Would Legacy Servers Really Detract from Warcraft’s Current Game?

UPDATE [8:32AM PST 27 April 2016]: The petition, currently at 241K signatures, was delivered by former World of Warcraft developer Mike Kern directly to Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime via email on April 26. Additionally, Blizzard issued a formal response on the Warcraft forums by J. Allen Brack via Community Manager Nethaera.


First, apologies on the radio silence. Who would have thought working full time and attending grad school full time would have meant I had little time for anything else.


Well, as you can see the latter is now behind me. I have finished and am all the wiser. Now I have more time to do things like entertain you fine readers.

A lot of things I like to write about in here surround gaming and tech that interests me, chief among them eSports, community as a marketing tool, and Blizzard games. So it should come as no surprise that a recent development in the Blizzard gaming world would prompt my return to expressing my thoughts through the written word.


Oh, Nostalrius. If you haven’t heard of this by now, then you’re in the minority. Essentially the short skinny of this is:

Once upon a midnight dreary
Gamers logged into their World of Warcraft garrisons weak and weary
Pondered life with such a query, and said,
“Fuck this.”

About a year ago, Nostalrius launched with servers based in France to the chagrin of Blizzard who threatened legal action if they were not shut down. Nostalrius, of course, complied and formally shut down this week.

Blizzard shutting down private servers is nothing new and happens all the time. So what made this one different? I think the fact that it had grown so large is probably the main reason. Nostalrius’ volunteer developers claimed more than 800K registered accounts and more 150K active users. If we were to presume based off the last known subscriber numbers released by Blizzard (before they decided to no longer report such metrics) and couple that with the rate of falling subscribers, that would put its own active subscriber base around 4 million, thus, putting Nostalrius at roughly 3.75 percent of what Blizzard currently sees across all its global servers on a single server. Clearly, nothing to balk at.

In the wake of Nostalrius’ closure, a myriad of tribute videos have popped up that were recorded in the server’s final moments:

Horde side:

Alliance side:

…all of which resulted in a flood of media coverage from the BBC to popular YouTubers, like JonTron:

The final development being a petition addressed to Blizzard Entertainment co-founder and CEO Mike Morhaime, which at the time of this writing was at 111K signatures (and still climbing), calling for the development of official legacy servers to offer old world content.

That’s where we are in this situation. Blizzard has yet to formally address anything involving Nostalrius, but they have spoken to the topic of legacy content. The only thing I could drum up was from an old EU forum post by Community Manager Vaneras in 2011 who copy-and-pasted an older response from a previous post and adding:

We regularly see requests for us to open classic pre-TBC realms, or vanilla realms if you prefer, and lately we have also seen requests for pre-WotLK realms and even pre-Cataclysm realms. We have answered requests like these before saying that we have no plans to open such realms, and this is very much still the case today.

We realize that some of you feel that World of Warcraft was more fun in the past than it is today, and we also know that some of you would like nothing more than to go back and play the game as it was back then. The developers however prefer to see the game continuously evolve and progress, and as such we have no plans to open classic realms or limited expansion content realms.

As a player who jumped on board the Warcraft train halfway through the Burning Crusade stop on its journey, I only got a small taste for what the game was like as remnants of those alleged “glory days” were still in effect:

  • Leveling took FOREVER.
  • Mount training and mount costs were ASTRONOMICAL considering the amount of currency you earned.
  • Level 40 was the first time you could even think about a mount and if you played durid like I did, you had that god-awful quest to get your swim form that had you walking from one ass end of Azeroth to the other ON FOOT.
  • Elites were no joke and there were few people who could solo a level-appropriate elite.
  • Talent trees were a clusterfuck even if you took a cookie-cutter build

Despite all that, there was something magical in Azeroth. I remember my first foray into the game world and thinking “damn, this game is HUGE.” And that wasn’t even the half of it. The true magic came, well, from the people. The players.

The community.

I made my first gaming friends while leveling, introduced to me by a real life friend who had encouraged me to play the game to begin with. And you know what…


We ventured into other games together, playing Star Wars: The Old Republic, Diablo 3, and Destiny, among others.

Along the way I’ve made and met new friends in game and at various meet-ups, including BlizzCon and other nerd gatherings like ComicCon and E3.

This is important to discuss because this is the first thing you notice in those videos I linked above from Nostalrius’ closing night. It’s evident that this wasn’t just a private server with a few hundred people playing an illegally created version of the game; this was an entire community that quickly amassed itself over the last year. Very few instances in this game lately result in such numbers of people coming on at the same time to celebrate an event. And while this makes what Nostalrius’ did no less illegal, you have to admit there was something inspiring about seeing that many people gathered in game for…something (anything at this point).

I mean, currently in game, what do people gather for outside of the occasional world boss that hasn’t been spammed in g-chat for an hour and posted to the cross-realm group finder to fill because it’s not a Tuesday?

The sense of community has withered over the years and that’s really what’s missing from Warcraft in game. Consider this, we had a big fight as players over the ability to fly in Draenor, which caused the developers to reconsider their initial decision to keep it out. Their reasoning behind it was to force people to explore the beauty and dangers of the land. But really, did that truly exist? People had a flightmaster in their garrison that could take them to practically any point in the current expansion, if not damn near close to it. Much like the previous expansions, people gravitate toward the hubs (in this case the garrisons) and do little else. Being on land, or flying, had nothing to do with the exploration of the land because once leveling was over people weren’t really interested in exploring it on foot. To me, Wrath of the Lich King was the peak of community-driven gameplay because you had a mix of old world and new world game theories that incorporated dungeon finder with the need to still do things locally on the server (Wintergrasp, weekly raid kill quests, etc). Such things just don’t exist in the current game.

The game itself is fun, keeps me entertained and looks BEAUTIFUL, but alas I find myself in a once active progression raiding guild where I am the only person online most of the time and the thought of shopping for another guild is rather depressing considering I’ll likely have to leave my server for the lack of them that would take me in on my server.

Ok, so this is the problem, but was what Nostalrius did the answer? Ethically, I say no and Blizzard was well within its right to shut it down. But the fact that it existed at all to such a large degree is indicative that Blizzard needs to do more than Timewalking dungeons and cross-realm zoning. The idea of legacy servers is not without merit. Will it detract from people’s enjoyment of the game in its current state? That is a great question that would need to be tested. For myself, I can say no. I would definitely play (and pay for such access) on a legacy server, but in my off time from the current content.

I look at it like this:

I was in the Navy for ten years, and while most ships the Navy are decommissioned (the first one I was assigned to, USS Ford FFG 54 was decommissioned a year before I exited the Navy), gutted and sold to other countries to add to their fleet. The Navy does save a few of them to become public museums, like the USS Midway in San Diego. Its existence means nothing to the current fleet, and so I believe a living (or digital) museum of Warcraft’s previous state would be a fun idea. The game can still move forward while having a place where people can look back and appreciate the journey the game has taken. Video game enthusiasts play current consoles and still hop on in their previous generation and even old school systems to play older games just for shits and giggles. The existence of emulators for older games for those unable to play on a legacy consoles does not detract from people’s enjoyment of current games.

In fact, there’s quite a huge marketing potential for Blizzard in the “Let’s Play” crowd. Developers have said rebuilding and offering a legacy server would siphon resources away that build newer content. But if Nostalrius’ account numbers are to be believed, then a good portion of the players would either not care if new content takes awhile to come out (so as long as it’s good) or, they’re too new to the game that older content would itself be considered new to them. And there’s a ton of online broadcasting that I know would be done to support people’s enjoyment of playing old school content, especially as people finish current content awaiting the new expansions.

Part of me is tickled with the idea of fooling around on an official legacy server if only so I can appreciate the current design. I mean…Tauren druids, remember when you looked like this hot mess running around with your mouths open like derpy window-licking kitties:


Enough said. Ha!

In the end, I do not think it would be so bad to have legacy content servers if only for them to serve as living museums of what things were to appreciate better how things are now. Who knows, it might actually get people to enjoy the current content more, which I fully admit is a rather lofty assumption. But an assumption, nevertheless, supported by the hundreds of thousands of people that supported Nostalrius.

It is, however, Blizzard’s call. You can either fall in line by supporting the company in continuing to play the games, or discontinue by not playing them because that’s your call. For those of you that choose to stick around, I’ll see you in game.

Still Not Seeing the Big Deal With $10 Skins in Hearthstone

Hearthstone has some new stuff coming out in the form of new heroes, the first of which is the former lord of Ironforge himself, Magni Bronzebeard:


Magni is a cosmetic change and will replace Garrosh as the Warrior hero. Blizzard assures that there are future heroes in the works and will be released periodically as with most of its content. It also affirms that switching Magni in lieu of Garrosh will have no affect on the deck, the cards, nor will it add any.

Cool…so what’s the big hubub in the community?

Price point. You see, the cosmetic change will cost $10 a pop. This alone has the community and even some gaming publications up in arms about the pricing. Let me break this down:

A hero skin, for sale, changing the look of a currently available hero in which if I choose NOT to purchase said skin will have no affect on my ability to enjoy the game.


My friends, let me introduce you to a game I’ve fondly enjoyed for the last near year or so…Mr. Heroes of the Storm.

Stormpunk Kael'thas skin sells for $9.99 at regular price
Stormpunk Kael’thas skin sells for $9.99 at regular price

You see, Heroes of the Storm, like any other MOBA, sells skins (and heroes — but heroes you can earn with gold as an alternative). Skins that change the aesthetic of the heroes to which they are applied, some having a more drastic affect than others. And wouldn’t you know it…the premium ones are on sale for….oh ho! $10. Skins that with the exception of the hard earned master skin unlocked through a LOT of gameplay on a singular hero, can only be purchased with money.

Needless to say I’ve purchased some skins…but normally when they were on sale or in a bundle at a discounted price. Because, $10 says to me if I want it “right now” I’ll pay that…but if I can be patient, it’ll go on sale to 50% off at some point and I’ll buy it then. The last skin I purchased was just that…ETC’s pure country skin (one of my favorite in the game) and waited until it was on the weekly sale and got it.

People who have been following my blog know that while I certainly have a stock of Blizzard Kool-aid in the fridge, I don’t always agree with the company in creative decisions, the flying-no flying debate notwithstanding. But right now, there’s NOTHING to indicate the same process won’t happen with Hearthstone’s heroes. They’ll likely start a rotation of sales when there’s more of them available. In the meantime, you can still enjoy the SAME game while still staring at Garrosh’s ugly mug until Magni is on sale for half off (which you know it will inevitably be).

Point is, both Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm, are both titles in which players must be proficient in not just ONE deck/hero but several, and Heroes of the Storm SELLS heroes AND skins, where Hearthstone just sells cards (and the adventure packs to go with those cards). Selling aesthetic changes is part of digital gaming entertainment, especially competitive titles within the MOBA and CCG realm. BUT, there’s nothing that says you have to buy into any of it in order to enjoy the game.

A warrior deck is still a warrior deck whether it’s Magni’ face people are looking at or Garrosh’s. 

Like any other price point for such cosmetic features, $10 is standard (in fact, it’s pretty cheap if you consider Riot Games’ cost for premium skins and compared it to how much the purchase units cost in real world dollars, but what’s also assured is the availability of sales. Otherwise, you’re just going to have to pay up to use Magni just as I would have to if I want to rock the Nexus with Pajamathur.

