So how did it all come to this? – a personal statement from MasterNoob
A lot have been going down lately and some people told me anything would be better than just silence. So here I am writing a personal statement reflecting the things leading to the situation regarding TF2Center currently.
You should be aware of a few things before continue reading:
- This is a personal statement from me, MasterNoob, the creator of TF2C; this is nothing “official TF2C” so it does not reflect anyone else from our staff.
- This is not piece that one should use in a court of law: I will state a lot of things but I currently don’t have the time to post links/screenshots to support some statements. That doesn’t make them untrue though. I hope I won’t mess up some of the time lines as well.
- I am not a native English speaker and this an uncensored statement, which is likely to have some flaws.
- This statement is meant to show a different angle on the various stories that surround both myself and TF2C. I am not trying to convince you of anything, this is just my own version of how things have gotten until this point.
TF2Center – how it all started
I started playing TF2 around 5 years ago and especially enjoying the choke points on public cp_dustbowl as demo ;-) That is where I met Marty 4 years ago; he was by far the best medic I have had seen on that date. He ended up on my friends list and we talked after that; he then introduced me to tf2lobby.com. It was a side of TF2 that I had never seen, so I liked learning new things in a Lobby. I happen to be a software engineer, and I was shocked to find out what technology was used to get tf2lobby working. As more coders do, I was also looking for a project to experiment with stuff, so it didn’t take long for me to start an alternative for tf2lobby, called TF2Center.
Marty and me got working well together where he would basically tell me how things should be working, and me then coding it. After some time somebody with great interest in UI introduced himself: Mother Tereza. I can tell you guys that he is not really a she ;-) It was hard for us to bring MT up to speed, since we had no documentation or project management tools. MT basically took over project management and started to introduce forums for collaboration and started from scratch with drafts of the UI and finally set up a rough schema with features to be implemented short or long term.
It was around then that we also seeked publicity on the etf2l forums to announce that the three of us were working on things. This was the first time I experienced the live PR doing it’s work. Reactions were skeptical: projects like ours had been tried before and all failed somehow. They wanted proof, so we showed them some of the UI drafts MT made. Now they said that it didn’t needed to be pretty but just work. Eventually I was disappointed in the shown support: why not encourage us? Why not make things both pretty and working?
Months went by and we got more and more features implemented. Foxy then joined the team; MT has picked him up somewhere. I was impressed with both his coding skills and his competitive experience: the ultimate candidate! To speed things up we decided that Foxy and MT would focus on implementing the frontend: HTML prototyping to actual working code. Slowly but steadily we made progress. Around that time I was contacted by somebody that was very interested in this project and wanted to help us out in terms of infrastructure and money if we needed it: Jayserp. I suppose we couldn’t have more luckier that time. Jayserp had a special interest in community building. He set up the forums as we still know it.
One of the problems in the early stages is that both MT and me like to get things perfect, so we ended up implementing one feature after another, but the list was never empty. Foxy proposed a more agile approach, starting with the absolute critical features. I recall a dev meeting halfway 2013 where we planned to release a first version somewhere in December 2013.
One day later somebody approached me stating that tf2lobby has gone down again and wanted to know if TF2Center was anywhere near beta stage. At first I was skeptical but I also wanted to know if the system worked for more than 4 concurrent users ;-) So I told JP to give me a few hours to prepare our test server, and we went for our first beta. Anything that could break broke; I literally made 6 hotfixes in 2 hours to even get a Lobby to launch. It made it very clear that system wasn’t nearly ready to be used, especially by loads of people anyway. The funny thing was that Foxy had to see the beta announcement on his phone, while traveling back after spending a weekend out of town. We had miserably failed but I had never been more proud…
So a few more weeks of bugs fixing lead to beta1, beta2, beta3, beta4, rc and finally to tf2center.com in January 2015. We started getting donations, expanded our moderation team, organized the Archimedes Cup, which miserably failed, but that’s beyond the point. We got #geel to sponsor more money on a bunch of newbies than ETF2L Premiership, so we were happy ;-)
I had to pleasure to attend i52 in August 2014, meeting Foxy, Jayserp, KKaltUu and Arie in real life. This was my first LAN, so I was pretty hyped after that. After reviewing the number of donations we got after one month (roughly EUR 1000,-), I heard that Foungi was organizing a community highlander event. Since I like to play HL myself, I was a bit disappointed with the number of HL LANs so far: zero. So I was very pleased to hear that people were looking into this, and I was glad to offer them EUR 2000,- At that point we didn’t have that much money, but I assumed that we would receive a similar amount for February. When that didn’t happen and we had also dropping income in March 2015, I knew it was time to talk to Foungi, since apparently we couldn’t afford that kind of money. So we talked in the end of March and to me it was clear that we understood each other: TF2C would sponsor EUR 500,- and I would get back on when we had more to spend.
