Richard Lewis: So, about that Esports Awards speech… Part 1

Richard Lewis
Esports Awards

So, that speech. I was told I was going to win the award about 60 minutes or so before going on stage and I really didn’t know what the best plan of action was. 

The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by Dexerto.

In the short amount of time I had, I wanted to recognize my peers, correct the wrong of Cecilia D’Anastasio not being on the shortlist and then address something of value. I had no idea what that would be because there were many topics worthy of being highlighted.

But as it got closer to when they were supposedly going to call my name I couldn’t get my thoughts off a few things. I thought about all the inaccurate reporting and garbage I had to read about an industry I’ve given my entire adult life over to. I kept thinking about all my friends and colleagues that had been smeared and mischaracterized. And then, crucially, I thought about how so many of the games press celebrated the death of my friend John ‘Totalbiscuit’ Bain and how they used their platforms to lie and tarnish his great legacy. 

There was no way I could get up on that stage and receive an award for journalism and not speak out on this disgusting behavior from a cabal of people who have lost sight of the ethical standards that they are supposed to uphold.

And so I sat there with a heavy vibe because I knew if I got up there and said what I wanted to say that it would be career suicide. I pictured the dozens of tweets filled with lies and character assassinations from verified Twitter accounts with a few thousand followers. I pictured the articles dredging up all my past mistakes and framing them divorced from context in a bid to expose me as a sinister presence in the esports space. I pictured the emails from everyone associated with me saying that they had been pressured by prominent publications to sever ties and what this might do to my income and immigration status. 

The pettiness of some games journalists when it comes to leveraging their platforms to settle scores is only rivaled by politicians. The walk to that stage, which should have been a moment of celebration for me, felt more like a march to the gallows.

Still, there was no getting away from it, I couldn’t not say it because I knew that if I didn’t no one else would. So I trudged out there, pulled out that smudged piece of paper, and with my ulcer in overdrive read words I was sure would not only lead to a bunch of negative reprisals but would fall flat, injecting a needlessly serious tone into a night designed for fun.

Esports Awards

I was zoned out. I didn’t hear the applause or see the standing ovation. I hugged the person holding the mic, Overwatch commentator Mitch ‘uber’ Leslie, not just because he is a colleague I respect but also because I knew him being the mic holder would most likely embroil him, then walked backstage and hit my media commitments. 

Then the strangest of things. As I walked back for the rest of the proceedings, wondering how much trouble I was really in, people started coming up to me and shaking my hand, saying the speech was great. Each person who came to congratulate me seemed to have an anecdote about a time a games publication published something false, or out of context, or betrayed a confidence of some sort… The prevailing sentiment was a thankful one. These stories continued long into the night. 

Maybe you think what I said was wrong, that it was an unfair summary of the games press and their attempts to cover our space. I wanted to lay it out in black and white for everyone to see that there is something very wrong with the focus and execution coming from these publications. I am all for accountability. My body of work proves that. Yet, with so many genuine problems in our industry that could be highlighted by journalists with these platforms, why is it I only seem to read badly skewed character assassinations, meandering whines about how hostile the esports space supposedly is, or content of no value to the esports audience?

I’ve been waiting for the games press to be self-reflective for about eight years. It’s not happened yet and I doubt it ever will. They believe it’s them against the internet, that you are something that must be eradicated unless you subscribe entirely to their opinions. It isn’t going to change. Instead, what I can hope to do is change your mind about my critique by highlighting all the reasons why I felt compelled to speak out.

Jacob Wolf

One of the most frequent objections to my speech was to the line where I stated that part of the reason they smear so many endemic esports people is in the hope of having post-cancelation holes that they can plug their cronies into. Some have said this is a conspiracy theory. Let me provide you with an example of games journalists doing exactly this.

Jacob Wolf is arguably the most prominent esports journalist we have. The 2018 Journalist Of The Year Esports Award winner, he is a reporter who breaks several major stories every year without fail, which is why he is at ESPN. 

In 2018, Compete – Kotaku’s rival esports vertical – took it upon themselves to trawl through his Twitter account and find if he had said anything that would constitute a fireable offense. They found that when Wolf was between 13 and 15 years old – before he was a public figure and still a child – he had used a word considered a homophobic slur while replying to a friend. Having discovered this, one of the authors, Eric van Allen, deleted thousands of his own tweets then sent his findings to ESPN before the other, Dennis Young, ran the following story.

