Tales from the BTS Manila Hub

Two weeks ago I got some pretty good news; I would be travelling to Los Angeles to do social media for an esports company called Beyond the Summit. BTS does an assortment of Dota and Smash Bros events, and would be hosting a four-day-long coverage hub for the upcoming Manila Major Qualifiers.

Essentially, there were four regions that needed covering (Americas, Europe, China and Southeast Asia) and BTS was going to fly out a bunch of Dota 2 talent to do it. This ranged from hosts for a panel to observers for the games to individual broadcasters.

I had noticed that for this event social media was usually the first thing to falter, because BTS does everything themselves when it came to these productions. Naturally, as events like this got busier, social became less of a priority; hopefully, I could help fill a gap that was necessary, and help some talent grow.

I always get really nervous when I go to events, mostly because it’s a crossover between the online social circle of esports to “real life” interactions. I’m capable of doing this just fine, but at the same time there’s always that nagging feeling of whether you’ll be accepted into a group or not.

Esports tends to be close-knit: you’re often seeing the same people repeatedly at events, and with hectic schedules this is one of the few things you can depend on among the chaos. It can make things unfriendly to outsiders, and that’s part of the intimidation factor, I guess; you don’t know if you’ll be accepted, and I tend to put a pressure on myself to get as much out of a trip as I can.

Getting to California wasn’t a huge deal. I got a bulkhead row seat on my first flight to Dallas and then an empty row with extra leg room on my second flight to Ontario airport. Greg picked me up in his tangerine dream of a car, and we jetted to the new BTS office. Essentially they found a call center that was available, and were in the process of turning it into a casting/production center.

Previously, Beyond the Summit had casted and ran events out of a house, but they had grown to the point where they needed both a formal office space and some work-life separation. They still keep an “event house” for their Summit brand of events (which tend to be more intimate) but this would be the first huge event ran out of their new digs.

I made an office walk-through video, which you can see here. It’s pretty sick.

Part of what made my trip a little bit weird was that I didn’t have much of a plan going into it. Social is such a weird beast sometimes because you don’t know what you have to work with an event until you get there – you need to know schedules, resources, infrastructure. I didn’t even know if I had a dedicated PC (I did, it turns out) until I got there. This made things easier.

Unpacking happened. I slept over at the BTS house on the first night (Sunday) because the hotel rooms weren’t ready. I shared a room with Toby and tried not to die to cat allergies, and was largely successful; Jake slept on the couch as he had arrived after me. The next day was when more people would show up from the WePlay tournament in Kiev, Ukraine and other places within the US, and things would get underway.

Day 1 of the tournament started pretty late in the day, but the next 96 hours were a blitz of constant work; casters were coming and going from the hotels for their assigned shifts, oversleeping, undersleeping and generally trying to make things work.

BTS was essentially stocked with as much food and drink as we could need, and catered at certain points of the day. Shoutouts to Grace for helping the whole operation run smoothly, because otherwise I’d imagine there’s be a breakdown at some point. People were generally focused, but there were some moments where you could see the fatigue setting in; the couch got a lot of napping use.

There also seemed to be a general cloud of uncertainty hanging over the event about the future of Dota, and the peoples’ place in it. Esports can be a very chaotic industry, and at the moment the sea change it’s going through is leaving a lot in the lurch.

Generally I tried to do as much as I could without getting in the way – this is usually my mantra when it comes to weaving myself into a large production. I made sure that talent were promoted when possible on the main accounts because they usually have a lot to say via their own channels during the event. Why not use them, right?

Besides myself, BTS had McCormic and Dan running longer video content while Jake and Dakota were the creative concept minds behind it; I snuck into a couple videos, but it was generally nice to be around some people. I felt like I absorbed some skill via osmosis.

There’s this weird thing where being around talented people who know what they’re doing – or at least how to adapt to chaos – makes you feel inspired that you can do the same. Generally I suffer from some self-esteem/insecurity issues in my day-to-day, but seeing other people literally not have time for that kind of stuff affecting their own day-to-day made me pull up my socks and just work.

But to be honest the job wasn’t that bad; I essentially covered the event like I would for any other journalism organization only with a focus on spotlighting the people there, the “experience” of the marathon they were undertaking, and generally trying to bring people in. You respect boundaries. You ask for favors. You have fun.

When it came to the social group, it ended up being one of those “comrades-in-chaos” situations where the long hours really wore down the barriers of awkwardness. Eventually everyone just kind of settled in and it generally got comfortable. These types of situations tend to be a matter of showing yourself as “real” and not someone who’s either going to screw up the group’s dynamic or cause unnecessary drama – this suits me just fine. You pick up a controller, get bodied in Smash Melee and take the lumps.

Eventually by the fourth day things kind of grinded down for me. I ended up sleeping one hour out of 36 on a bedroll in an office designated for “quiet time” and just generally limping through the end of the event. KBBQ was had. Drunk Overwatch happened. There was a particularly hype overtime round where we broke a 99% to 99% deadlock. We treated it like we won the Super Bowl. It was a good time all around.

At the restaurant I had a couple important conversations that ended up being pretty valuable. Essentially Jake asked me straight-up, “where do you see yourself going with all this?” which was… interesting. I couldn’t give him an answer.

It seemed really silly to just say “I want to make a living from vlogging, streaming and writing” because the industry seems so saturated I thought they’d just laugh at me for not having much of a plan. To be honest that was more my insecurity than anything – I’ve had a lot of anxiety about my future lately, but it’s almost like I wanted someone to ask me that question so I’d have to confront it.

Charlie also came in and mentioned that some of the current projects I had – namely, the ones around growing my skill at analysis in order to better talk about the game – were kind of misguided, which I’ll admit is true. In all honesty I was kind of pushing myself to do something that I didn’t really like doing because I thought I needed to be there, and in all honesty analysis isn’t going to be a place I’m going to make my career.

Telling human stories is. I’ve been good at that. I’ve done it before, and I generally approach it with a lot more enthusiasm. And to be honest, I think that’s a good place to refocus. It’s partially why I wrote this post: it was a loosening up of style that I think I’ve lost in the pursuit of being professional and prominent. I miss writing in a way that bleeds emotion, and it’s hard to just let that out again.

I ended up leaving the hotel the next day to Los Angeles proper to see a friend of mine for the remaining days of the trip and realized I didn’t even get to say a proper goodbye to half the people at the hub; they had already left for Russia to take part in the EPICENTER LAN that just finished yesterday. That’s kind of how esports works: you see people until you don’t, give some shoutouts in a shared Skype group or Twitter, and hope they’ll remember the impression.

This trip was good experience because it was a much-needed course correction after mindlessly sailing in circles. It isn’t a map, though; I still need to figure out the specifics, but sometimes it takes some time spent with people who you grow to admire to let you figure out what you truly treasure in yourself and your direction.

I’m hoping I can use that momentum to do something good. I think this was a start. Hopefully there will be more Beyond the Summit and telling good stories in my future.

Thanks for reading. Until next time.

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