Frag-o-Matic, Oktoberhallen, Wieze, Belgie 24 feb t/m 26 feb 2017
Frag-o-Matic is a LAN party, an esports/gaming tournament in a Local Area Network, so a local, closed, network where computers are interconnected. Each participant brings his own computer and connects to the internal network, (intranet) of the host.
Starting an online esports magazine and never having been to an event is of course not entirely smart. The Buurman brothers fully agreed on that and recommended Frag-o-Matic in Belgium. This article is about a first experience and will not contain new information for most, however, it also elaborates on issues not much talked about, so that can be worth the read. Also, parents in need of information about the unknown world of esports and gaming might find this interesting.
Upon entering the scarcely lit indoor hall you’re met by a huge wall of heat and body odor (a mix of deodorant, soap and warmth) which makes you stand still instantly and realize you’ve entered a completely different world. Once your eyes are used to the dark, you see long rows of tables that have computers and keyboards on them. Behind each computer a young person wearing headsets, intensely focused on playing a game. The atmosphere is friendly and calm, which is surprising since playing a game comes with the necessary adrenaline and tension. Sometimes you hear a yell of which the most strange one is:” Whores!”. I ask the person I’m talking to if I’m hearing this right. I do and it’s something only the Belgian gamers use.
I’m meeting Floris Buurman and his brother Maarten Jan. Floris is co-owner of GamersHub, together with Paul van der Knaap. GamersHub is a multimedia team that, among other things, covers live esports events (streaming, casting, filming). Maarten Jan, game name Liveon, (social media manger GamersHub) is in the competition playing Hearthstone. Both are busy casting or gaming, which gives me the opportunity to get some background information. What does it take to set up a LAN, what is the turnover, which things are outsourced. Yves Solignac, head of the helpdesk department, known as M06 in the gaming world, gave me a tour and answered all my questions.
This is the 19th FoM year (19.0, there’re 2 a year). Yves, IT professional in real life, joined 12 years ago. Before that, he participated as a gamer. FoM, once set up by students of the KU Leuven (Catholic University Leuven) is Belgium’s most successful LAN.
What’s happening behind the scenes:
Some games are being played on a FoM server. On that server the rules of the specific games are implemented, for instance the different worlds a CS:GO gamer uses. Other games are played on the online servers of a specific game publisher, e.g. the game Hearthstone is played on the Blizzard server. Each game is being played by the official game rules. The rulebooks and instructions are on the internal website (intranet)
A participant claims a certain seat online, before the LAN starts. As soon as he arrives, he signs up to the intranet and by doing so, confirms his presence and seat which will get him registered in the compo (competition) and matched to his first opponent in the game bracket. These compos are being managed by compo admins who make sure every match is played on time, so the different game finals on Sunday will not be delayed. If a component is not present, it’s up to the managers to track him down. When the component doesn’t react, he forfeits the game. After each game, both the winner and loser enter and confirm each other’s score. All servers are password secured.
The organization is divided into different departments, including helpdesk, game servers, competition, power, network, security and IT.
All the used equipment is owned by Frag-o-Matic itself. For the first edition they hired everything but each profit made after an edition, has been put into buying new equipment. The only things that are still outsourced are the beamers and light constructions.
The doors open at 18h00 on Friday night, the first matches can be played at 24h00. The tournament goes on 24/7 until Sunday 18h00. Since I’m a mother, I had to ask if the boys sleep at all. They do, but not as much as during an average weekend. Behind the game hall there are (relatively) good sleeping arrangements made in a (even darker) separate hall. They need to sleep to keep up their performance. The people from the organization are the ones that sleep the least.
An entering ticket starts at €30 for presale and is €50 for last minute. There’re 1000 participants, the average ticket income is €40.000. This €40.000 is used for renting the complex and paying external parties like sound and GamersHub. Profit is being made through sponsoring and catering. The sponsor money is used as prizemoney, the catering is profit and will all go to new equipment. None of the people working over this weekend are being payed. As so often in the esports scene, FoM runs entirely on volunteers. The different organizations help each other out. At Frag-o-Matic, volunteers from Zanzilan and other LAN-party organizations take care of the catering, FoM does the network for Zanzilan.
