CW: Lots of racial slurs and language that is offensive to LGBT folks.
As gaming has progressed further and further into E-Sports presentation, there are still a few aspects of it that, for better or worse, have stuck with it in the big leagues. Some of the better ones are a more relaxed presentation–you certainly won’t get golf commentary at an FGC or Dota event–and embracing their online roots by using platforms like streaming megapower Twitch to host their broadcasts instead of dedicated spots on television.
Then there’s the worse aspects, like the rampant use of racial slurs and other pejoratives. Y’know, small stuff like that. People will deny that it’s just a problem, that it’s mostly edgelords being edgelords, but the truth is a little harsher than that. The culture that allows that type of stuff to become normal has undeniable ties to the rise of the “Alt-Right,” which is a kind euphemism to refer to hate groups online that try to silence and hurt many marginalized groups. The same type of gamers that will use racially tinged memes and sexist language are a huge part of what made that group become so visible, and I’m going to take a look at that in another installment of Politically Incorrect.
Now, you might be thinking “Well, how do we know that online gaming culture really has anything to do with actual hate?” Well, to you I say here’s Overwatch League player Félix “xQc” Lengyel telling an openly gay player to “suck a fat cock, I mean you’d like it…”
Charming! xQc gave the usual flood of apologies and was suspended and fined, but he was eventually let go from his team, the Dallas Fuel, after a second offense where he flooded a stream chat with the popular Twitch emote, “TriHard,” which has a history of being used for racial disparagement, while a black Overwatch League MC was hosting a stream. His response? He was “raised on Twitch chat,” and that he wished someone had told him what he was doing was bad, because he apparently just thought that you use an emote of a black person whenever a black person is on stream.
That part about him just going with what he knew was what got to me the most. Granted, xQc is a young kid in his early 20’s and is clearly still maturing, but you still have to wonder what part of the culture makes shit like the things he’s done seem “normal.” But then you remember what type of behavior that the fanbases of these E-Sports titles tend to favor, and it doesn’t seem so shocking.
It wasn’t all that long ago that James “2GD” Harding, responding to his firing during a live broadcast of The International, the world’s largest Dota event, in 2016, said that the backlash to his firing was “hopefully a bit of a wake up call about what the community wants from its esports.” For context, Harding was let go during a massive event with hundreds of thousands of viewers for referencing his masturbation preferences and referring to one player as another’s “bottom bitch.” He’s not wrong about that backlash, either. You can go to any Reddit thread talking about Harding getting canned, and almost everyone is like outraged at the “easily offended” who got 2GD removed from broadcasting. His “style” is best seen here, where he immediately makes references to both his mother and his co-commentator sucking penis. He also once referred to a Starcraft 2 pro named Scarlett, who is a trans woman, as “the best of both worlds.” He’s edgy, folks!
Now those are pretty extreme examples, you might say, but not really! I would argue that wandering too deep into any subreddit for these really big games will have you drowning in “ironically” racist memes and language, sexist and anti-lgbt rhetoric, and just generally buffoonery. Looking at all that, could it be that that type behavior is just…the norm? xQc clearly thought so, and I wonder if a lot of people think like he does, just thinking this kind of behavior is okay and acceptable, worthy of pushing back against regulators.
You also might be wondering why these guys got away with shit like that time after time, and I don’t really have an answer. It’s not like no one’s talking about it this stuff; any time something like this happens, major websites will pick these stories up and report on them. Especially in 2017, it felt like you couldn’t go two weeks without some major streamer coming under fire for screaming a racial epithet while he (usually it was a male) streamed.
Everytime it would happen, however, a bunch of internet fans and even influential E-Sports casters would, like with 2GD, come out to fervently defend their boys. Earlier this year, Mohamed “M0E” Assad, a popular Counter Strike: Global Operations player, was banned from Twitch for a month due to his use of the word “faggot” on stream. He was bombarded with support, but none more scorching than from prominent journalist Duncan “Thorin” Shields
That’s, uh, that’s something! A couple weeks later he again spoke of his outrage toward the….double standard? Hypocrisy? I’m not sure.
It’s not like there aren’t people with a voice who will speak out against this kind of thing, but this is what I see most of the time. Someone says/does something terrible that is usually hurtful toward some marginalized group, and then a bunch of gamers will come out of the woodwork talking about the “SJWs” and the “PC thugs” and “sticks and stones” and that kind of happy horseshit. The discussion is rarely framed as a systemic problem that keeps occurring, but instead as an invasion, a hostile takeover from people (again, typically women, LGBT+ folk, and PoC) who want to censor and abolish the “fun” of gaming, the “fun” that comes with shrieking slurs and being racially insensitive.
