Commentaries on Amateur Dota League Admining

Madsen
13 min readApr 24, 2023

Monetization in the space & the monolith of the head admin

I’ve recently been encouraged by a couple of people to make public the many drafts I have, and I’ll admit that I get the itch to do a bit of writing fairly often. My hesitance comes mostly from the fact that this isn’t the content I’m usually known for, or the kind of content that tends to interest many people — which is to say, you’re unlikely to get any hits if you Ctrl+F your name here.

That being said, if you’ve spent any amount of time reading me wax poetic on league-related matters, you’re likely equipped with a good understanding of exactly what this series of long-winded rambles will entail — and should thus already hopefully know whether the contents of this might entice you. Nothing I say here is bound to be of great import to your experience participating in anything I help organize — at very best, you’ll gain insight into the way I think about matters in the amateur competitive landscape. If you spend time contemplating these things yourself, you might find it an interesting read; if not, you can deposit a nerd react here and do something you’re likelier to enjoy with your time.

me (coffee not pictured)

The process of onboarding a new staff team in Clarity has occasionally necessitated going back in time to reiterate takeaways from discussions that the founding team had, largely with the goal of bringing everyone up to speed on why things shaped up the way they did and provide context on the flow of decision-making.

While I struggle to think of anything more trivial than the intricacies of managing amateur video game tournaments, it’s nevertheless a space that I’ve spent a considerable amount of time in, and have attained significant experience with.

The core belief that has driven me to stick with it over the better part of a decade — from an early iteration of Learn Dota 2 League, to Requiem Autumn, to Echo League and RD2L, to finally Clarity League — is that there is immense value in the unique kind of community-building these tournaments allow for, backed by the commitment so many have to Dota, and brought together by the thought that — even at the lowly amateur level — competing in organized environments is bound to be the most fulfilling way to experience the game for a great many players.

None of this is to say that there is anything special to what I have to say on the matter; there are many passionate people in the community. What I do have is significant experience that has allowed me to observe those people, and contemplate their approaches to enabling the realization of these spaces and communities —which is ultimately what prompts me to write this. Or, at least, part of it: there’s really two ways to explain wanting to do this.

There’s a dishonest answer — the one that is rational and pragmatic and merits (or rather, fishes for) plaudits — is that the next ambitious person who wants to create a community and see it thrive can get an easier start than the rest of us in the space have had, and can build upon those perspectives to achieve something better. Even if they don’t agree with my train of thought on a given matter, they can operate with greater understanding when considering it themself.

The real answer is that I’m uncertain how much longer I’ll be willing to commit significant amounts of time to existing in these spaces in the same way and capacity that I have for the better part of the past decade — and frankly, not leaving behind a manifesto of some description is incongruent with who I am and how I do things. This isn’t to say I’m intent on leaving Clarity any time soon — rather, this introspection has left me with the desire to speak publicly on matters that I generally don’t get to (and, as I’m coming to realize during editing, some that I drone about incessantly anyway).

Monetization in the Amateur Space

Over the years, I’ve made it fairly well known that I staunchly oppose the introduction of monetary elements to — at bare minimum — the kind of community and organizational setup that Clarity and adjacent spaces exist in.

The primary reason why is also perhaps the most straightforward one — monetization inherently opens a can of worms that I’m uncertain people (read: myself) are equipped to deal with, and on a personal level, I don’t wish to deal with.

The most notable implementation is the introduction of prize pools. The issues with this should be instantly apparent — add money to the mix, invite cheating. The occasional issue we as a wider community face with a random miscreant attempting to smurf or hide accounts or sandbag would become the biggest issue a staff team would face overnight, and a majority of the workload would suddenly and violently shift into doing our utmost best to prevent cheating. It goes without saying that this is, er, not good.

There’s a variety of other issues that exist in the layer beneath the surface level, though. Say you do introduce a prize pool, and do an incredibly thorough job of vetting participants (be it the fantasy wonderland where we have no issues with newcomers trying to cheat, or the marginally more realistic variation where entry to an event with a prize pool is limited to people we’re willing to vouch for based on prior experience); someone has to be trusted to hold funds. A decision has to be made on how the prize pool is distributed to winners — and I’m not talking about the split for final positions, rather the act of transferring the winnings: do you send it to a team captain, trusting that they’ll then distribute it among team members?

The obvious alternative is naturally to send it to the players individually off rip, but that then spirals into separate issues — we’re then dealing with having personal information for any number of otherwise mostly anonymous league participants, and vice versa with the person who’d send out the winnings. This is assuming that this is all done through the most straightforward option of just Paypaling everyone — at this point you also have to consider that not everyone is able or willing to use PayPal (do you then accommodate them by using other services as well? Do you forego all this by just doing, like, Steam wallet as a prize pool?).