Months went by and more things were happening: I heard that KKaltUu and Stinson joined the team. It was much later when I was told that they were already there from the beginning, but anyway. Stinson was charged with the PR side, and had asked me to run a banner on the main page of TF2C. It took us some time, but we managed to get it there; immediately leading to several hundreds of clicks. I was still under the impression that the DL staff knew about the 500 as opposed to the 2000 earlier, but talking to Stinson proved me wrong. I was surprised that Foungi had not told him about it. A few weeks later, I spoke to KKaltUu about fundings, and exactly the same thing happened: he was not aware of the new amount.
So at no point there has been a “sudden” drop of money; this was communicated by me to Foungi to at an early stage, so he could get other sponsors on board, should he desire so. At least I would understand when eventually giving out only 25%, but that was up to them.
Lost cause – former TF2C mod
Earlier that year we had a moderator who had to leave the team due to some unethical encounters with the staff, including making recordings of our weekly staff meeting and lying about it in my face. It also included publicizing private conversations between him and our staff. So just to be clear, this mod interfering with his friends stalking another TF2C mod was never really the point. So this mod was relieved from his duties, in agreement with the entire TF2C staff, since there were some serious trust issues. When Advanced Lobbies came out a few months later, this mod repeatedly was down talking on TF2C and advertising alternative sites to play Advanced Lobbies. After several warnings, he wasn’t going to stop, so MT, Foxy and me agreed to ban him for 2 years.
When I found out that this same person was participating in DeutschLAN, I wasn’t very happy and I asked Foungi to drop him from the event. KKaltUu was able to internally explain what has happened, explaining why I came with such “outrageous” request. At no point did I receive an answer from both Foungi and KKaltUu. A week later I made a proposal to Foungi: an additional EUR 500,- with the condition that the former mod would be dropped from the event. So to summarize: the initial EUR 500,- would remain unconditionally, another conditional EUR 500,- was proposed. Again, no answer from any of the DL staff.
DL staff drops sponsorship
A few days after the mentioned proposal, I was informed that there was an announcement on the etf2l forums regarding DL stating that the sponsorship was dropped. After reading it myself I was shocked: so instead of talking to me first, they preferred to just publicly announce things. The attitude in the post was just plain hostile: “TF2C had suddenly dropped the sponsorship and made it conditionally”. Another sponsor was brought in, forum thread names were changed, even posts changed, without actual confirmation I was told later by Stinson. I really have no words to describe how I felt at the time and still feel.
Handling the PR shit storm
I can understand that bystanders only see a certain side of the story and obviously speak in disregard about me. So we had to deal with the situation and address the community. The problem then was to agree on a certain angle within our staff and then come up with the proper words. We discussed most of the situation in our staff meeting, Sunday July 5th 2015. My part in this was explaining how everything actually had happened and then we would decide to build a statement on that. After two hours I had to leave, so I left Marty, Terry, Fairy, Luop, TheMattgician and Mother Tereza to write something they would seem fit. I read the draft made by TheMattgician (and Marty?) a few hours later and I liked it.
The same evening me and Stinson (DL staff) had a long talk, which in my opinion went pretty well. We agreed on the mistakes that were made on both sides and he would work on an official statement from the DL staff. We concluded that we disagreed on my proposal and that should have been made clear; we would have stayed with the original agreement of EUR 500,- and that would have been the end of it. Although our staff had announced that an official statement was coming soon, we decided that things after the talk were going to be different, so we decided to await that the next day. When the statement came I was a bit disappointed to only see a one-liner pretty much saying they were sorry for how things were handled from their part. I expected a bit more from the TF2C side of the story and maybe even the tone that the initial post was done.
Time went by and things got worse. People were still expecting a statement from us somehow, so Terry Crews came in with a very detailed draft addressing more than just the DL thing. At this point I had no idea that somebody else had been working hours on this. Now this somebody turns out to be Digresser, a person I do not know. As I understood briefly, the statement was based on some existing document and not custom made.
When I read the statement there was a lot in there; in general the words were nice, but I felt it wasn’t really addressing the issues that people on the forums were calling us out on. To me it seemed a good idea to explain the whole communication problem and how TF2C was planning on improving on that specific subject. I just supposed that was the basic info people would have been looking for.
