A couple weeks ago, I was reading through my local FGC’s Facebook group in the aftermath of a big local event that was sponsored by the Talking Stick Resort and Casino in Scottsdale, AZ. Two non-Arizona players were in the grand finals of the Street Fighter V tournament, which sparked some discussion in the FB group that perhaps the local scene was actually not very good. This lead to an even greater discussion of why there seemed to be less of an interest in SFV locally, and I was surprised when someone spoke up and said that they had heard plenty of people at this casino event saying they would play SFV if it weren’t for “the egos and the abrasiveness” they felt coming from that particular community.
Now, naturally, there was a bit of pushback, people arguing that just because they talked tough and blew smoke on occasion didn’t mean they were trying to scare people away, and they actually wanted the opposite. Having been a part of the scene for awhile, I can attest that the players aren’t jerks by any means, but I think the problem stemmed from how they, particularly the top players, interacted in the FB group, which could be abrasive and off-putting. If I were a new player, unaware of how most of these guys interacted, I would also probably figure that everyone had a bit of resentment or other form of lingering distaste toward each other, which kind of takes the fun out of non-tournament get-togethers. After all, why would you want to come together and play if the atmosphere never ceases to be tense and uncomfortable?
The reason I bring up this anecdote is because I think what is happening in the AZ scene is a microcosm of a greater problem I’ve been noticing in the general FGC with regards to online interaction. Earlier this year I wrote a post about how I think most people in the FGC misunderstand how difficult it can be for women to get into this community, specifically when they get trolled online. I talked about it a little bit in that post, but I now want to focus on how reinforcement of poor behavior and choices online from some very notable people of influence in the FGC helps create an unwelcoming, perhaps even hostile, atmosphere to women, especially women in the LGBT+ umbrella, and other marginalized communities.
Before I start carpet bombing, I want to point that no, I don’t believe any of the people I’m going to point out are Satan-incarnate. Stupid? Yes. Immature? Most definitely. But people can change, and I’ve noticed that change, a lot of times, involves taking hard look at previous behavior and understanding how it can be bad/toxic. Do I have total faith that that would happen anytime soon? No, not really. But it won’t be for lack of trying on my part. Now that I got that out of my system, let’s dive in.
To start, we have to understand how a lot of these people saying horrible things into the ether seem to believe the internet works.
That’s Daluan Sparrow AKA LowTierGod. You may remember him from such things as calling a handicapped player a “mutant,” calling a trans woman a “confused abomination,” and yelling at his girlfriend (or pretending to, still shitty!) on stream. Sitting down for a chat with Zorine Te (sidenote, I like her interviews, you should give her a follow on social media), Sparrow answered questions about his controversial image by stating that “picture are painted differently,” and that in order to truly understand the man behind LowTierGod, “you gotta get to know me to know me.”
So I guess the idea now is that we’re supposed to be either a) okay with the fact that Mr. Sparrow portrays a “character” (that’s pretty much is his entire online presence) that largely revolves around impotent rage at women and the marginalized, or b) gaslit into believing that Mr. Sparrow has been wildly taken out of context, and is actually just an average player trying to get better. Ignoring both of those batshit otpions, what Mr. Sparrow is doing here is pretty textbook internet guy stuff.
Even in the modern age of social media, a lot of people are still totally comfortable posting horrible things onto the internet, because really guys, the internet is for the lulz only! “It’s not that deep” is a phrase you’ll run into a lot. The idea is that nothing said is that serious, it’s all a joke, all a bit, so let’s just have some fun, right?! Unfortunately, a great majority of that fun happens to revolve around pejoratives that seem to always target race, gender and/or sexual orientation, but when people rightfully get offended, they are supposed to just accept that everyone’s trolling.
Those of us who were on the internet in the mid aughts might remember Penny Arcade’s great comic that showed the G.I.F.T. theory, or the Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory:
As you can see, the theory posits that giving a normal person a global audience and complete anonymity is to put them on the road to being a shitbird online. While this was certainly true in the days of IRC chats and forums, the world of today is a little different. Most people use sites like Facebook and Twitter for a large amount of their social outreach, and those two websites in particular have the caveat of most of its users putting a face and name to their otherwise anonymous internet life. Streaming is a big thing now too, and that is also usually accompanied by webcams that reveal a very real person behind the internet persona.
