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2017 Winners

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Excellence in News Reporting
Excellence in Feature Writing
Excellence in News Video/Streaming
Excellence in College Gaming Journalism
Excellence in eSports Writing
Excellence in Feature Video/Streaming
Special Recognition

Excellence in Feature Video/Streaming

First Place:
Night Trap: 25 Years Later: Documentary
By My Life in Gaming

Judges’ comments: As far as documentaries go, this one left the judges very impressed...

Clear thesis. Good video. Good pacing. It’s actual journalism and it’s about something 25 years old and it’s feature and great.

Everything is contextualized. It’s professionally read.

They felt the journalist’s work was well-rounded with excellent presentation...

This one is definitely above the rest. This is solid stuff. I appreciate that it classifies itself as a documentary as well, and it follows that format. Out of the lot, it has the most clear-cut focus to me. Is it exactly what I expect from a feature piece, no. But, it's a damn good one.

One judge rejoiced that the writer hit the mark...

This is what a feature should be. It’s something that happened. They went in depth. I’m into this.

Overall, it was a unanimous first place winner...

Content-wise it’s very impressive. Very traditional. I like the pacing of it. You could sit down on your couch and watch it.

POLYBIUS - The Video Game That Doesn't Exist
By Ahoy

Judges’ comments: The judges loved this entry, but were left wanting more...

If Polybius had sourcing and attribution within the first four minutes, it would be my #1 because it’s fucking gorgeous and it’s presented so well that I believe it.

That lack of immediate sourcing and attribution held Polybius back from first place...

This shit is great but after four minutes of watching, I haven’t seen much of sourcing on any of the claims, and the YouTube page doesn’t list anything, soooo.

Another judge stepped in to defend the Polybius piece from the other judge...

What he did was collect a bunch of rumors ... the first four minutes he’s setting up ... then goes into first-hand analysis.

But in the end, the judges agreed the video needed to dig deeper...

It’s more giving context than getting to the root of it.

Illness Cost This Woman A Job. Now She Streams Diablo II From A Farm
By Cecilia D'Anastasio and Paul Tamayo, Kotaku

Judges’ comments: The judges enjoyed the way this video handled the human element...

I appreciate this as a human interest piece. I like how it backs off and lets Alana tell her story. That's the way this kind of piece should be presented, and I appreciate the respect the editing has for that. Presentation wise, it's a little shaky, but the story it's telling does have strength.

But one judge felt the journalist could have done better...

Very interesting story but they fucked up. Tell me a little about the diseases she has. Tell me about the work and how it didn’t work out for her. It’s also hearsay because it’s only her talking and nobody else...it’s just her.

One judge liked the style of the video...

I appreciated the way they stepped away from the storytelling and let her talk. The way they presented it was very effective.

But another judge thought it was lacking...

Just quote after quote and no real intro ... but that’s stylistic. It’s whatever. I wasn’t married to it, but it’s one of the better ones

Since some of the judges liked it but some thought there was much room for improvement, this piece couldn’t top first or second place — but it found its home in third.

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Excellence in eSports Writing

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First Place:
The eSports champions of Cuba
By Brian Crecente, Polygon

Judges’ conclusions: Going in on their top favorites, two of the judges had a different winner in their sights. But a third judge convinced them...

“There’s a level of enterprise in this piece not seen in the other entries,” they said, pointing out the other story in the running lacked the same undertaking.

Another judge agreed, adding that this winner dove into “weird journalism” by covering more than the go-to locations.

A lot of the eSports stories are about the States and Japan, but this is different. It's interesting. It's got foundational journalism. It’s badass.

Diving into a rarely-discussed topic also let the winner touch on political implications of gaming in the country.

This shows the impact of politics in Cuba in terms of gaming; how politics affect the gamers there.”

This is awesome. Talk about a great series of profiles and an angle we aren't really talking about. P1-visas are a big 'effin deal and have been for a long time in esports — these players are struggling to even get them in the first place. Why isn't the industry talking about this more? Massive kudos for bringing the issue up, and in such an interesting way.

