PC Gamer

WoW fan art by Liang Xing.

Micah Whipple didn t believe in Real ID. It was unveiled in 2010 as a new social initiative in the Blizzard forums, effectively forcing players to register their real names instead of Battle.net aliases to cut down on the witch hunts and treachery that so often define anonymous, online public spaces. Whipple thought the policy would be unsustainable and unenforceable, but as a World of Warcraft community manager it was his job to go to bat for it. The CM role is simple: be a plebeian, embed yourself in the community, serve as liaison between publisher and community, and most importantly, stay optimistic.

What that really means: when the players got angry, Whipple was paid to run into burning buildings. Sometimes he was a firefighter, and sometimes he was a meatshield.

As a Blizzard fan, but also a staunch defender of a company I loved working for, I defended the proposal by giving people my real name as proof it wasn t going to be a big deal. My name was information that was freely available, so it seemed like a non-issue, says Whipple. But as one could expect I became a target for the whole thing and received a lot of death threats, threats of sending stuff to my house, releasing whatever info they could find. All the kind of stuff we re all pretty used to happening these days, but back then was not really something we were readily exposed to.

Whipple was doing his best to be a good employee and taking one for the team over an idea he didn t necessarily believe in. It s part of the job description. Developers behind the scenes cook up controversial mechanics or balance changes, and the community managers field the fallout. Most of the time he was able to find relief taking smoke breaks with his co-workers to scoff at the eternal scorn (generally the people in the department averaged a half-pack a day). All it takes is one patch, or dubious nerf, or broken mechanic for a passionate player base to turn the forums into a rebel state.

Sometimes community managers are firefighters, and sometimes they're meatshields.

Most bombshells that drop are known beforehand since they tend to come from outward announcements, but things like bad launches or service issues are sometimes harder to predict and will result in late nights and weekend coverage, says Whipple. If you ve done what you can do, and the only thing left is to ensure the feedback keeps making its way to the developers, it s usually not going to add a lot of value to continue to agonize over people s anger or continue engaging and repeating yourself. The trap you have to work hard to avoid is considering it solved, and disengaging from it entirely. Those things can smolder and burn for a long time if they re not put out decisively enough.

As violent as it was, the Real ID pushback was managed. But at a price. Real ID was one of the more painful experiences in his life. I think [Real ID] actually woke me up a bit, and made me realize my employment with any company is a partnership, and not any kind of debt or life-oath that I need to repay, he says.

[Being a community manager] requires a huge amount of empathy, so of course if you re reading negativity day in and day out it s difficult not to take at least some of that with you, continues Whipple. With enough experience you can kind of catch it before it gets bad and take a step back, but more than a couple times I found myself in really dark depressive states for quite a while just due to, essentially, surrounding myself for eight hours a day with people s hate. Pile on top of that just all the standard stuff that s going on in life, and it can get very real very quickly. Looking back, and having a better understanding of what depression actually looks and feels like, it s probably something I should ve sought professional help for.

Those controversies seldom deserve the antipathy they inspire. When Blizzard introduced a subpar card for the Priest class in Hearthstone, lead designer (and public face of the game) Ben Brode was forced to take to YouTube for an apology tour. There was a months-long political panic centered on a Tracer victory pose. There are legitimate reasons to be angry about videogames, but the righteous fury we re used to usually looks extreme after a controversy blows over. In the moment, when a community is on fire, part of the citizenship is going to pour on gasoline, and it s the community managers who get burned.

Fundamentally I can at least understand what might lead to someone to be pissed off at a six percent changed to a five percent, [but] I found myself resenting and dismissing people more and more that just didn t seem to have anything of constructive value to say, Whipple says.

Maintaining optimism seems like a nearly impossible part of the job, but great community managers always find a way to care, no matter how bad it gets.

Staying invested

Alex Leary has worked as a community manager for over a decade. He says one of the biggest issues he faced professionally was during his stint on Everquest after the Shadows of Luclin expansion. Essentially every 12 to 24 hours servers would shut down randomly, immediately smiting anyone who happened to be online.

Everquest was a hardcore game. If the server crashes while you re fighting monsters you re gonna come back dead, and you re going to lose experience by dying. It was like someone reaching through the screen and poking every player in the eye, says Leary.

Bad server code isn t really a storm you can prepare for. The average community manager doesn t have the correct skillset to decipher a faulty network much less explain it to the masses but that s the deal. Nobody else is going under the bus. It's you, every time. After years of being held personally accountable for every mistake, you think it d be easy to grow numb. According to Leary, that s one of the biggest mistakes you can make.

