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Racism in Esports: Why the Toxicity Needs to Be Tackled

The reaction to the xQc incident was pretty disappointing.
Racism in Esports: Why the Toxicity Needs to Be Tackled
Our Overwatch League expert Damian Alonzo is becoming increasingly exasperated with the current prevailing attitudes towards inclusivity in esports. In this article he outlines the problem and suggests how we can work together to solve it.Only pick "n*****s," a youthful male says over voice chat before an Overwatch match. He selects Doomfist, the enigmatic African villain, and I immediately lock onto Reinhardt, the German crusader. "Dude, come on," he urges me. Someone else picks Winston, the gorilla scientist, and asks, "Is this okay?" followed by a belly laugh. "That's the best choice, obviously." This is what competitive gaming feels like in 2018. Whether it’s in-game, in Twitch chat or some place else, bigotry is something we as gamers encounter all too frequently. Racism and homophobia are commonplace, and even seem to be becoming more widely tolerated, not less.The unfortunate reality is that this sort of hive mind is very difficult to break. With ties to the modern political climate, the us-versus-them nature of troll culture is a seductive one, brimming with opportunities for quick laughs and internet popularity.An examination of Félix "xQc" Lengyel, one of Overwatch's most prolific streamers and biggest personalities, illustrates these issues perfectly. The Canadian pro-gamer, who already had a massive following before Overwatch League started, was signed to the Dallas Fuel despite his controversial reputation. Just days into the inaugural season, xQc racked up his first fine and suspension for homophobic remarks toward a rival player. Undeterred, he was hit with yet another fine and suspension a couple of weeks into stage two, this time for harassing the Overwatch League casting talent on Twitter and using racially insensitive emotes during the league's official stream when African American host, Malik Forté, was on camera. While some say that the "trihard 7" emote (which features black speedrunner, Trihex, followed by the number 7 which represents a salute) fiasco may have been a case of unfortunate timing, others have been outspoken about the emote's racist connotations – connotations that have been around for years. In any case, the Dallas Fuel decided that enough was enough, and xQc was removed from the roster. The fallout from all this has been ridiculous. After xQc's first ban, supporters went after Austin "Muma" Wilmot, the openly gay Houston Outlaws player he told to "suck a fat c*ck", suggesting Wilmot would "like it". Muma's Twitter DMs (now closed) were flooded with hate spam, including death threats, in the days and weeks following the suspension:

https://twitter.com/Muma/status/962816413063720960 Throughout the entire first round of matches after his release, the Overwatch League Twitch chat was flooded with the "trihard 7" emote from countless users. Par for the course, a number of people harassed Malik Forté, calling him out on Twitter for what happened to xQc. As misguided as that might sound, Forté's response attempted to steer the discussion down a very serious path to the root of the problem: https://twitter.com/Malik4Play/status/973073758536613888 Since being let go, xQc has accepted his punishment and returned to streaming, but the fact is that the community at large has been a reflection of the dark side of esports. xQc knows it, too. In his stream immediately following the official release announcement, he urged everyone in chat to behave and not attack anyone or issue death threats. That it was actually thoughtful of him to say that is pitiful, but again, it shows us where we are. Jim Hawdon is the director of the Virginia Tech Center for Peace Studies and Violence Prevention. In a recent study, he looked at various online communities to see whether violence is an outlet for, or precursor to, aggression. For our purposes, we will look at a couple of data points and findings that are relevant to this discussion. First off, Hawdon found that the creation of online hate material coming from 15 to 35 year old Americans has been on the rise - 8.1% of respondents from a national sample admitted to producing hate materials in 2013, whereas 19.8% came forward in 2016. Second, Reddit users are 2.87 times more likely to create online hate material than non-users. The materials we should be looking at here are memes, usage of the "trihard 7" emote, and pervasive, harmful comments or mindsets: https://twitter.com/Uncleswagg/status/969960852072755200 Ironically, the Twitch mod who brought attention to this particular issue has been involved in his own scandal over the last few years, illustrating the sometimes fickle nature of the community when it comes to ignoring or combating different problems with inclusivity in esports. "We also find that individuals who are close to an online community and frequent sites where hate material is frequently seen are more likely to produce online hate materials," said Hawdon. "This finding likely reflects how the internet helps create insular online communities of like-minded people who collectively create, learn, and refine worldviews that justify, reinforce, and amplify their political dissatisfaction." In the case of xQc's community and Overwatch League, these correlations are striking. Reddit threads on everything that has transpired are hundreds of comments long, peppered with misinformed and disparaging remarks about Blizzard, the Dallas Fuel, and sometimes the people defending them. Facebook group posts and Twitter threads are much the same. It took seconds to find comments such as "Blizzard is catering to SJW's," and "I can't wait for PC culture to crumble on itself." Indeed, as this community becomes more insular and finds more ways to justify their "political dissatisfaction," its view of empathy will continue to deteriorate. Another, more direct political correlation can also be drawn. The us-versus-them culture we mentioned earlier feels like daily life in the United States. Under the Trump administration, there has been plenty of fear mongering, overt racism, and constant reminders that the rest of the world doesn't matter. We have Antifa and the alt-right battling for ideological supremacy, professional athletes protesting police brutality before games, and mass shootings seemingly every week. American culture has been referred to as a melting pot and a mixed salad, but in 2018, it feels like a bowl of oil and water. Not surprisingly, Hawdon posits that "the intensely polarized political atmosphere is likely a contributing factor" to the increase in involvement with producing hate materials. Considering how intertwined social media and online gaming are, exposure to these materials is an almost daily occurrence. It undoubtedly adds to the overwhelming pressures and stresses brought on by social media culture. The end result is thoughtless, jaded comments that serve no other purpose than to strain the competitive gaming community even further - but hey, anything for a laugh, right? To that extent, we must revisit what Forté said to his Twitter troll. Perhaps xQc and others like him need more direct positive influences on their lives instead of "practically being raised by Twitch chat," as xQc recently said. Perhaps the young man we see jumping around and pounding his chest on stream - and saying basically whatever he wants - is just doing so for the instant gratification on Twitch. Online personas are nothing new, of course, but a recent tweet from xQc might suggest that he is feeling very similar pressures and stresses that so many other young people deal with today: https://twitter.com/xQc/status/973519687198765056 It could all be an act, but it adds up. A young person without an empathetic, positive role model gains popularity with a disconnected, toxic community, but has trouble functioning in reality and so he falls back to the virtual world in perhaps the most unhealthy cycle someone in his situation could possibly be in. Since he has become a commodity, his insular community interacts with him as such, and the reinforcement of refined worldviews is perpetuated. There is no easy solution for this. One thing I've said in the past is that the burden of accepting harmful ideologies and actions shouldn't rest on society's shoulders - it's up to the propagator to assume the responsibility of the results, but that's almost always too much to ask. Racism and homophobia, and "just saying racist and homophobic things" are one and the same, make no mistake. If it contributes to the trivialization and marginalization of a group of people for the sake of laughs on Twitch or elsewhere, it's racist or homophobic - and there should be consequences. But so long as the president is able to boil my ethnic identity down to a food item that has nothing to do with who I am (we are), I understand that it may be an uphill struggle for the foreseeable future.