'Dota 2' Player Arteezy on the Hunt for Big Game at the International
By Will Partin, Rolling Stone

Judges’ comments: One of the judges really hated awarding big-time publication The Rolling Stone, but set his feelings aside in favor of rewarding journalistic standards.

These outlets have the ability to do journalism first and gaming journalism second, while other pubs can't do that. I want to say, ‘Fuck them, go win other awards, we want to give these awards to blogs.’ But there has to be journalistic standards.

As another judge mentions, the point of the Kunkels is to set the standard for gaming journalism. By all accounts, they agree that the Arteezy piece met all criteria for the awards.

This is fabulous. Beautiful intro. A bit long, but I adore the way that it introduces Arteezy's ritual. That's the right way to start a profile like this. I don't like the insertion of the author, because I am generally against that in journalistic work, but I feel it's used really effectively in this piece. It's not just used to set a scene once or twice, it's used to tell the whole story of this person and the reporter's relationship and it's not used so much that it takes away from the profile.

Esports: Overwatch makes Houston a sports city online as well as off
By Ileana Najarro, Houston Chronicle

Judges’ comments: The judges all agreed on two things: the story was journalistic, but it lacked verve.

Houston was solid as fuck,” eloquent judge Gideon Grudo said. “But it doesn’t tell us why we should care.”

Another judge believed it was a “breath of fresh air” after seeing “many entries we read are dripping with opinion.”

The final judge liked it, but didn’t love it...

This is a great story, however, it's a little too broad. I greatly appreciate the lede, because it's fabulous overall introduction to Wilmot and his role in the Outlaws, but it almost reads too much like a profile. The rest of the story isn't a profile though — it's a news feature, it's facts. It breaks down what the Overwatch League is very simply, it's wonderfully sourced, and I truly believe it plays to an audience that isn't very familiar with the concept of esports. That's something to be appreciated, but we're also getting to a point where esports is becoming mainstream, and not every single feature should have to explain that. There are definitely tiny tweaks that could have been made to this to make it an even stronger piece, but it's absolutely one to be damn proud of.

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College Gaming Journalism

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First Place:
This senior finished her 50,000 word novel by turning it into a video game
By Caroline Bartholomew, The Daily Orange

Judges’ conclusions: This piece received a resounding “yes” from the judges...

I think we all agree this one is first. It’s just a compelling lede. It has a strong human element and it’s got a twist — her mom doesn’t even know.

The judges were very happy the writer knew the type of people reading her piece. When writing journalism, you can’t assume the reader knows everything you know.

She knows her audience — it’s not written for gamers, it’s for a general audience. She even explains what sprites are. She doesn’t assume we know what these things are.

Another judge agreed, pointing out this ability should extend beyond the college newsroom...

Writer is cognizant of her audience and that’s awesome. Whether or not you’re in college, being cognizant is awesome.

Video game speeds up neuroscience research
By Vidhi Singh, The Daily

Judges’ comments: This was a clear second place to our judges.

But comparing first place to second, they noticed the author didn’t write this sciency piece in a way accessible to most readers...

The story tried to write to a general audience but it gets bogged down. The writer didn’t do as much work [as the novel article] to make it easily digestible.

Another judge offered some advice on bring more energy and verve to pieces like this...

It could have brought people up and made the writing more engaging that way, with a human element.

College Esports Programs Are Growing, But Can They Field a Winning Team?
By Will Partin, Rolling Stone

Judges’ comments: Our judges couldn’t agree on whether to give this piece third place. The alternative was to award no third place winner...

The two were clearly the best and this one is just hanging there. It’s long and not very exciting. Even if it’s from Rolling Stone — even with that help — it’s not better than the other two. But is it better than the other entries?

One judge offered some serious critique...

It left out the numbers and money in a story about business. Where are those numbers? You can’t say esports programs are growing without backing that up with numbers.

They concluded although they didn’t love the article, it was better than the other pieces by a long shot.

I do feel like this writer is going to be great and this is a stepping stone toward that. It has quotes, sources. Keep it up and they’re going to do great things.

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News Video/Streaming

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The ESA Gaming Report has Serious Problems
By Game Objective

Judges’ comments: Most of the judges agreed this was an imperfect winner...