You have to stay tapped-in, he says. If you can t keep that in balance and you start tuning out and ignoring customers you want to make people feel listened to. You want to empower those advocates, those hardcore players who will then turn around at 3am when you re not on the forums and have your back. That s how you keep the pitchforks away.

Still, Leary is probably painting a more idyllic picture of what goes on in your average video game forum. Anger incited by server crashes is understandable, but a lot of dust-ups center on far more subjective things like the AWP s damage output (one shot to the body to kill? Really? How am I supposed to counter that?,) or Hanzo s dodgy hitbox (fix your game Blizzard!). Most of the time the community doesn t have access to the hard data, and naturally, a lot of them don t know what they re talking about.

From a very high customer service level I believe everyone s complaint is legitimate, because it s legitimate to them. That said, most people are wrong most of the time about most things, says Whipple. There are a lot of cognitive biases that lead to the different types of online community interactions and herd behaviors, and one of the greatest challenges and greatest powers is learning how to counter them. The biggest challenge, and one that I think mostly goes without a good solution, is that a fairly large contingency of any large community believes they re smart and right most or all of the time. And the infuriating thing (to me) is that a lot of times people believe they re right because someone else said it, and they read it or heard it somewhere.

That s the core paradox of being a community manager. You re locked in a permanent debate. You might enlighten a few, but there s an endless stream of righteous complaints waiting in the wings.

Online discussions are some of the biggest victims of a lack of curiosity, of creativity, and of an overwhelming belief in personal superiority over others. And it s not just a couple people being pigheaded. Negativity is an increasingly popular way to perceive and communicate with the outside world, says Whipple.

But maybe that s why community management is so vital. The job is to resist cynicism and remind the commonwealth why they fell in love with the game in the first place. They may never stem the tide, but the community managers who can weather the storm sometimes build lifelong connections.

Dark Age of Camelot, via Gamercrash.com.

When it's worth it

Sanya Weathers was hired off an EverQuest rant site to serve as the CM for an upstart MMO called Dark Age of Camelot. She was paid very, very little money, but dived into the gig headfirst. I am not sure if I m the first in the games industry to treat this job like relationship building, but I was at least in the first wave, she says.

I learned very quickly that my biggest weakness and my biggest strength was missing the forest for the trees. That is the main thing that causes anger and frustration for players, continues Weathers. What sounds like constant moaning is actually a hundred different complaints when you zoom in closer, and almost all of the issues can be handled by giving more information, by including people in the bigger picture. So I don't get numb to it, because I'm right there in the trees with my players. I can then take that feeling and use my privileged access to get the whole story and share it.

Weathers calls herself incredibly lucky. She s never had to deal with a truly destabilizing controversy. Small ones, though? Sure. There was the time a typo in a class ability spreadsheet turned a 0.05 percent boost into a 50 percent boost, or how, after months of conspiracy theories from players, it was finally discovered that a mechanical error was causing charisma to have a measurable weight on all combat rolls. She s also dealt with some sizable customer service issues, in her words a corrupt developer or a grossly-biased [corporate social responsibility], which had to be removed. It was in those moments where Weathers thrived.

It's funny, things like that which actually are big and I've lived through too many for my taste don't register as big with a community that has had proper communication, she says. No, what registers as big is when a player is caught cheating, and insists he wasn't cheating, and suddenly a routine CS matter is now this psychotic Rorschach test, this net-wide referendum on whether or not the company has earned the trust of the customer. But that's where I earn my paycheck. Not by how I react in the moment, but whether or not I was able to communicate my company's integrity before the trouble hits.

I earn my paycheck not by how I react in the moment, but whether I was able to communicate my company's integrity before the trouble hits.

Sanya Weathers

Weathers treats community management like a batting cage in the park. The balls keep coming, she keeps swinging until the machine runs out. Then you have the shakes and pee yourself, whatever, while it s going, you keep going.

Years later, long after that game closed and its developer Mythic Entertainment was absorbed into the greater EA hierarchy, her prodigal return is beseeched in a post on the subreddit for the Kickstarter-funded revival Camelot Unchained. I know it's way off and I know she is already employed but I will be damned if I don't say anything. That woman was amazing at connecting with the community and keeping everyone posted, it reads. If one of your stretch goals is to hire her you would get a lot more money... just saying.

