Jessica Price was the narrative designer for Guild Wars 2, run by game dev Two ArenaNet. Earlier in July, she tweeted a thread about writing characters based on different game genres. A prominent member of the Guild Wars 2 community, streamer and YouTuber Deroir voiced his disagreement on Twitter.
Jessica Price responded by implying she was being told how to do her job because she was a woman. The community reacted fiercely to her statements & follow up tweets. Soon after she was fired by Two ArenaNet, along with her colleague Peter Fries who stood up to defend her.
Alex “Goldenboy” Mendez is a host & MC for Blizzard’s Overwatch League (OWL). He was recently streaming as he watched a clip on ESPN showing the opening ceremony, which featured himself of course, of the Grand Finals of OWL and he was visibly taken by the moment, appearing emotional and tearing up.
The competitive Overwatch community praised him and congratulated him for achieving his dream, but some remembered how much abuse he used to suffer when he first started out in the scene. Others still, recalled how they almost drove him out of the scene entirely due to how much abuse he received.
Richard Lewis is a veteran of esports journalism and has written iconic and extensive pieces across a myriad of games. Some of the stories he has broken have exposed some of the largest scandals in esports history, from shady management to match-fixing to cheating and more. Lewis has received constant threats from not just individuals but organisations as well, yet he continues to deliver breaking news that would never see the light of day otherwise.
Yet, a prolific member of the scene and one that has risked so much personally still seems to suffer at the hands of the communities he only tries to protect. Most recently, Lewis has been receiving flak after exposing a player for racist tweets along with calling out a journalist for unethical practices. The result is that Lewis suggested he would stop attending any CSGO events unless it was the company he works for who ran it.
A game developer, a caster & a journalist. All three either pushed out or close to pushed out of their scenes by their respective communities.
Gaming communities and their love-hate relationship with personalities
Gaming, especially the esports subgenre, has grown signifcantly. With the expansion of gaming culture and esports, has come the rise of personalities and talent. Indeed, rockstar game devs have been an established thing for some time now, with the likes of Fable’s Peter Molyneux or Fez’s Phil Fish, although the latter had a tormented relationship with the gaming community, which is apt for the topic at hand.
Nonetheless, with the growth of esports, the level of stardom is unlike ever before and is now accessible to more people than ever before. From casters to desk analysts, coaches to pro players, game observers to MCs, everyone can flourish in the spotlight. What many didn’t anticipate, however, was the increased scrutiny and abuse that comes with the glamour and flashing lights.
The gaming community is no stranger to mob justice. There have been numerous figures in the gaming scene that owe their fame almost entirely due to a mob of gamers hell-bent on destroying their lives over perceived or actual wrongdoings. Zoe Quinn, a game dev, was thrust into the limelight in a saga that birthed GamerGate. Allie Rose-Marie Leost, an employee at EA’s motion capture labs in Vancouver was widely harassed online for what the gaming mob thought was her fault in Mass Effect: Andromeda’s awful facial animations, only for it to turn out that she wasn’t the lead animator for the game and thus was not to blame.
With such a track record, it’s no surprise that as more and more personalities enter the gaming scene, the documented case of abuse and aggression from gaming communities increases. An argument often used in these discussions is that esports is just becoming like traditional sports and that the abuse is normal and something personalities have to get used to.
Traditional athletes are certainly no strangers to both online and real-life abuse and its something that has been accepted as part of sports and part of what it means to be an athlete in this day and age. However, there are nuances that make gaming slightly different. The depth of interaction that the gaming community enjoys with its personalities is far higher than traditional sports or even the likes of film celebrities, primarily due to how ingrained Reddit is in the gaming scene.
The harm of gaming culture’s interaction with its personalities
It is true that we live in an age where outrage is the norm, and people almost seem to look for it at every turn. Outrage culture, something I’ve written about in the past, is so prolific that when legitimate issues are brought up, it is all swept with the same brush. I wouldn’t be surprised if that same argument is used to dismiss this article. It is very much because of outrage culture that brands are more cautious than ever before to avoid it and thus the negative interactions that the gaming community has with its personalities can have far-reaching consequences.
The most obvious is that mob attacks can lead to personalities losing their jobs, their income & even their sponsors. These are human beings that are simply trying to put food on the table, and whilst that doesn’t absolve them of all wrongdoing, when you’re attacking someone’s livelihood because they don’t appeal to your tastes or your standard of quality, there is something crucially wrong in the culture that needs to be addressed.
In addition to that, sponsors get cold feet when thrown into a volatile, hostile environment. The Fighting Game Community (FGC) often derides the need for sponsors and is a gaming scene infamous for its hostile but deeply historic culture that often clashes with what sponsors would want. EVO, arguably the most prestigious FGC tournament in the world, had its highest prize pool in any game come from Street Fighter V (back in 2016) with just over $100 000. In fact, its total prize pool in 152 tournaments only amounts to just under $1 500 000.
When you compare that figure to games like League of Legends, Dota 2 and CSGO, it pales in comparison. League of Legends’ prize pool for the second season of its Worlds championship alone, already eclipses that amount, by over $500 000 (Source). The FGC will tell you that they don’t care about sponsors, but the discussion often comes up about how the pro scene would love an influx of sponsors and money to make it a viable career.
