This tome of the manifesto (and perhaps the next few) deals less with overarching abstract considerations on a league, instead focusing on whining about some of the very real logistical nightmares of league organization. I often speak on issues of burnout and the general thanklessness of the gig, but rarely go into much detail about the core problems that contribute to those feelings.
The reason for this is straightforward — by and large, the migraine inducing problems that inevitably leave any and every league admin debating why in God’s name they’re spending their free time like this are usually unsolvable. More than that, they’re inherently and innately impossible to alleviate in any real way, which is perhaps the most defeating aspect.
I’d be willing to wager that any league admin, current or former, has an idea of what kind of thing I might be about to talk about, based on that description. Yes, indeed, we’re going to talk about team captains. Future iterations will touch on adjustments. And internal conflicts. Perhaps a rant on keeping people happy with the rules. What wonderful fun we shall have!
The Captaining Issue
Or, “Please for the love of God, captain a team I beg of you”
This is perhaps the single most stress inducing part of unavoidable procedure for me personally. You need enough team captains; there is no way around it, yet you will struggle to get the number you need in about 8 of 10 events. Admittedly, this is a topic exclusive to the system of participants signing up on an individual basis and then getting drafted onto teams, but I also don’t think alternative setups work, so, y’know, potato potahto.
It’s a problem usually compounded significantly by time restrictions. That’s particularly true of division based events, where you’ll have at most a day and a half between drafts to assemble a full roster of captains for the subsequent division, but it’s not much easier for the highest MMR div either — you get a day or two extra, but without a longer preseason period than we generally tend to do, you’re constrained by the fact that you can’t complete profile checks and MMR adjustments until the player pool is finalized, and no amount of good planning can nullify that crunch.
Naturally, the crux of the issue is that people are generally simply unwilling to take up the role of captain. While it’d be disingenuous to suggest that doing so involves no extra work than simply existing as a player, it’s still baffling to me how many people outright refuse even thinking about it, much less actually doing it.
I’ll resist my instinctual urge to spend much time covering the merits of captaining - primarily because I thoroughly doubt anyone resistant to the idea of doing it is reading this, but also because that’s a rant I’ve readied for the captaining & player drafting guide currently in my drafts. Part of it is also that these blogs are aimed less at the average player and moreso at folks whose interest is piqued by behind the scenes talk; in that light, it’s more relevant to talk instead about what’s doable in response to this unwillingness to captain.
Straightforwardly, the answer is not much. We can break this down into two separate points - one, people’s perception of the captain role (and correcting, or rather attempting to correct, misconceptions that contribute to that perception), and two, the actual workload of the captain.
There seems to be a pervasive understanding that captaining a team necessitates significantly more time and effort, and that it includes/requires much more than it actually does. The most notable of these thoughts is that the role of team captain in the context of Clarity inherently also includes performing the role of captain in the more usual Dota sense - chiefly drafting heroes and shotcalling, but things like organizing scrims, doing prep work ahead of matches or taking the lead on managing the atmosphere in a team are all tasks people seem to tie to the role of a team captain. Obviously, none of this is really true. Ignoring the player draft, the three things that are expected of a captain in Clarity are to create and set up the occasional lobby, ensure players show up, and arrange replacements if that’s not possible. An overall rarely occurring fourth task would be handling communication with the staff in case of unexpected issues.
Admittedly, that list alone might be enough to dissuade some, and I suppose that’s fair, but I’m certain we’d struggle less if the entire community internalized that list, rather than the prior one. There is, of course, a flip side to this: there are plenty of community members who understand this distinction, but nevertheless feel that all of the former tasks should also be handled by a team captain — and captains are absolutely free to; it’s simply not expected, but it’s reasonable that some might prefer not to fulfill a role if their read on their obligations is that they’re the bare minimum (even if that’s not the case).
This brings us to the staff side of things. What is it we can actually do, if anything, to amend this?
A frustrating truth to face is that no amount of public statements and assurances will change this kind of perception, if only because people are simply not inclined to, well, read. You thus have to try and sneak in these little tidbits, as we’ve attempted in the signup process itself: the section of the registration form that prompts users for interest in captaining includes the following explanation:
The captain will be the person who drafts the players; sets up the lobbies; and serves as the primary contact point of the team.