Free to Play games, in order to stay free, have to have online storefronts that offer APPEALING products to get people to buy things they otherwise do not need in order to play the game. I commend those who have designed Hearthstone’s market and pricing structures because I’ve always felt that I could play the game WITHOUT buying decks (and yes, I fully acknowledge this is a debatable sentiment to Hearthstone players). I still end up buying them though because, well, I enjoy opening the packs and seeing what cards I get (but that’s my choice).

There’s no conspiracy here. It’s not some big mystery or surprise that a video game company wants to make a little money off a game that is at the core free to play for anyone with the ability to do so. Because let’s face it, there are FAR WORSE CRIMES of publishers that gate content behind purchases to which Blizzard does not partake…or do I need to introduce you to the house at the end of the street brought to you by the letters D, L and C? Blizzard is not out to squeeze you for every nickel and dime. Really. Money does have to be made in order to pay the people to continue making the games we enjoy — or did you think they were satisfied being paid in Chuck E. Cheese prize tickets?

So please, calm down. And play the game.

Sorry R Kelly, Blizzard doesn’t believe I can fly

[UPDATE: June 10, 2015]: So okay, we can fly…soon. Blizzard devs have since taken all the feedback on this heated debate and crafted an excellent compromise to ground questing/exploration that will in Patch 6.2 lead to the ability to fly. Read more on their official Dev Watercooler blog entry.

Summer comes. It’s a perfect time for that nice cold glass of refreshing Kool-Aid. For nearly a decade, my fridge has been stocked with a summertime mix of Blizzard Warcraft Kool-Aid, cherry with an orange slice.

Not this summer it seems. This season’s Warcraft blend is more like feet, with water filtered through old worn socks. Ick.

At this point, we feel that outdoor gameplay in World of Warcraft is ultimately better without flying. We’re not going to be reintroducing the ability to fly in Draenor, and that’s kind of where we’re at going forward.

Ion Hazzikostas, design lead for World of Warcraft, hammered that proverbial final nail in the coffin that is the ability to fly in the game. It was with utter disappointment to a lot of people, myself included.

In his interview with Polygon, Hazzikostas reasoned with what I’m sure was a difficult internal decision to make.

Having looked at how flying has played out in the old world in the last couple of expansions, we realized that while we were doing it out of this ingrained habit after we introduced flying in The Burning Crusade, it actually detracted from gameplay in a whole lot of ways. While there was certainly convenience in being able to completely explore the world in three dimensions, that also came at the expense of gameplay like targeted exploration, like trying to figure out what’s in that cave on top of a hill and how do I get up there.

He furthered with a gameplay scenario:

Before flying was introduced to World of Warcraft, if you got a quest to rescue a prisoner from an enemy encampment, it would play out a certain way. Players would need to fight their way through the camp. After flying, players could just fly into the center of camp, land on top of the hut where the prisoner is, free him and fly out. It made the world feel in many ways much smaller.

So now that we’ve heard from Hazzikostas, who used a media channel to break the news, let us hear from me. You see, like many others, I have played this game. I’m not a veteran so long as others who decry being “vanilla” babies, as I began my forays in Azeroth during The Burning Crusade. Needless to say, quite a number of years. I have seen the ups and downs of Warcraft and support Blizzard in nearly every decision because I always feel that as a customer (and customer only) there are a lot of pictures I’m not privy to in order to make informed decisions. Therefore I TRUST Blizzard when it decides to take a course of action, even when it is not popular. I think that bears bolding and repeating:

I TRUST Blizzard when it decides to take a course of action, even when it is not popular.

So why is it different this time. Why is this ONE thing so detrimental to my happiness in this game? And why is it important for others as well?

Because unlike most, as a public relations professional, I don’t buy into corporate messaging — I can spot PR crap from 50 paces. And ALL of what Hazzikostas spewed to Polygon is corporate PR messaging bullshit that does NOT speak to the fact that for years (YEARS), people had a certain level of expectation for the game based on the availability of certain features. People spent a lot of time farming mounts, collecting them, SPENDING REAL MONEY IN THE BLIZZARD DIGITAL STORE on them, and for what, so that they could no longer be usable in current and future content. And let’s just get this out of the way:

  • You can still use them in old content where you could before.
  • They still have ground mount functionality.

Both of these statements are true. But here’s the whatever for that however, when you bought a mount in the store previously, there were NO disclaimers that said “oh by the way, you might not be able to fly these babies in future expansions, like ever again.” Matter of fact, I think those who purchased mounts in the storefront might have a legal case on their hands for false advertising (I’ll need to reexamine the terms of use to be sure on that, but I think the case is there). The salt in the wound here is that FULL FUNCTIONALITY no longer exists for a product they CONTINUE to sell at full price in the online store. THEY EVEN RELEASED A NEW ONE LAST MONTH!!!!!!


“You can still use them in old content where you could before,” is NOT a valid excuse (not argument, but a SAD excuse) because you cannot use them in their full functionality for current (and now, future) content. Essentially, this now becomes the virtual version of a DEFECTIVE PRODUCT that still continues to be sold. So let me ask you, in what world or universe that hasn’t been visited by Spok or Sulu would it be okay to offer a product, BREAK IT ON PURPOSE, and say, “eh, well, you were able to use it properly when you first purchased it, and you can still go back to that old content to use it again, you just can’t do so going forward”?

No world. No universe. Because it is BAD BUSINESS to sell defective products to people and expect to get away with it.

So okay, no more flying. I could deal with that reality IF:

  • You gave me game time equivalent to half a month for EACH flying mount I possess that required a boss drop, a reputation grind, or an achievement grind (like that WHOLE YEAR I spent getting the world events mount — the FIRST one I ever possessed with max flying speed).
  • THEN, you offered a 50% refund on ALL flying mounts purchased through the store; and,
  • dropped the ones currently being sold by that much.

That would be the only way for Blizzard to make good on this decision. If you don’t want to develop future content around this feature, fine. But don’t negate what I (and countless others) worked really hard to achieve, or the money we worked hard to earn to spend in your store for something that is now essentially BROKEN.

“But it hurts the game design, questing, and exploration.”

Bullshit. It didn’t in Pandaria, Lich King, or Burning Crusade. Let’s first address why this statement was (kind of) true in Cataclysm.

Going back to Hazzikostas’ reasoning about executing a quest in which you swooped in, landed, completed the objective, mounted and flew off, this was true of Cataclysm. This expansion was the only one in which Blizzard experimented with a no-gating philosophy on flying and therefore designed the zones and quests with flying in mind. People did exactly as Hazzikostas explained because that’s how the expansion was designed. Was it fun? Eh. I wouldn’t have attributed the flying as being the reason Cataclysm was a bit dull. Really. In all honestly, I enjoyed the expansion. Deepholm remains one of my favorite zones to this day. I said this then and I’ll say it now…people gravitate toward where the capital hubs are. In Cataclysm those were Stormwind and Orgrimmar. People didn’t leave during endgame because those are where the portals were. For an expansion focused on returning players to Azeroth and even changing the zones, confining people to a single city was not a good decision! ALL cities should have portals so people could be in any of them, not just the two main ones.

The experiment was both a success and failure. A failure in quest design to allow flying, but a success in the sense that it made it easy for Blizzard to go back to the content gating philosophy it had practiced before. Let’s examine that.

The Burning Crusade

The first expansion and the first expansion to introduce flying. Two and a half years after Warcraft’s launch, we got flying. Not a lot of people had the best flying because it was EXPENSIVE. Gold was scarce early on and was a genuine grind to not only earn, but KEEP. I had guildies that didn’t get max flying until close to the end of Lich King. But that’s how Blizzard wanted it, and it worked. You had to EARN the ability to fly AND purchase a mount that could do it.

Burning Crusade took place in Outlands where flying was useful because it was a broken land. Literally. Bits and pieces of debris flying around, alien spaceships drifting in the nether, entire hubs of things to do when you were able to finally fly. That design philosophy carried through to…

Wrath of the Lich King

…and the mountains and peaks of Northrend. Lich King gated flying once again to cap level players who then needed to spend another 1K gold to “learn” the ability to fly in the cold winds of the land. This too made sense because by the time you were cap level in the beginning of the expansion, you were just starting to quest in Icecrown. You explored all you could by foot, but now you could fly and explore the rest. There were things to do on ground, challenges to be had, and a fair amount to do in the sky as well.

Mists of Pandaria

Again with gating: cap levels, pay a gold fee. This forced people to quest and explore on land, hit cap level and explore even more. Mists of Pandaria was my favorite in terms of design philosophies for flying because we got a healthy mix of both being able to fly, and being grounded. There was even a twist that harkened back Burning Crusade with the daily rep grind to gain a new kind of flying, that of Cloud Serpent riding. Which was fun (the first time, anyway)! Watching my Cloud Serpent grow, getting food, helping others, racing with it, gaining its trust and then getting to keep it and ride others. It was pretty much the only daily rep grind where I felt compelled to do complete it. AND like the Netherwing rep to which it nostalgically reminded, there was a grindy shortcut (collecting rare spawn eggs) if I decided to skip ahead.

The grounding of mounts came on three fronts, the Isle of Thunder, the isle of giant dinosaurs, and Timeless Isle. I liked Isle of Thunder because while it was small, it felt large when on a ground mount. AND the reason you could not fly was revealed in a cool questline that introduced you to the island. I LIKED THAT. A cool scenario questing experience that explained to me why I couldn’t fly by allowing me to do so, shooting me down, and then saying “oh, well, guess we’ll have to stay grounded here.”

But in all these cases, flying did not take away from our experiences. Blizzard had proven they could control (well they control it all anyway, really) when and where people could use the ability WITHOUT it feeling like they were purposefully preventing people from using what they had enjoyed using for years up until the release of…

Warlords of Draenor

I had previously written that I was happy with the initial inability to fly. Even more so when it was revealed that it would not happen for a patch at least. Quest, explore, see the land….and then stay confined to your garrison. Blizzard wants to blame flying for the reason the “world felt small” but I think a whole expansion without it has revealed FLYING WAS NOT THE REASON. The world feels small now. What’s their excuse now?


Which is sad because I like garrisons. It really was (is) a nice concept. I just think TOO MUCH was tied to the feature, so much so it made staying in them too easy. People have a flight path taxi in their own garrison to take them where they need to go, it really doesn’t matter if they have to “fight through camps” to get from point A to point B, because it’s just taxiing there, doing what you need to, and garrison hearthing back.

Well you CHOOSE to stay in your garrison instead of going out.

Well, no, I went out and when I was done, I stayed in the garrison. That was about two months after launch.


At this point, if you want it to feel big again, allow people to fly. They’ve explored what they wanted from the rest of Draenor, you can STILL close off flying in Tanaan Jungle (like in Isle of Thunder, have an opening quest scenario the reveals anti-flying turrets, or some sort of pollution debuff that prevents mounts in the sky, etc). People will just have to fly AROUND it like they had to with Wintergrasp in Northrend.

Taking out and no longer developing content to allow for flying is lazy because it’s saying the designers are not up to that challenge, when really, they ALREADY had systems in place that were a good medium between when we were allowed to fly and when we were not (as seen with Mists of Pandaria).

If you’re interested in sounding off to the developers, the community managers have allowed a thread to extend beyond the forum cap to get everyone’s opinion. If you WANT it back let them know. Will it change anything? Probably not for this expansion, but if enough people give positive and logical (!) feedback and not just whining and bitching, things might get changed. It is, afterall, Blizzard’s corporate mission:

Dedicated to creating the most epic entertainment experiences…ever.