The motivation for this attack was clear to me. It served the dual purpose of generating outrage clicks and potentially eliminated the lead endemic esports reporter for a rival publication. I can say that quite safely because when I took it upon myself to comb the Twitter histories of every other Gawker group employee and found multiple instances of them, including senior figures like Jason Schreier, using the exact same slurs they pilloried Wolf for, they took no action and refused to acknowledge it.

Dr Disrespect

A few people noted that popular streamer Dr Disrespect was one of the figures leading the standing ovation in the crowd. It is no wonder. Many games journalists seem to have taken an intense dislike to him and it shows in their coverage. Primarily their objections mostly seem to revolve around not understanding that Dr Disrespect is a persona. Sure, it is one that has a healthy dose of Guy Beahm, the man behind it, injected into it but it is a persona nonetheless.

He was targeted in 2017 after he was banned for teamkilling a PUBG player on stream. The creator Brendan ‘PLAYERUNKNOWN’ Greene couldn’t resist tweeting about it, prompting replies from Dr Disrespect in character. “If I could do the splits I’d roundhouse kick you in the neck,” he joked. “But since I can’t, I’ll just front kick you in the chest instead. Lightning.”

This prompted a weird response from Greene who suggested that even joking about violence was wrong.

Despite clarifying that he knew it was a joke, Polygon wrote a report with the lurid headline “PUBG creator draws the line at real-world threats”, even though this is in no way an accurate portrayal of the interaction.

In February 2018 A YouTuber called Jimmy Wong labeled Dr Disrespect as a racist for using a mock Asian language, which included several real words from Cantonese, Hawaii and Korean, when trying to antagonize Chinese players he encountered in h1z1. The video itself was heavily edited, something Wong said was simply to get into the right format for Twitter.

The interactions never included any racial epithets or pejoratives and the bulk of the complaints made revolved around the fact that a North American-based player was having to play against Chinese players on US servers. Not only were these players difficult to hit due to latency issues but it was also well established that the Chinese players included a significant amount of cheaters. 

PC Gamer ran an article with a headline calling him “racially insensitive” that also included several spiteful barbs. Using his real name, they also highlighted how he was in breach of Twitch rules and should be banned, as well as mentioning his public marital issues despite it being completely unrelated to the report. Kotaku also highlighted the incident. 

In May 2018, PC Gamer’s Editor In Chief Evan Lahti embarrassed himself by publicly tweeting that Dr Disrespect was holding himself “hostage” for refusing to play any more PUBG unless they included cosmetic items of him in the game.

“Playful or not, this stuff adds to the antagonism we’ve seen grow between players and devs in the past few years,” he wrote.

Of course, it was part of a promotion for cosmetic items being released in the game, which they were four days later. Had the Editor decided to reach out to any of the parties involved they would likely have been told that the tweet was part of a promotion, but they neglected to do that.

In response to Lahti’s tweet, another games journalist, Jake Tucker – the current editor of the games section for Red Bull UK – publicly repeated the false claim that Dr Disrespect had “threatened to physically harm” the creator of PUBG.

When the streamer read this absurd tweet during a live broadcast, naturally some fans responded to it on Twitter. Later some went on to his livestream and called him a “shitty journalist.” This led to him running an opinion piece called “What it’s like to be raided by Dr DisRespect fans that contained a number of factual inaccuracies. 

By the time I noticed the chat, it was unusable. All caps racial slurs were clogging Twitch’s AutoMod feature, and a baying crowd was commenting on everything from my quiet voice, to a lazy eye and my autism,” the article begins. Yet despite these claims there is not one screencap included of any racist language, or anyone mocking his eye or autism. Strange, as they do include a screencap of people spamming “Shitty journalist.” Seems a glaring oversight.

Secondly, the article also attempts to imply that Dr Disrespect brought up his autism apropos of nothing. In reality, all he did was read Tucker’s Twitter bio and pronounce Aspergers as “asparagus.” 

Crucially, despite what he had said on his public Twitter platform, in the article he acknowledged that the “threats” he had earlier stated were “a work”, begging the question why he publicly claimed otherwise in the first place. 

