Fishstix on Juked’s growth, Overwatch’s success & more

Volamel 2022-06-20 01:19:59
  To call Ben “Fishstix” Goldhaber experienced in the realm of esports would be an understatement. Combining grassroots experience with GameCast.tv as well as working with Twitch provides Fishstix with a unique outlook on the space as well as a resume unmatched. And that experience is being put to task with his newest project. Challenging the status quo when it comes to discussing and consuming esports media is a difficult task, especially in a global pandemic, but Fishstix and his partners at Juked.gg have provided a fresh pair of eyes to the space.  Fishstix spoke with Esports Heaven about the successes of different esports communities on Juked, why Overwatch is so galvanized, and whether or not esports can survive an economic recession. 
You mentioned recently that while Overwatch holds a smaller presence on Juked.gg, it is the most active game per capita. As someone with intimate familiarity with the game and its community, why do you think that is? Fishstix: Great question! I wish I had some amazing, insightful answer as to why. My best guess is that Overwatch, let’s be real, as an esports has kind of just been crapped on by the rest of the esports community for the last two to three years almost. It almost lives in its own bubble away from most other esports communities, in my experience. There are a few things that galvanizes the audience to want to show up and want to support competitive Overwatch wherever they can. And Juked is a new platform to do that, so they want to show up and show that Overwatch is legit. The community itself is incredibly engaged. You know, love or hate the Overwatch League, [with] the buy-ins--and now there are reports coming out about how most of the teams have not paid remotely the full amount at this point, and may never--but say what you will about all of that, but the franchising model and choosing city-based teams has created a lot of true fans. [These are] more than just fans of the game and they watch the esport casually. These are more than just fans of the game and they watch the esport because they want to get better. They are fans of the teams, [there are] like dedicated fans of the teams on Juked and the city model played a big part in that for sure. You mention how fans are “galvanized” because fans just want to support their favourite game. Do you think that plays a role with more traditional spaces like Reddit and Twitter being a little more stagnant in terms of discussion?  Fishstix: That is one of the reasons why we created Juked in the first place. We had talked to so many fans over the past few years since we launched the first version of the product, who to my surprise, there was an incredibly negative perception of Reddit.  The ‘hive mind-y’ nature, the toxicity, we just kept hearing things, over and over again. ‘I don’t even comment anymore on Reddit’ or ‘I don’t even look at the comments anymore on Reddit’ because of these issues of toxicity. It had turned a lot of people away. So our goal with Juked is to create a healthier community and environment where you can discuss esports with people just as passionate as you are. And if we have spammers or trolls or just problem makers on the platform, we’re going to deal with them, which isn’t always the case on Reddit.  So I think people who are looking for a place with less toxicity but also a place where if you have an opinion about an esports match or you want to write up a pick 'ems article that say ‘I think that this team is going to win this match, 2-1, over this other team and here is why’ and then [write] two or three sentences or even paragraphs about your predictions. On Juked, that content gets upvotes. That content gets replies. Whereas, if you’re going to Twitter to have a nuanced conversation or even Reddit, that just isn’t as conducive to those kinds of discussion-based posts. Are there other titles that people might be surprised to find are so active on Juked? Fishstix: An interesting factoid is that Rocket League is our biggest game. We had a bit of a viral moment in the Rocket League community where a bunch of creators and teams joined the app all at the same time. Which was super, super exciting. However, VALORANT is just a hair behind. So number one is Rocket League and number two is VALORANT. We’ve seen a lot of growth in VALORANT recently in the past couple of weeks. It’s the new, exciting esport on the block and for a new platform, it just makes sense for VALORANT to be growing. But we see that many of the games on Juked that don’t have as many followers, they often have more activity per user. Call of Duty League for instance is a big esport on Juked. Whenever there is a Call of Duty major that rolls around, there is a lot of community that comes out of the woodwork for that. We had a lot of traction with Halo. While Halo itself is not doing particularly well and the hype has dissipated a lot, but the first couple of Halo majors were huge on Juked. There was tons, and tons, and tons of discussion. So that’s kind of the state of things right now. Rocket League is the biggest, but not by much, and--you know both me and ChanmanV--we’re both Overwatch guys. We posted an Overwatch podcast together for two-plus years. It was my main game. I’d love to see Overwatch be our biggest game, I think that would be amazing. Right now it’s actually our second smallest game. But we still see a lot of activity, it’s definitely our most engaged community per user. Are there any efforts or initiatives you feel comfortable discussing that Juked is