If someone told me ten years ago that people playing video games would generate a bigger audience than the NBA, NHL, and MLB, I…
It’s not uncommon for high-profile people to say or do things that are considered unacceptable by polite society. Sports, in general, have been plagued by athletes whose behaviour leaves much to be desired.
Leagues or teams will reprimand players for such activities with fines, or by banning them – and with good reason.
Young people all over the world watch their behaviour and look up to their actions, aspiring to be just like them in every way possible. Emulating their heroes involves more than just their prowess and ability, but also what they do in everyday life.
Bad behaviour that goes unchecked sends a message that these are acceptable ways to act – not only to the players, but to their fans.
Recently, Overwatch League saw the departure of Dallas Fuel’s Félix ‘xQc’ Lengyel after multiple infractions and a previous temporary ban from the league.
The original suspension came after the player shouted a homophobic suggestion during his stream, referring to Houston Outlaw’s Austin ‘Muma’ Wilmot, who is openly gay.
More recently, he joined in on spamming an emote during an official Overwatch League stream commonly used to harass and belittle black streamers when announcer Malik Forté appeared on screen. Lengyel was again suspended and fined, after which he announced his departure from the league.
Dallas Fuel Announce Release of Félix "xQc" Lengyel https://t.co/3rb1cPQsqF
— Dallas Fuel (@DallasFuel) March 12, 2018
Trash talking goes on between players, much of it in good humour, but it’s positive to see the league taking a strong stance against homophobic and racist behaviour.
The Overwatch League has also recently taken action against fellow Dallas Fuel member Timo ‘Taimou’ Kettunen for homophobic slurs on his personal stream, and Tae-Yeong ‘TaiRong’ Kim for use of an offensive meme on Twitter.
These players faced less extreme measures as their’s are first-time offences, while Kim also made an unprompted apology and donation to the Hiroshima Peace Culture Foundation before the infraction was picked up by the league.
In regular sports, this may be where the issue ends. Once an athlete is removed from the high level of competition due to their actions, they don’t have that many regular avenues of exposure outside of their own social media. They don’t have a place where they can continue to participate in their sport with thousands of fans still able to watch.
This is where esports gets tricky, as many players are also popular on Twitch, which also acts as another avenue to interact with their fans and often a massive source of revenue. Here, they can continue to foster toxic behaviour and talk directly to the public about why their actions are okay, while still making massive amounts of money.
Lengyel had to specifically ask his fans on Twitch to not go after the league or his team after he left, saying, “Please don’t chase down Mike [Rufail – team owner] and tell him he’s a bad owner. Please don’t chase the team and tell them they’re garbage and I don’t deserve it or whatever… Um, please don’t send f—ing death threats — again — to people, I guess.”
This is because of how these fans have acted in the past, bombarding streams and social media when their favourite players are reprimanded.
Lengyel specifically had to request they don’t send death threats because he knows that this is the way fans respond in the current culture. It’s to his credit that he doesn’t want his fans to take these actions but unfortunately, even with his requests, both his former team and the Overwatch League have faced plenty of vitriol.
Hopefully, as official esports continue to crack down on these kinds of behaviours it will send the appropriate message to players and fans. Stopping players from being allowed to compete in the highest level of competition unless they can adhere to a base level of common decency is a good start to potentially changing the general toxicity that comes with internet culture.
More importantly, we need the players themselves to actually believe in this level of etiquette and have a genuine desire to treat their fellow humans with decency and respect. They are the headlining act and the ones to be emulated and, as role models, the responsibility falls on them to become better people for the sake of influencing others.
It should not be enough to be incredibly skilled at a video game to represent your team or country or even yourself. First and foremost, it should be required that you be a good person.