At a meeting in 2012, long before 40-year-old Omeed Dariani became one of the most powerful gamer managers on Earth, he wrote a single, foreboding sentence in his notebook: “Figure out Twitch.”
These were the halcyon days of video game influencers, a few short years before Twitch started bringing in as many viewers as MSNBC and CNN, and Dariani was brought on board as a senior global brand manager at Sony Online Entertainment to get the company’s massive games library into the hands of an insurgent, enigmatic group of internet creators. Partnerships like that are commonplace in 2019, but in those days, Dariani didn’t have a precedent to work from. He remembers sending hundreds of emails to every streamer he could find, with the hope of establishing some inaugural deals in a brave new world. Dariani was stonewalled, receiving around 10 actual responses. Some video game streamers said they’d play Sony games for $25,000, some said they’d do it for free, and some left their emails unanswered. There was no rhyme or reason, no institutions, no rules.
“The [amount of money people were asking to stream games] was completely random. I was like, ‘What is going on?'” he remembered. A year later, Dariani set up a mixer at PAX and got his answer.
“That’s how I met a couple of our first clients. As I got to know them, they were telling me, ‘Look, it’s really difficult to connect with the companies we want to work with, we don’t know anybody, I’m just a guy who lives in Florida,'” he said. “They didn’t know how to review contracts, they weren’t lawyers or business people, they didn’t know what to charge for anything, they were terrified. … I was like, holy crap. We started doing more deals with content creators, and I saw how often they were getting massively ripped off. [They were] signing contracts where they lost tons of their rights, with the companies taking huge amounts of the money. It really pissed me off. After I left Sony, a couple of them suggested, ‘Hey, maybe you could manage us.'”
Today, Dariani is the owner of the Online Performers Group, which he claims is the first-ever talent management firm explicitly designed for people who record themselves playing video games professionally. Scroll through the clients’ page and you’ll find movers and shakers like CohhCarnage, Ellohime, and Angry Joe. The company promises to unlock promotional opportunities and sponsorships for anyone under its banner, but services also encompass quality-of-life support with taxes and event scheduling.
Essentially, Dariani wants to help professional gamers maximize their value while removing as many unnecessary burdens from their plates as possible. The way he talks about it, OPG sounds like a traditional Hollywood power broker. He stocks a huge waiting list of up-and-comers, and many of his new clients are recruited from referrals–just like Creative Artists Agency, William Morris, or any other giant in the representation business.
“Literally five minutes ago I got an email from a content creator looking to be represented,” Dariani said. “They’re probably way too small, but we get about five to 10 of those a day.”
In that sense, Dariani’s goal is to add a baseline of stability to the business of influencer marketing in professional gaming, but he’d also be the first one to admit that there’s still a long way to go.
For instance, battle royale wunderkinds Shroud and Ninja have two of the highest-trafficked channels on Twitch, and they’re represented by Loaded, a talent agency built last year by Brandon Freytag, who also takes the reins for other all-stars like Lirik, Summit1G, and AnneMunition. The aforementioned Creative Artists Agency, a legendary firm that names both Jennifer Aniston and J.J. Abrams among its clients, inked a groundbreaking deal with Dr.Disrespect, an FPS streamer known for performing on Twitch entirely in his own WWE-like character, back in January. What about United Talent Agency? It works with League of Legends pros Aphromoo and sOAZ, as well as Angelina Jolie. William Morris? It has mega-YouTuber JackSepticEye.
The feeding frenzy is on, which is funny because, in so many ways, the mainstream media is still trying to untangle how Twitch stardom actually works. A considerable amount of the heavy lifting done by Twitch and YouTube managers and agencies is the negotiating of brand deals for influencers, but that requires the translation of an entire culture for a third-party company outside of the games industry. It’s a problem that Piotr Bombol, the CEO of the Polish gaming marketing agency Gameset, runs into over and over again. His job is to help companies market themselves through gaming influencers, and he’s quickly learned that the old-school calculus of marketing simply doesn’t work in new media.
It’s truly bizarre to live in a world where full-time streamers can be categorized as a part of mainstream pop culture, but what fans don’t know is how much of that momentum is orchestrated from behind the scenes.
