheless, there’s a big difference between knowing about journalism and doing it.

Journalism ethics are pretty straightforward (for the most part) and work well for most areas of your life. Seek the truth, respect others, be accountable…all very relevant and useful concepts, not only for writers, but for the general population as well. Details like libel are murkier. This is where I started, and I think it’s been an excellent vantage point for everything else I’ve done since—it’s much easier to build something if you can survey the area properly first.

But the rest of it is actually quite hands on. Writing mechanics have never come easily to me even though I’m quite aware of good sentence structure, spelling, grammar, etc. And as for article ideas and implementation, sometimes I struggle there too. But perhaps the biggest hurdle has been getting used to being plugged in at all times. The burden of journalism is the constant state of awareness that a reporter requires in order to catch all the details, connect all of the dots, and write the story sooner than the competitors. Deadlines don’t care about your sleep schedule, and there’s not enough time to go back and find all the details you need. There are no days off.

In esports, this awareness extends to tournament results, roster swaps, game features, esports league formats, potential new esports, game design…and the list goes on. If you’re covering more than one esport, there’s not enough hours in the day to actually feed all that information into your brain and process it; you’re tuned in 24/7 and constantly reading articles, watching VoDs, and reading live tweets just to keep up to date. Any time that you lose to sleep or inattention can’t be easily made up for.

It can get very exhausting.

For that reason, it’s good to take a personal day every now and then. If you don’t take breaks or unplug yourself from the mainframe every now and then, it’s really easy for stress to affect your sleep or your health. I don’t know if my brain tires out more easily than others—Pulitzer, for example, was hyper-vigilant and made it a life mission to examine every fine detail closely and add it to his memory bank—but it does sometimes become cumbersome. I’m not great at letting things go and relaxing either, but I’m trying to go outside and do some walking for at least one hour a day and just rest my brain.

The idea of doing journalism doesn’t seem too difficult. Writing news or feature articles doesn’t take a lot of effort, really. But the constant state of awareness and ravenous hunger for information might just eat you up if you’re not prepared for it.

How to Go to College

UGA Arch

Photo Credit: athensbusiness.org

Let’s start with the meat of this topic. If you’re a good learner and a self-starter, you don’t need to go to college. In fact, it can be more beneficial for you to avoid college altogether. However, it’s important to recognize the resources that colleges can provide for you and learn how to take advantage of it for your own benefit.

My advice: Pay for one semester at a large college or university, and then reap the benefits of being a student forever.

There are a lot of perks to living next to a university. Learn how to utilize them and jumpstart your own education without having to rely on a strict programme of material or a punitive system of reward/punishment.

How I Failed at College

First of all, I’ll be honest: I never finished college. I originally entered college as a music major (piano primary). I wasn’t bad. I auditioned at a few different schools, was accepted at all of them, but ended up going to the University of Georgia.

Suffice it say that school has never been a strong suit of mine. I strongly dislike being told what to learn, and I get easily frustrated when I’m required to learn material I have no interest for. I went through a plethora of music-related majors trying to find what worked best for me—composition, music therapy, and performance—but in the end, I found myself more and more estranged from the path I was seeking: to imagine and write beautiful music that could change lives.

After that, I took a two year break to recoup some of my financial losses and get a fresh head. When I finally went back to school, I decided on English, which felt like a step in the right direction. That’s when I learned how much I hated writing. Ironic, right?

Park Hall Steps

The steps leading up to Park Hall, where I spent most of my time as an English major. Photo credit: AJC.

The long story short: I decided I didn’t like college. It’s just not for me. It’s been nothing but a money sink that’s caused me nothing but perturbation and stress over the years. I’ve had long bouts of depression linked to my schoolwork, and I’ve discovered that I just can’t do it anymore.

The Perks of Having a Student ID

This is where it gets good. Despite my eventual departure from university courses, the campus is still a big part of my life. I still drive through campus every day; it’s an important place in Athens.