Tuesday evening me, Terry Crews, TheMattgician, Fairy and MT got together in Mumble to discuss Terry’s earlier draft. This was the first time I directly spoke to Terry about what happened, since he was not at the staff meeting 2 days earlier. We started working through the paragraphs until he had to leave. A few hours later, the final draft was ready. We wanted to make sure that the rest of the staff actually agreed on the new version, so we posted the draft to review for Marty, Ninja and Terry. The next day, Terry did not like what was left of his original draft.
That Wednesday I was at work when I found out that we released the official statement, and it was not the one that four of our staff members had agreed on the previous evening. At the time I thought that Marty had gone in and simply picked the wrong version; we had a few lying around, so that wouldn’t be a surprise. What did surprise me is that the final version was released without my prior consent. I think I don’t need to explain that such delicate statements should have gone through me in the end, especially when the PR guy did not attend the meeting the previous day, not knowing what was discussed. I responded to Marty relieving him from his PR duties.
At this point I was very unhappy with the statement, because I thought it was too “cheesy”, but since it has been hardcoded on the ETF2L forums, there was no way back really. Since things were out of my control I made it clear to our staff that I had to distance myself from the whole thing, and that I did not want to hear anything about it. I know Terry is not an idiot, so I assumed his version could actually work for the community, even if I did not like it personally.
It almost seems a tradition to put the internal communication of our staff on a public forum, so now the whole world knew about my disapproval of the piece. Of course that would open up a whole bunch of new questions, ultimately resulting in me writing a personal statement…
TF2C staff resigning
When I brought up my idea to not allow the previously mentioned former mod to DL in a staff meeting, Foxy made it crystal clear that he thought it was a bad idea and he wouldn’t be there to defend it when the shit would hit the fence. I guess we have seen that now.
I respectfully declined his statement and went through with it anyway. At this point only me and another staff member agreed on my proposal, the rest of the staff did not. I decided to go through with it anyway, and we all know the rest of the story. At this point I really regret me pushing this through, not because of the idea in itself; I should have listened more and therefore I am sorry. I would like to apologize to my staff for this.
Soon resignations from TF2C staff started coming in: Tonberry, Void and finally Foxy. All I can say on that: I’m always sad when people leave, in this case especially Foxy. Since I’m making a statement anyway, this is the one guy I had on my staff truly devoted to justice and doing the right thing. He has always been straight forward with things, does as he says and that has been appreciated by everyone. I am really sad to see him go; we had more of an relationship then just coding/staff buddies. Met him at i52 first and visited him at his home in London later. Anyway, he stated his thoughts on this thing, I ignored it, and he left. One last thing regarding this: should you ever be banned by Foxy, you should know by now that you’re truly an asshole. You know who you are.…
As for the rest of them: I just want to say I find it sad that you would not come to me first when you see things on a public forum. Same applies to KKaltUu as well: I have enjoyed working with him since the beginning, met him in real life at i52, he visited me at my home some time ago. He has done great things for TF2C and for this community, but I expected communication from him. Of all the people involved with DL and TF2C he was the perfect candidate to bridge things with me or the TF2C staff.
A final note regarding KKaltUu, since people has been asking me this: I did ban KKaltUu at the time to deal with things. At TF2C we don’t have a thing called “permaban”; the thing closest is a 10-year login ban from the site, which is used sometimes by me to suspend a certain individual so I can deal with certain things, we would have a talk, and the ban would usually go away. I removed the ban after 2 days, when I had more time after dealing with several drafts and talking to a lot of people. I needed to revoke rights from the mods who left, that included KKaltUu’s. It was never my intention to disrespect him in any way.
There have been stories about me not treating my staff properly. When I heard this, long before this whole thing, the first thing I did was asking my staff in a mod meeting if they felt this in any way. The response was crystal clear to me: everyone was happy and still motivated to continue working on the project. Let’s just say that there is a relation between mods resigning and them not showing up in staff meetings. It seems that some are really feeling part of the team, as others don’t. My vision in working with teams is that one does not force expectations upon somebody else. Rather remind that person that pretty much anything is possible in this team, as long as this person shows initiative and ownership. Great examples have been the Archimedes Cup (MT), Admin tools (Luop), monthly TF2C clips (KKaltUu), TF2C mods vs. Players (Fairy/Ninja), partnership with scrap.tf (MN), and so on. I know I have probably left out more than I remember, but you understand my point.
