Content exclusivity is more or less a given right in the modern world. But it is practically non-existent in the professional Dota 2 scene. Now, the latest feud between Kyle “Kyle” Freedman and Henrik “AdmiralBulldog” Ahnberg has added more fuel to the fire.
How It All Began
It all started back in January 2018. There was some controversy surrounding ESL One Genting. Popular streamers like AdmiralBulldog were casting official games on their stream. ESL stepped in and issued him (as well as the other streamers) a DMCA notice, claiming the content was exclusive.
Valve released a statement declaring that no one besides them can send DMCA notices for games footage captured on the spectator feature within the client. It’s different if the streamer uses a broadcasters’ unique content (camera movements, voice, etc.). But that wasn’t the case in this incident.
They also mentioned the broadcasting guidelines were flexible on purpose to allow up and coming casters and community figures to stream game footage captured within the client. However, they did mention it wasn’t a license for smaller commercial organizations like Beyond The Summit to compete with an event’s primary stream. And if that happens, Valve will intervene and decide whether a violation has occurred.
Kyle chimed in on the issue during an interview back in February this year. He said the lack of content exclusivity in Dota 2 is a problem and believes the game will struggle to survive if tournament organizers aren’t able to reap the benefits of the services they provide.
He also claimed popular streamers like AdmiralBulldog are no different to small commercial organizations and shouldn’t be an exception, which is debatable. There was a bit of backlash at the time. But for the most part, the hatchet was buried. No rules were broken and the streams were allowed to continue.
How It Reignited
A few days ago, Kyle expanded on his views again during WePlay! Pushka League.
“It’s become a little frustrating for me to see the same huge personalities with massive followings that are doing very well for themselves, consistently stream and cast every single day of the tournament,” he said.
He said he can’t fault them for doing it. But claimed the lack of content exclusivity means tournament organizers are losing around 30-40% of their revenue, which is a bit extreme. They might lose some revenue. But it seems unlikely that it would be as much as 30-40%.
AdmiralBulldog was quick to respond. He said Kyle’s opinion was “the dumbest most misinformed comment I think I ever heard” and claimed there was no way the primary stream would generate 40% more revenue in the absence of his own. The first part is a little harsh. And that’s probably why the Tweet has since been deleted. But he’s not wrong to question the figures.
This sparked a lot of discussion on the /r/dota2 subreddit. After all, there are two sides to every issue. On one hand, people feel that content exclusivity is important and a better system needs to be put in place to make keep tournament organizers interested and willing to invest. But on the other hand, people believe streamers and their communities are the heart and soul of Dota. If they want to watch their favourite streamer cast games and it’s not impeding with the broadcasting guidelines, then so be it.
Kyle responded earlier today in a lengthy post. “Tournament organizers incur costs in the hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars to host every event,” he said. “They’re responsible for the production, talent, location scouting, flights, visas, hotels, pcs, catering, security, internet, power, backup generators, insurance, venue fees, prize winnings, along with the wages for hundreds of unseen staff making things work.”
Essentially what he’s saying is that, in order for an esports tournament to be successful, it needs a tournament organizer behind it. Typically, a reputable esports and production company like Dreamhack, ESL, MDL, OGA, and WePlay! to name a few.
But those companies need an incentive to do so. And that incentive is revenue, which can be generated in many ways. He believes the most important ways are through viewerships, sponsorships and content exclusivity.
Point 1: Viewership
The first point Kyle makes is about viewership. “If a tournament organizer had the exclusive right to broadcast live matches from their event, the viewership on monetized platforms would increase,” he said. “Maybe by only 10 people. 100. 10,000. Who knows. Who cares.”
I understand his point. Naturally, having exclusive rights to broadcast matches means a tournament organizer will see an increase in viewership, no matter how big or small. The number itself is beside the point. It’s more about the extra incentive of having content exclusivity. The increase in viewership is a bonus. But it’s something a tournament organizer should be entitled to since they made the tournament possible in the first place.
Point 2: Sponsorships
The second point Kyle makes is about sponsorships. “Imagine how difficult it is to have a conversation with a marketing executive from Monster, explaining that you can’t do a goddamn thing about the live streamer with 10,000 viewers displaying a Red Bull logo on stream even though Monster paid you six figures to sponsor the event,” he said.
Again, it’s a logical point that makes a lot of sense. Put yourself in the shoes of a potential sponsor. How would you feel if you paid a lot of money to sponsor an event, only to see a competitor reap the benefits by endorsing a popular streamer for a fraction of the cost?
Sure, you could say it was a better business decision. But it’s not something that happens in the world of professional sports. So why should esports be any different? There is less incentive for potential sponsors to support tournament organizers. But content exclusivity would change that and make sponsorships all the more valuable.
It All Comes Back To Content Exclusivity
Content exclusivity is vital because it lets tournament organizers monetize their content. “The idea is that if you have the sole rights to your content, you can sell them,” said Kyle. “That’s why it’s valuable.”
To demonstrate his point, Kyle refers to a ninety million dollar content exclusivity deal made between Blizzard and Twitch to grant them exclusive broadcasting rights to the Overwatch League.
Now, a little over two years later, Blizzard struck a new content exclusivity deal with YouTube. It is estimated to be worth around 160 million dollars over three years. And it means all their games, including the Overwatch League, Call of Duty League and Hearthstone Master Tour, will be exclusive to YouTube.
One could argue that content exclusivity could have contributed to the decline in viewership. And that might be true. But the millions of dollars that supported these games wouldn’t have been there without it.
Dota 2 has survived the test of time due to its passionate fanbase. But a time will come where that won’t be enough. And that time might be now. I mean, it costs a lot of money to host one tournament, let alone an entire season. If companies are not allowed to maximize their profits after investing in the scene, what reason do they have to keep coming back?
Nobody complains about content exclusivity in other esports. And they sure as hell don’t complain when it comes to traditional sports. It’s accepted as the norm. So why should Dota 2 be any different? I think that’s the point Kyle is trying to make. And it’s one that I agree with.
Still, Kyle managed to throw AdmiralBulldog and his passionate fanbase some shade.
“Henrik, I’m very happy that you have lots of fans, you deserve it,” he said. “You provide a great service to our community, as your stream is practically free daycare.”
AdmiralBulldog hasn’t responded yet. And he probably won’t, since he’s probably had enough of the drama. But at least his battle with Kyle has opened the door to more discussion about content exclusivity – which needs to be resolved once and for all.
Alex is a freelance writer based in Adelaide, Australia. He finished a law degree but realised it wasn't the career for him and decided to follow his dream of becoming a writer. Since then, he has finished two postgraduate writing degrees at Swinburne University of Technology. Now he writes about his other passion; esports and gaming.