Racist slurs hurled at Lacefield represent just one part of a culture of intolerance in esports.
A small minority are usually responsible but everyone suffers as a consequence. For all of esports’ grand and noble possibilities as a common interest for millions, it can easily be tarnished by a few individuals who rely on it as an emotional release through vicious behaviour.
We see various flavours of hate littered across social media and YouTube. The one-way glass of the Internet can suppress inhibitions that would normally make people hesitate and reconsider sour opinions and irrational thinking. Most of us have probably witnessed good people say stupid things as a result, knowing that many of them wouldn’t dream about expressing something as spiteful elsewhere. Not every culprit genuinely harbours hateful beliefs and frustration can unleash senseless reactions from all of us, though some viewpoints are undeniably more malicious and revealing than others.
But then you hear and read the racist language used in incidents like the aftermath of OpTic v Cloud9 and you sigh at the thought that esports is another platform where that degree of ignorance and anger can be vented. Everyone has become desensitised to hostile attitudes typically found in the wastelands of online public lobbies, and seeing it resurface in the oasis of the competitive enthusiast interrupts the illusion that esports has transcended hate’s darkest arts.
It reminds you of how rampant they are on the Internet. It’s not uncommon for legions of fans of one personality or pro player, disgruntled and irrationally offended at the contrasting views of another, to attack them, their channels and social pages by dumping abuse. In no other circumstances would this be acceptable. If someone violently threatened you in a cinema because you didn’t share their thoughts on the film, the only questions would surely be how fit for society that person was and whether the police should be involved.
Online, there’s often little choice but to endure threats and abuse because clamping down can be so tough. They’re unlikely to fade out in our immediate lifetime and bans merely sweep the problem under one side of the rug and out of the other.
Education, rather than punishment, is the only way to tackle the issue at a grassroots level. There’s no better place to start than the players. If they had an obligation to spearhead a campaign or a form of public denouncement, which should be the absolute minimum anyway, then their indifference or hesitation to increase awareness, perhaps due to fear of a fan backlash, would end. There currently exists barely any sense of duty for people to use their influence for loftier purposes, and that sort of apathy potentially allows pockets of ignorance to fasten their claws into the esports and wider gaming communities.