Guest Column: Can Toxic Behavior in Esports Be Stopped?
Players’ youth combined with social media requires strict policies
This month’s dismissal of professional Esports player Felix “xQc” Lengyel from the Overwatch League’s Dallas Fuel franchise has reignited the controversy over toxicity in esports.
“This is a big, big issue that needs to be solved,” said Jonathan Weinberg, founder/CEO, Quarterback, a fan-engagement platform for Esports players and influencers, during a panel at Digital L.A.’s Esports: Building Community in Esports conference. “But it will be super hard because, when you care so much about something and you’re young and you don’t really know what to say and you’re so easily behind a keyboard and can say whatever you want, there’s nothing much to hold you back.”
Toxic behavior may include racial slurs, homophobic slurs, bullying, or even the inappropriate use of typically acceptable emotes or memes in online chats. Toxicity and unprofessional demeanor by some players may tarnish the fast-growing sport, discouraging sponsors, major media organizations, and investors from involvement.
Matt Rutledge, director, mobile gaming, Complexity Gaming/founder of incubator Mobile Esports Lab, noted that he deals with players who are “best in the world [who] are 16 years old, and they don’t have the knowledge of what’s appropriate and what’s not. So, as an organization, I’ve always led with a no-tolerance policy. When you’re working with kids, it’s the only way to get the message across, but that needs to go all the way to the top of the organization as well.”
Riot Games, the biggest organization with the largest online-gaming audience, has confronted the issue head-on in its game League of Legends (LoL). Its no-tolerance policy resulted in the suspension of two pro LoL teams for poor player treatment. In January, it allowed LoL streamer Tyler1, a top-ranked player who built his entire brand on toxicity, to return to authorized play after a nearly two-year suspension.
Blizzard, publisher of Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm and owner of the recently launched Overwatch League, is working with partners like Twitch, the leading sports-streaming platform, in efforts to eradicate toxicity from live streaming with a “Play Nice; Play Fair” initiative.
Twitch enacted new community guidelines this month and, in a blogpost clarifying those guidelines, said, “Creators are role models and leaders of the communities they create or foster around them. Creators should consider the consequences of their statements and actions of their audiences; we ask that you make a good-faith effort to quell any efforts from those in your community to harass others.”
The post adds that, if streamers see something happening, they must try to stop it and that inaction may result in suspension from the platform. Some gamers aren’t pleased, including Swedish streamer Hans Eli Sebastian Fors, aka Forsen.
“No, no, no, no,” Fors commented. You cannot have both. I can watch what I say … I cannot watch what my community does. Are you f***g serious?”
Some companies believe that the use of moderation tools, including artificial intelligence, may help scrub offensive comments from live chat rooms, but it’s not perfect. As for players, some see another approach.
“When it comes to a high-stress situation they’re not used to, how do they deal with it and make sure they can cope with that sort of stress they’re not used to?” asked panelist Chris Oestman, esports coordinator, Sports Academy, a sports facility that recently added an esports training curriculum.
The Academy uses two mindset-development coaches who work with not only mental-acuity training but sports psychology. “What we like to have them do,” Oestman explained, “is work with the players and the teams specifically to understand what is too far, … teaching them early on in their career because these kids are young; they don’t know what to say and what not to say, and they let their emotions get to them. Nipping it in the bud and getting it addressed before it happens is probably the best way to avoid that.”
Perez is senior advisor, multiplatform video, digital initiatives, and live sports strategy, The Diffusion Group. He was formerly director, digital platforms, UFC.