The elements are there. You tell me what the study is, you point out how widely cited it is as justification for examining the methodology, you identify how the methodology is pretty opaque, and you contrast to reputable stats from Pew. It's good stuff, just not in the right order for someone who isn't already invested in the topic to care.

But not every judge was as positive. Grudo, the judge who chose no finalists made this critique...

Narrator tells me there are "problems" with the study and adds little else before going into background. So I don't really know what he's about to give me.

Circa 0:41, narrator study is "widely reported and cited," showing us screengrabs without mentioning them or their context. Do those examples constitute wide reporting and citation? More importantly, does it matter? Is this about media reporting or about the report? Because earlier, narrator says report, but now we're on to media.

He offered this advice...

Be clear and intentional with your thesis. Narrator follows this up with sweeping generalizations about academic citation and what "people" do, as well. Says things about folks accepting the reports "without question." Maybe that's true. But how does narrator know? And how will I know?

In fact, he didn’t believe the journalist had a reason to be credible...

I really wanted to keep listening past the bit at 1:00, when narrator laughs at media reporting things without context and without question after having made a slew of unsubstantiated claims with no context and with no evidence. So I didn't keep listening. I have little to no reason to trust this journo at this point and in this piece, and really, neither should anyone.

Which is why this piece is placing an Honorable Mention instead of an award. Grudo wants it on the record, though, that he “does not honor this piece.”

But unlike Grudo, another judge was pleased...

I like this because it does question what is considered an industry standard. It's a success because it did what a lot of publications didn't do in digging into the numbers and searching for where they came from. The audio quality is good, the attitude isn't overly flippant--it's an approachable piece. To nit-pick, the actual presentation could have been a little better, but the information and story itself feel very solid.

Congratulations to Game Objective, who has won the Kunkels’ first Honorable Mention award.

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Excellence in Feature Writing

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First Place:
How Designers Engineer Luck Into Video Games
By Simon Parkin, Nautilus

Judges’ conclusions: The judges agreed that the wide accessibility of the story is what earned its spot in first place...

It’s more accessible to non-gamers. I do not need to be a gamer to appreciate this story. And I want to emphasize that not every story has to resonate outside of games, but when a story is able to do that, it stands out. It can cover a lot of objectives in the Code of Ethics.

The judge also considered the potential impact of the story...

This is the type of story a 12-year-old reads and decides he wants to be a game designer.

Another judge agreed...

It’s okay to have a niche audience and play to it, but when you can take your audience to the broader level, you’re bringing people up while not bringing the story down. It makes the story stand out that much more.

That same judge also felt it was a tight package, focused on a very central piece. Simply put...

It’s a fucking amazing story.

Game Developers Speak Up In The Face Of Obamacare Repeal
By Joseph Knoop, Waypoint/Vice

Judges’ comments: One judge appreciated a piece on Obamacare in the context of game developers...

Amazing connect. This is exactly what Polygon and Kotaku need to aspire to. When gaming journalism is normalized, this is what you’re writing about. Gaming journalism with an angle on health. That’s fucking badass.

They were impressed with the amount of detail dedicated to the story...

Really big, lots of interviews. It elevates a story out of its original context.

The main critique from the judges lies in the presentation...

It’s not on the level of the Luck piece. The headline is eh. The lazy headline that does nothing to draw me in. Could you pick a more boring verb?

Saving Japan's Games
By Chris Kohler, Kotaku

Judges’ comments: The judges were impressed with the interesting quotes, but they found one glaring error they just couldn’t get past...

Worst lede I’ve ever seen but otherwise good work. This journalist stole the pleasure of so many people enjoying this story with that lede.

Another judge agreed, finding the story incredibly powerful but overshadowed with what they call a “terrible lede.” They pointed to a paragraph in the story that would have been more impactful up top...

Seventy-two hours after he booted up the PC-98, something went wrong, and the power supply got fried. It was unrepairable, and irreplaceable. “I was so sad, I cried,” Redon said. “I tried everything to reach this world, but now it disappears in front of me.” That was the last straw. “In 2000, I decided to leave everything—apartment, cats, girlfriend, family, job—and with my last paycheck, I moved to Japan.”