None of these people have left the business. Whipple works as a content manager at NCSoft now, but he stayed on Blizzard's community team till 2015 five long years after the community's worst uncovered his home address during the Real ID fiasco. Leary started his career as an EverQuest game master, and has since CM d in City of Heroes, Pocket Legends, and currently The Pokemon Trading Card Game. Putting out those fires is exhausting, but it must also be a little bit rewarding for them to stick with it.

Blizzard's community gathers at BlizzCon, via Nerdist.com.

All of my jobs come from people who have seen community management in action and realize how tremendously it amplifies their work and how it builds momentum and goodwill and word of mouth, says Weathers. Good community, one that is based on human exchanges and not on collecting likes like a squirrel hoarding acorns, is magical. Likes are nice, but all they represent is potential potential for action. Not a goal in and of itself. A good CM knows the player has already bought the game and doesn't need to be sold anything. A good CM genuinely cares if the players are having a good experience. A good CM builds real relationships, based on give and take, with players, the press, and the people who are both.

Community management can often feel static. The outrage is cyclical. No matter how many minds you change or egos you soften, there s always another flare-up around the corner. But if you do the job right, those bonds can last forever. Weathers listened, and sympathized, and returned the next day. The bellyaching is in the past, and what's left is a lot of appreciation for someone who was always there.

Community managers wear a lot of hats. They re social media arbiters, PR reps, and occasionally meat shields. But more than anything else, they re paid to believe the angry mob is an illusion, and that civility is only a good conversation away.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

This is some kind of sick joke, isn’t it?

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Earlier this year, Valve s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive made the headlines on several occasions after the unlawful practices of skin gambling and betting sites were revealed. Evan penned this handy overview of how skin gambling works and investigated the legalities (or lack thereof) of the industry, before Valve itself slapped a number of operators with cease and desist orders. Although it's unclear at this stage which game they were leveraging, two British men have now been charged with offences under the UK Gambling Act.

As reported by the BBC, both Dylan Rigby and Craig Douglas have been charged with promoting lottery and advertising unlawful gambling, while Douglas has also been charged with inviting children to gamble. These prosecutions are thought to be the first involving betting on videogames.

The UK s Gambling Commission has been looking into the rise of video game gambling over the past few months, writes the BBC, with the regulatory body now issuing warning to parents of potential underage victims. Both men accused appeared in Birmingham Magistrates Court earlier today, however the case has been adjourned to October 14.

It has been estimated that the global market in betting on video games is worth as much as 4 billion, reads the report. A more comprehensive overview of skin gambling as it applies to CS:GO can be found via that there link.

PC Gamer

Update: The report originally indicated that all 11,000 bans were handed out to CS:GO cheaters. However, vac-ban.com indicates that fewer than 4000 CS:GO players were banned that day, while the balance, according to this thread, went to Dota 2 players. SteamDB doesn't break down VAC ban numbers by game so it's impossible to verify without confirmation from Valve, which I would guess will not be forthcoming. Even so, it seems very likely that this was a bad day for CS:GO and Dota 2 cheaters.

Original story:

Today was not a good day to be a cheater. According to a story by Kotaku, more than 11,000 people have been banned by the Valve Anti-Cheat system for breaking the rules, one of the largest spikes of VAC activity this year.

Valve Anti-Cheat is continually banning players, but in this case it appears that the system has become able to detect previously untouchable cheats. The Kotaku report includes an image of banned dickheads sobbing into the empty space where their knife collections once rested (that quote is just too good not to use). The Steam inventories of banned players are essentially frozen: they cannot trade or sell items from their inventory for that game.

There's also an indirect acknowledgment from a large cheat provider in this CSGO subreddit thread that his software isn't currently performing as it should. The thread also contains messages about people with previously good cheats ie, which VAC could not detect who have suddenly found themselves locked out.

The tricky bit about this sort of thing is that these ban waves very rarely come with explainers that break down how and why a particular round of bans was implemented (although I guess the 'why' part of it is fairly self-evident), or even to confirm that something out of the ordinary has happened at all. But the war against cheating in online games is an ongoing one, and so it only makes sense that, as systems improve, there will be these sudden upticks in activity as Valve 'cracks a code' somewhere and trips people up. Of course, the opposite holds true, too: players determined to cheat will come up with new ways to do so, and around and around it goes.