On June 11, Dr Disrespect made the ill-advised decision to do an “in-real life” stream from E3, the first of its nature for him. As he walked around the venue his cameraman followed him into the toilet, filming everyone else in there. It was not just an error of judgment but also potentially illegal under Californian “right to privacy” laws. He had his E3 pass revoked, his Twitch account banned and potentially faced a civil suit from anyone who wanted to press the issue.

While dealing with the situation Kotaku’s Nathan Grayson ran an article proclaiming that because Dr Disrespect had released the content that he had filmed at E3 he wasn’t “taking the ban seriously.” No consideration of what might have occurred in the background involving lawyers and also seemingly no attempt to reach out for comment.

It was Beahm the man and not Dr Disrespect the character who issued the apology, something that underlines he was aware of the gravity of the situation. The apology quickly acknowledged the wrongdoing and then looked to the future. This wasn’t good enough for Kotaku though. Nathan Grayson editorialized his report, saying that “it reads almost like Beahm is using his character and “brand” as a shield against accepting full responsibility for his own actions.”

Dr Disrespect later tweeted out some mockery of Grayson, and although it was hardly the first time the writer has been mocked on the internet, it further aggravated hostilities.

It seems strange that on the one hand Grayson was talking about the seriousness of the matter and his colleague Jason Schreier making light of it.

Tyler “Ninja” Blevins

There isn’t a conceivable world where I could be considered a fan of Blevins. I certainly have disagreed with some of the ways in which he has handled donations in the past and have described his success as being attributable to a “perfect storm.” However, there is also no denying that after that perfect storm was achieved his resulting popularity has been a gateway for people to learn about streaming culture and esports, both from an early age and in the mainstream. 

Despite a rapsheet of very minor offenses, his popularity has seen him repeatedly be a target of many games journalists hoping to farm clicks by piggybacking on his sizeable reputation.

In March 2018, while playing Fortnite on Matthew ‘Nadeshot’ Haag’s stream, Blevins sang along with the hip hop track 44 More by the artist Logic. During this he used the n-word. Kotaku highlighted it in an article that contained the line “He may not be a raging racist, but he shouldn’t get a pass, either.” After the apology, Polygon pulled their usual schtick of “reaching out to Twitch” for comment – despite knowing that Twitch cannot comment on individual bans for privacy reasons – in a bid to apply pressure to have his channel banned.

Polygon again featured a few months later. In a brief interview conducted outside of a bathroom at a party – something that should raise its own ethical questions from the publication’s editors – Blevins clumsily expressed a viewpoint on streaming with women as a married man. “If I have one conversation with one female streamer where we’re playing with one another, and even if there’s a hint of flirting, that is going to be taken and going to be put on every single video and be clickbait forever,” he said.

Blevins, a happily married man, was of course making a sweeping generalization about the perils of being in the public eye. We know it was a generalization as he had streamed many times with women before the quote and did so after the quote. Nevertheless, despite the quote coming in a setting not ethically conducive to an interview, they ran with the narrative that this meant Blevins was a sexist, that he was part of some toxic male-centric culture that was keeping women out of streaming. Despite him later clarifying he was doing it to stop harassment being aimed at him and his wife, many publications rushed to publish pieces to condemn him for a throwaway quote.

And when Blevins announced his big move to Mixer, a seismic moment in the streaming landscape, he made a fun video where he played the role of journalists interviewing him at a fictitious press conference. At one point, while playing a female journalist, his wig falls off. Kotaku rushed out an article to call him transphobic.

Matthew ‘Nadeshot’ Haag

While writing the article that reported on the Blevins rap lyric incident, Kotaku also falsely accused the 100 Thieves founder and legendary Call of Duty player Haag of also using the n-word. No such incident took place and the confident declaration that it did was predicated on the embarrassing fact that the author misheard him use the word “ninja,” something you would expect to be vigilant about in a stream where Blevins was featuring. It took hours to correct the false allegation of the use of racist language.

So, as you can see, if I’d said everything I wanted to say in my speech, I’d still be in Dallas now. There is more to come, too.

Read part two of Richard Lewis’ latest opinion piece here.

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About The Author

Richard Lewis is a veteran, award-winning British esports journalist, with over a decade of experience covering the biggest scandals and uncovering the inner workings of esports. He has been recognized for his contribution to esports with a lifetime achievement award in 2020. You can find Richard on Twitter at @RLewisReports.