And if you’re aren’t experiencing that, sound off. In the meantime…a nice R&B ballad to inspire you:

eSports’ Television Debut: Why It Matters


Note: Republished from eSportGO.

The scene was not unique. It’s one that has happened many times before and for a variety of competitive video game titles. It’s the type of event that brings people to support those who stand out amongst a plethora of gamers as being the most proficient, intelligent, and agile competitors as they challenge each other in a neutral setting to determine who is the best among the best.

On April 26, however, that scene took a giant step forward and left the digital world for a few hours and appeared on the television sets of thousands of people watching the Heroes of the Dorm finals from their couch on ESPN2. Sharing air space with the NBA playoffs, the Stanley Cup playoffs and the spring season Major League Baseball games, it’s a milestone worth noting for an industry that has seen PHENOMENAL growth in recent years with no signs of decline. But if there were positive aspects to celebrate with this remarkable achievement for the eSports industry (as a whole, not just for Heroes of the Storm publisher Blizzard Entertainment), there were certainly those challenged with accepting the rise of a billion-dollar industry as it was broadcast for them on a sports network. The challenge seemed to the lie within the nature of sports, their related competitive events, and the acceptance of such broadcasts on live television. Observe:

The most heinous example of the close-minded vitriol spewed forth as a result of a lack of understanding from the shift in the digital culture paradigm came from ESPN broadcaster Colin Coward Cowherd.

As one can see, in his rant, he affirmed that if eSports relevance grew so large as to be reported on ESPN, he would forcibly remove himself from his career at ESPN. More disgustingly, he likened gamers to mama’s basement dwellers encouraging people to lock the door and let them die out.

So let’s go old school here and start this off with some vocabulary!

For source definitions I’m going to go with the Oxford Dictionary. Why this one in particular? Because the committee that proposes (and rejects) word entries spends a lot of time studying language, spoken, written, sung, but more importantly, communicated. Communicated not just among a small group of people, but words that bear significant meaning in cultures across the globe. Yes people might laugh when they see words like “selfie” or “bootylicious” in the Oxford Dictionary, but they were absorbed in the compendium of the English language because of their cultural impacts that withstand a high barometer of time. Let us begin:

Sport /spôrt/: An activity involving physical exertion and skill in which an individual or team competes against another or others for entertainment

Well isn’t that nifty – a road map from which I can steer this discussion, bolding the buzzwords: physical exertion, skill, individual/team competition, and for entertainment. It may be surprising to some that physical sports bear the same characteristics as those in the electronic realm – the ‘e’ in eSports. But it is true.

Let’s get physical, physical!

It’s safe to assume that sports in general demand a certain level of strength, stamina, mental fortitude and prowess to succeed in just about every type of sport. The swift repeated strokes in a pool of water, the uphill thrust of a peddle on a road bike, the clash of protected giants carrying a ball made of pigskin at high speeds. In order to translate this into eSports equivalence, it becomes necessary to look at this from both the physical and virtual realms. This is because a player exists in the physical realm, and controls a character (or several) in the virtual realm.

In the physical realm, high-end eSports players, especially of the real-time strategy (RTS) variety metrically track their movements, known as Actions Per Minute (APM). This video, posted a few years ago on YouTube, demonstrates the INSANELY high level of APMs average RTS players are expected to achieve in order to be competitive in the scene:

To reiterate, that is 300 actions per minute, or FIVE actions per SECOND. Let’s compare this to a quarterback, probably the lightest but most strategic player in the offensive line up of a football team. Upon making the call and receiving the ball, in an average of 2-5 seconds, the quarterback must execute a PREDETERMINED plan of action, but immediately readjust if said plan changes at a moment’s notice. With a laser precision (one would hope) he has to throw the ball (or in some cases pass it) based on that 2-5 seconds of analysis of his position on the field and that of his teammates. Once the ball has left his hand, his part of the action is over. Once the play is complete, the action is over. The players select another plan of action, reset, rinse and repeat. Some positions of team require more strength or speed, but the perception that ALL are athletes on the team remains unquestioned.

Is throwing a ball the same as finger movements on the keyboard or mouse. Clearly not, but the physical attributes differ as it would if you compared a quarterback to a cyclist, or a swimmer, or an expert marksman (because, you know, there are Olympic categories dedicated to standing there and shooting things with guns). But whatever the case, none of these demands a minimum of five actions per second which by extension requires a near supreme cohesion in hand-eye coordination. So by using the definition of sports as an observable physical prowess, as noted by an interesting commentary by Eric Johnson, yes, gaming is a sport.

Mind Over Matter

“The mind and the body are inextricably entwined, and rarely are their inseparability clearer than when we’re under some kind of mental pressure. The moment we start trying to learn a new skill, make a decision or otherwise think on our feet, our nervous system reacts – with accelerated pulse rate, increased respiration, even sweating.”

Jeffrey Kluger, Time magazine

Skill, among other things, is the result of either persistence or stupidity on part of the mind to master ordinary things and perform them extraordinarily. It is one of the few things in life that can see substantial gains from natural mastery, learned mastery, and the educational benefit of executing both with spectacular failure. The quarterback who continuously throws interceptions (*coughTonyRomocough*) must learn from the failure to quickly assess a play that has deviated from expectation and act accordingly. The gymnast must learn to control his or her speed to keep from falling when executing a front handspring step out, round off back handspring step out, round off back handspring, full twisting layout. So too must the competitive gamer know what units with which to attack a base, while simultaneously defending against an opponent’s attack on his or her own base, all while effectively managing resource gathering, knowing which units to generate and when, and what fortifications to assemble and strengthen (for example).

More importantly skill is a mental attribute that enables people to accomplish a task, regardless of the depth of challenge. To have a skill in something in essence, makes us better than someone else who does not have the skill, or, whose skill level falls below our own. In a competitive scene, one where people of great skill compete against each other, it is the clash of these individuals whether singularly or on a team that triggers physical responses from mental relays that places stress on the competitors. This stress exists in ANY competitive capacity from football games to multi-player online battle arenas. In the case of both eSports and physical sports, both require a link between mental acuity and physical reaction (which in the eSports realm could mean up to five different and simultaneous reactions in the span of a second, as previously noted).

Now THAT’s Entertainment

Vlad Coho, director of communications at Riot Games, is going kick off this section of the discussion:

esports_vlad coho quote

So here’s a copy and past of my response in that LinkedIn discussion.

“I think this question may presume that it’s our goal to spread the message of esports to the great masses of viewers of mainstream television who won’t watch unless we insert our content into places like ESPN.”

By this, it would seem like Coho was saying ESPN isn’t good enough; that he would rather another vehicle to carry his message (not sure if that was his intent, but that’s how I perceived it). With all due respect, I think it’s a bit shortsighted to think that a conglomerate of networks like ESPN that displays a variety of competitive scenes across its family of channels would be unable to properly handle broadcasting an event such as a championship series for a game like League of Legends. The entirety of the eSports scene, which most certainly includes the LoL community, was modeled after the physical sports realm, from the gear, to the advertising, to the sponsorship of high-end players/teams. Native systems in the virtual realm like Twitch empowered publishers of eSports titles with the ability to share that content IN LIEU of the traditional format which up until last weekend had all but forsaken eSports competitions, writing them off as mere extensions of nerd lovefests.

“We prioritize making sure that LoL content is available on the channels and devices that League of Legends players and fans use, and generally get good marks for our efforts to do so.”

This absolutely commendable philosophy has long been a staple for Riot: a player-focused company aimed solely at nurturing and maintaining that strong sense of community. But one can only rest on laurels for so long before the air in a self-contained ecosphere becomes stagnant. I think Nintendo of late is an EXCELLENT example of what happens when a company refuses to leave the ecosphere (“We’ll never make mobile games,” for example) and is eventually forced to do so. I’m not suggesting by any means to forego what the community will do with certain game-changing decisions, but rather to not be afraid to expand reach on a channel or format that is itself being forced to embrace change.

We don’t see esports as some sort of marketing vehicle that’ll convince the average ESPN viewer flipping through channels to suddenly start watching esports, nor should we.

Television (and networks by extension) is beginning a new stage of life, evolving from its own stagnant model of being tied down by deeply controlling cable providers with networks slowly offering their own ways of broadcasting their content. It’s only natural with steps being made to embrace online technologies in the digital spectrum that the traffic would begin to flow in the opposite direction and see the digital spectrum influencing the content displayed in the traditional formats. If gamers prefer watching things on Twitch, awesome. But if networks like ESPN are discovering that with their forays into digital content that eSports events are worth broadcasting on television AS WELL, I’m not convinced that the publisher of probably the LARGEST eSports title is so well established as to shirk its nose as an authority in an industry that has taken DECADES to gain mainstream acceptance. It’s easy to say “we were successful in our own rite without you” and write off these milestones being made by other companies under the guise of “well we only do what our players want” because it’s safe and it allows others to break down the barriers so you can just walk on through. As a member of the community I’d like to think my fellow gamers would just as well turn on a television to see a fun eSports competition as they would do so now sitting at a computer. Perhaps my belief is misguided optimism.

I choose to spend more time on this element of the sport definition because ultimately, spectating and hobbyist enthusiasm bolster competitive events to which our passion guides our support. It is asked that if a tree falls in the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? We can translate this philosophical quandary into a more relevant question:

If two competitors compete, and no one watches, is there a winner?

The battlefront from which we as a society attempt to answer this question resides in the location in which we choose to view such competitions. The great games of Rome took place in a grand arena that could house thousands of spectators and it is this historical example from which we have built our structures to enjoy such events today. The great strides we have made as a race is that we no longer have to travel to these places to enjoy viewing such events. Radio then television, and now the Internet are all technologies that enable us to listen or watch from afar elevating the most knowledgeable individuals into stardom equitable to the competitors themselves as they relay the action taking place and offering insightful and useful commentary about what people are watching. Up until last weekend, eSports understandably was only available in the spectrum from which it was birthed, the Internet. For the first time it was it was TV! ESPN2 broadcast the finals of the Heroes of the Storm collegiate invitational Heroes of the Dorm. For two and a half hours thousands of people watched two teams of competitors battle it out. Was it successful? Forbes’ Paul Tassi reports the broadcast pulled in a 0.1 rating, or roughly 100,000 viewers. For perspective, the number one show for the week ending April 26 was the 20/20 Bruce Jenner interview, which garnered more than 17million viewers. So, success in the ratings game is a resounding no. Like Tassi though, for the time being, I’ll consider the fact that Heroes of the Storm, a title still in a closed beta development phase, does not command a presence in audience support as do larger, more well established eSports titles like League of Legends. Instead I’ll focus on the milestone that eSports made its debut on television, whether Blizzard accomplished that milestone or Riot Games or any other eSports publisher, it’s still one to be celebrated.

I started this section off with an eSports industry professional commenting on the necessity of eSports being on television and its suitability to the community. Riot Games, for the time being feels like it does not, according to Coho. I disagree, and it’s not so much a business perspective, but more over one that speaks of acceptance. Over the last few years I’ve written extensively on the level of acceptance our community, be that of geek or gamer-centric identification, has enjoyed in the past 15 years, thanks largely to the revolutions technology has made from mainstream Internet, to iPhones, touchscreen tablets and so forth. This of course was preceded by a long and hard-fought battle of social acceptance, the remnants of which surfaced in Cowherd’s comments on ESPN. The “jock versus nerd” trope rarely surfaces these days because of the incorporation of technology and those architects responsible for its social integration. But when it does surface the benefit is that it reminds us how far we have come as a community that even when – as Chris Kluwe would call them – slapjawed pickletits like Cowherd think they’re being cute by poking at gamers with clichés that have all but died and long since been buried with no extra lives to start over, people can band together to defend the community that is now forefront of innovation, ingenuity, and economical prosperity.