I've emailed Valve for more information about the sudden uptick in bans, and I'll update this post if and when I receive a reply.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

Meer stared at himself in the mirror. Was he really a man anymore? Or was he just a machine made of meat that endlessly pasted the same handful of game-names into a CMS post, week after week until he died?

Or was he dead already? Was this hell? Yes, that must be it. What else could writing “a href=”https://www.rockpapershotgun.com/tag/Grand-Theft-Auto-V” for an eternity possibly be?

Yet still, there was faint hope in those dim, anguished eyes. Hope that one day there might be new games, new hyperlinks, new opinions> to be expressed. One day. But not today. … [visit site to read more]

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

Cos this stuff comes up in comments most every time I run one of these: these charts depict the top ten best-selling games on Steam as accumulated over the week leading up to Sunday just gone. They are not what are the top ten best-selling games at this moment in time, as seen on the front-page of Steam and which are invariably a little different. They come from this here Valve RSS feed. If there is any massaging of figures or weighing of e.g. revenue earned vs copies sold then I do not know of it, but neither can I say for certain that there is not. This is, however, pretty much all that Steam ever lets slip about what’s going on, though you can look to the guesstimates on Steam Spy if you want to try and drill down further into actual figures.

So: Steam’s ten biggest games last week. Well, nine and a half. Deus Ex has been dethroned already.

… [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Photo credit: Blizzard Entertainment/Carlton Beener

Plenty to watch this weekend, from top tier Heroes of the Storm and CS:GO in North America to the last-chance battle for survival taking place in the western LoL scene. Plus: fighting games absolutely everywhere, as ever, the cream of team StarCraft II, and a renewed focus (on our part) on smaller-scale events taking place around the competitive community.

We want to start highlighting more community and grassroots competitive gaming events in this weekly feature, so if you've got a weekend event that you'd like to draw our attention to then email pcgamerpro@pcgamer.com with details: game, start time, stream link, and so on. We'll feature the most promising submissions every Friday!

Armored Warfare: EU PVP League

Something a little bit different, here, for a game we don't cover too often: a night of community-run competitive PVP in Armored Warfare, Obsidian's tank warfare MMO. Tonight (September 2nd) is the Soldier of Fortune league, a clash between up-and-coming players in Europe. The livestream starts at 19:30 CEST/10:30 PDT and you can find out more information on the official tournament site.

Heroes of the Storm: North America Fall Regional 2

For the second time this year, the best Heroes of the Storm teams in North America go to war with $100,000 and a shot at the world championships on the line. The regional runs from today until Sunday at Pax West in Seattle. Play kicks off at 10:00 PDT/19:00 every day. Heroes of the Storm's competitive scene has been rife with Cinderella stories over the last few months: tune in and you've got a decent chance to see some underdogs make it big. More info and livestream links right here.

League of Legends: NA and EU Regional Qualifiers

As Cassandra wrote in her column this week, the upcoming 'gauntlet' qualifiers in the LCS are going to be brutal. These matches will determine which of the remaining teams in each region can attend Worlds as the third seed: for some teams, this could be last-gasp effort. Games in the EU start tomorrow at 17:00 BST/08:00 PDT and continue Sunday at the same time. Play in NA starts at 21:00 CEST/12:00 PDT on both days. As ever, the best place to find more information and the livestream is at lolesports.com.

CSGO: Northern Arena 2016

An array of talented North American CSGO teams converge on Toronto for this $100,000 LAN tournament. Group stage play has been ongoing since Thursday with the playoffs set for this weekend. Matches start on Saturday at 10:45 EDT (07:45 PDT/16:45 CEST) and at 10:15 EDT on Sunday (07:15 PDT/16:15 CEST). Find the official tournament site here including links to both livestreams.

StarCraft II: 2016 SK Telecom Proleague

This team Legacy of the Void tournament has been ongoing for months, but you've still got time to catch the finals on Saturday. Jin Air Green Wings will go head-to-head with KT Rolster at 18:30 KST, which is 02:30 PDT and 11:30 CEST. The winners will take home $45,475. Find the English-language livestream here.

Capcom Pro Tour: There's loads of fighting happening, again

Another weekend, another four Capcom Pro Tour Ranking events taking place at the same time. This week we've got East Coast Throwdown in New Jersey, USA; First Attack in Peurto Rico; Celtic Throwdown 2016 in Dublin, Ireland; Ze Fighting Game in China. That's a lot of punching. As our fighting game expert Andi notes, Daigo Umehara will be at East Coast Throwdown looking to claim his third ranking victory in a row. Check out each tournament's site for schedule and stream details. These are massive tournaments, as you'd expect, so look for the top 32/top 8 towards the end for the highest standard of play.