“When you’re a brand, and you’re working with an influencer, you’re paying for a result. You want your brand exposed to the community for a specific time, and then you get views or clicks,” Bombol said. “So if you ask an influencer, ‘Okay, let’s do a campaign. We want you to do a couple of videos, with one million views, and 10,000 clicks on the link, the influencer will say, ‘I can’t guarantee you that. I can make the video, but I can’t guarantee you that.’ There’s a risk. And the risk falls on the agency. So the agency says, ‘Okay, we’ll get these results.’ And when you don’t get the results, the agency needs to come to the client and say, ‘Eh, we didn’t make it, but it happens.'”
Dariani reported the same problems. So many brands apply television logic to Twitch; they desperately want to tap into a young, agile scene of gamers, but they have a hard time understanding the value of what they’re paying for. The profit propositions of, say, a Tom Cruise product placement spot were decided upon decades ago. Twitch, though? That’s the Wild West, and a lot of the offers that come across Dariani’s desk are hopelessly out of touch.
“It really comes down to how savvy a company is with Twitch,” he said. “There are definitely times where we have to do a hand-holding process for how things work. A lot of times we’ll have companies say, ‘Can we just have him stream this thing for like 10 minutes?’ Well, on Twitch something that happens for 10 minutes isn’t very meaningful. Or, ‘Could he just tweet about this thing 350 times?’ Well, no, that’s a lot [of tweets]. … Our clients turn down 90 percent of the things that come in, because the company is asking for things that are basically impossible. If you do it, it’s gonna fail, and nobody is going to be happy.”
Bombol said he’s searching for a holy grail. Nobody has yet figured out the perfect model to capitalize on Twitch celebrity. Right now, every agency and management firm involved is in an endless troubleshooting phase–figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and constructing all the norms on the fly. In many ways, Dariani thinks things haven’t come much further from the mixer he threw seven years ago, filled to the brim with newly-minted internet celebrities who had no idea how to organize their affairs. “They tend to be a little sharper [now], a lot more cautious about entering into things, but we still see things all the time that scare me,” he said. “We have a contract. It’s a pretty liberal, generous contract, and we still tell people, ‘Please have your lawyer look at this before you sign it,’ … The amount of times that somebody will say, ‘Oh, so-and-so said you were good so I know that you’re good.’ I’m like, ‘Are you kidding? We could’ve put anything in there!'”
Danotage, a streamer managed by OPG, echoed the same sentiment. He said he’s “constantly paranoid about doing something stupid,” and values the chance to have the safety net his management team represents that he can bounce off of if anything goes wrong. “I am able to get honest and useful information on whether it’s crazy, or just crazy enough to work,” Danotage explained. “This has helped me to drive innovation and mature as a member of the internet video game streaming business in a positive and focused direction.”
“This infrastructure for agencies and management offices for streamers is quite bare,” he added. “It is getting better, but like Hollywood, this business is extremely terrifying to most. So in order for people to become more comfortable with the business, I think it is incredibly important to have a broad infrastructure because it should allow shady companies to be held under scrutiny by their peers.”
Nobody has yet figured out the perfect model to capitalize on Twitch celebrity. Right now, every agency and management firm involved is in an endless troubleshooting phase–figuring out what works, what doesn’t, and constructing all the norms on the fly.
Twitch existed for years without a formal network of talent management, so the infrastructure is still racing to catch up. Dariani compares it to the NBA. When a player gets drafted into the league, they’re usually already equipped with an agent and a lawyer, they’re immediately injected into an ecosystem full of public relations professionals, and they have a coaching staff continually looking over their shoulders. All of those forces are built to catch and temper burgeoning celebrity. Those functions just don’t exist for video game influencers yet.
“It even happens in the NBA 2K games!” he exclaimed. “You meet your press handler, you meet your concierge, you meet your support structure that will keep you out of trouble and make sure that you’re fine. And that’s huge for an 18-year old kid who gets a million-dollar check. It’s the same thing if you get cast in a movie. The production company will say to you, ‘If you’re going to be in this movie, you need a manager. Here are 20 guys.’ That hasn’t existed in this industry. People are operating in a vacuum.”