Our journey long ago started, has now shifted in a new direction

The milestone made this week is but a first of what I hope will be many to follow. There is no rush to see it done, as it did take years just to take the first step. But changes all around in the gaming, eSports, and broadcasting industries respectively, mean that there are countless possibilities from which to enjoy competitive events physical or electronic in nature. Cable companies will soon have to learn how to live in a cord-cutter’s world, and people in general will soon have to adjust seeing the fruits of labor by the digital world in a format some consider dying, but I see as evolving into a new stage of existence. So an eSports event was on TV. If there’s one thing I have always known growing up with that technology is that the little wonder piece of wireless technology developed by nerds for jocks to enjoy their sportsketball watching, known as the remote, empowers people with the power of choice. You can choose to continue watching, or you can change the channel. Either way, those tweeting all the negativity I shared in the beginning of this piece all had one thing in common when they were poking fun of Heroes of the Dorm – they kept watching. 😉

Media Watchdogs, Brands & Community: Continuing the PR-Media Relations Conversation


In the interest of full disclosure, I have received of a lot of feedback (mostly positive) on my previous entry in which I discussed the current state of affairs in the PR-Media Relations spectrum.

And the feedback I received in the form of conversations and personal messages came from both sides of the fence, PR pros and journalists alike that have both admitted the tides have changed. Not only that, but they changed a long time ago.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the future of PR spurred on by various sources. The first of which was the following tweet:

And a recent conversation in which I was asked: What is the importance of media in the PR plan?

As well as the following: why are media relations important?

With these questions, I immediately thought of the previous blog I had written where I said…

While having the loyalty of journalists working for various publications is a nicety in regards to generating buzz about a product, they’re not needed.

That’s still something I believe. But a recent conversation with an experienced PR professional in the gaming industry offered a different perspective. It’s one that I only briefly touched upon:

The power didn’t escape the media it simply went home to where it belongs, with the brands themselves and the PR pros charged with deriving and communicating the messages.

Upon which I’ll use this space today to elaborate.

American journalism dates back, of course to the colonization of the country in the 1600s, the first newspaper being Publick Occurrences, which was published in Boston in 1690.


The evolution of newspapers, specifically, was as rocky as the evolution as the country itself as we worked to define their purpose, their freedom, and their technology to increase both coverage and reach.

At the turn of the 20th century, journalism had undergone probably its last major facelift when less fictional and sensationalistic content (aka “yellow journalism”) gave way to more in-depth, factual, and “sober” articles. All throughout the century, journalists were challenging the status quo, taking on government entities, asking hard questions while ensuring their protections and freedoms granted by the constitutional amendments remained intact.

From the Great Depression, to World War II to political corruption from the Nixon Administration, the job of the journalist was clear in that they were charged with uncovering and confronting the truth and giving that information to the public. Such a responsibility had a national benefit two-fold: first, to ensure accountability by a corporation or government entity for their operations and actions; and secondly, to moderate responsibility by those same entities by offering a public space for them to directly communicate to the general public in an objective manner.

So why is all this important?

Because in the latter portion of the century, as technology began its seemingly lightspeed evolution into the current century, we began experiencing things in life that affected the way we communicated with each other. Mid-century we got television and by the end, we were already surfing the net and texting each other on our Nokias (gawd, I miss that little phone).

It was also in this time period advertising and marketing changed, and so too did the realm of public relations. The idea that “coverage” in a newspaper, magazine, or even a spot on the evening news, became commonly shared throughout the profession. It was a key component in a communications strategy (for some, it still is, which is why we’re talking about this).

Again, this begs the question why?

Because back then, businesses sought out those whom they would consider the “influencers” of the time.

Back then, the influencers were journalists and critical reviewers attached to huge publications with large circulations both newspaper and magazine. Engaging them meant a large readership (and in the case of broadcast media, listeners and viewers) that would be exposed to information about products and services being offered by brands. And we’re not just talking about paid advertising, we’re talking about more organic coverage that resulted from expert media relations practice by PR pros and spoke of product development features, reviews, and launch articles.

The number of publications in which a product offering was reviewed and covered was monitored, often manually by clipping out articles, obtaining information about the number of readers for the publication pushing out that article, and finding a way to figure it into a metric that would gauge the success of the media blitz.

But that’s the history of it in a nutshell. Coming into the 21st century with the Internet becoming increasingly mainstream and accessible, the media had a new way of reaching a lot of people, which in turn gave businesses and brands even more reason to engage it to enjoy the benefits of their spheres of influence.

Basically, brands and journalists skipped hand-in-hand in slow motion down a hill of daisies while eating double scoop Ben & Jerry’s and giggling like schoolgirls in a Japanese anime while rainbow-haired unicorns galloped in the back with gentle a “whineeeee!” That is, until…

Social Media came crashing down like a rock god wearing a tee-shirt that said, “You looked better on MySpace.” With heavy metal playing in the background, they knocked the ice cream on the ground, shoved Brand Bob and Janet Journalist onto the ground, got in their face with rocker hands and a Gene Simmons-style tongue, mounted the unicorns and rode off into the sunset of what used to be the state of media affairs while exclaiming…

“Welcome to the 21st century noobs!”

But not before they snapped a selfie — of course.

Source: Bloomberg
Source: Bloomberg

Of course.

This leads us to today and where we are going in the future.

Social media created a new batch of influencers; regular joes with cameraphones, blogs, podcasts, small-scale video projects published worldwide, and now live streams of gameplays, interviews and general nonsensories (that’s word I just made up – use it).

I reiterate the point from my previous blog that stated that journalists now find themselves in the Hunger Games arena pitted against, well, just about everyone with a Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, WordPress, LinkedIn, or any other kind of social media channel (and there are much more than you know). A fight for space. A fight for time. A fight for relevancy. But there’s one thing PR professionals should know:

It’s THEIR fight.

Not yours. While they camp out in the bushes and eat snozzberries with shanks fashioned from broken tree branches, PR pros are now positioned to do what they were destined to do, create a narrative on behalf of a brand…


Who needs media to do that? Not brands, not anymore. The power of that marketing tool has returned to its rightful place. Journalists do not need to be schmoozed, bribed, have their dinners paid for or any of the things they were unjustly enjoying prior to the advent of social media.

Time and again, I witnessed these interactions between arrogant journalists and eager-to-please military types and for what? A positive outlook on an embedment? An above-the-fold article about a military operation?

Once upon a time, journalism stood for the discovery and sharing of truth. In this new fight for relevancy, perhaps it is time they returned to that basic principle. This way, it forces lazy PR professionals who see the media as a some giant wizard full of empty promises and either forces them out or to wise up to see the short guy behind the curtain.

The future is now. The future is people – community. The stories and narratives in mind must speak to that if PR pros are to navigate the new realm they’ll soon discover is actually a few years old. This is why I admire gaming companies like Blizzard and Riot, and other companies like Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Apple. Their approach to how they engage the community is to speak volumes in the way of relatable storytelling. These stories introduce me to products and ideas and connect them with people – the people who created the product or the people so affected by it they cannot imagine life without it ever again.

This is why I believe in brand journalism. It is an effective tool in this land dominated by technology, the Internet, and social media. Ironically enough, in the digital realm, it humanizes brands and makes them accessible to me as a consumer. I feel like I can contribute to development and the future of a company or product, even if I don’t directly work for said company. That will in turn contribute to a message and a story communicated to others who can then relate to both the brand and me as they make their own decisions.

This is the essence of community.

If one can create and maintain a community that rallies around a brand, they have created customers for life. Such power does come with certain responsibilities. Instead of individuals, a brand has groups of people for whom they will be held responsible should the brand fall short on promises, should products fail, or should hidden truths reveal themselves.

So then let us return to the question posed at the beginning of this piece…

Where do the media and media relations fall in a communications strategy that focuses on people and community using digital social channels that directly links customer and brand?

Imagine an airport. A place rife with people scurrying about their lives heading from destination to destination. Different airlines taking them to different places in the world. In this metaphor, the brands would be the airlines, the people would be the travelers and the media would be the TSA – ha! But think about it, their job is to:

  • ensure safety
  • ask questions
  • investigate possible threats and confront them
  • facilitate transparency in all who expect access to the terminals (you know, with actual technology that SEES RIGHT THROUGH YOU…all exposed, and interscopically naked)

Some are nice, some are rude as hell. But ultimately, they are accountable to the American public who depends on them to give them vital information and diffuse discovered threats. No one is immune to the TSA process, including airline and airport employees. Some might go through faster than others, but EVERYONE is subject to the process.

In business, I would liken media to that because who else would we depend on to be in your face when company shenanigans go down? You bet your ass that if I found out a brand I supported was taking my money and using the profits to fund a prostitution ring in South America I’d want Nancy Grace camping out on the exec’s front yard for months on end screaming:


So journalists, editors, publishers, in corporate responsibility and accountability doth your power lie. Not in marketing.

And brands, you are your community. They are you. Embrace it. Communicate it. Respect it.

Further interesting reading:

  • Eric Alterman, “Out of Print: The Death and Life of the American Newspaper,” The New Yorker, 31 March 2008
  • Gerald Baldasty, The Commercialization of News in the Nineteenth Century (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1992), 20.
  • John Tebbel, The Compact History of the American Newspaper (New York: Hawthorn Books, 1969), 108.

A New Roast: Starbucks’ Post-recession Paradoxical Renewal Blend

Note: The following is an excerpt from a discussion I authored that proposes to introduce the concept of paradoxical thinking in a business environment. It’s a little deeper than my usual geeky forays, but I was actually quite proud of this so I wanted to publish it here for safe keeping. It was an interesting topic to research. Enjoy!

Introduction: Setting the Course


Between 2007 and 2009 the U.S. experienced a series of banking failures that led to a prolonged recession considered to be the worst since the Great Depression. Collapse of the American housing market in 2006 and 2007 profoundly affected U.S. and global banking systems. Smith, Meeker, and Sharma (2011) attributed the recession to the many large financial institutions that were heavily invested in mortgages such that the “bursting of the housing bubble led to a steep deterioration in bank balance sheets” (par. 2). While economists have determined the official end of the crisis to be in June 2009, slow economic growth in the subsequent years coupled with high unemployment rates characterized the recovery “modest” at best (Smith, et al., 2011, par. 2).

Most companies felt the sting of the downward economy. One such company was Starbucks. In 2011, CEO Howard Schultz recounted the state of the company to FastCompany.com, which had named Starbucks among the most innovative companies. Schultz recounted Wall Street’s insistence that the company’s best days were behind it in 2009 and how it needed to improve from an economic perception that Starbucks coffee was an ideal thing for consumers to cut back on (Gertner, 2011). Ultimately what saved the company was a series of developmental choices in the realm of paradoxical thinking that reinvigorated the decades-old Seattle-based company.