In short, the”anonymity” part of the equation has gone the way of the dodo, but it unfortunately seems to have had very little effect on the final answer. The line between shitposting and actual statements that pertain to the character of the person posting is more blurred than ever, yet the FGC at large still seems to believe that you can’t take the internet too serious, and a lot of FGC members would say that if you were to just meet some of these people, you’d see they aren’t bad guys. Really! And those terrible things they said? Years ago! Anybody can dig up horrible things people said in the past, what’s the harm?
Anybody’s who has been keeping an eye on American politics recently has probably seen that people of influence, when confronted with the horrible shit they have been peddling, will never not see themselves as the victim in that situation. Civility is the name of the game, and any consequence they could have faced for what they said is allowed to be thrown out because the accuser was kind of mean about it. This very odd type of discourse plagues the people of influence in the FGC too, and yet these same people continue to have opportunities despite openly saying things any other rando would be tarred-and-feathered in the street for.
Mr. Sparrow was my first example, and boy, has he had a 2018. He was a featured member of a reality show for Street Fighter V on a major cable television network, is featured in “fight night” style FGC events, and can be seen on stream at most major events on the Capcom Pro Tour. “Pictures are painted differently,” yet he seems to be the same person he was a year ago, except now he’s posting about how the N-word has evolved past being a slur, explicitly stating he’s not an act, and the usual goofy shit about women.
But he’s far from the only person. Logan-Sama, a prominent Grime DJ in the UK, has a pretty poor habit of using his Twitter to say rotten things. Most of that is documented here in this article by Ian Walker, but suffice it to say, he’s quite the character. Despite all of this, he continues to be a major figure for helping Capcom UK show off new characters for SFV and he has continued to broadcast for major CPT tournaments, including just a couple weeks ago for CEO 2018. Allegedly he’s been making apologies in private to atone for his past actions (they were all like within the last two years, but the way people talk it’s as if it was twenty), but he’s still yet to actually lose any opportunities on the E-Sports side of things, although the BBC chose to not have him broadcast with them due to his Twitter feed having weird racially charged language. And he did “remove himself” from commentating Capcom Cup 2017 due to heat from some of his comments…although again, “removing himself” isn’t really a sign that people who matter took it serious.
To speak up against these cats is an exercise in futility, too. Sparrow’s Twitter is full of retweets from stans who will talk about haters and how there needs to be an FGC villain (apparently, being a villain is just saying horrible things to women and marginalized people), or, if you’re Logan, just accuse the person who is broadcasting your poor behavior of being a racist, then go on to suitably talk about how much better you’re doing. It’s even worse for women, who have to put up with having dumb generalizations thrown out into the ether and then be accused of being an asshole for clapping back. Case in point, a young woman on Twitter made the mistake of pointing out SFV player Chris Tatarian having problematic tweets about women and being trans. The results weren’t pretty.
Y’know, my favorite part, apart from the misgendering even though her pronouns are in her profile and being called a hoe, is that the defense for Chris is that this callout is done for “clout,” like this girl is trying to make a power move at poor Chris’ expense. Chris, who has a checkmark next to his name and is sponsored to travel and play SFV, is the one being victimized, not the woman who spoke up against his horseshit and got called ugly and jealous. His original take, by the way? Women who wear “too much” makeup are insecure about themselves and thus unattractive. Man of the century. Oh and he also feels that he could “destroy” this person for calling him names after he demeaned her gender. Cool.
So, what do we do about this? There are a lot of ways to go about it, but it’s complicated. There is the very obvious answer where a lot of TO’s in the FGC put out a sort of blanket statement that says that they won’t tolerate any sort of hateful behavior, online or otherwise, and doesn’t let these people into their events as punishment. It has happened before, albeit with more severe grievances, and no one seemed to have a problem with that. However, I will admit that I am torn about that response.
Obviously the two examples I laid out deserved that ban because it involved things directly involving tournament participants, but I wonder if being a general asshole is worth getting a ban. I mostly lean toward yes, especially because that kind of douchery is damaging at a level that is mostly underreported and unseen, but at the same time, I can’t help but wonder if that is too harsh, if only because, as I mentioned earlier, I do believe that people can change.