“Brad Pitt didn’t become Brad Pitt all on his own,” finishes Dariani. “It’s mind-blowing to see somebody who has millions of followers that doesn’t have anyone helping them. No matter how good you are, you’re just one person.”
The person will supervise a team of about twenty developers, offer technical solutions for the projects that are under-development and the upcoming ones, and set up a technological strategy for the studio. …
When it came to telling the life story of WWE Superstar Paige on the big screen, it would have been nearly impossible to complete the movie Fighting with My Family without recreating one of the most memorable moments in WWE Raw history. It was April 7, the night after Wrestlemania XXX, when Paige made her main roster debut and–shockingly–captured the WWE Divas Championship in her first match, dethroning reigning champion AJ Lee.
To capture that moment on film, Fighting with My Family director Stephen Merchant worked with producer–and former WWE superstar–Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson to actually film the scene live in front of a rowdy WWE crowd in Los Angeles, which is detailed in the exclusive clip above from the movie’s digital release. “When I got the job, Stephen met me for breakfast just to basically sit me down and say, ‘You will be wrestling in the Staples Center pretty soon, in front of a live audience,'” the movie’s star Florence Pugh remembers.
To pull off the visually impressive moment, Merchant and the film’s production team was given one hour with the Raw audience, following the conclusion of an episode. While wrangling a massive group of WWE fans after a three-hour TV taping would normally be an uphill battle, the movie had an ace up its sleeve in The Rock.
“Dwayne came down, he was going to emcee the event,” Merchant recalls. “I said to him, ‘Please don’t get carried away when you get in the ring because we’ve only got an hour.’ Then he goes out there, and he does 20 minutes on the mic. He’s talking to the fans, doing his catchphrases. ‘Can you smell…'” Finally, though, Johnson took his leave from the ring and let Pugh and her co-star Thea Trinidad–otherwise known as WWE’s Zelina Vega–film their championship match.
For Pugh, it was a truly memorable moment. “Before I went on, I remember just putting my hand on the wall and the wall [was] just throbbing, honest to God,” the actress said. “I had never heard that many people before in one space.”
Now the moment will live forever in Fighting with My Family, which is available digitally now and hits Blu-ray on May 14.
Warning: This post is going to completely spoil Game of Thrones Season 8, Episode 3. You might want to wait to read it if you haven’t already watched.
The third episode of Game of Thrones Season 8, The Long Night, upended a lot of expectations. The Night King‘s attack on Winterfell was met by the combined forces of the living, including Daenerys and her dragons, the North, the Dothraki, and the Unsullied. Prophecies and plot lines were drawn to their conclusions, and things we’ve been expecting to happen finally did–but not always in the ways the show has hinted they might.
The big twist was that it wasn’t Jon Snow or Daenerys who wound up killing the Night King in the final battle. The pair have been the subject of all kinds of speculation about which of them (among several other characters) might be the reborn Azor Ahai, the Prince That Was Promised, destined to defeat the Night King and the White Walkers. Melisandre resurrected Jon in Season 6 because she believed he was Azor Ahai; in Season 7, Missandei corrected a gender-related mistranslation from the prophecy, suggesting it could be Daenerys. And then, at the end of The Long Night, Arya Stark stepped up without a shred of prophecy behing her and offed the Night King in one killer move.
Arya leaping through the air to bring down the scariest baddie in all of Westeros seems like a clear choice in retrospect–after all, she’s been training in the art of being an underestimated small-fry killing machine for literally years at this point–but that didn’t stop some people on the internet from taking issue. In the aftermath of The Long Night, a discussion popped up in which some complained about Arya’s victory (which is probably the smartest thing about an otherwise messy episode, as GameSpot’s Mike Rougeau noted in his review). Some derided Arya as a “Mary Sue,” implying that her victory against the Night King was unearned.
If you’re unfamiliar with “Mary Sue,” it’s a term coined way back in the 1970s from the world of Star Trek fanfiction. In 1973, Paula Smith used the name in a parody story satirizing some of the stories submitted to her Star Trek fanzine. Mary Sue came to refer to a protagonist character who would show up in the story with no flaws and who was instantly great at anything they tried to do, and mainly served as an insert for the author to live out fantasies of joining the Star Trek crew and hanging out with (and/or romancing) the series’ stars.