The purpose of this discussion is to explore how deviation from traditional thinking into one paradoxical in nature allowed Starbucks to not only recover from the economic crisis, but also continue to expand, proving that paradoxical thinking can be learned and applied at any stage of development. First, I will define and explain both paradoxical thinking and cause and effect thinking in order to detail how the alternative paradoxical thinking model exemplifies a masterful approach to solving complicated managerial problems and why cause and effect thinking hinders such mastery. Once defined, it will be applied to Starbucks, a real world case that details how paradoxical thinking saved the company from a bleak future during a time when the economy was faltering. Following this real world example and using pop culture examples in Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back and Finding Nemo, it will be explained how one can learn paradoxical thinking, the challenges it poses and how these challenges can be overcome to become stronger thinkers able to approach complicated issues with confidence. This paper will conclude with the presentation of understanding that paradoxical thinking can improve not only organizations but empower thinkers to approach all facets of life with a new perspective to which they can exercise decision-making with confidence.

Starbucks’ Paradoxical Decisions

To explain Starbucks’ successes it is first necessary to understand what paradoxical thinking is and its effect on an organization’s internal and external practices. Chen (2011) describes a paradox as a statement or situation that contains two or more logically opposing elements, but that may actually be true. He further explains in a paradox, “contradictory and mutually exclusive elements are present and operate at the same time” using the example “less is more” to explain two opposing terms that are juxtaposed to create an “illogical statement” on the surface, but also reveal a wisdom beneath that less information can contain a more focused message than a “verbose” message with several ideas (Chen, 2011, pg. 19). This is in contrast to traditional schools of thought that comprise cause and effect thinking. To best illustrate cause and effect thinking, Dannenberg (2014) uses ice cream to explain a way of thought engrained in people since childhood, “we tell our children that eating ice cream too fast causes a brain freeze and we allow them to eat it at their own pace without correcting them,” essentially parlaying the notion that for every action (cause) there is an accompanying reaction (effect). While cause and effect thinking is useful in childhood development, and likely saves many hands from children learning to not put them on a hot burner, carrying such thought processes into adulthood presents an innovative challenge, especially within the rapidly-evolving business realm. Relying too heavily on cause and effect inhibits one’s ability to “think outside the box” (Dannenberg, 2014). It can inhibit explorative thought that evaluates possibilities with the approach that in one may reside a solution or all of them, at the same time. Cause and effect thinking models engrained since childhood leads people to resist change and attempt to apply simply solutions to complicated issues because of the mindset it instills that promotes such thinking as this is the way we have always done it.

Gertner (2011) profiles Starbucks’ plan of action at the end of the last decade. Schultz received mounting pressure to downsize the company as well being advised to also lower prices and cut health benefits to the employees. He insisted on doing neither of those things, while only closing a few underperforming stores. Instead, he invested in new ideas rather than cut back.

Among those new ideas was the launch of its popular light roast, trademarked Blonde in 2011. The blend itself was a contradiction to its premise that dark roasts are better than light (Gertner, 2011). The blend itself proposed an opportunity to satisfy the tastes of Starbucks’ staunchest coffee drinkers while also meeting a market demand that found forty percent of U.S. coffee drinkers preferred lighter and milder roasts. Different blends, eighty different roasting progressions and 18 months of development culminated in the final Blonde roast formula that hit stores and boosted revenue as seen in figure (1).

starbucks revenue
Figure 1 (Starbucks, 2013)


Other examples of paradoxical thinking include Starbucks’ approach to store design. While most chain stores attempt to build in various locations while adhering to notions of uniformity where a visit in one location will mirror a visit in another (Cracker Barrel restaurant and retail stores come to mind), Starbucks designs its vast number of shops to complement the neighborhoods in which they reside – trying to be global and local at the same time (Gertner, 2011). The coffee it sells might be global, but the art displayed to the cups on sale and the tables and chairs upon which purchases are enjoyed speak to the locality of the shop.

Gertner reported that Schultz saw the events of the recession as a case study in what it means for organizations to focus growth as a strategy rather than a tactic. By stepping beyond the traditional cause and effect line of thought that would have seen the release of a new flavor of Frappuccino, something Schultz saw as laziness rather than innovation, Starbucks looked beyond laurels to reinvigorate the brand with an entirely new way of roasting a coffee bean thus introducing a new blend. Line extension like that of a new Frappuccino flavor involves little in the way risk taking, which was a problem with the “old” Starbucks (Gertner, 2011).

The Learning of Paradoxical Thinking

Starbucks is a decades-old company that had grown into its processes. Rapid growth allowed it to expand globally, but the recession forced it into a precarious position of having to rethink how it not only did business, but its philosophies on deriving and executing ideas. Such reframing is not an easy task especially when one considers a rapidly evolving technological, political, and socioeconomic landscape. Lewis (2000) forewarned that increasing technological change, global competition, and workforce diversity would intensify paradox within an organization so much so that it often lead to a “vicious” dynamic. Paradoxical thinking can be learned, but in order to be successful, both individual and groups need to overcome six defensive obstacles Lewis identified that obstruct progress. Splitting entails further polarization of contradictions, i.e. if Starbucks had developed its lighter Blonde roast on the notion that it would never compete with darker roasts and creating a blend that would ultimately fail. Projection signifies a transfer of feelings onto a scapegoat, i.e. if Starbucks had blamed the consumers for their economic issues rather than their lack of innovation at the time. Repression entails the blocking of tumultuous experiences while regression involves resorting to notions that offered security in previous situations, i.e. Schultz’s example of simply expanding the Frappuccino line by offering a new flavor simply because it was a tactic Starbucks used in the past that was successful. Reaction formation prompts a person to form a supportive feeling toward a notion opposite to the most threatening. Lastly, ambivalence requires one to compromise emotions for both sides, which results in the loss of vitality of the two extremes.

Image 2 (N.A., 2014)

While these defenses may seem like difficult obstacles to overcome, the benefits of moving beyond them to incorporate a paradoxical thought process outweigh these challenges because of paradoxical thinking’s power to “generate creative insight and change” (Lewis, 2000). Westenholz (1993) also cautions, however, it is important to note that once paradoxical thinking is in place, it is vital it be maintained because if not, people can relapse to earlier thought processes, or, into their old frames of reference. To further explain this process, let us refer to the wisdom of Master Jedi Yoda in Image (2). In the movie Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, the hero, Luke Skywalker, begins his transformation from that of a defiant farm boy from Tattoine, to a Jedi hero. But the journey, as Yoda warns, is not easy. Yoda subjects Luke to a series of exercises both mental and physical exercises aimed at tearing down the walls of learning to expand Luke’s thoughts on the powers of the force. The force, one could say, is a paradoxical thinking. It is all-present, fluid and powerful. But to wield such power, one must unlearn the previous methods of learning, such as the cause and effect way of thinking people are taught as kids. One cannot expect to go to the gym to bench press 250lbs from the start. One has to build muscle to gain strength. To gain muscle, one has to tear down the existing tissue through simpler exercises to make room for the additional tissue that will strengthen and lead to the ability to bench press that 250lbs. But the benefit of the added muscle is added strength and confidence. So too will is the realm of possibility that opens up when one embraces paradoxical thinking. Paradoxical thinking requires one to not accept what is routine and to have a skeptical mind when engaging in it (Ravi, 2005).

Paradoxical Thinking and Intelligence

If we further explore both the Jedi and bench pressing analogies and apply them to paradoxical thinking, it is easy to see why it is such a difficult concept for most to grasp. It requires work, hard work, such that if the tendency is to take the path of least resistance, then it is understandable why cause and effect thinking takes precedence to that of paradoxical thinking. But the easiest path is not always the wisest and in fact can be deceptive. Observe in Image (3):

Image 3 (Disney, 2003)


In Disney’s Finding Nemo, there comes a point at which the two protagonists, Marlin and Dory, must make a choice between two paths: the dark and mysterious, scary looking trench; or, the seemingly peaceful calm of the waters above. Ultimately, Merlin decides on the path above because all he can see is the surface of each choice, and fails to look beneath the surface to discover that there is a realm of possibility that cannot be explored with the cause and effect thinking that hinders such exploration, which, ironically enough is the theme of the entire movie. Marlin is on a journey to rescue his son, Nemo, whom he has raised in a shell, or a sea anemone as it were, because of the traumatic opening of the film where Nemo’s mother dies. Marlin states that he promised to not let anything happen to Nemo, to which Dory in her absentmindedness brilliantly – and paradoxically – declares, “That’s a funny thing to promise. You can’t never let anything happen to him, then nothing will ever happen to him” (Finding Nemo, 1:10:54) which she states while they are in a whale’s mouth and she’s trying to convince Marlin to let go in order to escape. It would seem that because Marlin who possesses the attributes of thoughts most people would identify with is challenged by Dory’s thinking. Dory’s quirk is that she cannot retain memory and so it seems that she has not constructed the walls that inhibit paradoxical thinking in the way it does with Marlin and is able to use such thinking freely. To Dory, it is not this way or that or either/or it could very well be both which is why Ravi (2005) describes paradoxical thinking as one of eight signs of intelligence. The others include memory, logic, judgment, perception, intuition, reason, and imagination. He notes paradoxical thinking as the least used skill because it “involves the ability to reverse, manipulate, combine, synthesize opposites” (pg. 2). It is a skill that needs the most conscious effort to strengthen, which often deters people from entertaining it. Dory, in my example, is a master of it because she’s done it since she was born and so the process of breaking down previous notions of cause and effect thinking is not necessary for her as it would be for the rest of us. Westenholz (2011) describes this dilemma as a “deframing” but explains that this is a good thing because it makes one open to possibility and bridges the gap between old prejudices and new opportunities.

In the business world, six managerial competency sets assist to bridge that gap and stimulate organizational change, a process that Clarke (1998) notes starts with the individual. Those competencies are managerial knowledge; influencing skills which include communication, assertiveness, influencing, and developing others; cognitive skills, which involves setting short term goals while still thinking and seeing long-term, bigger picture goals; self-knowledge; emotional resilience; and personal drive. Additionally, managing paradox can lead to further positive development of which there are three methods, acceptance, confrontation, and transcendence (Lewis, 2000). Put together, development of this level of intelligence along with core competencies can improve “reflective” decision-making (Clarke, 1998). Starbucks exemplified this by “thinking outside the box,” as the adage goes, when it chose to forgo downsizing in favor of increased input into research and development which led to the development and launch of new blends and even corporate social responsibility initiatives like its Jobs for U.S.A. program.

The Final Brew…

Paradoxical thinking is the essence of innovation. It allows one to ignore opposing forces as separate elements and enables thinking that accepts both as one. If Starbucks had accepted the premise that dark roasts are better than light, it would have never pushed itself to think beyond those lines of separation and develop a blend that meets the high standards of coffee aficionados while still being a light blend that caters to tastes of the noted forty percent of American coffee drinkers.

Paradoxical thinking is accepting skepticism as a strength, as Ravi notes, and learning to be open. It is accepting even the most seemingly absurd ideas and incorporating them into logical thought processes and making it work. But one cannot forget, paradoxical thinking requires vigilance to maintain because it can easily resort to previous, more elementary ways of thinking (Westenholz, 1993). It is like muscle in that regard. One has to tear down the walls of what currently exists to make room for new foundations and continuing to nurture it because it will make one stronger and more confident in their thought processes and ultimately, his or her decisions. While cause and effect thinking prevents mastery by forcing one to choose one or the other, Paradoxical thinking leads to mastery because of its requirement for thinkers, managers and leaders specifically with regard to the business realm, to consider that the answer between two opposing extremes could very well be both. If managers approach complicated issues with the notion that they will not want anything to happen to the business, then as Dory states, nothing will ever happen and progress and innovation will never present themselves resulting in a failing business.