That said, there’s a lot of resources at your disposal once you get a student ID and/or familiarize yourself with campus. Perhaps the biggest perk is that I have access to every single educational resource within UGA’s four campus libraries (plus lent books to other colleges/universities from all over the state) as well as its online system of books, journals, and newspapers. There is literally more information on one floor of the Main Library than any one person could ever read or learn.

Student IDs are rarely discontinued, especially at large universities, so you can often use yours long after you’ve graduated/left the university. If I want to read a book on journalism, I can go check it out with my student ID; even if my student ID is outdated, I can still make daily trips to the library to read and study.

UGA Main Library

The UGA Main Library holds one of the largest collections of books in the country.

There are also unexpected surprises—access to tools and software you wouldn’t be able to use at home. The public computers on campus have Matlab loaded on all of them. The music school has MIDI controllers and all sorts of composition software. Even if you’re not a student anymore, you can still go in and make music. All it requires is a student ID number + password, which can potentially be maintained indefinitely by resetting your password every six months.

The second biggest perk is private study areas, free wi-fi, and access to other people’s opinions and thoughts. There are tons of extracurricular groups to keep your mind sharp and pique your interests, even if you’re not a student.

Sometimes dorms are off-limits without special access, but in any case, it’s easy to find quiet nooks where no one will bother you.

Oh, did I mention the Health Center and world class Athletic Center that are open to the public? (BTW, former UGA students scored 8 Olympic medals in Rio).

An Ideal Education

For me, nothing in the world beats this sort of education. It’s a chance for me to work on my own topics at my own pace with nearly limitless resources. I’m sure I still haven’t even found everything available to me, but it’s already more than I think I could ever use.

UGA Miller Learning Center

Walking alongside others, but on your own path. That’s the dream. Photo credit: onlineathens.com

This is something I wish I had done years ago before I had accrued thousands of dollars in debt and put myself through a grueling gauntlet of success and failure in the scholastic world.

I think the main thing to draw from my story is that a traditional education is not for everyone. Having a Bachelor’s Degree that officially states that you know things is nice for credentials, but often it means very little compared to relevant experience and depth of knowledge, especially in the realm of esports and content creation.

Refocusing. Planning a new goal.

So, to be straightforward: I was fired from Esports Edition this week.

A large part of the reasoning for this decision was my chronic failure to produce articles on time and communicate properly with the management. This isn’t the first time. In many ways, it reminds me of my schoolwork in high school and college; I’ve never been much of a prolific writer, and I often miss deadlines.

I have the worst form of writer’s block. The inability to put two sentences together if I’m not sincerely interested in the topic. Then, when I’m late, I tend to quiet myself because I know that I have no real excuse (and I hate making excuses for my failures). The only thing I can say is, “I just didn’t do it.”

The more overdue my material becomes and the more impatient those waiting on me for it become, the more difficult it becomes for me to write at all. I let the weight of all that pressure push down on me, unable to lift it away piece by piece. The only real release is dropping all of it, quitting, and starting over.

This is something I’ve lived with and tried to understand for many years. It’s possible I just have a fundamental “laziness” that I’ve yet to overcome. Maybe I don’t understand the value of “hard work”. I’m not really sure. I haven’t discovered why I do the things that I do yet.

Whatever the case, I’m moving forward and trying to figure out what works best for me.

What Was Wrong With Esports Edition

The first and most important goal that I have is writing about the things I want to write about. When I am excited about a topic, I put everything I have into it, and thoughts and ideas flow out without effort. Part of the reason why it was so difficult for me to write pieces at Esports Edition was because I was continually being forced into a smaller box.

First of all, you should understand what Esports Edition is, and what it’s goals are. Esports Edition is a subsidiary of a larger corporation called Perk.com. Perk.com makes its money through advertising on apps that reward viewers for watching videos, reading articles, and using the app. Like all companies that make most of their money from ad revenue, their goal is to create lots of short, engaging content that will keep the viewer interested and looking at the screen.

