PlusHeart Issue #21 - Why does a fan care about FaZe stock?
A singular number going up and down, with the power to inspire anxiety among people who have no idea how it works.
PlusHeart is a newsletter about creating on the Internet, creating for passion, and the relationship between fans and creators. It explores Twitch, esports, fandoms, and other places where all these things intersect. Matt Demers writes it in between cups of tea.
Since the start of the pandemic, a lot of things have been going through a “vibe shift”, and esports hasn’t escaped that. In last week’s conversation with Trent, he told me that LAN competitions are "little injections of fuel" into an esports community, and it got me thinking of other things that might work the same way.
Hype is a strange thing to try to harness, because it’s not about providing something valuable to your audience; it’s making people think that something is important, even if it isn’t.
Esports stocks fall into this category because the average fan isn’t going to take part. Sure, there’s the whiz kid who’s mainlining /r/WallStreetBets, but the excitement over esports stocks is the same as NFTs: a fan is excited about the investment because it means that the company or community can use the resources to fuel better experiences.
I talk a lot about pro wrestling in this newsletter because I see a lot of similarities in how fans interact with involved companies. In this case, a direct analog between the stock price of your esports team is the television rating of your favourite wrestling show.
Because wrestling still operates on traditional TV, and because traditional TV has ratings, there’s a succinct report of success. This enables fans to celebrate their wins or their opponents’ losses, and gain fuel to make those opponents feel worse in the process. It’s similar to the console wars, where fans compare sales numbers, the number of exclusives a platform has, or how prominent their platform is in pop culture.
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What makes me uncomfortable about this is how little the fan ends up influencing these numbers, and how much it matters to them despite that disconnection. In the case of TV ratings, it relies on households reporting through Nielsen boxes, which the majority of online fans don’t have. If they’re watching it through a stream (or an illegal stream), they aren't affecting the rating at all, despite using them as a marker of success.
For the console wars, the development cycles of game companies and their ability to move product have nothing to do with the end user’s experience. If a fan has got their console, the ability to get another one doesn’t exactly mean much. With game exclusivity, the implication is that “better experiences only I can access means that people will have to buy my chosen console, which means more money, which means developers will see it as more valuable to develop for, which ensures my continued entertainment.”
I guess that chain of logic is the chief motivator here:
Other people are contributing or taking away money from the thing I love
Their confidence or doubt affects my continued enjoyment or generation of social currency. If the product goes away, that enjoyment stops
That success shows up in numbers that are easy to plot and follow; going up is good, going down is bad
If the number goes down too much, it might mean that the thing I like might not be able to continue operation
This is the kind of caveman brain process that I think is at work, even if the fan isn’t aware of it. Even if they aren’t buying or selling stocks, they are feeling that they are being affected by the people that are. Following these forces makes them feel like they’re taking part.
This might be an extension of the response that doomscrolling on Twitter gives to your brain, because it feels like you’re participating. Being aware feels like you’re doing work, and fighting for your side feels right, even if you aren’t contributing value to the overall war.
Bringing it back to esports, the irony is that the people affecting the price of FaZe’s stock might not even be people who know or care about esports. An investor’s goal is to earn as much money off their investment as possible, and they don't always invest in the culture of the company in the process.
This extends to how people report on the stock, as well: to a fan, it can feel like the sky is falling when news emerges of a stock price tanking, or worse, when people bet against the stock in the form of a short sell. It provokes that defensive “how could they not understand?” reaction that comes with emotional attachment: however, it’s likely the fan that is in a space they don’t belong.
This kind of doomerism expands and seeps its way into communities, and it acts like poison. This happened in wrestling, where online conversations stopped being about matches, and shifted to weekly ratings and what they meant for companies in general.
The ratings number for my company going up is good.
The ratings number for my company going down is bad.
Their ratings going up is bad, because it might take away from me.
Their ratings going down is amazing, because it means that their fans are dumb (just like I thought!), and are suffering. I should make sure they know for sure.
Making a false connection between ratings (or a stock price) and product quality ignores outside forces the average consumer can’t see. Suddenly, discourse becomes about how a player losing a tournament results in the stock losing value, which fuels further shit-flinging and arguments.
Even if the fan was having the exact same kind of fun as before, suddenly, they’re matching their enjoyment to that graph. They gain nothing, but lose something in the process.
My advice is for fans to be mindful of why they feel like this is so important. Again, I think that it comes back to people wanting the assurance that something they’re investing their passion into is going to be there for the long term. It feels personal, and it feels weighty.
This is not helped by the metagame of encompassing everything into a fandom, where it feels like a company’s success reflects on you. Feeling like you’ve invested time and effort into a place “for you” can feel like a waste if suddenly that goes away. However, it means that you likely need to reassess how much of your continued happiness is actively given away, rather than cultivated interally.
Simply: if you’re not an investor, you shouldn’t be caring too much about a team’s stock. Their product to the average esports consumer is the experiences they provide, and a company getting more money doesn’t always lead to more or improved experiences.
A company earns trust and goodwill from its fans by making them a priority. If a team knows its fans won’t leave if their experiences degrade, they’ll put their attention elsewhere. If a team or company stops giving you valuable experiences and stops respecting you as a person, you need to have the confidence to put your attention elsewhere, too.
That can be difficult, but it’s very much worth it.
Next week will be another audio issue, this time with someone a bit more focused on design and fashion. I’m excited to see what you guys think.
Thanks for the support; Patreon is still the best way to help me out a little more.
Cover photo by Alesia Kozik.