Ed: This was published in May’s issue, referring to several events that took place in April.
Another month, another string of esports players and talent who have damaged their careers, and in some cases their lives, with their out-of-game behaviour.
At this point something akin to compassion fatigue, where people become desensitised to shocking things by repeated exposure – like the Trump presidency – has set in and those in esports have started to treat it with a sort of joviality. This just happens here, it’s esports.
Hundreds of fans turned out to defend Matthew ‘Sadokist’ Trivett after he dropped a racist slur during his own special heated gamer moment.
While after Jonathan ‘DreamKazper’ Sanchez was fired from his Overwatch League team after allegations of sexual misconduct with a minor, esports commentator Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields tweeted it was “sad to think his OW career might be over already.”
Which, regardless of how innocuously Shields may have meant it, reads like a suggestion that we should ignore the allegations to focus instead on the player’s in-game skills.
Now, it isn’t like regular sports players don’t also cause a ruckus: the tabloids do a good trade in the antics and opinions of some footballers. However, that sport was well-funded many years before the paparazzi and kiss-and-tell stories came along.
By comparison, social media and streaming platforms are making esports stars essentially celebrities-as-a-service: the world is watching 24/7 and that puts huge pressure on what is often very young talent.
At the moment, some of the more public incidences of unsavoury behaviour are broadcast live simply because many people in esports need to stream to earn. And that means being in the public eye to a degree no well-funded football club would allow in the modern media era.
While there’s only so much cleaning up you can do when so many popular esports involve killing your enemy’s digital avatars with firearms, many companies are making big strides towards turning esports into a TV-friendly package.
Right now, non-endemic brands are hovering with bags of money to give to the ‘right’ outfit – money that’s becoming increasingly needed as production values and salaries grow.
Organisations in esports are moving forward with building these partnerships outside of the space, but controversy, especially involving racism and sexual misconduct, are an anathema to big brands, and hurt the clean image that esports must now enforce on its stages and streams.
Behind the scenes, esports is still held together with sticking tape and the phenomenal efforts of passionate people, across the industry. The counterculture can-do atmosphere that enabled the scene to grow from LAN events is still essential for its survival.
But the esports bubble isn’t a bubble anymore, and players, talent and anyone involved in making these events need to be aware of what they’re doing, and the impact that it has on the world around them.
Esports must clean up its act, at least in this regard. People arguing about the right to drop racist slurs are going to find themselves left behind.
Mass commercialisation isn’t the answer, and esports thrives on the diverse and interesting backgrounds of those inside it, but sponsors aren’t going to stand for this sort of behaviour, and god knows it’d be nice to have a couple of weeks without the implosion of a high profile figure in esports.