I was told early on when I joined them as a startup that they were looking to foster a gaming community and create a sort of “grassroots” news movement. I’m not one to put all of my eggs into the “community” startup basket, but I’m also not a huge fan of large corporate identities (as can be seen from my constant criticism of ESL). It seemed like a good goal, and very much in line with the sort of community I was trying to foster at TeamLiquid.net before I was expelled quite unfairly. In hindsight, it’s ironic that I placed so much faith in the Esports Edition group.

The first few articles I wrote for them were supposed to be “general, evergreen” content. They wanted me to write pieces that anyone could read, whether they were new to the game or seasoned veterans, could read and learn from. They also wanted it to be “evergreen”, or “timeless”, meaning that it had to be general enough to not attach itself to a single patch, event, team, or player’s success. I wrote about using the Dragon Knight and the perks of Talents vs Items.

It was boring, tedious work trying to fit myself into this box, but I was promised more freedom in the future once they had built up a base of articles for the site.

Needless to say, this never really happened. They kept pushing for very general content and disliked my pieces that went over 1200 words. When the 500 word cap rule came into effect this month, I was already done. Not only would that cut my pay in half (1000 words/article on average previously), but it was fitting me once again into a very small box which I didn’t care for.

The best analogy I can give is a BuzzFeed article. And I swore I would never write BuzzFeed articles when I first started my freelance writing career. Never ever.

When that rule was implemented, I was already considering new jobs, including the writing position at ESL. Being fired is no loss in terms of where I was headed anyway, though it still stings to know that I failed. It has put me in a situation where I need to figure out my priorities and the direction I want to head very quickly. I don’t have time to sit around and think about what I would like to do in the future; the future is NOW.

What I’m Refocusing On

About eight months ago, I decided that I was going to make a living in esports. My ultimate aim was always to be an Editor-in-Chief. I loved the work that I did at Team Liquid managing writers, scheduling content, and filling in whenever a writer was sick or unable to write. It was everything that I could ever want to do in life. But you don’t get to a position like that without lots and lots of writing first.

Luckily, there are still things I definitely want to write about. I’ve never been interested in straight up news or interest pieces. I’m not a flowery writer. I parse through a situation or incident, find what’s right and what’s wrong, and I try to convey that. It’s very similar to editing in a way.

To that end, I love writing editorials providing criticism. I’m honestly not that opinionated, but when I see something that is particularly worrisome like AA’s behavior during ESL’s recent rulings, I am compelled to speak out. We don’t have a lot of criticism in the community anymore aside from Reddit mobs, and I don’t think that does the scene any favors. Criticism is a guideline for discussion, understanding, and improvement.

I also really love doing interviews. To be honest, I haven’t really done many, but the ones that I have done felt truly amazing, and I think I have a knack for it. My goal is to expose people as they truly are so that people don’t have to sort through the multitudes of opinions of them based on hearsay and speculation.

There are actually so many incredible people in the Heroes scene like Equinox, Khaldor, and some of the guys from Big Gods. At the same time, there’s a lot of connotation with their names and “arrogance” or “attitude”. You really don’t know until you talk to them and treat them like human beings instead of celebrities.

The last and final piece of the puzzle is guide writing. I have always loved writing guides, dating all the way back to my time on TL Strategy. I love it. They are time consuming and can be a nightmare to update, but I love them so much. More guides to come.

The Great SQL Project

It’s no secret that I’ve been working on statistics for Heroes of the Storm. Up until MasterLeague.net launched only a few months ago, there was literally no definitive source for finding the drafts of every game in the order that they happened.

This was a problem when I first started trying to think about collecting drafts and studying them, so I began to build spreadsheets to collect the data. Despite rather lukewarm responses, I think the spreadsheets were a resounding success in terms of what they were intended to do.

