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June 7, 2017, 12:15 p.m.
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LINK: www.polygon.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Shan Wang   |   June 7, 2017

SB Nation grew from an Oakland Athletics blog, started in 2003 by Tyler Bleszinski (a Vox Media co-founder) to address what he felt was a lack of coverage that satisfied an actual A’s fans. The SB Nation network now includes more than 300 sites, centered around individual teams.

Now Vox Media’s gaming site Polygon is taking the fan-centric strategy to its gaming coverage: It’s launching The Flying Courier to cover Dota 2 and Heroes Never Die to cover Overwatch, and is relaunching The Rift Herald, a League of Legends-focused site it first piloted as part of the SB Nation network.

(These are games I admittedly know nothing about, but I’m impressed the scale of the fandom around them. My colleague Ricardo Bilton pointed out to me that the most-watched games on Twitch all number in the millions of hours.)

It’s a strategy that’s been cooking since Polygon editor-in-chief Chris Grant pitched Polygon to Vox back in 2011 (Polygon launched in 2012 as Vox’s third vertical). In a post announcing the launches, Grant described the origins:

We decided, instead of starting with the “team sites” as SB Nation had done, we’d start with the parent site and work our way back into those communities. And with that, Polygon launched nearly five years ago.

So yes, it’s taken us slightly longer than anticipated to get back to that initial goal, but we’re finally here. We piloted the model with The Rift Herald last year, quickly spinning up a League of Legends community at SB Nation, with the goal of validating the concept. It’s a video game. It’s a sport. It was a great match. And it proved to be more successful, and even more quickly, than we had planned.

We’re excited to have a great team leading up these sites, starting with Julia Lee (@dahrae_) at The Rift Herald; Victoria Rose (@riningear) at The Flying Courier; and Cass Marshall (@RequineGG) at Heroes Never Die. They’ll be joined by contributors Ryan Gilliam, Austen Goslin and plenty of familiar bylines from Polygon.

(Both Victoria Rose and Cass Marshall are new hires, and Julia Lee had previously been writing for The Rift Herald as an intern.)

I asked Grant how Polygon will determine what games are big enough (and who gets to define “big enough”) that they demand their own dedicated sites, and he cited the fan community as a major factor: “We’re interested in serving audiences that are already invested in their games,” he told me. “A passionate fan community is a required ingredient.” He told me via Twitter DM:

While every video game publisher insists their new game is “definitely an esport,” we’re waiting for the audiences to profess their affinity first. So yeah, that means Twitch activity. That means Reddit popularity. That means our own staff realizing we can’t get as far in the weeds on Polygon as the game’s audience might want. Overwatch is a great example of this right now. We could cover so much more in the world of Overwatch, but Polygon isn’t the right place for that amount of daily coverage. Heroes Never Die will be.

As for staffing for each new site, Polygon is following a process that’s worked for SB Nation as well as other Vox Media sites like Eater, which involves a “combination of freelancers becoming part-time employees and part-time employees becoming full-time employees when we’ve reached a threshold.”

This is a first for Polygon with our community sites, but we’re following a model that we have a lot of experience with at other Vox Media brands, like Curbed and Eater and, of course, SB Nation. I’m not sure where staffing will land ultimately, but we’re confident with where we’re starting based on our “pilot” with Rift Herald over the last year. Ideally, these sites become platforms to discover new writers in these spaces, and to create new opportunities for them inside the larger Polygon organization that otherwise wouldn’t be possible.

Logos designed by Cory Schmitz / Emily Haasch.

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