9 October 2014 - 20:30

Tastosis speak out about failed 'Sons of StarCraft' documentary

When the Sons of StarCraft documentary initially launched, it promised an up-close look at two of the most popular StarCraft icons, Dan "Artosis" Stemkoski and Nick "Tasteless" Plott
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When the Sons of StarCraft documentary initially launched, it promised an up-close look at two of the most popular StarCraft icons, Dan "Artosis" Stemkoski and Nick "Tasteless" Plott. Three years later, the documentary stands as one of the saddest esports ventures to date: poorly-received, overbudget, and seriously delayed. Even now, many of the kickbacks from the initial kickstarter have not been met. Facing continued criticism, the duo known as "Tastosis" want to set the record straight.

Sons of StarCraft began in September 2011, when filmmaker Jeff Alejos decided to kickstart a documentary idea he had about his childhood friend, Nick Plott. At the time, Plott and his casting partner, Dan Stemkoski, were the two biggest names in the English-speaking StarCraft community, regularly providing English commentary over the top of games coming out of Seoul, Korea, where the game's best players compete. The pair developed a reputation for working long hours to make sure each match got proper coverage, and were beloved within the community. Fans even made Plott his own theme song and music video.

Alejos saw the opportunity to bring their stories to a larger stage, and he pitched the idea to the pair."It sounded like a great idea," Stemkoski told me about his initial thoughts, "StarCraft 2 and esports were blowing up, and I looked at this as a way to reach out to more people and get them involved." With the duo's permission, Alejos created a project page on Kickstarter and began fundraising for the documentary.

In order to attract attention, Alejos promised content to backers like posters, physical DVD copies of the documentary, clothing, and personal video messages from the pair. The promises worked—he ended up raising $42,155, more than twice the initial goal of the campaign. With a plan in place, Alejos travelled to South Korea and began filming. The film was supposed to be done by October of 2012.

The time passed quickly, with only a few updates for those interested in the project. Then, in October, threads like this one popped up where fans openly wondered what had happened to the documentary. A trailer for the film was quickly released to reassure them, along with an explainer that the post-production of the film had extended the expected release date to the following spring. 

That date came and went as well, this time without any reassurances from Alejos to quell fears from fans. An investigation by Richard Lewis was met with varied responses from many of those involved, and it became clear that the project wasn't going smoothly. Behind the scenes, Plott and Stemkoski were doing damage control.

"I expressed to [Alejos] over the phone before he [started filming] that Dan and I wanted to respect the film as an actual documentary," Plott explains. "In other words, we wanted to be hands off with how he told our stories and what he decided to put in the film. Because of that, we were unaware he bit off more than he could chew. Stuff like making posters, printing DVDs, making bonus content etc. These are all really exciting things to hear when someone is starting a project but the question is: are you able to actually get this stuff done? He had even mentioned to us that he wanted to get the film translated into multiple languages.

In the end, Jeff started running out of money. Eventually both Dan and I were funding Jeff out of pocket out of concern the film wouldn’t get finished."

Stemkoski added, "Jeff went in with great intentions, but the project got way beyond a scope he could handle." 

Finally, in November of 2013, over a year after the initial planned release date, OnGamers announced that they would be airing the documentary in episodic form. The project required thousands of dollars of additional funding, notably provided by the editor-in-chief of OnGamers, Kim Rom. OnGamers archived all four episodes, but additional promises by Rom that the documentary would be released as a feature-length film and available on Netflix appear to have fallen through. Per Stemkoski, a promised special fifth "Q&A" episode is definitely not in the works.

To date, a large majority of the Kickstarter backer rewards have also gone completely unfulfilled. This, coupled with the poor quality of the finally-released videos, led many fans to post about their frustrations with Sons of StarCraft. Plott and Stemkoski had a similar reaction.

"Our stories weren’t told well at all," Stemkoski says. "Important parts were glossed over while unimportant parts were too heavily highlighted. Other parts were completely skipped." Plott admits that the final product left him disappointed, and the editing "felt a bit schizophrenic."

I asked them both what they would have done if they knew what the end product would be. Both agreed that they would have never allowed the project to begin in the first place. Says Stemkoski:

"If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t have allowed [Alejos] to make a documentary about us. It took almost three years of filming, which was definitely intrusive into our lives, it came out late, it came out poorly made, and the kickbacks were never even sent out."

The Kickstarter rewards in particular trouble Stemkoski and Plott. "It’s really sad that the kickbacks have never gone out," Stemkoski says. "While this isn’t our project, Nick and I have still been discussing ideas for how to help with this process. I suspect that most people will never be made whole for this project."

Plott details what they plan to do in an attempt to make right with their biggest fans. "Dan and I are willing to send out the T-shirts Jeff owes from TheHandsomeNerd.com, and we can do that because we own that company. Anything else is beyond our ability. Beyond not having personal copies the film, we don’t own DVD printers and can’t print posters."

T-shirts for backers is definitely a step in the right direction, but it's clear that Alejos was over his head from the start, and further compounded issues as the months rolled on. Others continuing to build expectations onto the project, rather than being transparent about the difficulties of releasing the film, only served to add more frustrations for fans down the line. The hard truth is that Kickstarter's Terms of Use are very clear and project creators are legally accountable for delivering on backer rewards.

"The movie just didn’t turn out well for anyone involved," Stemkoski says.

Our email to Alejos has thus far gone unanswered.

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