But they had some limitations. I managed to find some SQL-like query functions in Google Sheets that slimmed them down substantially, but it still wasn’t what I ultimately wanted. I wanted tools that viewers, casters, and analysts could use to quickly gain information, study, and use to predict the game.

So I started creating a fully fledged database. I literally know nothing about this field of programming and I’m learning on the fly, but I feel confident that I can create an in-depth collection of games, drafts, and even player picks that can be used as a powerful tool for searches.

I’ve planned out the entire database and gone over it with a friend of mine who is a DBM (database manager). The MySQL server is being set up this week, and Dthehunter and I are going to be working tirelessly over the next month or two to populate the database with the appropriate data.

The ultimate goal is an app that will have several tools that help users dynamically view and predict games. I can’t reveal too much about the tools at this time, but I am eagerly anticipating the finished product that I envisioned almost four months ago finally come to fruition. Stay tuned for updates.

On words. And becoming an esports writer.

After discovering the literal holy grail of articles on working in esports, I’ve decided to offer up my own thoughts and fill in some of the holes in them with my own experience.

I think it’s important to note that I’m not really anyone significant. I’m not the guy who has 100K Twitter followers. I’m not really widely known or respected. I’m not making that much money as an esports writer. And to be truthful, I’m not even that good at writing.

Nonetheless, I do have a decent amount of experience in this field, and I’ve helped a lot of friends significantly improve their writing and find paid work in esports. Yes, paid work.

Learn How to Format Your Stuff

For the love of god, learn how to format articles correctly. Formatting is like 90% of an editor’s job. As such, organizations look specifically for people who can present a fully fleshed-out article. Even if the content isn’t top-notch, a good-looking submission is enough to convince orgs that your work is worth paying for.

  • Break your paragraphs up with images, videos, or lists. No one wants to read a wall of text.
  • Always write cleanly and concisely. Avoid excessive punctuation, overly wordy descriptions, and long sentences.
  • Use key words in your headings and paragraphs.
  • The standard article length is 800-1200 words.
  • Resize your images to a standard size (varies depending on the publishing client)
  • Learn basic HTML/BB code (headers, italics, bold, hyperlinks, images, blockquotes, etc.)

The typical format for an online article is very similar to a high school paper. Pick a topic, provide at least three main points, and tie it all together with a conclusive sentence or optional conclusion section.

    Header 1
    Introduction (no heading)
    Header 2
    Body Paragraph
    Header 2
    Body Paragraph
    Header 2
    Body paragraph
    Conclusion (optional)

Elements of Style

Elements of Style is one of my favorite books of all time. Anyways.

Brevity is paramount in the industry of online publishing. Though you may enjoy the flowery descriptions of classical writing from Dickens or Tolkien, it simply doesn’t have a place here. People are scanning through your paragraphs for key information. Multiple headings with short paragraphs using short sentences with lots of periods—that’s the way to go.

The golden rule is generally 3-5 of everything. 3-5 headings, 3-5 paragraphs per heading, and 3-5 sentences per paragraph. This also loosely applies to images/line breaks and bullet point lists too. Longer articles can play with this formatting a bit, but a standard online article typically sticks to this rule.

You need to be (sometimes overly) clear in your wording. Explain everything as if your reader “is dumb”, especially for analytical articles. This is both for the reader’s sake and your own. It’s easy to connect points A to C in your head as you’re writing, but sometimes you may skip over certain points of logic entirely in the article.

Outgrowing “Volunteer” Hell

You’re going to have to volunteer for things at first. That’s just how it is. Traditional careers have “internships”; esports writing has “volunteer work”. I worked for TeamLiquid.net for several years as a volunteer before I was ever actually taken seriously, and that time was invaluable to me in terms of refining my writing and getting a feel for online publishing.

You need skills and experience before you’re ready to publish biweekly articles for money. You have to learn how to format the articles correctly, connect with your audience, and create storylines.

