The Fight for Equality: Discrimination in Esports

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The Fight for Equality: Discrimination in Esports

At every level, discrimination exists against people of color, women, and the LGBTQ community.

The Overwatch League is in the off-season, and every week a plethora of roster changes come flooding in. Last week the Paris Eternal dropped most of their roster, and picked up legendary DPS player Kim “Sp9rk1e” Yeong-han, along with a few Korean coaches. Instead of rejoicing at the opportunity the team has with Sp9rk1e, Choi “Hanbin” Han-been, and Jung “Xzi” Ki-hyo, some Paris Eternal fans have transformed into racists and bigots. This isn’t the first time that discrimination has pervaded the esports industry, and it’s likely it won’t be the last. Fortunately, a lot of the discriminatory tweets and comments have been deleted, leaving praise and criticism for the Paris Eternal management.

When you look back, the history of competitive video games has never been a very welcoming environment. Either someone is talking about your mother, dropping the N-bomb, or making homophobic slurs. This is common to see or hear in public games, but surely our organized competitions don’t feature this vulgarity? Well sadly, they do.

There is a semi-hostile attitude towards people of color, the LGBTQ community, and women in the gaming industry, both esports, and commercial. Esports faces a harder barrier than any other professional sport due to the anonymity and interactivity that a digital medium brings. Looking back provides context to the previous situations, and what we can do to be better.

Hearthstone Faces hardships

The first event that comes to memory when we talk about discrimination in esports is that of Terrence “TerrenceM” Miller. During DreamHack Austin in 2016, TerrenceM competed in the broadcasted Hearthstone tournament. When the African-American player appeared on stream, racist comments and disgusting remarks flew in with little to no moderation. At the time, Twitch was a new platform that required time and effort to effectively manage on a large scale. Carling “Toastthebadger” Filewich was a moderator during that event, and she wrote a post about the experience on GosuGamer. Moderators were barely able to curb this sort of sickening behavior from flooding the chat and at times they would join in on the fun at the expense of a professional player. Twitch released a statement about the event saying,

“In this instance, moderation support was not requested and was handled by the broadcaster. Many of our broadcasters prefer to handle moderating their own channels while using the tools we provide. We currently approach chat behavior by providing broadcasters tools, education and autonomy to police their own channel. While in this instance the broadcaster was unable to fully prevent the described behavior, Twitch has a responsibility to broadcasters and players to provide a welcoming environment. As such, we are exploring new tools and processes to increase awareness and mitigation of these issues, and will continue to take action against chatters who committed reported violations.”

This was a bold statement from Twitch, and since then they have taken steps to prevent hate speech and provide moderation tools to streamers. Unfortunately though, in the same year, the behavior of fans in streams affected another professional’s life.

Another incident where a player was barraged by fans, was League of Legends Thresh player, Maria “Remilia” Creveling. Remilia’s experience with the LCS made history as the only woman to compete in the LCS. Her run with Team Renegade was short, as the scrutiny and discrimination, she faced forced her to leave the team. Renegade’s streams were flooded with viewers leaving sexist and transphobic comments. Remilia being a transgendered woman on a professional team was monumental, but the attitude of esports fans on live streams was only a further push for her to leave esports. Her legacy has since been dwarfed by a narrative and common theme that females are not welcome in esports, and that is troublesome. For anyone who follows Overwatch, you probably remember when Geguri first popped up as a beast Zarya. This was a prime example that the issue is not just with fans.

Overwatch 2: Strongest Heroes in Season 11

New Game, Same Problems

What happens when a group of insecure males feel their power is threatened by a female in their industry? Well, they lash out, accuse her of cheating, and threaten to come to her house with a knife. Geguri was an insane 17-year old Korean that came out of nowhere in the middle of 2016. Her Zarya tracking skills were unmatched, leading many to report that she was cheating. It should be noted that there were no prior complaints against Geguri until it became public that she was a female. Despite Blizzard Korea and her former team UW Artisan confirming that she did not cheat, she was pressured into doing a stream where all could see her skills in action in a controlled environment. During the midst of the anger, a player from the now-disbanded team known as Dizziness who goes by the name of Strobe stated that “If there is a problem with our sponsors and such, I may visit Geguri’s house with a knife in hand. I am not joking.” Multiple members of Dizziness have since changed their names to separate themselves from the incident, but Jae-mo “xepheR” Koo was one of the few on the team that has been outed. Unfortunately, this was not the last time that a professional Overwatch player made a questionable statement and faced controversy.

Juicemaster and Meme-lord Félix “xQc” Lengyel was fined and suspended by Blizzard and the Overwatch League for his persistent use of offensive language, both on and off the big stage. There was an incident where xQc joined in spamming an emoji of a black man during an Overwatch League broadcast when caster Malik Forte came on screen. It’s not that the emote is specifically racist, but spamming it while an African-American is on stream is demeaning. Along with the $4,00 fine and suspension from the Overwatch League, less than a month later xQc was dismissed from the Dallas Fuel. This was one of those moments where everything turned out for the better, and Blizzard cracked down on a few other players for using homophobic slurs. Those who have watched xQc’s streams before know he is a wildcard, and his behavior can be entertaining but also edgy at the same time. His sense of humor isn’t for everyone, and bringing a wildcard to the League was a bold move.

Overwatch 2: Strongest Heroes in Season 11

A rough Year

I would be remiss to leave out the Rick Fox vs. Echo Fox debacle that dominated esports news for months. In a report by Dexerto, it broke that Rick Fox was leaving Echo Fox in regards to a racial slur being used by a shareholder. The slur wasn’t directed at Rick Fox, but rather Jace Hall, former CEO, and African-American male. When this news broke, it shook the esports world, and unfortunately, amongst the drug-fueled allegations, this spark got lost. It should not go unnoticed that it is not only 13 year-olds on Call of Duty screaming the N-word, but it’s also business executives at the highest level.

So now we are back to the issue of Paris Eternal and their fan bases' distaste for diversity. I can appreciate what the Paris Eternal was trying to do with a mainly EU roster, but nationalities should only matter in the Overwatch World Cup. Overwatch League teams shouldn’t be punished for making their roster better and not struggle. The Paris Eternal just signed the best DPS player in Overwatch Contenders, along with two of his teammates, Xzi and Hanbin, from Element Mystic. The Paris Eternal is taking a page out of the Vancouver Titan’s book and pulling the best talent from Contenders Korea into their roster. The team still has SoOn, NiCOgdh, BenBest, and HyP are all from France. The other two members on the roster, Kruise, and Greyy are from the UK and Portugal respectively. To add insult to injury to those who responded to the announcement with distaste, the two of the three Korean players will be inactive during part of the 2020 Overwatch League season due to age limitations.

As with any sport, a fans’ passion for a team can be strong, and may at times cloud their judgment. I hope those that made hateful comments online realize why they were wrong. The fact that discrimination still permeates every level of esports needs to be acknowledged. My job isn’t to preach what is right and wrong, but rather provide context to issues in our industry.

Malik Shelp
Malik specializes in esports photography, videography, video editing, and graphic design. He has also written Overwatch and Dota articles for over 2 years for DBLTAP and other esports outlets. You can learn more about Malik on our About page.