About 80 to 85% is male and the main nationalities that participate are Belgian, Dutch, German and Italian. What stands out for me is the security department. As a visitor, I need a wristband that gets scanned every time I go in and -out. I only receive this wristband after showing an ID of which my name gets put in the computer. When Yves literally takes me behind the scenes I see a lot of people who are working in an organized manner, each on their own department. One of those, security, has 13 screens streaming all the camera footage that are being monitored by at least 2 people 24/7. Keep in mind these are all volunteers.
The best thing about this tour is Yves’ enthusiasm. It strikes me every time, whether interviewing someone or now at this LAN. Anyone that has something to do with esports is always enthusiastic and committed. To my question on what he likes most about esports, he says it’s being part of the organization and the people that make it happen. You meet a lot of people in your field (in this case IT) and many of them have become personal friends. It’s the atmosphere and the people that make esports a world you want to be part of.
Yves, grown up with his heroes El Shrimpo (Jeroen VandenBosch) and Apollo (Bart Maegh) from Shrimp tv (Flemish TMF game show 2000-2003) is currently playing the game Star Citizen, a 100% crowd funded game by Roberts Space Industries, still in its alpha phase. From time to time parts of the game are being released to be played and tested.
Yves has to get back to work and I run into Sidney Lehmann. Sidney, together with his brother Jim, runs ECV eSports (Esports Club Visualize) and is the founder of Responsible Gaming (Verantwoord Gamen). I got lucky, cause he took the time for a surprise interview.
I soon discovered that Responsible Gaming is his true passion. After developing the concept, he got in touch with Niek Diepman who used the concept for his thesis:” how to get a broader support base for responsible gaming in The Netherlands”. After graduation, Niek joined the foundation. Sidney started Responsible Gaming because he felt he had to provide rolemodels as part of his work at ECV eSports: taking e-gamers to their highest level. Most gamers that are good at their game don’t get addicted (exceptions taken) and are in good physical state which make them perfect rolemodels. The link between a healthy body and mind must be made and will get more focus on their website in the future.
The foundation cooperates with the Trimbos Institute (mental health, mental resilience, addiction) that offers support to schools, employers, mental health institutions and the government). Trimbos has approved of their formula which can be used to pro-actively get engaged with young gamers and offer them tools to help, using rolemodels as an example.
Responsible Gaming offers counseling at school by organizing small FIFA tournaments and making responsible gaming open to discussion, something that hasn’t happened until now.
Things parents can do
Besides that, they organize workshops for parents. Questions like “what’s happening in my family” and “what is the parent’s influence on the child” are being answered. These workshops are important, since there’s a huge generation shock where esports and gaming are concerned. Parents often don’t get why their child is into esports and have no knowledge of the gaming world. What we don’t know we fear is a main factor in this and will only enlarge the gap.
The workshop approaches gaming in a positive way and explains what it is and means to a young person. It also encourages parents to talk to each other so they can recognize their issues. Scientific research has proved that parents are still the main influence on their child. They have to realize they can positively influence a gaming child, which is the main focus of the workshop.
The best way to positively influence your child is to acknowledge what gaming means for them and only then talk about your concerns. Having a low self-esteem is one of the factors stimulating addiction, game addiction included. Positively acknowledging your child and gaming is therefore important.
Apart from that, the gaming community a child is in has a positive influence as well. The kids coach each other in the community, it’s a self-regulating system where they take care of each other. This is very important for a youngster with low self-esteem. They also listen to each other because they respect one another. This is something a parent needs to take in consideration when they’re worried their kid is online too much.
The advantages of a community are not only the common ground the members have and the acceptance of mutual advise. The other good thing is they get accepted on what they say and do (so character) instead of how they look. They’re online, so they can be anonymous. The gamers often meet for the first time on a LAN and by then have already been accepted within the group. Being able to openly talk shop, using terms and words that are not understood at home, is an eye opener for them. There is acceptance for who they are.