There’s plenty more to be said on just that side of the matter, but to me personally, just the above has been enough to permanently dissuade me from pursuing prize pools, even though it’s a solvable issue (see just about any league that does have prize pools). There are, however, numerous other ways in which a monetary component can be introduced.

One option that isn’t entirely unheard of is raising funds for various community building applications — the most obvious being collecting donations to book talent for casts and content. I’m generally more open to this; even if it doesn’t necessarily appeal to me, my experience observing this happen in the past has always included a good bit of community excitement. There’s definite value in that, and tangential benefits exist — particularly on the advertising front.

The reason I personally don’t much value celebrity casts boils down to two major reasons. One, these communities serve as a breeding ground for the next generation of talent. Many familiar faces in the scene got their start in inhouse leagues and the like — Clarity’s Bluscale is starting to poke his head into the space, the likes of johnxfire, MLP and Moxxi got their start in Echo League many moons ago, Mofarah casted a fair bit of RD2L ahead of popping up on pro casts alongside Nomad, etc. While I’ll admit that efforts to make Clarity a platform for prospective casters have taken a back seat, we have and continue to keep track of casters’ efforts and use that as a guide to assigning finals casts.

This all isn’t to say that any of this is really negated by having a Purge or Slacks or Zyori or whoever else make an appearance for a finals cast, but it does stifle community talent in the instance where we can give back to them for their effort during the season by directing traffic their way, however limit it may be.

The other part of it, and perhaps the one that has soured me on the idea more, is that quite frankly, established talent doesn’t particularly care. Not that they should necessarily be expected to — they’re paid a fee for a gig and they’ll come in and do it, with varying degrees of enthusiasm — but more often than not, they’ll put in a minimal amount of effort, and the atmosphere is anywhere from condescending to simply unenthused.

Maybe I’m being overly dramatic, but the finals are a culmination of months of games, and listening to someone who’s there for the money read people’s names wrong and half-ass their coverage has always, without exception, made me wish I was listening to whoever the community’s premier caster at the time is.

I’m cognizant of the fact that I’m also minimizing the potential of these events for advertising and expansion — and that’s a whole other topic to go over — but the kinds of growth this incentivizes are generally less successful than the gradual process of bringing in a couple dozen people per season tops, and them then inviting their friends if they stick around.

The final way of introducing a financial aspect (at least of those I’ve considered at length) is the integration of sponsors, with the express purpose of using any potential profits to a) fund resources like hosting for inhouse bots, websites, commissions for dev work or what have you; and b) pay staff. I emphasize the idea of this being third party funds, because I don’t think it’d be warranted to collect community donations for these things (as that, once again, opens up a can of worms I don’t even want to start sifting through, one that could warrant it’s own blog).

I suppose the tl;dr here is simply — Clarity, as long as I’m around, is thoroughly unlikely to introduce a monetary element of any kind — at least not one visible to the community at large. This isn’t really the point of all of the above, though; I just wanted to go over some of the bigger reasons why this kind of change doesn’t appeal to me, and what someone might look out for if they were to host something of their own with a prize pool or whatever.

The Benevolent Dictator and the (de)Merits of his Presence

Or, why the monolithic head admin is/isn’t cool

Many moons ago, I wrote and published a document not entirely dissimilar to this one in RD2L, espousing ideas I believed would improve the league. While reading it again three years and some change later serves to highlight the naiveté of a number of thoughts I had, I’m pleasantly surprised that I’m able to say a good chunk of it holds up fairly well, and I maintain a lot of the stances I took to this day (and a number of them I brought to Clarity).

The one topic I maybe harped on the most was the idea that the league would benefit from a fairly significant overhaul of the staff team — including heavy emphasis on delegation of duties, with the major end-goal being the prevention (or at bare minimum, delay) of burnout among staff members — and the implementation of a head admin figure. Say, does any of this sound familiar?

Now, I don’t think there’s much use denying the idea that Clarity has in practice operated with myself occupying that role of figurehead, despite the fact that there have always been other admins. This is something I’m bound to touch on more later, but for the time being, I’ll avoid that tangent to instead focus on describing what a league stands to gain, and lose, by functioning like this.