Of course, this is not to say that this is exclusively a gaming problem. As mentioned before, from sports stars to film celebrities to famous authors, all have to deal with the price of fame. The internet is a horrible place even for those not in the spotlight. Often, people take to Twitter to discuss how exhausting being on the platform is given how often anger and misery permeate within its digital borders.
Trolling is also an aspect that serves to exacerbate the situation. A whole community in the form of 4chan is notorious for its series of elaborate trolls. Sometimes harmless, but often anything but. The Star Wars fandom has a well-documented history of driving some of its stars close to suicide or from social media entirely. Late night host Jimmy Kimmel has a whole “Mean Tweets” segment whereby celebrities read mean tweets about them.
As much as online abuse and harassment occur outside of gaming, the goal isn’t to rid the entire world of abuse. The goal is to look at how gaming culture perpetuates it and to fix our little corner of the world. That’s not an entirely idealistic goal and is something we should constantly be striving towards. Ignoring the context of gaming culture in the discussion of online abuse & how gaming communities engage with their personalities is foolish and lazy.
Gaming culture has often struggled with women and how they are treated. Again, this is not an issue that is exclusive to gaming, but the context of how women are treated in gaming is important. Most recently, this issue was brought to the fore when Ninja, arguably the biggest Fortnite streamer in the world, revealed that he didn’t play with female streamers as he didn’t want the rumours to threaten his marriage.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with Ninja prioritising his marriage over his streaming career. There is also nothing wrong with Ninja choosing to avoid female streamers to prevent the vicious rumours and stories that the community would create and having to put his wife through that. What is a problem is that he had to make that decision in the first place.
It is beyond broken, that women are being punished for what is the fault of a largely male audience. The culture around women in streaming is already problematic, with many being called “Twitch thots” and the like. For one of the biggest streamers in the world to unwittingly, but understandably perpetuate that stereotype is detrimental to the future of gaming concerning equality and diversity.
You don’t see male music artists avoid working with women due to the risk of rumours and threatening their marriage. You’d be hard pressed to find someone in the corporate world who avoids interacting with the opposite gender to ensure there aren’t rumours of infidelity. The level of abuse seen in gaming around rumours of relationships & Twitch streamers in general is terrifying. You only need to look at places such as Reddit’s LiveStreamFail to see how obsessive people can be with streamers, gaming or otherwise.
Another reason context is essential when discussing abuse within the gaming scene is understanding the power of distribution. For content creators in gaming, Reddit is often life or death. Making the front page with an article or a video is the difference between paying the bills or rationing food for the month. The amount of negative attention Richard Lewis has gotten in the past led to him and his content being banned from the League of Legends subreddit. Despite vehement protests from the community, the ban has not been lifted.
Mods deny it was a personal thing and that Lewis broke subreddit and Reddit rules by brigading threads and threatening the mods themselves, but when the community turns on you, it can be career destroying for personalities. Thankfully for Richard, he has been established in various games and thus he could survive the hit, but very few, if any, LoL-centric content creators could. This context of how little power content creators have in the gaming scene adds another layer of viciousness that non-gaming industries can’t relate to.
The world of South African esports & its personalities
South African esports is often chasing the global scene, but I think this is one aspect in which we’re firmly in contention. Sam “Tech Girl” Wright has had to deal with some abhorrent behaviour from the community, with some questioning her hard work or credibility to get to where she is today.
Michael “axtremes” Harmse has had to deal with pro players in the scene react negatively to his criticism and question his ability to be a caster or his in-game knowledge. Journalists in the scene have had to deal with abuse and threats when calling out problematic behaviour or even just creating a discussion around an issue.
South African esports is such a small, still developing scene that it cannot sustain this level of toxicity. There are so few sponsors in the scene already, when the local industry becomes a hostile environment, brands shy away from investing and growing the scene. The local industry as it currently stands, offers too little value to brands for them to risk it, especially with outrage culture being such a part of society in recent years.
Brands in South Africa already understand so little in the world of competitive gaming, to create a toxic and hostile environment just scares them off and sets back the scene. Everyone loses in the end and all the hard work that has been put in is unravelled. The community reaction to the personalities that organised Mettlestate’s Valkyrie Challenge is an apt illustration of how the community almost drives out sponsorship and growth in the scene.
The way forward
Gaming is an incredibly lucky industry with its relatively intimate access to its personalities but is that something that needs to change going forward? The way forward could look like how film celebrities treat their social media accounts, either through a PR agency or with a very muted approach.
When looking at how game devs engage with communities, companies could enforce a strict social media policy that ensures minimal damage during interactions to avoid a massive fallout that leads to job losses and brand damage along with a mob baying for blood.
Some might even suggest that the community should simply monitor itself and that the status quo is acceptable. After all, gaming has always craved the approval of the mainstream and this is how mainstream personalities and talent deal with their respective communities. They grit their teeth and slug through it.
At the end of the day, a game developer, a caster & a journalist should not have to fight for their place in the gaming scene when their only crime was to be passionate and to care.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Critical Hit as an organisation.
Last Updated: August 14, 2018