ECV eSports is a whole different story. They scout- and train talented young gamers, taking them to the highest level possible. They’ve reached a partnership with AZ (major Dutch soccer club), who has hired their e-gamer Aristote Ndunu.* Besides Aristote, Quinten van der Most (Feyenoord), Niels Krist (Heerenveen), Paskie Rokus (Vitesse) and Mitchel Denkers (ADO Den Haag) have reached their potential at ECV eSports. ECV eSports coaches- and guides them, business wise as well. The young gamers are obligated to get a school diploma and need to follow the Responsible Gaming formula.
Not only the gamer but the gamer’s family is being involved as well. The gamer is prepared to being a celeb gamer and how to handle that. Being in the spotlights changes your life, negatively as well. When you’re good, you’re a hero, one mistake and you get a lot of negative feedback. This is all part of being good at something and they’re going to have to deal with that. ECV eSports’ goal is forming the world’s best esports team.
An hour has passed, I’ve scored Sidney’s and Jim’s photo and need some fresh air. The mood is still relaxed and nice, while stakes are only getting higher. Playing CS:GO can make you €1500 in one weekend, that’s not bad. Except in the sleeping dorms, gamers are sleeping on an inflatable matrass next to their computer or in a gaming chair. The lack of light inside doesn’t help staying awake and it looks kind of amiably, gaming and sleeping side by side. I don’t see any gamers that meet the general gamers image: fat, lazy, inhibited, nerdy. Everybody is talking to everybody, they all look neat and are having fun. Outside, some are smoking a cigarette, music’s on, games and game results are being discussed. I don’t detect any (negative) competition.
Once inside again, Floris is still casting and I meet someone else. Patrick Marinus, working in esports since 2007 and now designer and coordinator at Hitpoint, a company that takes care of all famous gamer’s-and youtuber’s merchandise.
Patrick Marinus (Hitpoint)
Patrick is here for fun, but can’t help looking at things with a critical eye due to his passed tournament organization work. Maybe he’s the one I can get some less positive information on gamers from, but I couldn’t be more wrong. Apart from some improvement organization wise, like making sure side events don’t take place in the same space the gamers are playing their matches, he’s all positive. The thing I hear from Patrick is what I’ve heard several times: the worries there are for young gamers being misunderstood by their parents. He explains the self-correcting factor in game communities and his own role in helping young gamers communicate with their parents.
He compares gaming with amateur soccer. Of course there’s cursing and frustration happening during a match. When a parent walks in at the moment that happens, they often get the wrong idea. However, they don’t see all that’s going on after a game is played. The kids talk about various topics and show no aggression towards each other. This is so different at a soccer game (in Europe). In soccer there’s much more aggression but it’s accepted because you’re engaged in sports, so being healthy, fresh air and so on.
He also acknowledges the acceptance on character. Sometimes he meets his online friends for the first time and realizes he would have instantly ignored that person when he would have met him in a bar, purely on how that person looks and the assumption that the person would not fit his social life. I ask him about the lack of not being able to look into a person’s eyes when they’re talking online. You can say you’re doing great, but eyes can tell a whole different story. He explained people are far more open online. They’re in their own safe world and can anonymously talk about how they feel. If you would do that at work or school your expressed feelings would always influence the way people will see you and you don’t always want that.
Finally, The Buurman Brothers!
Patrick’s off to diner with some friends and I see Floris and Maarten Jan are both having some time off. This is my chance! Maarten Jan has about 15 minutes, Floris a bit longer.
Floris is in his last year of industrial engineering, Maarten Jan studies Communication. Floris was asked by GamersHub after he had been the mainstage manager at the International Esports Festival in the Gent Stadium (2015). He has been a gamer for years and a team manager as well.
His goal for GamersHub is born out of pure frustration: taking esports in the Benelux to a considerable higher level. Because of the lack of professionalism (not lack of knowledge!) in the Benelux (read Belgium and Flanders) many talented gamers go abroad before they can put the Benelux on the esports map. Holland has a lot of excellent gamers, however, they are being picked up by foreign teams where they can play for serious money. This is what keeps the Benelux level in esports low. Gamers don’t stick around so organizations can’t attract good sponsorships and therefore they can’t attract good gamers. A vicious circle is born.
Except good sponsors you will also need good broadcasting companies to give the sponsors their exposure and, last but not least, you will need competition integrity! Without integrity sponsors will not invest. So there you have it, the 3 factors needed to professionalize esports in the Benelux.
