Coping with coronavirus: Ashley Kang on changes in esports journalism

21 April 2020


Events of all shapes and sizes have been affected by the ongoing pandemic that is COVID-19. While many are celebrating esports as it can continue with tournaments due to the digital nature of the industry, so many people are still affected by the changes. From events staff, to photographers, to journalists, this is a tough time for many.

As part of our ongoing ‘Coping with coronavirus’ series, we spoke with Ashley Kang, Founder of Korizon, to get insight into how her work as a journalist and content creator has been impacted.

Ashley Kang Faker Interview
Screenshot via: Korizon

When your content plan involves interviewing players on a weekly basis at a league such as LCK, a major shift in how the event is carried out can be a challenge – to put it kindly. As Kang notes, she had to pivot quickly to ensure she’s meeting the regular output she had producing for months, though access to players proved to be an obstacle.

“My primary content is interviews and the interview format changed drastically with events being postponed without advanced notice,” explained Kang. “Not being at the venue means I can’t create secondary content too.”

“The LCK was postponed for at least one week because of the coronavirus and the situation deteriorated really fast, meaning creators had to adapt quickly as we rely on creating content and we often have set pipelines,” she continued.

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Making the best of a tough situation is hard but vital, especially when your livelihood depends on it. Having predominantly made a name for herself by making the LCK and its stars more accessible to the Western audience, it was unclear how viewers would take the change when Korizon started interviewing players from the LCS on a remote basis.

“I had to adapt, the LCK was postponed for four-to-six weeks so I tried to cover the LCS in the meantime,” she said. “This was a weird change to my viewers, who are 60 percent Korean, however, it allowed me to try different interview techniques because Western players respond differently to questions. I’ve expanded my horizons because of the situation.”

One positive to take from COVID-19, perhaps, is that people have had to think outside of the box when it comes to ensuring that business can continue. If a new approach proves to be successful, however, then there may be an expectancy for that to continue as things return to ‘normalcy.’

“Whenever the LCK is fully back on track, I only have enough mental space to cover one league,” Kang said. “Covering the LCS remotely has opened up possibilities though – say Korizon expands and we have another interviewer, we would definitely consider covering the LCS then as well.”

Ashley Kang Bang Interview
Screenshot via: Korizon

We’d be remiss to not think about how Korizon’s viewership has been affected. Not only has Kang’s coverage taken somewhat of a different direction, but there are a lot of people stuck in their homes looking to kill some time.

“I’d say viewership has gone down slightly, but not all teams have wanted to do remote interviews,” she explained. “Thankfully, T1, DragonX, and Gen.G are the top three teams in the LCK and have been open to doing video interviews – and we are also in discussions with other teams.

“Some of the content might drop in quality when done remotely, I gave up a few interviews because of bad internet connection” she added. “So while metrics may have dropped slightly, when the content is good and is released properly, some people actually prefer it more to my previous style of interviewing – it feels less rigid. I’d say the reaction has been about the same but there have been more hurdles as a creator.”

The lockdown may provide creators and businesses with some much-needed downtime to dive into analytics, helping them to better understand audiences – not only when it comes to the core demographic, but which content performs best and how this can be capitalised upon.

“This situation confirmed some of my suspicions on the LCK,” said Kang.” I have some theories about the number of Korean viewers and the number of Western viewers, and going remote has confirmed them. For the audience, surprisingly, nothing has changed much.”

Ashley Kang Teddy Interview
Screenshot via: Korizon

Having expanded upon the scope of coverage that Korizon is known for, Kang pivoted to the LCS to bolster her channel’s coverage – especially with the reluctance of many LCK teams on getting involved in remote interviews. Though Riot Games is undoubtedly involved in both leagues, there are differences in the teams operating the competitions and that itself could’ve presented a new obstacle.

“Two LCS teams reached out having seen my situation and asked if I wanted to do some LCS coverage,” she said. “Riot Games naturally got involved. They’ve been really accommodating with the idea of remote interviews and the teams have been welcoming also.”

Korizon is an independent venture by Kang, one that built up a name for itself rather quickly, but it doesn’t have the backing, personnel, and operational support of a major media conglomerate. Kang touched on whether the allure of such support and assistance has been amplified due to the struggle presented by COVID-19.

“I had been thinking about the implications of joining a publication full-time before coronavirus,” she explained. “There’s a bit of stability there and adapting to remote work was really stressful, I had to organise it all by myself.

“I did think ‘Hey, if I was doing everything as part of a publication, maybe it would be good,'” she continued. “It would be useful having help reaching out to teams and Riot Games, going through technical difficulties, and things like that, so I’ll always keep the conversation semi-open.”

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Without having been part of such a support system, it’s hard to really know the difference it can make to your operation. Kang effectively came onto the scene with Korizon, though she also works on a freelance basis with ESPN Esports and understands some of the benefits full-time employment can bring.

“I’ve never been a full-time journalist under a publication, because of that it’s hard to compare,” she said. “If I was an up-and-coming journalist and worked under a publication, there would be benefits like getting in touch with certain teams – having connections is a big thing in journalism.”

Regardless, Kang is going through this unprecedented and somewhat-unpredictable time alone – adapting as needed.

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