Blogging is also a legitimate way to learn skills. There are several great writers in the Heroes community alone who have started with outstanding posts on Reddit or the TeamLiquid.net forums and bloomed into successful writers. Volunteering for an organization allows you to get more exposure, but it’s not the only route for gaining experience.

The point I want to make is that “volunteering” is not a dirty word, it’s a chance for you to build competency in a low-pressure environment. Once you’re at a decent level, you can start to look for paid jobs.

How to Look for a Big Boy/Girl Job

So you’ve grown out of your volunteer days, and now it’s time to find a “real” job. Spoiler alert: paid writing jobs are hard to come by in any industry, but especially in esports. Nonetheless, there are paid jobs out there, you just have to look.

eSports Career is probably the easiest resource for finding a paid writing job in esports. I have found and applied for multiple jobs through the site, and some of them (like Esports Edition) have turned out to be real treasures.

Another method for a job search is campaigning. Think of every sponsored esports organization you can think of (Dignitas, Tempo Storm, Red Bull, SK Gaming, Coke, etc.) and just email them with your credentials and an inquiry about joining their editorial team. It’s not the best way to find a job, but you’d be surprised at how many people will actually respond to you with mild interest.

The third major way of landing a writing job is networking. I spent a good amount of time earlier this year just lurking in streamers’ channels, following community members and pro players on Twitter, and looking for every possible opportunity to interact with them. It’s much easier to get a job with an organization if you have a friend who can give you a heads up or vouch for you.

A word of caution to this tale: make sure you research all organizations you’re thinking about joining. Look for past history of management problems, failure to pay, or legal issues; these are all red flags. Look up who’s in charge and find out more about them. Make sure the size/prestige of the organization matches the size/prestige of your goals.

Understanding Base Rates for Writing

Another super important consideration for a job is the payout. Before becoming a freelance writer, I had no idea what I should get paid. I had to do a lot of digging and research before I was able to figure out what the “standard” rate was.

I’ll make it easy for you: don’t take a writing job for less than $0.05/word.

Just don’t do it. Unless you are an ungodly prolific writer who can spit out 10k words of quality articles per day, it’s just not worth your time to write for any amount that low. That said, your base rate as a noob esports writer should start at $0.05.

    Min rate: $0.05/word
    Max rate: $0.25/word
    Target: $0.10-$0.15/word

A really sweet gig will net you up to approximately $0.25/word, but those types of jobs are few and far between in the esports world. Shoot for the median $0.10 to $0.15, and you’ll make a reasonable income.

For flat rates per article (i.e. $50 per article), compare them to the average article length (800-1200) to get the rate per word. Then try not to go overboard; the longer your article gets, the less your time is worth.

Always sign a contract.

Seriously, always sign a contract. (Beware of non-competes).

Discovering Your Worth

Your worth is how valuable you are to an employer. Brand new writers with little experience in online publication and writing for an esports audience aren’t worth much. Competent writers who have been around for a few years are going to be worth much more.

When you discover your worth, you can determine the proper payment for your work. Do not be afraid to negotiate with organizations.

As a general rule, undervalue your worth but negotiate higher. For instance, if I know I’m a noob who still has a lot to learn, I will value myself at $0.05/word, but I will negotiate for $0.10/word. If I can convince my employer to bump up my pay by even one cent, I’ve succeeded in raising my worth for future jobs.

Your worth is a big part of your identity as a writer, and it’s important to soberly recognize where you stand in the grand scheme of things. Practice self-awareness.

Your Future in Esports

You can do it. You may need to work another job to keep afloat while your esports career takes off, but it’s not impossible. All you need is a lot of hard work, dedication, and a support group of community members who can encourage you.

Esports is a rapidly growing industry. News sites and small orgs are springing up everywhere looking to cash in on the money train. As we move into the future and esports becomes more integrated into our daily lives, there will be an increasing demand for skilled writers. Right now is your chance to get in on the ground floor (maybe second floor) and make a name for yourself before competition becomes too fierce.