While perhaps the messaging here could more aggressively point to the fact that things like drafting and shotcalling and whatnot are not an expected obligation, the very next few prompts deal with specifically that manner of task: how willing or keen is the participant to draft, shotcall, assist in team organization, or practice with the team.
My general impression has been that this doesn’t really move the needle much; perhaps it’s an issue of the messaging not being explicit enough, but it strikes me as unlikely that this will really sway many people, no matter what the text says. As is, it’s retained largely because, well, it can’t hurt, can it?
Alternative approaches are few and far between. One idea I’ve considered and that’s been floated at various points is moving away from the term “captain”; the main issue there being that other terms may serve to imply different meanings. Even without the established meaning that exists for a solid chunk of the playerbase due to prior RD2L events, calling captains “managers” suggests the role is somewhat disconnected from the team itself, while the very opposite is true — a captain is, after all, a player on the team who happens to set up the lobby every second week. Similar issues exist with something like “team organizer” or “player drafter”. In general, while I’ve not yet dismissed the potential merits of doing something like this, it feels unlikely to really change anything.
For the dynamic to change — ie, to get more people to captain (ideally willingly) — you have to shift the (dis)incentives, and this is…immensely hard.
Creating additional incentives to captain is, essentially, impossible. The options range from being too insignificant to sway anyone (special roles on the Discord, etc) to too impactful on matters of league integrity (awarding early volunteers extra coin budget or some manner of choice in the nomination order, etc).
Clearing disincentives, on the other hand, means simplifying the role and lowering the bar of the bare minimum. This is generally the most viable approach, though it’s also bottlenecked by people internalizing changes made to the role and being mindful of them in deciding whether or not they might captain. There are two ways about doing this, in practice. The first is fairly common already; you can simplify the role for people by offering assistance or providing resources that assuage a lack of confidence, usually by way of having a league veteran help someone prepare for a player draft, sending them existing resources like captaining guides, signaling that you as a staff team are happy to assist them with any issues or questions, sending them standin options when they can’t find someone themselves, so on, so forth. This is generally straightforward, though at the moment suffers from being difficult to do consistently (which is solvable and can tangibly be improved upon, it just happens to generally be low on the list of priorities and is thus relegated to a case by case basis).
The other thing you can do is clear disincentives by way of removing expectations and obligations from the role. In general, most rules in Clarity strive towards reducing the workload of a captain; a fairly common way this pops up is that, for example, captains are stripped of agency in dealing with rule breaks of opposing teams — so a draft penalty is applied (on paper) regardless of whether the penalized teams opponents want it to be or not, or a forfeit caused by lack of players can’t be overridden by the opposing captain — the idea being that the pressure and onus of making this kind of choice should not be on a captain.
There’s a lot more to be said on that particular topic, but I’ll save that for another day to instead get to a tangible takeaway — which is that it’s my personal belief that the next step for Clarity is to automate a number of things, some of which would lighten the load of a captain. For example, if lobbies were to be bot hosted, there’d be no risk of messing up the settings, being pressured into not setting a penalty, no obligation to track the time for the purposes of penalties or forfeits, etc. Some amount of automation could also allow for the dynamic generation of standin options based on other player lists. This kind of thing would make the captain role almost entirely revolve around being a liaison between the team and staff in case of a case, and very little else. How soon we might look towards implementing this kind of thing is difficult to say, but in my mind it’s the one thing that would trivialize the role of captain to the point of most real excuses vanishing.
Still, at some point I’ve had to accept that it’s just…one of those things. It’s entirely too difficult to “solve”, and the possibility of chipping away at the issue with minor changes is perhaps a bit too hopeful to commit significant effort to it while higher priority issues exist (and they generally tend to). It’s just a headache that you know you have to deal with, so you grit your teeth and do, before you proceed to DM that one friendly veteran who promised themselves not to captain this season while putting on your utmost cutest puppy eyes.