Chen, D. (2011). Creative paradoxical thinking and its implications for teaching and learning motor skills. Journal of Physical Education, Recreation & Dance, 82(9), 19-23, 49-50. Retrieved from http://ezproxy.nu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/903536100?accountid=25320

Clarke, M. (1998). Can specialists be general managers? developing paradoxical thinking in middle managers. The Journal of Management Development, 17(3), 191-206. Retrieved December 15, 2014, from http://ezproxy.nu.edu/login?url=http://search.proquest.com/docview/216313585?accountid=25320

Dannenberg, M. (2014) MGT 605. Paradoxical Thinking versus Cause and Effect Thinking. doc.sharing

Finding Nemo [Motion picture]. (2003). USA: Buena Vista Pictures.

Gertner, J. (2012, February 7). Most Innovative Companies 2012: 24_Starbucks. Retrieved December 14, 2014, from http://www.fastcompany.com/3017375/most-innovative-companies-2012/24starbucks

Lewis, M. W. (2000). Exploring paradox: toward a more comprehensive guide. Academy of Management Review. 25(4). 760-776. doi: 10.5465/AMR.2000.3707712

Ravi, K. (2005, June 05). Paradoxical thinking. NA. Retrieved December 15, 2015, from http://krravi.com/PARADOXICALTHINKING.pdf

Smith, R. C., Meeker, M., & Sharma, P. (2011) 2007-09 Financial Crisis. Slaying the Dragon of Debt: Fiscal Politics & Policy from the 1970s to the Present. Retrieved December 15, 2014 from http://bancroft.berkeley.edu/ROHO/projects/debt/financialcrisis.html

Westenholz, A. (1993). Paradoxical thinking and change in the frames of reference. Organization Studies, 14(1), 37+. Retrieved from http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA14175517&v=2.1&u=nu_main&it=r&p=AONE&sw=w&asid=d5e9f9e9c9165c31f30263a93abf20f4

In Memoriam: Leonard Nimoy, 1931-2015


Not much to say save for the fact the geek world lost an icon today. Leonard Nimoy seemed to live a life similar to the iconic character he played, stressing patience and logic over rushed emotion. But this time, I’m going to embrace the emotion.

The anniversary of my dad’s death is early next week. He died March 4, 2012 and was a big trekkie. Spock, as he was for many others, was his favorite.

These words have even more weight and meaning because in their simplicity they wish well anyone hear hears them:

Live long, and prosper.


The Reality of PR & Media Relations; or, addressing the awkward elephant in the room


So I recently took it upon myself to develop a communications strategy for a company, which shall remain nameless. The project was fully volunteered, but at the same time most illuminating. It really shed some light on the struggle Public Relations professionals are dealing with currently in the media landscape. Some harsh facts and things that are only whispered in closed circles, but you know what…screw it. It’s time things changed and realities were laid on the table.

Are you ready children? Let us begin:

Most content marketing bypasses traditional media entirely, and as such it threatens to further erode journalism’s dwindling advertising revenue…one day soon native advertising may be recalled as a quaint evolutionary step, as brands are increasingly comfortable simply reaching an audience themselves.

-Michael Meyer, Columbia Journalism Review, 2014

Keep that quote in mind as I paint a picture for you:

A few years ago, say last decade or so, a person had a new product offering and wanted to push it out. After the seemingly endless focus tests, beta testing, feedback sessions, A/B testing, and initial announcements of availability, it was truly time to move beyond the advertising and marketing plan to push it out to the general public. The largest step of course would be to engage the media. Editors, journalists, and reviewers of major print and digital publications would be tapped to gain coverage of a product in the media spectrum. A decade ago, the simple act of garnering media coverage was the CORE of marketing efforts because it spread the word about a product to a publication’s respective and large built-in readerships.

Fast-forward to today, and one can see the traditional engine is no longer the case.

I’ll say that again:


Sorry media, but you don’t have the power anymore. I don’t mean that to sound arrogant or rude, it’s a reality. As a former military journalist, it’s hard to see those who I would consider peers suffer in such a manner, but if you refuse to acknowledge the landscape upon which you tread, you risk falling over a cliff.


Ok, jokes aside, I’m really not trying to be a jerk or shoot myself in the foot. There’s a place for us all but we all have to at least ACKNOWLEDGE the reality if we’re going to WORK TOGETHER to navigate it.

Content marketing has empowered brands to take control of their marketing efforts instead of relying on the whims and egos of journalists and reviewers. Smarter journalists recognized this trend as it was happening and have adjusted – some have even left their publications to work for the very brands that used to pitch story ideas to them in order to create content on behalf of those brands. This resurgence of what is known as “brand journalism” made its comeback because of, mainly, social media. More than ever, brands have direct access to their customers. While having the loyalty of journalists working for various publications is a nicety in regards to generating buzz about a product, they’re not needed.

Reiteration number two:

While having the loyalty of journalists working for various publications is a nicety in regards to generating buzz about a product, they’re not needed.

PR specialists can certainly take time pitching content to them about title or product offerings in particular, but measurable success will come more from internal efforts than that of the traditional PR push to media so the recommendation would be to move media engagement to RTQ (respond to query); engage as necessary, but focus efforts in other online communications channels.

And here’s the reality the smarter PR pros have recognized:

You have to do more work. No getting around it, but content marketing, while empowering, also entails more work in the realm of, you guessed it, networking and socializing – two skills that should already exist in the PR skill set. Actually, let me backtrack, it’s not so much more work, just neutralizing what USED to be the norm and refocusing it to where it should be now.

The problem as it currently stands is that PR professionals simply do not realize how much marketing has changed because of social media and the Internet. Still believed is the notion that the media controls what people see, influences how they think and feel about products, and ultimately influences their decisions. That is just not true anymore.

So obviously if the media is no longer in control, it begs the question: who is?



This is why companies with active community development teams garnered more success than any other as evidenced by the financial picture painted in the following EEDAR graph that shows the enormity of success the gaming industry had during the 2009-2012 economic recession.

EEDAR_Game Sales Since 1996

On a community team, media is a NOT involved. People connected to the brand are placed in the center of a group of people and engage them front and center, BOTH online and in person. For independent developers, this bodes especially well when the community team is comprised of the very people who made the product (because, well, they can’t afford to hire community team members).

As one can see, the answer for the PR dilemma of how one can generate positive buzz has been right in front of him or her, hiding in plain sight for years.

Think about it…for a properly involved community team (which could be comprised of ANYONE involved with a brand charged with engaging people), what are the tools they are using to do that now? Social media! And what is social media if not a way to take control of your own communications and do your own talking but more importantly…do your own LISTENING from the community.

The question is, PR pros, why, if it is so hard to get media’s attention, are you still engaging them? There are truckloads of online streamers, gamers, and influencers, who are all content starved that WANT you to engage them?

This has been the elephant in the room for the last few years when journalists came to the realization that they were fighting for relevancy.

The fight for relevancy in the online realm and sometimes the physical one began when:

  • Any person with a camera phone could land the front page of a paper or be published above the fold on a news website
  • Any person with a webcam could make their own review show about video games
  • Any person with a blog and an itch to write could speak their opinion and influence people
  • Any person screaming horribly while playing a horror-themed video game could amass a following that rivals a news aggregate and have the same sphere of influence

Now I’m not going to say everyone in journalism has chosen to remain ignorant, some go out of their way to try and hire the top homegrown online talent to manage their online content, particularly in the video realm because they recognized the power of social media. But the entities that have incorporated this thinking are few and far between so essentially it’s up to the brands themselves to do the work, which is where that power should have resided all along.

The power didn’t escape the media it simply went home to where it belongs, with the brands themselves and the PR pros charged with deriving and communicating the messages.

But I do communicate on social media, where is the engagement?

A viable question for PR to ask.

So I have a few questions myself when I get asked that question:

  • What content are you actually sharing online?
  • Are you budgeting for sponsored ads? If so, are you optimizing your posts with those paid/sponsored posts?
  • Are you contributing blog content to major bloggers who would love to have such content?
  • Are you blogging on your own web properties and sharing it?
  • Are you communicating on the right channels? – More on this one in a sec…
  • Are you responding to people who DO engage you?

The point is there are a number of ways to generate buzz about an offering and no two products are alike, as such, no to methods are alike.

But one thing is for sure, to understand the social media landscape, you have to pay attention to the companies who release studies and statistics about where people are active if you’re going to use it successfully in your strategy and bypass the initial traditional media push.

For example the following few facts come from GlobalWebIndex Social as published by TechCrunch:

Source: GlobalWebIndex Social
Source: GlobalWebIndex Social via TechCrunch
  • Teenagers all have Facebook, but ignore it almost completely. They prefer channels with consumable video content, and messaging services that emphasize anonymity like YouTube, Snapchat, Instagram, etc.…
  • Women all have Facebook, but prefer scrapbooking and imaging channels like Pinterest and Instagram, two channels that have seen PHENOMENAL growth but are largely ignored by brands, especially in the video game industry

Hard to believe that anything in the digital realm is “traditional,” but the traditional trifecta of Facebook-Twitter-YouTube is no longer valid. Each product has a different formula and you need to know to whom you are targeting and where they are talking to each other.

On almost every social channel there are people who have taken advantage of the medium and have become well known. Knowing who these people are will make it easier to engage them and pitch content to the THEM rather than media.

Just knowing these things will maximize reach and empower content marketing derived by the brand itself to ignore media completely.

In case one hasn’t noticed, I’m not just talking about the video game industry. I speak openly about businesses in general. Before the Internet, it was on television, radio and in newspapers where others influenced people. As the Internet became more mainstream, that remained the case, just that MORE people could be influenced at any one time.

But all that died once the social media variable entered the equation. The way it is, it’s the people taking control of how they share and receive news, opinions and ideas. Some have risen to what could be considered “fame” by doing as such, but for the most part, traditional, credible media entities are being left behind.

Here are two examples of what it means to be left behind and what it means to get ahead when you embrace the power of online content marketing:

  • Chicago-Sun Times – the home of the late great film critic, Roger Ebert – a man who won a PULITZER for critical review – is laying off more people (technically trying to buy out contracts first) and looks as though it might solely go online. This is one of MANY print publications that have been slow to the draw in online content and as such, is forced to change a business strategy that retains those who managed to jump on board with online content long ago
  • CNN, in an effort to no longer be outscooped by an average Joe with a smartphone, created iReport in which it could encourage frontline participants of an event to share the story almost immediately and CNN would own the content and spread it to its other online properties. This harkens to my earlier point of smarter entities recognizing the power of online social sharing and incorporating it into their communications strategies.


The Internet and social media have changed how we communicate with each other. So much so that traditional media outlets are struggling to stay ahead and some have outright fallen behind or disappeared. If AOL’s closure of its gaming publications was proof of anything it’s that people want more community based publications (as evidence by the massively successful Patreon drive for Blizzard Watch, an enthusiast site raised from the ashes of the AOL-owned and closed down WoW Insider). Take control of the content, seek out the influencers, engage media (as necessary, but not largely or solely) and dive into the community. The tools are there…use them.

Further interesting reading

Journalism’s perspective on content marketing (quoted earlier): “Should journalism worry about content marketing?” by Michael Meyer from Columbia Journalism Review.

The power of corporate blogging: “10 Stats On The Awesome Power Of Corporate Blogging” by Katrina Pfannkuch from The Content Marketeer.