GamersHub is currently Benelux’s only broadcaster. On my comment that this must surely be a nice position they’re in, comes a firm no. By not having competition there’s no improvement. There’s no competitive force, so no development. The need to improve is not always there because you’re the only one. GamersHub wants to improve, but finds it difficult on what. For instance, if a different company has a great host, you will want to top that host. Looking at big broadcast companies in other countries doesn’t do the trick because they’re not physically present and have, simply by being bigger companies, better equipment. GamersHub can go one step further in upgrading their equipment, but after that, it’s not a step but a leap. Also, to what amount does the technical improvement at some point influence your casting. The viewers will immediately sign off when the caster has no knowledge of the game or no good way of presenting himself. On the other hand, if your caster is good, a microphone that may sometimes squeak is no reason for the public to stay away. The caster is always key.
This is one of the reasons GamersHub doesn’t cast in English which would enlarge their audience. Streaming through Twitch, you get categorized per region based on language. When you choose the Dutch language, you’re featured on Twitch’s front page in that region, which is an important thing. Floris:” when we just started we did cast in English, however, all our feedback, like facebook, was from the Benelux. It’s better to focus on where your feedback comes from. Apart from that, our English casters are good, but not on native speaker level. This works against you sometimes, you feel less at ease which will take your level of casting down, while on the other hand, games like CS:GO feel much better when presented in English.”
“We do want to cast in English in the long term. This will work out just fine language wise, but we’ll need a new investment in our equipment. For instance, you will need a truck to drive to European events, so there’s more to it than just language. First, we need to proof we’re good in the Benelux, Europe will be our next step.”
Back to professionalizing esports and the 3 factors money, broadcasting and integrity. There is a lot of knowledge in the Benelux. The problem is that this knowledge is not shared. This is not because people don’t want to, it’s just that no initiative is taken to do so. Another consequence of having insufficient financial means is that a lot is still happening on voluntary basis. This shows the huge commitment within the world of esports, but holds back professionalism. People have daytime jobs and school and need to cut in their time. In the end, acquired knowledge disappears because they have to choose between their job and volunteering in a world they love.
Do you see the E-division* as a good step towards attracting sponsorship? Floris:” unfortunately not. Soccer clubs are being forced to hire a gamer. If the E-division is unsuccessful, maybe 4 out of the 18 clubs will remain, which will directly backfire on the entire Benelux esports world. That will be a huge step back in what we’ve reached so far.”
This matches with what Patrick mentioned to me earlier. Sponsorship and corporate investments are not happening because we can’t show representative data for the Benelux that show the Dutch turnover. Holland is an excellent provider of e-gamers, which makes us an excellent business market for esports. Unfortunately, businesses don’t see that yet.
Maarten Jan ran off a short while ago, Floris really has to leave now too. I’m standing in the gaming hall, watching a group of 1000+ people on 4000m2 for 48 hours straight. There’s not a single improper word said between them, the atmosphere is extremely pleasant, adrenaline is happening, small victories are being celebrated. Standing in the long line waiting for their (food) order, everybody just waits their turn patiently, chatting, smiling. The toilets, that I’ve visited several times today, are clean. No trash on the floor, they pee in the pot instead of around it. All day long people have been very helpful whenever I had a question. Security is necessary for the outside world, not for the gamers. I’m looking at a heavily undervalued world in which everyone is working hard without getting paid. Where people try their best to show there’s more to esports than just sitting behind a computer. It’s about time that gets noticed!
On the way to my car I ask some gamers why they’re shouting: ‘Whores’! They just look at me cluelessly and then the penny drops. “it’s something only the old gamers say, they’re like 30 or something”.
* and **: In The Netherlands they’ve started an E-division simultaneously with the regular soccer competition. The E-division is played with the game FIFA and each of the 18 soccer clubs have their own gamer representing them in the E-Division.
Thank you Yves, Sidney, Patrick and Floris & Maarten Jan for taking the time to answer all my questions during this very busy day you’ve all had.
If you’re interested in professionalizing esports in the Benelux (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg), please contact insame game at firstname.lastname@example.org