Today the Esports Championship Series (ECS) is unveiling a new initiative called the Community Caster Challenge to help talented casters enter the professional field of broadcasting livestream esports events.
If you saw that line and shivered, you know the drop. You know the next line is important, and you can hang out in the space between these sentences and hope that the next line says that ECS is putting out a casting to find fresh new faces for their Counter-Strike: Global Offensive line-up, that they’re looking to pay talented kids who just haven’t had a chance to break into the industry. But the paragraph will end the same way your gut is telling you it will—a mention of an altruistic company, looking to open up the field for “professional casters” but unwilling to actually fork over any cash.
But exposure is not a wage.
This latest “cool new program” is nothing new—young artists and writers have been seeing them for ages, competitions to create professional products that will then be used for exposure. But exposure is not a wage. The client makes the money, the worker gets paid in views. There’s a Twitter account made of these kinds of postings, probably best consumed with a glass of Jack Daniels and the bottle nearby. Add a “hobby” like gaming to the mix, and you end up seeing them more and more frequently. Gaming is entertainment, it’s fun, so anything having to do with the subject is just play. Not work.
It’s difficult to not see these gigs as unpaid labor. Hiring good casters is expensive, and whatever else the Community Caster Challenge does, it takes the pressure off of budgeting for them. Take the ECS posting, which says: “Registered casters and casting teams will be given the chance to stream the opening weeks of the development league, receiving promotion, highlights, support and in some cases stream hosting.” The chance, it reads. It asks for labor, and in return promises little in terms of actual monetary value.
We’ve heard that before.
It’s difficult to see in the opportunity—a chance to work with an actual competition, a chance to really cast a game—the ways that people are being used. It’s difficult to see how the scene itself is getting used. You don’t build up a community, a scene, with unpaid labor. That is a weak foundation, a sedimentary layer of misfortune. It’s people not being able to make their rent for the month so they can live the dream. And if people are barely living so that they can live their dreams, then the scene isn’t thriving. It’s starving.
The scene isn’t thriving. It’s starving.
Still, ECS is doing it better than most. Dustin Winn, of fortyseven communications, writes via email that while “there will not be any monetary compensation … but ECS will pay for [casters’] travel and accommodations while in London for the event.” [UPDATE: In a follow up call, Winn said that he “misspoke” and that casters would be compensated for their work at an unspecified rate]. But as long as they’re not paying their casters, the entire initiative is disingenuous. They can paint the action as altruistic, dress it up as a way to help “talented casters enter the professional field” but at the end of the day they’re not paying casters to actually do their jobs. And paying someone to do their job? That’s the first part of being a professional field.