Massive amount of gaming industry data: “Awesome Video Game Data 2014” by Geoffrey Zatkin from EEDAR.


In Memoriam: Joystiq, Massively & WoW Insider…You’ve given me more than you know…


The recent shocking, but not surprising announcement of  AOL shutting down online gaming publications Massively, Joystiq and WoW Insider stopped me today. Like, literally stopped me.

I think it was quite obvious from the blow and the hand-over-mouth pause that a mental spiral had taken flight and came crashing down on a big fat “Why?” that forced me, while in my place of work, to just stop.

I think as a gamer I’ve often taken for granted those that make it their life to report, comment, criticize and more importantly CREATE content about that which I have chosen to pursue as a career.

So before I comment on the situation, I wish to be reflective and retrospective. For that I’ll *clears throat* put on my best Sophia Petrillo voice. Picture it:

May 2008.

A bored Sailor who was months from a pending 7-month deployment to Afghanistan was sitting in a bookstore in Meridian, Mississippi chatting with one of his friends who worked in the café side of the store. After weeks of convincing, the bookstore employee friend had managed to convince the Sailor to get into the latest craze in online gaming, World of Warcraft.

So the Sailor bought the battle chest that consisted of the original game and its first expansion, The Burning Crusade, and spent an entire evening installing patch after patch until low and behold he was ready to discover the world of Azeroth and the mysterious realm of the Outlands.

Yes, that Sailor was myself. Wide-eyed at the expansiveness of the game. Anxious at leveling my character (bounced between Paladin and Druid before deciding to see the Druid to the then level 70 cap).

The beginning months were rough. Completely clueless and utterly nooby. Quite frankly if I had not bumped into one of the very people who I still consider a friend, I probably would have given up on the game. But that friend was awesome. She pointed me in the direction of useful resources that helped me understand the mechanics of gameplay a lot better than, sadly, what Blizzard had to offer for its own game.

Two websites became my best friend: Curse’s MMO Champion, and AOL’s WoW Insider. They were later joined by WoW Insider’s sister site, Massively, as my interest in MMO gaming in particular became that benchmark with which I defined my gaming interest and persona.

For as one can see, as long as I’ve been an MMO gamer, I’ve had both Curse and WoW Insider in my life and it goes without saying that AOL’s decision to close down its host of blog enthusiast sites that include WoW Insider, Massively, and of course, Joystiq, was met with utter sadness.

When I was deployed to Afghanistan, access to World of Warcraft was expectedly limited (logging in during very late night, early morning off peak hours) and so to fill in the time in between log-in sessions, I spent my time reading up on the game and conversing quite frequently on sites like MMO Champion and WoW Insider, equally. With WoW Insider though, it continuously pointed me to fun, enthusiastic, and knowledgeable people that helped me be a better WoW gamer:

  • A profile post on WoWI referred me to Lissanna, an expert Druid player starting up her own blog from whom I gained much knowledge during the five or so year stretch I played my Restoration Druid as my spec/class of choice.
  • The movie watch column pointed me to hours upon hours of creative machinima edited by some wickedly talented artists, some of who were featured and ultimately landed jobs at Blizzard in its cinematics department. Not to mention some of my favorite WoW-parody singles and their videos (like Achievement Whore, and Ninja Raiders).
  • A former shadow priest columnist who I probably had a crush on for the better part of five years who showed me a completely different world of WoW gaming when I had finally leveled my first alternate toon with whom I became quite proficient and enjoyed as a pvp character.
  • And the mistress of lore who time and again, presented well-researched, equally informative and entertaining articles that explored my favorite part of WoW, the story. Lest I forget her most intriguing Tin Foil Hat editions that made speculating about the direction of the story almost as engaging as a high-impact sport.

When my interest expanded beyond WoW, and I decided to try out other MMOs, like Rift, Star Wars the Old Republic, Aion, and Final Fantasy, Massively became my go-to source that compounded all my interests into a single publication. Massively writers were dedicated to sharing their passions for the games, and not simply writing to enrage or bait-click readers for traffic as I’ve seen a few current publications do time and again.

In essence as the years went by and I still continued to turn to sites like WoWI and Massively (and a few other additions along the way), I found myself desiring more and more to become one of those that I considered to be elite. Even if it was just myself and a few others that saw them that way. I started blogging on my own and found a passion about communications within the gaming industry.

See, for years I struggled as a Navy communicator (on the photojournalism side and the Public Affairs planning side) to discover what I wanted to do with my life. And one day I discovered what it was.

In 2009, I was sitting at my desk in Bahrain. It was my second Middle East deployment that followed the several months I spent in Afghanistan as a traveling military photojournalist, only this time my assignment was 14 months. I was nearing the end of my day when I decided to kill the remaining free time I had with perusing my usual batch of gaming news sites that included MMO Champion and WoWI. And I noticed WoWI’s recent post…

…they were hiring…well, sort of. WoWI was seeking out knowledgeable columnists to take over a few of the class-specific columns and there was an opening for a Druid blogger.

Of course, I couldn’t apply. The reality of being in the Middle East, working for a regional command 3-star admiral hit me like a brick wall. But all was not lost.

See, a seed was planted and when I trekked over to Blizzard’s employment page, a PR opening resided there as well. It was then I knew.

I wanted a career in communications in the gaming industry.

Over the years while I finished my military service and my bachelor’s degree, I met some of the WoWI writers, present and former (well, I guess they’ll all be “former” before long), and every single one of them had nothing but encouraging words for an aspirant such as myself. People like Fox Van Allen often asked me questions that challenged my thinking and my actions (or inactions as some of the cases were) about seeing my dreams come into fruition. And for that I’m eternally grateful.

While I currently find myself still pursuing that dream (alas, when I did finish my naval service, there weren’t any opportunities open at the time), I still look back over the years with nothing but admiration to the wonderfully talented people that informed me, entertained me, and INSPIRED me.

Shutting down these publications means AOL is losing its community voices. Time and again I have found myself in front of major business people (including most recently the VP of Marketing at Curse) advocating the need for dedicated and intelligent community development and engagement for respective brands because that in essence is what made the gaming industry as a whole so successful during the economic recession (2009-2012) where all other industries were hurting. I mean, LOOK at this chart:

EEDAR_Game Sales Since 1996
Source: EEDAR via GDC Vault

The gaming industry is known for its loyal consumers because gaming in itself is an opportunity to band together as equals (company to customer, brothers and sisters, etc.), especially since technology is at the forefront of innovation in today’s society. The death of AOL’s gaming publications was painfully slow as we saw content slowly disappear, writers accept opportunities elsewhere, leaving those who heroically stayed behind to pick up the slack and STILL manage to be successful.

For an outsider like myself to see this happen is heartbreaking if only because these publications have been a STAPLE and they weren’t exactly suffering in terms of web traffic, or interest. Everyone needs to say this and say it with a raging determination that if said it might change things (even when it won’t):


I’m happy to see these publications not go quietly into that good night too! Bree Royce over at Massively in the announcement post is being fully transparent, dishing out T-laced realness:

We all suspected this was coming eventually a year ago when a VP whose name I don’t even know and who never read our site chose to reward our staggering, hard-won 40% year-over-year page view growth by… hacking our budget in half.

It’s beyond boggling to understand the blatantly idiotic management decisions AOL made with its own web properties.

I think what angers me the most is I represent the very kind of person AOL wants as a consumer. I’m relatively young (34, so not too young but not too old which means I have money and could spend it if properly persuaded), tech savvy, frequent online trafficker, up-to-date on the latest trends in the industry, and yet, in the last year alone up to and including the closing of its gaming publications, they have consciously made every effort to alienate me. And I’m just one person. Think of how many thousands and possible millions of people they have and are affecting with their incompetent decisions.

For a struggling company still trying to find relevance in the new Internet landscape it helped shape, it’s unfathomable to see it ditch the very types of products that appeal to a group of consumers in one of the most successful subunits of the tech industry. EEDAR showed you the numbers.

So that’s that I suppose. The wonderfully talented, ethically-minded, and highly entertaining writers will wander off hopefully to create their own similarly structured gaming news publications, even if on  a smaller scale. Others I hope will land at other gaming publications. Luckily Twitter allows me as a loyal reader to follow them wherever they land.

Specifically, Bree, Dawn Moore, Fox Van Allen, Anne Stickney, Olivia Grace, Alex Ziebart, Elizabeth Harper, Mike Sacco, Adam Holisky, Tyler Carraway, Allison Robert, Matthew Rossi, Michael Grey, Christian Belt, Dan Desmond and the slew of writers over the years I’m unable to through the tears that fall as I write this cannot remember at the moment:


You gave this former Sailor plenty to read, ponder, wander, respond to, write about and most importantly, enjoy about the very thing that has brought joy to my life: gaming.

Be well guys.

Iron-branded; or, adventuring through the beautiful lands of Draenor in Warcraft’s latest knock-out expansion


Ten years. Ten wonderful years of ups, downs, achievements, boss kills, epic story and the endless cycle of loot-hunting.

I’ve happily been a member of the World of Warcraft community in eight of those ten years having started in the second half of The Burning Crusade, the first full expansion to Blizzard Entertainment’s wildly successful MMO.

It goes without saying that because my birthday was two weeks ago, I spent every free waking moment when not working or studying delving into Warcraft’s fifth expansion, Warlords of Draenor, suffering through latency and douchebag-instigated DDoS-ing that caused the entirety of Blizzard’s Battle.net servers to shut down, preventing scores of players from accessing the game, not to mention the massive queues that riddled servers of even moderate to low player populations. A review of the game is challenging considering an MMO comes in parts or stages. And an MMO that’s ten years old definitely needs to be sliced into different equally delicious portions of the celebratory cake.

Questing opens up a story filled with triumph, heartache, loss and hopenagrandfinale

(NOTE: As a discussion of the story is necessary in this write-up, insert appropriate *Spoiler Alert* warning here…)

I had the joy of experiencing the game on both sides; Horde side during beta testing, and Alliance on live. For Lorewalkers such as myself, it’s the only way to play the game. Questing through old world Draenor in short was AMAZING. When the concept of Warlords was first revealed at BlizzCon 2013, acceptance at the direction came with slight hesitation not just by me, but by a vast majority of attendees as well as online enthusiasts of the game. “Time travel…how original.”

But I can see why such a concept was so controversial, because it would mean going back to a zone we had previously conquered to a time before it was necessary to conquer it. The immediate notion of reusing or rehashing old environments for new quests seemed rather lazy based solely off what we were shown.

But over time, we learned that Dreanor was NOT the Outlands as we knew it from The Burning Crusade expansion. The zone was entirely redone, from concept to art to environment. Even some of the wildlife (Talbuks, Clefthoof, etc…) saw some artistic updates.

So, story….


The dark portal has changed. Something changed. Prior to go time, the color of the portal in the Blasted Lands changed from the eery booger-colored tinge of the fel green magic that had once powered it to the now seen red. Phasing technology took over the zone to show it had been taken over by an army of Iron Horde orcs and prior to launch, it was our job to assess the situation.

Into the portal we went with the help of Thrall (our usual hero), Maraad, Khadgar, and the armies of both the Horde and the Alliance. Our job: to stop the Iron Horde from coming to Azeroth who had usurped the Burning Legion that had previously used the portal to come into the world in its quest for domination.

Why the portal? Why the Iron Horde? What happened to the Burning Legion? What happened to Garrosh Hellscream, the royal douchebag who was the final boss of Mists of Pandaria?