Hearthstone: ONOG 2016 Circuit Finals

Pax Prime plays host to the climax of this year's One Nation of Gamers series of open tournaments, with a $25,000 prize pool on the line. The event runs Friday through Monday, with Admirable and TJ handling the casting on ONOG's Twitch channel. The start time each day is 13:00 PDT / 16:00 EDT / 22:00 CEST. Notable players include Dog, Frozen and Chakki, and promisingly this is the first big event to feature all the cards from One Night in Karazhan. Maybe that means we'll see some new decks beyond Dragon Warrior, Aggro Shaman and Zoo.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

I am ill today. It’s my guts, you see. My Goddamned guts>. Despite my imminent death by a thousand craps, I am duty-bound to bring you the regular round-up of what sold best on Steam last week. Think of me, won’t you, as you wonder how many humans who don’t yet own Counter-Strike: Global Offensive there can possibly be in the world, and lament the total absence this week of anything we might traditionally deem to be ‘indie.’ … [visit site to read more]

PC Gamer

Photo credit: Riot Games.

League of Legends takes the spotlight this weekend for its EU and NA Summer Finals (which just might draw the spotlight away from the recent controversies rocking the scene.) That s not your only option, however: there s plenty of fighting game tournaments taking place all over the world, Dota 2, CS:GO, and the return of PC pro Smite. Have fun!

League of Legends: 2016 NA and EU LCS Summer Finals

There's a lot of high-stakes LoL taking place over a short period of time over the next few days. On Saturday, the third place matches in both the NA and EU LCS Summer Finals will take place, with Unicorns of Love vs. H2K taking place in Europe at 08:00 PDT/17:00 CEST and Immortals vs. CounterLogic Gaming taking place in the US at 12:00 PDT/21:00 CEST. The timing for the grand finals on Sunday are the same. Find more information, and the livestream, at LoLesports.

Dota 2: World Cyber Arena EU Qualifier

You'll forgive me for not having too many precise schedule details for this one, as... well, beyond the matches that have already been played, they seem a little hard to come by. Nonetheless, there is some top-tier Dota happening this weekend even as the majority of the scene wrestles with the inevitable but still-spectacular roster drama that follows the International. This is the EU qualifier for the next WCA. The previous one was, by all accounts, a gigantic shambles that people only forgot about because the Shanghai Major was a higher profile shambles. But at least there's Dota to watch. Check Gosugamers for up to date stream and schedule info.

CSGO: ESEA Season 22, Power-LAN 2016, CyberPowerPC Summer 2016 Pro Series

There's a lot of mid-tier CS:GO taking place across the world this weekend, from North America to Denmark to Poland. On Saturday, check out the playoffs for Power-LAN 2016 starting at 02:00 PDT/11:00 CEST here's the official site for more info (it's in Danish, mind.) CyberPowerPC Summer 2016 will be running throughout the weekend, starting at 09:00 PDT/18:00 CEST on Saturday and 11:30 PDT/20:30 CEST on Sunday (more info here). Finally, ESEA Season 22 concludes on Sunday with $50,000 on the line. Tune to the livestream from 01:00 PDT/10:00 CEST.

Smite Pro League: Fall Split

PC Smite is back for another season and this weekend is your chance to get in on the ground floor. Matches began yesterday and continue through to Sunday, starting at 11:00 PDT/19:00 CEST each day in both North America and Europe. You can find out more information on the teams on the official Smite Pro League site and find the livestream here.

Capcom Pro Tour: Lots of Ranking tournaments

Look, we've got limited header space here, alright? Ranking Capcom Pro Tour tournaments this weekend range from Absolute Battle in Dallas, USA to Argentina Pro Gaming Series in Argentina to an Online Ranking Event in Europe to OzHadou Nationals 14 in Sydney to Fight in Rio: Olympia in Rio de Janeiro. As such, you can expect a decent standard of fighting game play regardless of when you tune in: check each official site, listed above, for further details. Keep an eye on Twitch s Street Fighter V section if that s the game you re after.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun - contact@rockpapershotgun.com (Alec Meer)

Change! Actual change! Other than, y’know, the three games that are here every single week, every single week I have to include them, every single week, they’re there, undying, changing, every single week, every single week.

Yeah! It’s the top ten best-selling games on Steam last week.

… [visit site to read more]


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