Team Academy was the bane, and boon, of my existence. They made me question everything I did. There were nights when my hand trembled on the mouse as I was about to publish someone’s article, wondering Are Team Academy going to rip this poor bastard to shreds?
I say “bane” because nobody likes to be made fun of. I say “boon” because… Well, you’ll see.
For those of you who weren’t around during the TA brou-ha-ha, Team Academy was a website devoted exclusively to destroying anyone who wrote what they considered to be bad articles. They weren’t like MiseTings.com, who take an Onion-style approach to mocking the sillier bits of Magic — no, Team Academy would copy an article wholesale and then mark it up with extremely nasty and vile comments. Team Academy would tell the world how this guy’s Mom was a slut, how the author was dumber than a sack of monkey crap, and how his Magic play was complete sh*t and why didn’t he kill himself for being so stupid?
They played way below the belt, taking really personal shots at people — and God help him if the author responded, because Team Academy loved nothing more than to piss people off. They fed on people’s distress, and would gleefully print more articles about the poor SOB who’d complained until he eventually broke down.
It would have been really easy to write TA off as a bunch of rude d**kheads… And, in fact, many people told me to do just that. But here’s the thing about Team Academy:
In a bizarre way, they were fair.
It was tough to look past the personal insults, of course…. But Team Academy never made fun of people who wrote what they considered to be good Magic articles, and once in a blue moon they even linked to someone they thought had done a good job. They took personal potshots, but if it was about taking personal potshots there were quirky Magic writers who they could have made fun of for weeks.
Instead, they only ripped on people when they produced below-average content. That was their only criteria. They respected skill, and they’d target their own members on those rare occasions they made horrific plays.
As an editor, Team Academy was a painful experience. There’s nothing harder than publishing an article that you were proud of, only to see someone rip it to shreds for what were, at its core, pretty legitimate reasons. And it’s even harder when they refer to your site as “the scrub site” and make fun of you for being such an idiot.
I could have ignored them. SCG still got a lot more traffic than Team Academy did, and they were reasonably insignificant in the scheme of things. All I had to do was not visit them, and I could have ignored the underlying problem that was causing them to pick on me…. But the problem would not have gone away.
Which leads to the lesson I want to give for today: sometimes, your enemies will give you more honest feedback than your friends ever will.
All the people who liked me told me how mean and unwarranted Team Academy’s attacks were, but the truth was that I wasn’t doing my job as an editor. I was being a nice guy, publishing articles because I didn’t want to reject people who’d put in a lot of work… But as the editor, my job is to force writers to live up to my standards, not to grade on a curve because they’d spent a weekend writing a crappy article.
My writers did not tell me what a bad job I was doing. Other sites sure as hell mention it. The pros didn’t drop me a line to say, “Hey, you could be doing better.” But why would they say anything? My friends liked me, and the pros had no personal investment in SCG.
The only people who’d be honest were the biggest d*cks — Team Academy.
I began to tighten my style, and I learned what annoyed them and what didn’t. They weren’t always right, of course — sometimes, you just have to have fun and fly casual — but I learned what kinds of Magic articles could be considered high strategy, and which ones to put the little warning saying, “This is food for thought” on (a practice that was later made an official wording for potentially-sketchy articles by Teddy Knutson).
Within months, thanks to learning what worked, I had quadrupled the overall traffic to the site. And I could not have done it without TA.
And here’s how I could tell that TA were useful sources of feedback — when I changed StarCityGames.com to be more Team Academy-friendly, they began to warm up to SCG. That wasn’t a guarantee, because in life there are people who want nothing more than to cause you pain, so it doesn’t matter what you do to please them — no matter how perfectly you act, they’ll find something to make fun of you.
But the good kind of enemies — the ones you want to have — are the ones who will come around once you’ve begun to mend your ways. And Andy Stokinger, the lead dude at TA, eventually began to write for StarCityGames.com and did coverage for us. (He was a good writer, too.) Team Academy found less and less to mock (though for a group like TA, there would never be nothing to mock), and eventually dried up and blew away. They have a site somewhere now, but it’s a ghost of their former self.
In the end, Team Academy weren’t my enemies.* They just had different ideas of how things ought to be, and a really crappy way of putting it.
It’s really easy to filter input based on how you want people to talk to you. “They should be pleasant when they criticize me!” you say, and if they’re not charming and polite you can then safely ignore their opinion. But the truth is, some of the best feedback will come from the people who differ from you the most… And if you ignore the people who aren’t like you, you might overlook some serious problems.
When I was a teenager, the jerks in high school called me out. “You got f**kin’ awful hair!” they’d say. “And you dress like a retard!” It wasn’t easy to hear, but I did have greasy, uncombed hair, and I did dress in ugly velour shirts, and a lot of people did disdain me because I looked like a frickin’ hobo.
The jocks, as stupid as they were, were the only ones who said it to my face. And you might want to think about what insults you need to hear.
* – Well, most of them, anyway. I know of a few who still ain’t fans. And given that a) they’ve disowned any statements made before 2005, and b) to keep their angry street cred they gotta call everything s**t, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear a new stream of vitriol. But hey, whatcha gonna do?