If you ever need any help, I’m always free to help review/edit articles and recommend jobs. Just hit me up on Twitter and I’ll be happy to help out :).

Betrayal. Moving Forward.

Breakup

Two weeks after my resignation from the Heroes section of TL.net, I still feel lost. I liken this feeling to a breakup, and I think that’s an accurate description. I’ve dumped innumerable hours into Team Liquid over the past five years, so being told that I was worth little more than a trial writer was painful. It was worse than painful; it was the worst betrayal I’ve ever felt. I’ve never had a relationship lasting longer than a year. I’ve never poured that much into something.

Nonetheless, I move forward. Life is full of ups and downs, and you just have to move with it and grow. One of my favorite quotes, as silly as it may be, is from Abathur from Heroes of the Storm: “Work harder, faster. Make better, stronger. Evolution never complete.” If I think about what I’ve been through and what’s coming in the future, I know that everything I do is simply preparation for better things—that I’m actively evolving all the time.

Remember when you couldn’t work a microwave or boil a pot of water? It wasn’t a huge deal back then, but growing up has forced you to figure out a way to feed yourself.

And so I feed myself.

Dragging Myself Out of Bed

There are a few invaluable lessons learned from this whole affair. First, I know that my instincts are correct. I am a good writer, a good manager, and I have the ability to run my own business. These unwavering and unerring instincts have led me so far and are continually reaffirmed when I reflect on what’s happened.

Likewise, I have the equally crippling weakness of affection, which can cause me to lose sight of those instincts. I’ve always been the type of person who looks for the best in everyone. To some degree, this is a good quality; giving people the benefit of the doubt, especially in a management position, is a strength.

The difficulty lies when you know you shouldn’t give someone a second chance and do it anyway because you like them, particularly in a managerial role. If you want things done well, never leave it to someone you don’t trust will do it well. Do it yourself, find someone else, or spend some effort trying to train them.

Recently, I asked a friend of mine who manages a store what he thinks are the most important traits of a successful manager. Here’s what he replied:

  • You’ve got to make sure everyone likes you. Because when something’s wrong they need to be able to open up to you.
  • You’ve got to be willing to put in more work than all your other workers but still get what you need done.
  • There are no days off. The store is your baby.

Interestingly, none of these came as a surprise to me. I have worked long and hard enough at a craft to understand these rules.

However, I’m still young. I’m still ignorant. This experience has also been humbling in a multitude of ways. I realized that the work that I’m putting out—my articles—is not on par with the work I’ve come to expect from myself. The articles I have written over the last three months are, in truth, not very good and don’t live up to my fullest potential.

An Attempt at Success

Success isn’t a miracle or a happy accident, it’s a story full of ups and downs.

I have spent a large part of the past seven years working on my craft (writing), experimenting with styles and formatting and wording. In an effort to further my career as an online (and modern) writer, I learned HTML and Photoshop so that I could deliver a full product to customers.

And yet…I still haven’t really put it all together. My latest article is perhaps my proudest in a while, but it still pales in comparison to what I’m actually able to do. My best work is still ahead of me.

To some degree, that’s a really comforting thought, but it means that I need to get off my ass and really get motivated. It’s both a gift and a curse to know where your potential lies. It lets you know when you need to start working, but it can also feel like an unending and unlikely road to success when you’re continually tormented with the idea that your work isn’t good enough. Still, it’s some sort of fuel.

I’m making an effort to spend more time reading and understanding stylistic writing, and I want to write more on average. I’m realizing that it’s important to live and breathe success…to literally breathe every thought and every word into the model of success. You have to want to be successful as much as you want to live; this is how you transform, this is how you grow.

You have to know hunger in order to learn how to feed yourself.
You have to know famine in order to learn the importance of water.
And you have to be better than you are right now in order to continue moving forward.