[Opinion] Indonesian Esports is in Dire Need of Better Storytelling

“Homo sapiens is a storytelling animal that thinks in stories rather than in numbers or graphs, and believes that the universe itself works like a story, replete with heroes and villains, conflicts and resolutions, climaxes and happy endings.” — Yuval Noah Harari

I am a strong believer in Yuval Noah Harari's theory on storytelling. He argues that humans live in a three-part reality. Other animals experience a 'dual' reality. They see objective items such as rivers, rocks, trees, and many others. Yet, they also feel subjective experiences like happiness and fear.

However, according to Yuval, humans have another reality built by narratives such as money, religions, nations, companies, etc.

So, what's the relevance of storytelling with Indonesian esports? What causes the problem? Why does it need better storytelling?

The story of Indonesian Esports nowadays

I would argue that there is no good story in Indonesian esports nowadays. As any literary teacher would say, a good story needs characters and characterization, a plot, a theme, and a setting.

Sure, there were some (good) stories in the past. There were stories about esports players such as BnTet (CS:GO), Lemon (MLBB), InYourDream (Dota 2), frgd[ibtJ] (from a player to team owner), Zuxxy and Luxxy (PUBG M), or even Lakuchi (from the era of DotA).

There were also good stories about how the biggest teams in Indonesia started such as BOOM Esports, EVOS, RRQ, Bigetron, NXL, and many others.

WCG and MPL Indonesia were also good stories about tournaments in the ecosystem.

WCG 2003. Photo credit: Eddy Lim

Some of the players and teams I mentioned earlier are still active to this day. MPL Indonesia is also still running currently. Sure, some of the stories are still going on such as how Bigetron keeps doing its twin tradition from Zuxxy-Luxxy, Matt-Max, to Tere-Tani. However, most of them are losing their narratives.

If you take a look at the many social media (including YouTube) from the esports companies (teams, leagues, etc.) in Indonesia, mostly, it's just business as usual: boring tournament results, overused memes and jokes, or even too much and too many ads or content for their sponsors.

To be fair, again, I know there are some efforts from these companies to tell some stories. EVOS' YouTube, for example, is filled with good content containing stories from its players. But, it's disjointed with its Instagram – which I will discuss later.

The roots of the problems

I still remember how I was in charge of making press releases and presenting stories for MPL Indonesia in Season 1 and the first half of Season 2. At that time, I interviewed players from each team listening to their stories and backgrounds. Before Season 2 started, during its Media Day and the photoshoot session, I also sat down with each team and their players (except for Bigetron) to talk and listen to each of their stories to find something unique about each team. Honestly, it’s exhausting to interview 9 teams in a day. It’s not an easy thing to do. However, I do believe that it’s important to dig deeper into each team and each player in order to find some hidden interesting stories.

Maybe now, there are fewer people who have the patience to listen and to ask the right questions. It’s definitely easier to just lump the players altogether or find simple information such as the score of each match or a player’s birthday.

I think the underlying reason is that the industry is growing too big, too fast. That forces companies to find people just to fill the position – without the needed crucial expertise.

This fast growth also creates other problems too: fast-changing scenes and players, a saturated market for talents, and the pressure to scale beyond its capabilities.

Let's discuss it one by one.

Image credit: Adji Sven

Currently, the biggest esports titles in Indonesia are mobile games. Usually, players in mobile esports come and go faster than other esports platforms (PC and consoles). MPL ID, for example, only has very few players that have been playing from Season 1. If I'm not mistaken, there are only 2 players in Season 9 that started in Season 1, Lemon and Rekt.

This phenomenon certainly makes it more difficult to create characters and characterization. You certainly need time and consistency to create strong characters and their characterization. Otherwise, it just becomes a footnote.

I do believe that some of the jobs are better positioned as storytellers. A journalist, for example, should take a position as a storyteller. And, as a good storyteller, the story is not about them. When I make a profile, it’s certainly not about me. It’s about the people that I’m writing about. I’m just a narrator or the storyteller in that instance. A shoutcaster in esports, IMO, is one of the storytellers too. However, when I watch esports matches in Indonesia, most likely the shoutcasters will try to steal the spotlights – with too many jokes, too much focus on making name for themselves – which in return makes less popular players become just a footnote and missing opportunities for storytelling time.

I can’t put the blame solely on them though. Because I know how hard it is to make a name for yourself nowadays – since everyone could have their own platforms and channels. Moreover, esports leagues also pick talents on how many followers they have; not on how good their storytelling skills are. Also, it’s really convoluted nowadays – in this era of social media and users generated content. Talents have to compete with companies in making content. Hell, everyone is making content now. It’s too much content competing for a limited time that we have every day.

Lastly, as with the current status quo nowadays, every company has to grow big and fast infinitely. Every company has to have every existing social media from YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, Discord, Friendster… Wait, what year is it?

It could be what happened to the disjointed content and narratives between the different social media I mentioned earlier. Maybe the Instagram team and the YouTube team aren’t communicating perfectly or maybe each platform has different goals and KPIs. While it could be good from a business perspective, depending on who you ask, I would argue that it’s not good for storytelling purposes. Good storytelling needs consistency on every platform. This is why MCU is so much better than DCEU – because DCEU has too many ‘canons’ across different platforms.

If you still don’t believe me, let’s try this. When I mention Iron Man, almost all of you will think of Robert Downey Jr. – unless you’re a comic or cartoon fanatic. However, when I say Spiderman, there is a big chance you will be split into 3 groups: Tobey Maguire, Andrew Garfield, and Tom Holland. Why? Because the Spiderman franchise is definitely less consistent than the Iron Man’s.

Why is better storytelling needed?

Image credit: Herry Wijaya

First, a good character and its story make it more relatable to the fans or users. When it's relatable, you could have more loyal users. It's easier too to remember people, events, or anything if you have more context.

If you are a sponsor of a tournament, you will certainly prefer people to remember it for years. With the esports industry becoming more and more saturated, I think you need a better story and storytelling to make your company stands out among others.

Without a story, everything, even our life is boring. When users are bored, they will leave.

Better storytelling also has a bigger chance to reach more people. Currently, the esports market is just a fraction of the gaming market. Data from Statista shows that there are 2.95 billion people playing video games in 2022 – rising from 2.81 billion in 2021. Meanwhile, the global esports audience worldwide in 2021 is just 474 million people.

Esports in Indonesia certainly has its ups and downs. Previously, in the PC era (Counter-Strike and DotA), esports couldn’t reach the mainstream market. Now, esports in Indonesia could easily reach millions of people. However, it doesn’t mean that it will live happily ever after. It certainly could die tragically.