The weirdest part is, that for all these guys proclamations that they’re being censored and that there’s “witch hunts” out to get them, nothing ever seems to happen. Aside from xQc and 2GD, the majority of E-Sports affiliated dudes who say some truly ignorant shit continue to get lots of work in the industry and are highly-respected and sought out. Grant “GranDGranT” Harris was part of the official broadcast for The International this year, and he has years of controversies that involve everything from using casual racial slurs to helping to harass a LoL cosplayer so much that his fans got her Twitch channel flagged and taken down briefly. Toby “TobiWan” Dawson has also dropped casual slurs and gave a woman being harassed by Dota 2 players online a very dumb message.
All of this adds up to this very strange notion that the online world (not even just online gaming) is just a hellhole where women are going to be hounded after if they stream and racial slurs are just fodder for a cackling stream audience, and there’s nothing that can be done. Worse still, calling attention to this behavior does nothing except for get you counter-harassed by these guys’ fanbase. Not only are guys who contribute to this culture respected, they are given high positions in broadcasting. The guy above, Thorin? He recently posted about how much he respects Alex Jones, the disgraced radio host who has claimed the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary was a false flag and contributed to the harassment of the victims’ parents. When ESL, the organization that will be using Thorin as a broadcaster for their Counter Strike tournament next month, was asked by Waypoint for comment, they gave a small response that said “Thorin is a freelancer, not affiliated with ESL.” Apparently, someone being a main broadcaster for your event on your stream for your tournament isn’t affiliation, but what do I know?
Fans of these guys will ardently defend their bullshit, even when it makes zero sense. Look at this example from David “UltraDavid” Graham, pointing out the absurd lengths a fan of Thorin goes to justify why defending Alex Jones is okay:
And it goes on and on and on like this. If they don’t think the dude is being criticized unfairly, then they can do these mental gymnastics to confirm that these guys aren’t even a little bit bigoted. It’s all “jokes,” it’s all “banter,” it’s nothing to get your panties in a twist over, ya SJW loser! But if all you do is joke about other races and genders, what else can we expect?
Look, if it wasn’t already clear enough, something is fucking rotten in gaming culture. If guys like xQc exhibit behavior like that just because it’s the norm, then perhaps there’s something brutally wrong with the norm. The fact that major E-Sports organizations refuse to acknowledge or do much to disassociate from that kind of behavior is a worrying sign that change won’t come anytime soon. The people who suffer the most from this culture can’t even speak up, because many times their voices are silenced and discredited by these guys, who have all the power and everything to gain from this culture remaining toxic.
You know, when I put it that way, it reminds me of another group that uses tactics like this…oh, that’s right! The so-called “Intellectual Dark Web.”
This group of geeks has come into prominence in the past few years as they seek to “rebel” (toddlers rebel against nap time better) against the “outrage” culture that is sweeping the United States; this typically just means they are used as high level conservative voices on talking head shows. The idea is that these white men (who are literally all over YouTube and mainstream press) are “marginalized,” and that they’ve been marginalized because they have the courage to speak about “uncomfortable truths” that seem to revolve around mocking women, PoC, and LGBT folks for wanting to be treated like people and talking loudly about how their might be inherent inequality between these groups and the masses. Sound familiar?
Just like these high level E-Sports personalities, the typical defense when these guys use massive platforms to spread ignorant and harmful ideas is that they are “censored” and “the SJWs” are just taking them out of context and conflating feelings with the truth. Ben Shapiro, the dipshit farthest to the right in that picture, is particularly fond of this idea that facts and feelings can’t mix, despite a seeming inability to understand what a fact is and being quite openly racist. A lot of these guys are also big “defenders” of the online “revolt” against “The SJWs” that was GamerGate, but I’ll let you read about that on your own. Long story short, the origins of the “Alt-Right,” which is seen as extreme conservatism, are founded in that movement and lives on through these dark web goons.
This group’s supporters are also masters of bad-faith defending. At any mention of their name, two or three stans will come in, asking for “debate,” (it does not mean what you think it means) or trying to prove how you took their words out of context. And it works! It normalizes these guys’ extremist language into something more palatable, when it’s anything but. Jordan Peterson, the goofy fucker second from the left, has openly said that “crazy women” can’t be controlled because society won’t let you threaten a woman physically, yet he’s thought of as this revelatory “genius” who gets cited in Eventhubs articles, of all things!
And would it shock you that some of these top E-Sports folks are supporters of these guys and huge Gamergaters?
