Breaking the Habit

I have a confession to make: I wasn’t particularly moved to anger at this tweet from the Capcom Fighters account

This was far from the fawning praise of the infamous Evo tweet which included the full video of the celebration afterwards, just a still image noting the fact that Seon-Woo “Infiltration” Lee won the event he entered, as was his every right to do. I even noticed that despite him being all over this top 8 bracket, the Capcom Fighters account did not see fit to tag his account or even mention him until it was clear that he won the event.

Of course you can look at the ratio on the tweet to see that I was probably in the minority on this one.

It has been three years since we found out about Lee’s 2017 arrest and subsequent fine for domestic violence, and two years since I published a blog post that did its best to communicate the facts regarding the entire ordeal, including Lee’s subsequent behavior after the fact and particularly debunking the idea that he was “banned” in any official capacity by Capcom for his actions. Almost like clockwork, I can expect that my blog’s traffic will spike when he enters and, using his undeniable skill, wins an event or places high, which means a few days worth of intense discourse where my blog post gets linked and more abuse sent my way inevitably through the comments on my blog or anon forum posters.

To be clear, I don’t care what people might say about me. The sad and uninformed wailings of people who are too locked in parasocial relationships to deny basic reality is not something that I find particularly stressful. What I do find stressful, however, is that in those two years I’ve been stuck in an infinite loop where there is this mass outrage any time he comes up, and it’s always the same thing.

“He beat his wife, how dare Capcom let him be in tournaments! Read the facts!”

Look, I understand the moral outrage, more than you could probably know. I completely sympathize. I quite literally wrote the book on why it was a bad situation, and I appreciate that people respect the time I put into making that post. I’m not mad at anybody. But at the same time, we have to look at reality, and the reality was that none of the organizations that the gaming community has endowed with the power to ban people actually wanted to take the plunge. Capcom was so hands off that they just let him decide his own ban, which as we know with precedent was only going to apply to him entering Street Fighter V tournaments anyways, making an already limp policy even limpier. 

I understand the hesitation for those folks, believe it or not. It is easy for me to be morally outraged on Twitter and demand actions be taken with extreme prejudice, but the people who have to make the decisions have it tougher. Not only do they have a constituency they need to maintain a good relationship with, they have to understand and grapple with the consequences of their position. If someone is banned solely for (this is a real important distinction) events that occurred in his private life away from any communal gathering, and he is no immediate violent threat to anyone at an event (to think otherwise is, IMO, not founded), that sets a pretty big precedent. And as evidenced whenever this discourse comes up, it’s something a lot of people, even people who ostensibly agree with me morally, feel iffy about.

And if tournaments were to do it post-hoc? That would be an even worse precedent. We’ve already seen something similar happen when Evil Geniuses decided to post-hoc punish Chris G for an incident that took place two years prior that they were fully aware of when they hired him and assured him for months that it was not something he had to worry about. I heavily, heavily condemned Chris’ action at the time and felt disciplinary action should have been taken, but for an organization to do it after they encouraged him to move to a different city and constantly affirmed it was not something they were willing to punish him for? Deplorable and incredibly unfair, and if tournaments were to start doing that, the floodgates would open for every bad faith troll in the universe to start calling, justifiably so, for bans for people who have checkered pasts. 

So…what do you do? I think the problem I have is that, while I believe it is justified and understandable, the anger towards Infiltration is continuously just concentrated towards dunking on him on Twitter, and not towards making a change in the systems to ensure something like that doesn’t happen again. Whether it’s tighter ToS, whether it’s a new rule from Capcom that they have to be the ones to issue an edict for a ban, whether it’s other tournament organizers deciding that if an individual is banned from entering one tournament they can enter none, something probably could change. 

There are two problems with this, however. The first is, as ever, the fact that we are still in the midst of a global health emergency that has put a lot of TO’s on their back, and we are only just now starting to get offline events cooking, almost two years later. The survival of these events is probably of greater pressing concern than the minutiae of how they might hypothetically solve a very difficult issue regarding player conduct. As for two, this is a process which is naturally resolved behind closed doors between the organizers, their staff, and others. If a rule change happens, it will probably be quiet, and I would imagine it will prove unsatisfying for a large number of people who are very agitated by anything to do with Lee.