All questions answered as one quests to the now current cap level of 100, with the exception of Garrosh’s escape. If one has neglected their assigned reading, they missed this story in Christie Golden’s illuminating War Crimes, which details the events of Garrosh’s trial post-Siege Of Orgrimmar and subsequent escape.

The short spoilerific skinny of it: Garrosh was in cahoots with a rogue bronze dragonflighter, who ultimately was a member of the Infinite dragonflight (the tea-party of the Bronze flight so to speak). During a commotion at the trial, the two escaped and traveled back in time and place where Garrosh was coerced into changing the destiny of the Orcs by convincing his father, Grommash, NOT to drink the blood of Mannoroth, the powerful Burning Legion pitlord, the blood of which consumed the Orc race turning them into a wild pack of Cujos killing everything in sight.

What we experience in questing is the result of the change that occurred by manipulating that one moment in time. What we also experience is the rise in new heroes and the sacrifices made by ones we’ve known or known about for awhile.


I won’t go too much further into detail (play the game!), but I will note something of particular interest. The crafting and development of Yrel a female Draenei paladin who seems to be the hero the Alliance had been shouting for to fight alongside Thrall (something about the whole supporting a former Horde leader that Alliance players found jarring during both Cataclysm and Mists of Pandaria). Unlike Varian Wrynn, the official Alliance leader, Yrel’s rise is one of sacrifice (by her and for her by others), determination, and devotion to her people. She makes an excellent counterpart to Thrall who was once a leader, but stood down when the need arose for a champion to lead Azeroth’s combined forces against a global threat. What is most intriguing is the care and attention paid to her development and it’s really one of the best storylines I’ve seen in game in a long time if only for the fact that the game needed a really strong female character. Rather than just placating Jaina into that role (which they could have done excellently in Mists of Pandaria, but then fell completely flat), they decided a new character was needed and saw Yrel’s development through. There was a moment when the notable Avenger’s Wings, a paladin ability for which Yrel made excellent use, made an appearance during a battle and I was actually “Fuck yeah!”-ing in my chair. I think it’s safe to say that we’ll likely see an upsurge in the number of players opting for Draenei Paladins during questing.

Which leads me to the conclusion of the story. Props must be given to the designers, story developers and the cinematics team for expertly interweaving typical questing, scenario experiences, and cinematics to reveal some of the more major plotlines throughout the questing game, the pinnacle being the grand finale in Nagrand. This features a battle between Thrall and Garrosh that is haunting, stoic, epic, brutal, and ultimately satisfying in every way from the story itself to the music and the animation.

And this is just the start of the expansion. Where we go from here will be seen and experienced in the endgame raids currently open and set to open in future patches. Ultimately the timeline has changed and we’ll be spending the next few patches and later expansions trying to figure out the ramifications of that change because the implications are rather extensive (for example the Burning Legion is stopped by the Iron Horde, and without the influence of Mannoroth’s blood, who was killed in the game trailer, that won’t stop the Legion from finding other ways to Azeroth). As a bronze dragonflighter would say, only time will tell.

Exploration is just as equally lucrative as questing


There are vast lands to explore on Draenor. Whether you’re a Horde member starting in the cold, snow-covered lands of Frostfire Ridge, or an Alliance member trekking through the darkglow of Shadowmoon Valley, there are rewards for actually taking the time to explore the map.

Expanding off the idea we saw at work on the Timeless Isle during the latter half of Mists of Pandaria, throughout each zone is an array of treasures and rare mobs (some of which are named after a few of Blizzard’s employees and prominent community members, like the photo above) to be found, killed, or simply discovered. Rewards range from simple gold to on-use toys and companion pets, to even rare quality gear. All one has to do is mount up and roam around. It’s easier and most effective to do this as you level, because often the gear rewards are at the level of that zone and would be useful for questing.

What’s also interesting to note is the randomness of the gear. Unlike previous expansions where a rare mob was often killed and on a particularly long respawn timer, rare mobs in Draenor respawn within a 2-3 minutes of their kill, AND everyone participating in its demise are rewarded (the exception being a few of the larger more powerful rares and world bosses). The randomness comes into the quality level of the gear. Where one person gets a rare level gear item (blue) someone else could get an epic level (purple) version of that same gear item from the same mob they defeated. And that randomness carries onto the quest rewards, which often were subject to an internal roll for the quality level and could be the rewarded level, or an upgraded version when actually obtained by the player. Ultimately, it makes for a more exciting reward experience, especially in the later questing zones of Spires of Arak and Nagrand where heroic/mythic raiders begin replacing their gear from the previous expansion. I made it to level 98 before I saw my first gear replacement (which is pretty cool as far as time investment goes on what it took to get that gear in Seige of Orgrimmar).

Garrisons bring the RTS resource management flair into the perpetual online realm


I’ve always respected Blizzard for not giving in to the whims of the player base and doing what it feels is best for the game. When it comes to the subject of player housing, this is arguably among the most requested game features based on the offerings of Warcraft’s competitor MMOs like Rift, Star Wars the Old Republic, and Lord of the Rings Online. Players want it, Blizzard doesn’t want to devote precious resources to developing it, which is understandable because you’re asking the company to develop a player space for its VAST following (aforementioned games that offer player housing tend to have a smaller pool of subscribers where housing could be feasible). So the compromise is ultimately what we see in game now in the form of Garrisons.

As far as personal space goes, Blizzard dabbled in the idea in Mists of Pandaria with its respective version of Farmville over in Halfhill in Valley of the Four Winds. Where players simply had an instanced farm and tended to it for various in-game resources, garrisons expand on that notion by building an entire base complete with military forces, trade skill practitioners, and resource gatherers. What makes this work is Blizzard’s idea of exposing the player to the garrison concept early, as in, the first thing you do while questing is secure a foothold in this strange new world. Throughout questing, players are asked to keep attending to their garrison offering periodic upgrades and rewards. At cap level, players then work to fully expand their keep by building and upgrading various workshops to entertain profession progression and other useful trade skills. On top of that…in each zone, a player is asked to decide what type of structure should be constructed with each offering various zone-wide benefits (like being able to ride a Talbuk or Frostwolf in and out of combat in Nagrand, for example). That structure then becomes an access point for players to continue managing their followers at local command tables.

Followers also add to the garrison. Throughout the questing experience, a player gains followers they can use for follower missions as well as assigning them to their respective trade skill structure in the garrison. Other followers can be gained through achievements, reputation grinds and contract purchases, as well as other side quests and feats which includes the updated Brawler’s Guild (Meatball can be gained after defeating him at the end of Rank 4 in the Brawler’s Guild). Like gear, followers have a quality level that when upgraded, gain special abilities that enable them to do more and complete more challenging missions. Some followers can be gained at epic level (like gear, randomly selected upon actually obtaining said follower), which fully unlocks all their abilities, while others at uncommon and rare quality will have limited abilities. Followers need to be leveled like actual players and then upgraded from uncommon green to epic purple quality, all of which is completed by managing and tracking their missions at a command table. Various mission encounters lay out which type of follower will be needed and assesses their chance percentage at successfully completing it. Essentially, the quicker the mission timer, the lesser the reward, and the longer the timer, the more lucrative the reward.

Between follower missions, building construction, and daily quests offered by the NPCs within their respective areas, garrisons managed to pull off something magical, a full immersion of the story and a element of progression that extends beyond the simple gear-more-leet-gear cycle that was once a staple of progression in Warcraft. Players feel as if their influence in the game is increasing as you go from commander of a small party, to a full on general (Alliance side at least) when town hall hits tier three.

The 5-Man Dungeons step up their game in mechanics



As with every new expansion a slew of new 5-man dungeons offer the first step in a journey toward boss-killin’ badassness in the larger raids (raids of which only one is currently available – Highmaul – but others are set to be out in the coming months). But as the story goes with every set of 5-mans, the heroic level ones remain a challenge in the beginning and then teeter off into mass-pull merry-go-rounds courtesy of better gear as the expansion moves along. The cool thing about the current dungeon bosses is the lifetime expectancy is extended somewhat by way of clever mechanics not only on trash mobs, but bosses as well. An experienced group will crowd-control certain mobs and kill others and move along quickly, while the Looking For Dungeon groups (which tends to be a painful experience) will be more challenging. Currently, my favorite dungeon is the Shadowmoon Burial Grounds, which has some familiar-style bosses and mechanics, not to mention the look and feel of the place, all purpley and shadowy. Iron Docks is also fun if only because players get to play engineer and launch some deadly iron stars!

Gear and Stats get the Diablo randomocity treatment

Yes, randomocity is a word. Because I say so.

What makes Diablo a great, repeatable dungeon crawler is the seemingly unending quest to obtain that PERFECT gear item. Stats are random, the quality is random, the cycle continues because there will always be the possibility to get a better piece. Upgrades often come in baby steps, but on occasion, one can see a huge leap with an amazing piece. As noted before, that starts with the questing process. Upon completing a quest, or killing a rare with a gear item drop, an internal roll occurs that determines the level of quality for the piece from uncommon to rare to epic. One can boost their chance at getting a rare or epic piece by constructing a Dwarven Bunker (Alliance side) or a War Mill (Horde side). Continuing from the regular to warforged quality randomization in the last tiers of Mists of Pandaria raiding, similar chances have been extended to the heroic 5-man dungeons.

The stat itemization was both simplified and rejiggered to increase the pool of possible loot drops as any combination of stats can exist on a piece (not to mention a chance at a gem socket for extra oomf). Prior to the launch of Warlords, players saw a much-needed simplification in stats that is now relegated to a core stat (i.e. strength for plate, agility for leather, intel for cloth and so on) and a combo of secondary, or tertiary, stats. My own observation saw myself getting a heroic warforged agility sword with crit and multistrike, while a guild member got a similar agility heroic warforged axe with haste and multistrike and a socket for a gem. The benefits of this system are two-fold. One that extends the shelf-life of raids in the neverending quest for a better gear piece, while the second is simultaneously rewarding players with minor upgrades or sidegrades for their effort should they not get exactly what they were shooting for. It’s likely that optimal stats won’t be fully assessed since the raids just opened up because beta testing was limited in the scope of testing such itemization and focused more on the functionality of the bosses and mechanics. As the adage goes, only time will tell.

Everything is just so preeeeettty……


The completely redone Draenor environment was just the tip of the iceberg as far as visuals go. The above shot is one of my favorite zones, the forrest autumn-feeling Spires of Arak, which boasts some of the most realistic and authentic sceneries of any MMO.


For months Blizzard had been teasing the revamped character model updates (some praised, some not). Personally I found most of the updates rather pleasing, especially the Orc model, which made them a bit more emotive, and the recently teased Blood Elf Model. As Alliance races go, I’m particularly fond of the Draenei updates which look softer and as equally emotive as the Orc model as well as the Dwarven models which no longer look as if they are constantly smelling a particularly odiferous pile of shit.

So where are we going from here?

Well, considering the normal timeline of releases for expansions, we’ll likely see this content for two years. So far, everything is shiny and new (but also really fun), and a lot of it has some longterm appeal. Really, garrisons though…incredibly addictive fun. Fun I hope translates into an equally immersive mobile experience via the WoW mobile app. I mean, c’mon – how cool would it be to manage follower missions and garrison upkeep from your phone?

And after ten wonderfully-Warcrafty years I have just one thing to say to you, Blizzard:

Thank you.

Here’s to another ten years — and in the spirit of that, a re-sharing of my personal experience with Warcraft.

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