However, something I will take a hard stance on is that there’s no reason why people who have that kind of online interaction should get so many opportunities at greater exposure. Going back to my example at the beginning, all it takes to make potential lifelong FGC members shy away from being an active participant is to stoke an environment where the anxiety and uncomfortability revolves around quiet, unspoken tension instead of the agony and ecstasy of competition. No one wants to be in a community where the people that are pushed and chosen to be the representatives of said community are guys who go out of their way to make already marginalized groups uncomfortable just because they can. And no, I don’t think they were trying to be funny, that’s just Schrodinger’s Douche in action.
I think the thing that chaps my ass the most is that there are clear examples when people with the power to do something about this kind of behavior step in and do something. When NRS player Slayer said some ignorant shit and passed it off as a joke, Rick “TheHadou” Thiher, the head organizer for Combo Breaker, stepped in and told him off. But that was specifically about games and results, a far more comfortable arena to speak out against. When guys like LowTierGod or Chris T say stupid shit about women as a whole? Absolute silence. Alex Jebailey, the the head organizer for CEO, went in hard on a Smash Bros. player who made light of the Pulse Nightclub shooting from 2016, banning him from the event and encouraging everyone else to, as well. Yet Logan Sama, who definitely did the same thing by referencing a character from Blizzard’s Overwatch who has a move that shoots everyone in his sights, is commentating for blocks of SFV at Jebailey’s event, and also lead commentary on the pro wrestling event that he hosted as part of CEO this year.
I know what people are going to say:”SJW,” “You’re taking this out of context,” “We don’t cater to snowflakes,” and whatever bullshit phrase that lets them turn empathy and accountability into bad things. Regardless, I only criticize because I love, and it’s pretty damn frustrating to see countless social media posts about how inclusive and diverse the FGC is without acknowledging the constant undermining of that ideal. The FGC has been so great to me, as a player and a person, and I hate to think that others don’t get that same experience because the community at large wants to prioritize the “entertaining” people who constantly demean their status as a human being. And if you are one of those oh-so-enlightened people who think cyberbullying and being offended isn’t a real thing, you can kindly fuck off; again, I do not care for your platitudes that seek to undermine having empathy.
A lot of FGC members use the community as a means of escaping from a life that is unkind, unjust, and unrelenting; it’s one of the greatest thrills that niche competitive circles can provide. But in order to do justice to that notion, we as a community have to take some steps to not give priority and exposure to people who are active participants in the same type of horseshit misogyny and bigotry that some of these folks face on an everyday basis. Just because it’s online doesn’t mean anything; we know that most people are cowards who wouldn’t dare say the same shit they do online in public. It’s precisely because of that fact that we should be more vigilant in stopping these people from getting more exposure; turns out, it’s hard to hold repugnant views when real people can point out to you how much it hurts them to have those views.
Don’t get me wrong: it’s impossible to get along with everybody. The nature of human beings is that they have personalities that can both harmonize and clash with others, but there is no hardwired human condition that forces anyone to be an asshole. If you wanna play, play, but if you’re going to be a huge jerk online to real people, I see no reason why you need to be a major figure on stream, why you need to be on camera commentating, or even sponsored by anyone but your own wallet. In a day and age where videogames are now a billion dollar industry, there’s no reason why companies should feel the need to bank on people who act this way; there are plenty of fish in the sea.
When you’ve got a platform online, you now have a voice that thousands will repeat ad nauseam. For every thousand of those followers, there’s tens of thousands of people who will hear the echo. If you choose to use that platform to bully or mock groups of people, there’s a good chance they’ll see it whether they want to or not. Think about that the next time you’re cooking up a hot take that you clearly gave zero thought to. Think about how your opinion, shitty as it may be, is going to be agreed with and used to attack those who would dissent. Think about how weird it is that no matter who you step on and why you do it, you’re going to be rewarded with exposure and acceptance.
Thanks for reading this overly long post. If you haven’t already, follow me on Twitter @KingHippo42, and check out the podcast I co-host with Tekken legend Brad “Slips” Vitale, where we talk about the NRS side of the FGC with tournament breakdowns, video clips of good play, and more! Until we meet again!