Opinion

Richard Lewis: About that Esports Awards speech... Part 2

by Richard Lewis
Esports Awards

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In the previous article in this series I contextualized why I felt compelled to make my speech at the annual Esports Awards, decrying the continual hostile behavior towards esports and streaming from the mainstream games press.


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


So far, at the time of writing this, the indications are that despite the sentiment being shared by an overwhelming majority they aren’t willing to be self-reflective and instead are either choosing to retaliate with absurd claims of “conspiracy theories” or electing to ignore the whole episode entirely. Given their penchant for co-ordinating their responses it remains to be seen which tactic will emerge as the prevalent one moving forward.

In this series that aims to highlight the numerous times that the mainstream games press have written hostile, inaccurate and mischaracterized pieces about streaming and esports, we’ll today focus on the general contempt within which this world has been held and continues to be so. In my experience, when working both on-screen and behind the scenes for multiple companies down the years, it is rare to see these publications attend anything except the most prestigious of events and even then produce work with a tone that makes it seem like it was written under duress.

Today’s section will focus on the historical approach to covering esports from some of these publications, the value of the work that was produced and some of the incompetence that led to inaccurate reporting. 

Richard Lewis' speech at the 2019 Esports Awards:

A History Of Disdain For Esports

It is worth noting that when it comes to esports most of these mainstream gaming publications have always held a derisory view of the scene and have historically either ridiculed it or gone out of their way to portray it as a harsh and unwelcoming. Nothing better summarises this than when in 2011 Kotaku ran an article that said esports was on the downturn, adding that if it wasn’t for “cheesy TV shows” esports would have nothing left.

“Don't get me wrong, I love watching people who are better than me at video games play them for money, especially when I don't know those people,” the article reads. “Oh wait. No I don't”

But it’s the last line of the piece also implies that there is something wrong with esports fans. “Here's to staying one of the Regular People,” it concludes.

MLG TV

If you noticed anyone from the now-defunct Major League Gaming (MLG) TV applauding my speech, it could well be due to how some of these publications approached covering the pioneering esports broadcasters. In February 2013 Kotaku ran an article that singled out the five-year-old 2008 MLG partnership with ESPN – then huge news for the emerging esports space – was proof that esports shouldn’t be on television.

In the article, they interviewed an ESPN executive, Raphael Poplock, who gave their view that esports couldn’t work in mainstream broadcasting but failed to interview a single representative from MLG to give their viewpoint. While the publication did interview two endemic esports personalities, it seems given the weighting afforded to the MLG deal it would have been reasonable to reach out to them.

The same year, in November, MLG announced a premium streaming service. Despite every other publication managing to disseminate the correct information from the press release, Kotaku would falsely state that the service would pay for itself using subscription fees. This confusion from fans that read the Kotaku version of the report, led MLG community figures to clarify the misunderstanding.

Despite infrequent and poor reporting such as this, a few years later Kotaku ran its own esports vertical, Compete, that would contribute almost nothing of value to the space.

Compete’s Incredible Output

Kotaku’s esports vertical published little worth remembering and barely broke a single story in its entire history. It is mostly an archive of fawning praise for the Fighting Games Community (FGC) and a list of every time someone has said a bad word on stream or Twitter. However, they would happily push out absolute drivel as well. Some classic examples include:

Erotic fan fiction about Streetfighter V passed off as game analysis

– A post on Mario Kart that declared “Wario is a libertarian and Bowser is a fascist” as well as shoehorning in an Alex Jones reference.

– An article about how people who attend Smash events have hygiene problems

– An article about “what stops women from going pro in esports,” that was a dialogue between two women who have never tried to go pro in esports.

– A news post wondering if two people in a crowd shot taken from an esports event were pleasuring each other.

– A post about Donald Trump misspeaking and referring to the 52 jets the US sold to Norway as F-52s, a fictitious aircraft that only exists in Call of Duty, instead of 52 F-35s.

– An article on performing fellatio while your love interest is playing video games, that was predicated on a tweet that used the phrase “sucking d**k” to mean “playing badly.”

– An article on a tired topic in esports, one that has long been put to bed, about whether or not esports competitors should use their real names over their in-game monickers.

– An article that compares teabagging, the act of moving up and down quickly on a dead or prone opponent in a video game, to sexual assault/rape

It is also worth noting, in the interests of fairness, that Dexerto ran stories about the fake Call of Duty jets and a YouTuber handing out deodorant at a Smash Brothers event.

The CS:GO Boston Major

When I worked at the Turner Sports-owned esports vehicle Eleague the jewel in our crown was being approved by Valve to host our second CS:GO Major in Boston. Kotaku sent a journalist to cover the finals. The event would go on to set a Twitch viewership record, would make history for North American esports, and would be remembered as the most exciting final match in a CS:GO major.

Despite this, and the reporter having near-complete access to players, staff, talent, and parts of the stadium, they instead decided to mischaracterize the event as being akin to a political rally.