It’s so meticulous and serious about this because of this traumatic experience he had because of his computer breaking. That should have been the lede. Very bizarre thing that would draw people in.

Their advice is to take a personal step back, talk about yourself less, and about the story more.

Step aside. You don’t matter [in the context of the story]. I’m glad you’re doing this but you don’t matter in the story. I kind of blame the editor more than the writer. They should have caught this.

But overall, they were very impressed with the quotes the reporter could obtain from their source...

It’s apparent the reporter felt a rapport with the source and was able to get honest and vulnerable perspective. The quotes we like are the ones that are interesting and that’s not easy. It’s commendable and awardable and that’s what we’re doing.

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News Reporting

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First Place:
The Curious Case Of The 'EA Game Dev' Who Said He Received Death Threats
By Jason Schreier, Kotaku

Judges’ conclusions: The judges were highly impressed by the journalist fighting against misinformation which already made its way into mainstream media...

This story is a journalist figuring out fake news. USA Today, BBC, Yahoo and Vice covered something that really wasn’t a thing, and this person figured it out. And that’s fucking hardcore. This is journalism on journalism in a time that is so important. And who has the time to do that?

Another judge agreed, praising the journo for vetting sources even after most mainstream publications accepted false information without verifying...

He deserves the credit for digging into this because nobody would necessarily do that. By the time mainstream media got to this story, you get to this groupthink situation where everyone’s covered the story and trusted that someone else has vetted it and that didn’t happen. So I absolutely do think we should award it for vetting and calling it out. And he did talk to the guy, he did the full due diligence and tried to get him on the record. The whole nine yards, everything is there, and it’s very solid.

They noted that being in the niche industry of gaming journalism allowed the journo to understand things that journos outside the field could miss...

This story is emblematic of why games journalism needs to be more prominent. The folks at BBC and USA Today don't see these trends because they may not have the resources or know how to see these things, and here’s misinformation flowing into the ether because of that.

Unanimously, the judges felt this piece kicked ass. One felt that this piece covers the idea of “what journalism is supposed to be and that’s what I appreciate about it.”

It’s revealing the truth and digging down behind the lies. We have to commend that.

The Collapse Of Visceral's Ambitious Star Wars Game
By Jason Schreier, Kotaku

Judges’ comments: In terms of “breaking news reporting,” this piece hit the mark...

This is why I want to give this story second place: This story came out 10 days after the company shut down. That’s a lot of reporting to have done in 10 days. Maybe some of it was for the journalist’s book (he was writing on the same subject), maybe they were already working on this for months, but that doesn’t matter because it’s news. It’s a full breakdown with a bunch of context and a deep dive into the issue.

The judges appreciated that the story laid out the facts for a community looking for answers...

The community that followed this game was looking forward to it, this is the type of journalism that it seeks and hopefully answers its questions. This is very foundational. This is why we have journalism in the first place. Like if the pharmacy down the street shuts down, the questions you have are the questions this story answers.

Despite the number of anonymous sources, the judges felt it was justified given the context, and praised the journo’s due diligence...

Especially for the timing of this story, it’s a cool postmortem of this company. It’s really in-depth. There’s a lot of unnamed sources but it totally makes sense and I think it works in this situation. He did try to talk to EA, got quotes from EA, as much as they were willing to give. So all sides were there and it’s just a really well done narrative.

As a judge succinctly put...

We need more stories like this and more reporters like this.

IGN Staff Walk Out After Former Employee's Sexual Harassment Claims
By Jason Schreier, Kotaku

Judges’ comments: The judges didn’t have a lot to say about this piece, but they know journalism is up to snuff when they see it...

It is written with tons of context.

Going into more detail, this judge explained exactly what they enjoyed about this piece...

So you're covering news about a thing that happened and you're talking to the person that no longer works there and you've got all these sources and its short and it's quick and it has all the context I would want to have. This is solid, quick news.

Jason Schreier, congrats on being the first journalist to earn all three placements in a single category.

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