To me, however, if the idea is to change the culture around what Lee did and make it clear that things need to change and that kind of behavior isn’t acceptable, it starts with the people themselves. There are plenty of communal figures who have very large followings that have, nevertheless, completely abstained from discussion of this situation. Again, I can sympathise and understand why not – I think it’s an uncomfortable topic that has a large trove of information that needs to be sorted through and digested – but it probably should happen anyways. As we see with most news media in the real world, a lot of people are influenced by what they see, who they see is talking about it, and the conclusions that are borne from that viewing. I have no doubt that a huge amount of the misinformation and other things that come from this could be solved if people with larger channels of reach were willing to talk it out.

Particularly when the subject in question has proven litigious in the past, I understand why that’s a daunting task for anyone. Again, this is a deeply uncomfortable subject that upsets a lot of people. The kind of vitriol I get for discussing this publicly vastly outranks any that I have gotten for any other subject, and I’m not shy! Even now, I can feel a little jolt in my leg at the thought of publishing even this piece, as it no doubt will not only get the regular goon squad charged up, but even people I agree with on most things feeling like I’ve changed my position or am backsliding. I’m right here, anyone could ask me what I think and I could clarify, but we don’t live in that kind of world. I’ve accepted that, but still strive to hold myself to a standard.

Still, I wonder if the well is already too poisoned. HonzoGonzo, a producer at tenomedia, one of the most influential brands in the broader fighting game section of the gaming community, laid out his thoughts in a Twitter thread the other day. I thought it was eloquent, clearly thought out, and IMO agreeable. But it had the same problem that I have with a lot of this discourse; it’s mostly about the metaethical implications of figuring out how to handle something like this, not even putting a name to the subject in question. And he put it right there on the tin: there is fear in talking about this, even if it’s something that should be talked about. If the idea is that public discussion is too hot for this subject and that it’s best handled privately, then I’m afraid all hope is lost. It makes his final conclusion a little puzzling – “the community should continue to make a stand against them (what’s happening now).” What stand? Being mean on Twitter? If that’s the stand, it’s pretty weak; there’s not a single tournament Lee couldn’t enter, I don’t think he cares about being boo’d, and somehow I don’t believe Honzo is implying people will make his life at tournaments hard. So…what stand? 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that even the folks who agree with you probably don’t like the feeling that others are making decisions for them, having judged that they aren’t either smart enough or moral enough to have a say in that decision. It’s a complicated idea, but I think the only way change is going to get traction is if it’s no longer fearfully whispered about in private chats and is instead brought into the light, where people are allowed to have disagreements, agreements, and consensus about the facts in front of people who may feel similarly conflicted.

I don’t expect everyone to come in without bias, and I don’t expect complete agreement – I just would like to move towards something concrete that isn’t just the dopamine release of anger towards a baddie on social media. Again, I can make all the agitational demands of the orgs with social capital as much as I want, but it’s toothless if the consequences of those demands aren’t borne out, teased out, and up for debate amongst the people that those new changes would effect. 

I’m not even saying “don’t be mad”. By all means! It’s a frustrating issue. But please put that anger towards something concrete, material, that could prevent this situation from happening again without a post-hoc ban that would create a bad precedent. It’s hard, and I don’t even expect a victory, but tagging Capcom and doing the written equivalent of Sonic the Hedgehog tapping his foot impatiently or getting upset all over again that people are going to be nasty and purposefully want Infiltration to win just to spite people like yourself, get constructive. Ask TO’s, ask esports reps if they are looking at their rules to see what can be done in the future. Capcom will bend where the wind blows, but if the answer isn’t direct and serious, I don’t know that we’ll get anywhere. Relitigating the same idea over and over when the answer was a resounding “no” is, to me, the same as when a basketball player gets in the ref’s face after a decision. It’s cathartic and inspiring sometimes, but the ruling is staying. Time to change the rules.

Help me break the habit. 

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