The sins the event committed in their mind? American fans chanting “U-S-A”, one fan held up a Trump banner for a few seconds before it was taken away in the spirit of keeping political messages off the broadcast and honoring the members of the US Airforce. The only other “offending” sign was one that said “Make American CS Great Again”, an obvious joke and meme. Despite the aforementioned access to players and talent, the only quote came from an anonymous woman in a bathroom, delivering a quote that suspiciously just so happened to enable the author to list their Counter-Strike credentials with a throwaway question.

“Going to the CS:GO Boston major felt like stepping into an alt-universe where every stereotype about who plays and watches competitive games appears to be true: young, white, male, and twitchy,” they wrote. “At Overwatch events, I can look around and see that a lot of different people seem to enjoy the game. At CS:GO? Not so much.”

How Overwatch led to one of the most embarrassing moments in games journalism

While the mainstream games press have often praised the Overwatch scene as being one of the most inclusive in esports, that still hasn’t led to them taking so much of an interest that they develop a source network around that space. What other explanation can there be for the coverage they dedicated to a young female player called simply Ellie, who it transpired didn’t even exist to begin with.

If you missed this embarrassment unfold in real-time, let me summarize it for you: In January of this year an above average male player, with the help of another to disguise him as being the perpetrator, co-opted some female friends to create a deception that made it look like a new high-skilled woman had appeared on the scene. Despite the only identifiers for this person being a Twitter account and an Overwatch account with a suspiciously short amount of playing time for someone with her ability, a considerable number of people ignored the signs it was a hoax and instead gushed in support of the fake person.

Even though they were given multiple warnings that something wasn’t right about the situation, and even Reddit threads in the public domain that completely exposed the lie, the Overwatch Contenders team Second Wind were willing to risk it all to sign a high skilled and high-profile woman to the team. When it became clear that those running the hoax would have to submit to a background check and expose the whole thing as a lie, they withdrew from the team just two weeks later.

Sensing another chance to dunk on gamers, the games press instead wrote up a series of articles about how this non-existent person had been “harassed” out of the scene, despite the only evidence of such harassment being one discredited, disturbed and permanently banned player saying he would dox the individual. Every publication with even a cursory interest in esports had their story, proof they said that girls will never be allowed to simply play and Overwatch was losing a brilliant new talent because of the actions of unnamed, unseen crazies.

For example, despite the overwhelming evidence pointing to the Ellie persona being a fabrication, it didn’t stop Nathan Grayson from Kotaku running an article that said unequivocally that this non-existent person had stopped playing due to harassment, something that underlined the rampant sexism in esports. When it was pointed out he had published a completely inaccurate story and had clearly done not even the most basic elements of research, he tweeted out a list of excuses that absolved him of any blame, saying that because nobody replied to his request for comment he was compelled to publish fiction as he was on a deadline. He even goes so far as to say because the evidence was hard to verify it was acceptable to publish a complete fabrication. The tweet chain points to a horrific misunderstanding of the journalistic process.

PC Gamer’s Bo Gabbard REALLY embarrassed himself, writing a piece that dismissed anyone saying that Ellie didn’t exist were engaging in a “conspiracy theory,” a common refrain from the games press it seems. "Esports is not a meritocracy; it’s a male-dominated scene in which gender essentialism runs rampant, and in which women are often made to feel unwelcome. Even in a game as ostensibly inclusive as Overwatch, a woman can’t just be 'a player' – not without ample infrastructural support from an understanding team, and Ellie’s situation exemplifies why,” he concluded.

The lies would even make it as far as Variety as one lazy journalist after another repeated the story without any of them managing to find the evidence that was out there.

As the games journalist's lack of due diligence started to become apparent in real-time some others pivoted and tried to explain that the issue wasn’t the deception but that people only ever believed it was a deception because Ellie was a girl. Jay Costello of RockPaperShotgun best exemplified this ret-conning of history in her piece when she wrote: “Those who immediately disbelieved Ellie often claimed that it had nothing to do with gender, and yet these same kinds of accusations always seems to come up for top female players.” 

It would be a woman that would put a stop to the madness. Cloud9 streamer Becca ‘Aspen’ Rukavina said that not only did she know it was a hoax, but she had spoken with the person behind it who had confessed. From there, it was an endemic esports journalist Rod ‘Slasher’ Breslau, that uncovered the rest of the story, which he did in approximately two hours. Embarrassingly enough, it was simply a matter of establishing a timeline, asking a few questions and reaching out to a few players, something that every games journalist that covered the story had failed to do in their desperate bid to find misogyny where there was none.

Some of this text is copied and repurposed from a much more detailed write-up I did at another publication entitled “The Ellie-Fant In The Room: Why We Should Never Forget This Particular Overwatch Embarrassment.”

While the original plan was to make this only a two part piece, the scope of the malicious and inaccurate reporting from the mainstream games press means that I will have to expand the series. The next installment shall return to looking at the lies and smears printed about popular streaming and esports figures, as well as looking at the hypocrisy of those writing this material.