Esports athletes need to start putting the ‘pro’ in professional player

Last weekend, the Brazilian Counter-Strike: Global Offensive squad, competing under the Immortals banner, showed up late for the grand finals against North in Montreal.

Several CLG players, who Immortals had played and beat earlier that day, tweeted claiming the Immortals squad had been out drinking the night beforehand. CLG’s Pujan ‘FNS’ Mehta tweeted this:

This tweet led Vito ‘KNG’ Giuseppe, a player for Immortals, to respond with the tweet: "You’ll prove it or i’ll kill you", which is now deleted. While no one can really tell whether Immortals were out partying, or whether CLG were just joking as they have claimed, the death threat riled up the CS:GO community, with many declaring it the end of either KNG, Immortals’ CSGO team, or both.

At the same time a StarCraft 2 player, Yum ‘Sea’ Bo Sung, got disqualified from an $88,500 Starleague tournament for inappropriate behaviour on a stream which included alleged harassment of a female streamer and getting inebriated to the point of vomiting. For Bo Sung, this was one of his last potential tournaments before he hits 30, an age when many esports players are considered past their prime. It could well be the end of his career, with sponsors definitely less likely to take a chance on an aging player that now has his name and face linked with live-streamed footage of him touching and punching a female streamer seemingly without her consent.

In April this year Matt “Dellor” Vaughn, an Overwatch player for Toronto Esports, went on a racist tirade live on stream, getting him dropped by his organisation and ending his career.

The fact of the matter is a simple one, in all three cases a player has publicly done severe damage to their own career due to a lack of professionalism and, despite the punk rock spirit of esports, it’s time pro players and teams start to act like sporting professionals. Otherwise there’s a real risk they’ll get left behind as the industry is colonised more and more by VC investment and non-endemic brands looking to spend big money.

Professionalism takes many forms. At a base level, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask a team that’s qualified for a grand final to show up on time. It also doesn’t seem that unreasonable to ask pros not to punch fellow streamers while broadcasting live on the internet, or to perhaps not be ridiculously racist.

Events like this should be rare, but unfortunately they are all too common. While I’ve never heard of a top-tier team showing up late for their own grand finals, racist tirades, death threats and players getting in trouble for things they’ve done on stream is old news, and it makes everyone look bad.

No one is saying players should act like saints all of the time, and staying up all night drinking, partying and having raucous attitudes are part of sports that’s unlikely to go away in either tradition or digital sports any time soon. However, engaging in these things to the point where you either can’t show up on time to do your job, or the content you’re putting on social media are hurting your earning potential as an esports star or organisation, indicates there’s a problem. And it’s a problem that esports is going to have to solve.

I’m keen not to point the finger here. Many players are picked up as teenagers, taken from obscurity and given a living wage playing video games all day. Along the way, no one steps in to remind people of the social dos and don’ts of suddenly acquiring a huge audience of fans that idolise you. Unfortunately, this also means that no one tells you how easily players can mess it all up for themselves with a single errant tweet.

In a perfect world, some of the responsibility for this should fall onto the organisations and teams that hire young players, both to be the voice of reason and moderation in making sure they don’t take actions that will hinder their ability to do their job, but also to provide things like social media training. After all, when an organisation’s player threatens to kill someone, the organisation looks bad too.

In many ways, esports should be looking to ape the standards set by professional athletes. Occasionally you’ll get a bad egg, but there’s an inherent morality expected of all athletes while they’re at work, and any players that think it’s their right to be racist, or put someone in a headlock, will probably find themselves left behind as big sponsors start to demand a more family friendly image for their money.

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