Lately, the wider usage of Mary Sue has evolved to be any character who’s always just good at everything and who seemingly has no flaws. The author insert idea doesn’t really fit the current usage since the term is usually applied to TV shows and movies; it’s more akin to deus ex machina, where someone or something appears to magically or easily solve the problem of a plot, rather than the characters in the story doing so through conflict and growth. And since the term Mary Sue was tossed around in relationship to protagonist Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it has popped up in online discussions with a decidedly sexist tinge–men don’t generally get called Mary Sues, only women (even though a lot of male heroes ought to fall into that category).
So calling Arya a Mary Sue is saying that she’s more of a plot tool than a character in the battle against the Night King, while implying that she’s the sort of character who is “good at everything” without having “earned” those capabilities, partially (or wholly) because she’s a woman. It’s an incredibly stupid argument if you think about Arya Stark’s journey through all of Game of Thrones for even a second.
Nobody has earned their skills in Game of Thrones the way Arya has. She has literally been training to be a fighter and assassin since the very first season, as a child. Arya was a talented archer at a young age, but she trained in swordplay with Syrio Forel, the former First Sword of Braavos, way back in Season 1. She learned more about fighting while traveling with the Hound, one of the toughest warriors in Westeros, in Season 4. And then she studied abroad at Getting-Awesome-At-Killing-People School, the House of Black and White, in Braavos.
Arya earned her killer skills through observation, hard-won victories, and brutal training. She practiced her “water dancing” combat style every single day while on the road with the Hound. She learned to fight the waif while blind. She escaped assassination after getting stabbed–repeatedly. It took seven full seasons for Arya to become the warrior she is, and we’ve watched every step. That’s more than can be said for any other character in Game of Thrones, and in many other shows and movies besides.
Obviously, Arya isn’t a Mary Sue, and to throw the term around in relation to this week’s episode is a complete misunderstanding of her character and the work that has gone into her story, the events that happened in The Long Night, and the term itself. There isn’t a character who has come further or earned her position and skills more than Arya Stark. That she was the one to kill the Night King is, in hindsight, a great culmination of her arc, and maybe the smartest decision made for this episode. If you watched the last seven seasons of Game of Thrones, it should be clear to you that there’s no reason to label Arya Stark a Mary Sue. So if you’re really still upset that the toughest woman in Westeros took down the show’s biggest bad guy, you should take a long, hard look at your own biases and seriously rethink that position.
Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice is barely a month old, but as usual your patience has already been rewarded if you waited for a deal. It’s already down to $45 on Amazon in the US, for the PS4 and Xbox One versions. Amazon’s sale prices come and go rather quickly, so if you want in on the deal you should probably grab it to be on the safe side.
This marks the lowest price we’ve seen on consoles so far, and even cheaper than a recent Newegg sale price. Some brick-and-mortar retailers have also been known to price-match Amazon, if you’d rather pick it up yourself, but call ahead first.
Sekiro is the latest From Software title, following up on hits like Dark Souls and Bloodborne. The studio has gained a reputation for the genre it helped shape–nicknamed “Soulsbornes.” Their games (and now, many imitators) make a point of tough combat and resource scarcity to instill a feeling of accomplishment. Sekiro is in the same vein as its predecessors, so be ready to die a lot if you take the plunge.
The game had a strong start in sales, hitting 2 million copies in just its first ten days. That’s a big accomplishment for a new franchise in a genre that is known for being niche and putting off some players. While From is committed to maintaining its challenge, it did recently issue a balance patch aimed at encouraging use of the full suite of tools.
“The orchestration of intense one-on-one boss encounters that truly test your mettle, and slower-paced stealth sections that let you take on battles at your own pace, is masterful,” Tamoor Hussain said in GameSpot’s review. “More so than in previous games, From Software has honed in on the inherent tension found in the challenging nature of its games, and uses it to incredible effect. Sekiro marries the developer’s unique brand of gameplay with stealth action to deliver an experience that is as challenging as it is gratifying.”