If that wasn’t enough, ‘ol Dicky Lew was a writer at Breitbart, often considered an openly Alt-Right site, where in between E-Sports stories he’d talk about campus censorship and anti-social justice topics. Super!
The biggest problem is that all these guys’ mindless followers spew the rhetoric and language, whether they know it or not (they do), used by actual bigots to engage in online communities. Never mind the dark web morons who share partially bigoted or racial views, there’s plenty of actual goose-steppers who use the same talking points they do. This isn’t some pushback against the “radical left,” most of these guys just want to make life shitty for people they don’t like. And by spreading their coded language and shit ideas, gaming culture has done more than its share of damage, making a lot of online spaces unwelcoming and hostile towards a lot of marginalized groups because they have the gall to voice their uncomfortability. You ever wonder why so many people are jumpy at the mere use of certain terms? It’s really hard to separate the rise of the Alt-Right and gaming, and some of the behavior that runs rampant in E-Sports is very indicative of that connection.
Unfortunately, the FGC falls under that umbrella of online gaming, so some of those deplorable behaviors make their way in too. Things usually shake out the exact same way; some big personality says something horrible, the groups affected by that statement rightfully get mad, and then they cry censorship and oppression by telling the the affected groups that they are disingenuous and perpetually offended, always quick with a “witch hunt” or an “agenda.” We have seen it happen time and time again, but let’s just run through some highlights real quick:
- Chris G says black girls are bad at games, then apologizes by saying he’s “sick of agendas.”
- Chris Tatarian subtly implies he could destroy a trans girl’s online presence because she criticized him for implying women who use heavy makeup are insecure. Follows that up by saying expressing yourself is “damaging” in probably the least self-aware thing I’ve ever read
- LowTierGod insults women, trans people, the handicapped, pretty much everyone, then claims people just don’t understand him.
That’s just a few of many, many other examples. These guys are all high profile and get either work on national television, have a major sponsor, or are featured in commercials at Evo that run ’round the clock. If they do lose opportunities for their social media behavior, the general public certainly doesn’t hear about it, and the opportunities don’t stop coming for any of them. Much like the E-Sports personalities or the goobers of the dark web, we’re supposed to swallow the terrible things they’re saying and say nothing, because anyone who’s actually offended is just playing victim and “virtue signaling” to others in order to gain “clout.”
Believe it or not, amidst all the bots and trolls, the internet is made up of real people, people who just want to go online and interact on their preferred social media and other websites without being harassed, hated on, or discriminated against. We are so often told this lie, that gaming is a complete meritocracy that accepts all who want in as long as they work hard. But as we can plainly see, this same culture has no problem using racial or gendered slurs for fun, and any one who tries to say something is shamed and silenced. Worst of all, a lot of these guys are openly supportive of groups and movements that did a lot of harm to a lot of people. As long as this behavior continues, we can’t really say that the gaming community is completely inclusive, now can we?
A lot of people will balk at the comparison to those intellectual dark web geeks, but all the language is the exact same. Screaming about “agendas,” “SJWs,” “snowflakes,” all the Alt-Right talking points du jour. Various personalities in E-Sports titles and the FGC are mimicking this kind of behavior, and it is cultivating the same type of feeling: we can say whatever we want, don’t you dare tell us we can’t, and we don’t care if it makes you uncomfortable.
Any time I see shit like this:
It’s just reinforcing the status-quo by claiming these problems don’t exist when they do.
With all that said, I should point out that there are bound to be some people who use these terms and are truly ignorant to their origins; this is why I’ve been careful to avoid labeling in this article, because I know that it may not be accurate. But ignorance is not an excuse, and when some of the biggest influencers in the scene use their platforms to give credence to ideas founded in hate, it should be necessary to fight back against it. I know it’s uncomfortable, but discrimination and sexism are very real things that exist, and if we don’t do our part in exposing it or pointing it out, things won’t change.
Nobody is above change, so I’m not advocating for casting people out, but we really need some people to understand how what they say matters. It doesn’t matter that its online; you still interact with (mostly) real people on social media, and if you use the words and rhetoric of a hate group, you start to look like one of them, too. If people commit to being more cognizant of what they do, fantastic? But if they stay willfully ignorant? Perhaps they don’t need commercials, sponsors, and opportunities on television. But ultimately, that’s just my opinion.
Thank you for reading, if you got to the end! I got a big response for my last article and I hope that means some people are paying attention to these important topics. I will be back next time looking at political cowardice, where people who have a voice could do something to help but just don’t. Until we meet again!