planning on enacting to help foster or further facilitate that discussion for Overwatch 2 and the Overwatch League? Fishstix: We’ll continue to support Overwatch as best as we possibly can. It is a lot easier with Overwatch than a lot of other games because you have Overwatch League and you have Overwatch Contenders. It’s pretty well organized. So we’ll have every single match from every single Overwatch League event. For the entire year-long event, every match will be on Juked. But we also will have every single match from Contenders. So we don’t really miss a beat, even when it comes to tier two. Which I’m happy about. In terms of what’s coming in the future, that’s unique and new--we are working on live chat. So right now, everything is sort of asynchronous, kind of Reddit style, but we are working on a live chat for matches. So I think that’s the next big thing to look out for on the app. We’ll continue to have the Reddit style, user-generated news and content posts. We’re going to continue to have that for sure, but our first challenge was to create a better version of Reddit for esports and now we’re going to try and have a better version of Twitch chat. With your experience in multiple esports, working with Twitch, and now starting Juked, where do you feel the Overwatch League lacks? Where does it excel?  Fishstix: One thing that Overwatch League has always nailed has been the desk talent and the commentators. I’ve always loved the vibe. They’ve managed to keep it casual and upbeat and not too cringe-y. They just have fun with it! Each individual commentator and desk host’s personality has always really come through.  I’m sad that we don’t have [Josh "Sideshow" Wilkinson] and [Brennon “Bren” Hook]. I miss those two being a part of everything but I just find that it’s an entertaining broadcast every single time in a large part thanks to the talent. ChanmanV and I hosted an Overwatch esports podcast together for two years. I think it was the biggest Overwatch esports podcast. I used to watch every single match, know every single roster and every single player.” I’ll be honest; this last year I have not watched Overwatch League almost at all. VALORANT kind of took over and [Overwatch] just hasn’t been as big of a focus as I stopped playing the game. So this is coming from someone who is just now getting back into things. But honestly, I don’t really know any of the players in the league anymore. Obviously I know the [Joon-yeong "Profit" Park]’s and the upcoming stars that I have my eye on that are super exciting to watch, but if you look at VALORANT. It’s just; who are the biggest streamers? They are also players. It’s the players! When you look at Overwatch, I don’t think any player is an ‘influencer’ at the same time. Now obviously that comes with its own sense of challenges, [Overwatch] is incredibly difficult to balance and you might go the way of [Matthew "super" DeLisi] and you might just decide to stream. I don’t like that, I want people to stay as players. But at the same time, there are a lot of players who I have no clue who they are. I don’t watch as closely as I used to and this is my biased perspective, but I don’t think the players or the teams are doing enough to elevate individual personalities. Lastly, with the economy becoming tighter and tighter, has your hope or optimism for esports in general changed at all from when you first started in the space?  Fishstix: I could go for some normalcy! Man, founding a startup during COVID [...] it has been a rough couple of years and now finally COVID starts to lift and now this? It has been a lot. I don’t think it is going to impact esports too much. In past recessions it certainly has. The 2008 financial crisis, I don’t know how many of your readers were following esports more than five years ago or before Overwatch, but the 2008 financial crisis almost killed esports. [Around] 75% of teams and leagues died. It was a bloodbath. It was like Evil Geniuses, Complexity, and Team Liquid and Fnatic and SK Gaming--that very small list of teams are some of the only ones to predate that period because there was so much carnage.  This is completely my personal opinion but it doesn’t feel like it is going to be as severe as 2008. To me, I don’t think it will be as severe and even if it is in the same ballpark of severity, gaming survives through recessions. You may stop going to dinner as much, but you won’t stop gaming just as much, if not more. So I think esports is at the point where it is an important marketing tool for the publishers and developers Even if sponsorship revenue pulls back, to an extent it would suck and it would set us back, but I’m still confident that esports is not going to go through a massive consolidation or any major esport games are going to die out. I think someone said that Gears of War, they mentioned they might discontinue Gears of War esports and that’s kind of sad, because that has not happened in a long time. I think Heroes of the Storm was the last one that kind of died.  It may be a tougher period for a while, but I think esports is here to stay.
Joseph “Volamel” Franco has followed esports since the MLGs of 2006. He started out primarily following Starcraft 2, Halo 3, and Super Smash Bros. Melee. He has transitioned from viewer to journalist and writes freelance primarily about Overwatch and League of Legends. If you would like to know more or follow his thoughts on esports you can follow him at @Volamel. Additionally, visit Esports Heaven to keep tabs on more games. Images via Blizzard Entertainment

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