I’m basically sad to hear that former mods don’t like me as a person or do not like the way I handle this organization. What makes me more sad is that some of them would just leave and express their disregards on public forums, rather than saying things to my face when they had the chance. I’m not saying I’m an easy person to handle, but giving up on me beforehand is just not fair…
I also understand the irony here, given that I stated earlier that I decided against the majority; you need to know this is not a habit of me. Teams can only last so long when I would abuse my position in a more structural way like this. I believe that discussing things will lead to a higher intrinsic motivation and commitment, so I guess that has been a good recipe before all of this.
As you may have noticed, we have stopped the spawning of Advanced Lobbies. There were a few issues know to us: some 6v6 Lobbies failed to balance, the filling time increased over the past weeks and the scores were not as good as we had hoped for. Another thing is the fixed map rotation that we used. We have decided to suspend Advanced Lobbies until we have solved the main issues. We planned to put a forum post out, but we got distracted somehow…
There are also rumors going around that Advanced Lobbies are just a way of filling our pockets. I would like to be brief on that: we have introduced a free beta period of 3 months to prove that they’re worth your money. I guess we will be fair and extend that a little now…
Some of you have raised the question not to trust me with your money. I feel a little hard done by that personally, since I have no prior history of fucking things up in this matter. I do however believe that TF2C should make public what happens with the money. We will discuss this internally to get all the details and we will let you know how we will be addressing this in the future.
Alternative to TF2C?
In some of the threads some people has suggested to work on a TF2C alternative. I can understand that you have some doubts about TF2C or me personally; I can only hope to have cleared up some of them in this statement. I do wish to share some thoughts on this.
Although this will split up the community once more, I believe that it’s a healthy thing that TF2C has some competition. Real life has shown us that the greatest things will come from both sides, which then can be stolen onto the other projects, like I did with tf2lobby.
I must warn you that a project like TF2C has several thousand lines of code and most software engineers can tell you that things do not go from scratch to being perfect, certainly not TF2C. Of course anybody is a better coder than MasterNoob, so don’t let that hold you back. Just be aware that coding is just a small part of all the ingredients needed for something to work. So don’t be naive and think that you can get something within months.
Another thing is when you want to deal with hundreds of concurrent users, you’re going to need some serious hardware. Not some $10 VPS, but some serious stuff which is going to cost money. Get some rich people or find a way to pay for them; I can already tell you, don’t expect too much donations from Europeans. It’s actually the Americans that keep us running ;-)
Apart from all the above: good luck!
What about Valve’s announce MM?
I’m not sure about you guys, but I haven’t seen much from Valve. I have heard lots of rumors of course, but I can’t address those really. I think it comes down to a few options: either it’s going to be perfect for us, and we no longer need TF2C. I would be happy to shut down things and start using the new thing. It could also be very possible that this new things is not really what this community is looking for; other tiers have shown us that there will always be third party solutions. I guess we will just have to wait and see…
Finally – MasterNoob and his reputation
When one gets his own TF2 meme, it should be clear that one is not a popular person. Well, in a way of course, but you know… So yeah, I am stubborn, and very proud of my achievements. You wouldn’t believe the hours I have spent on this project; I actually don’t keep track, but count me in for 25 hours per week on average is not a bad estimate. There is one staff member who has a similar thing: Mother Tereza. He has been there since the early days, working so hard on the beautiful designs people still experience every day. I suppose we have become too attached to the project; I can tell you when it hurts that some people just say bad things about the thing you worked on so hard. One could argue that just ignoring them would be the best thing, and at this point I would agree with such person. When things like this actually happen, I really have trouble to control my emotions. Especially when I find out that most people are too lazy to even read a TL;DR.
So yeah, I’m sure you have enjoyed yourselves watching me rage in main chat ;-) Looking back, I think this is the main cause of my reputation. Combining that with my temper and pride, well, I guess we can all understand that is just a bad combo for dealing with PR. So this has been going on from pretty much the beginning since I was in charge of this project, you would find me out there handling PR in “my own way”. When this project has grown to over 100k users, over 800 concurrent users on a regular evening and 3 million page views per month, it’s safe to say that I should not be handling aspects that I'm not so good at, so I guess I see that now.
This belief does usually not happen overnight, but PR shit storms definitely help. I will tell you that TF2C staff has had some suggestions on how to improve our internal structure. This thing has only speed that up. I agree with a lot of you by focusing on the things I’m actually good at; coding is the most important role I have, but I’m pretty much involved in everything else, so I have to pick some roles and hire people to worry about the rest. I will tell you now that I have no idea how we’re going to do all that, but as we’ve shown in the past, TF2C proves to deal with difficult situations, I’m sure we can improve ourselves and show you guys we’re serious about this project.
I guess this was pretty much all I have right now. I hope this has helped putting things in perspective. I can’t really ask for more ;-)