I find that in reviewing these pros and cons, they generally tend to come in pairs. As an example, perhaps the most notable boon of operating with a head admin figure is that everything mostly works much faster: any bit of decision making, large or small scale, can usually (if necessary) be resolved instantly, and if not, the process of discussing it is fast tracked by the ability of a head admin to present options, gather opinions, and then make a call. For that to be true, said figure does need to be available to deal with whatever issue, but by and large, it’s still bound to be resolved much faster, since a lot of the steps of checking things, confirming them and discussing them can be skipped in a lot of situations. It becomes unnecessary to spend significant time planning and arranging for the execution of steps in the organizational process as well, since a head admin can simply handle all these small tidbits for which involving more people serves purely to convolute the work.

The flip side of this, of course, is that this figure is still just a random person committing free time to the space, and thus it puts them at a much higher risk of burning out. It also creates gaping holes in the staff’s breadth of experience and understanding of the organizational process: when you have a head admin who can and will independently do some of the work, no documentation on that process is ever really created — ultimately in practice making said admin incredibly hard to replace. This is more relevant in the sense that they can’t simply decide to ask someone else to do it — often enough doing so will require setting up permissions and privileges and detailed explanations that’d take much longer to set up than just getting whatever needs doing done.

As an aside, a lot of this depends entirely on the staff, and community at large, having an immense amount of trust in the head admin figure — which ties into a lot of other considerations, chief of which is, well, how trustworthy is any given person for this role?

I’ve frankly lost count of how many times I’ve been accused of some manner of favoritism. These claims range anywhere from quiet whispers potentially suggesting the existence of an ulterior motive, to explicitly saying I’m rigging something (particularly when it has to do with a team I’m on). I’m frankly very tempted to do a supercut of my favorites of these, but that’s not really the point of this.

Back on track: a notable consequence of having such a figure — particularly when they’re the ones who created the league (or space the community exists in, in general), but also when their presence is long-standing — is that a great many community members will, consciously or not, heavily associate the space with the person, very often to the point of viewing them as being essentially synonymous.

As a result, the traits of the person (positive or negative) will be projected onto the space as a whole, and the most neutral and milquetoast community becomes instantly as polarizing as the individual it’s associated with. Even moving past lesser concerns of optics, you’ll run into the issues that both the community and the staff will reflexively go to that figure, since the association is so deeply ingrained.

Now, speaking frankly, this was perhaps exacerbated in Clarity owing to it’s roots as a meme about “Madsen Dota 2 League”, but it’s nonetheless a phenomenon that is widely present. You won’t struggle to find people who strongly associate RD2L NA with Matieu, or Echo League with Upstairs/Downstairs — hell, RD2L EU with Denden and sbx a couple years ago.

There’s plenty more to be said on the topic — I’m scrapping some of the pro and con talk — but I’ll leave that for another time. To the (highly imaginary) fledgling TO, I’ll end on describing what my own experience were — are, rather — in assuming this kind of role: it’s a great boon to your project to have a foundational piece that provides direction. It’s, like, impossible to replace. Someone else will envision something very different.

What’s not impossible is to find people who see value in your enthusiasm, and who are happy to help you realize that direction. And yes, cue melodrama about being an online janny, but I’d rather cringe through it to express a valid thought: I’ve been very lucky to have a number of supportive people in all my efforts, and am ultimately happy with being able to assume the head admin role I described years ago — though, and I can’t emphasize this enough, an immense amount of time and effort has been invested by my friends in the staff teams — and it’s effort that gets less recognition because of me assuming this very front facing role.

That being said, my most grievous misstep in Clarity specifically has been operating in it with very little emphasis on separating myself as a person from perception of the league as a whole, and — likely more importantly — without setting up for it to function smoothly even if I dip out of the blue (which isn’t to say it couldn’t, simply that it wouldn’t instantly be smooth), all of which could’ve been prevented if I started documenting processes from day dot.

This post was originally many sections longer, but it’s already far too long (and providing too little real value, but realistically the only people who get this far are the ones who, for whatever reason, don’t mind reading my little words on their little screen while taking a shit or whatever), so I’ll leave the rest in the drafts.

For the curious, the remainder dealt with my perspectives on the appeal of these leagues and what TOs can learn from it, the cyclical nature of the inhouse and drafts owing to personal blacklists, ramblings on staff burnout, on player skill and MMR (a section that is now woefully outdated, post-glicko), growing leagues and how different approaches result in different experiences, and like a dozen other little notes that would’ve inevitably sprouted into much monstrously wordy ado about things that don’t matter whatsoever.

If people care for these things, I’m happy to keep spewing into the void (it’s frankly an entertaining form of boredom relief). That said, I’m unlikely to write much actual interesting content so uh, anyone wanna do power rankings?

xo

--

--