Richard Lewis: About that Esports Awards speech… Part 3

Richard Lewis
Esports Awards

When I originally conceived this article it was going to be a relatively snappy two-parter, a quick blast to explain why I said what I said at the Esports Awards and to show the level of hypocrisy and hostility aimed at the esports space from some mainstream games reporters.

Since I started researching the piece I realised it would be impossible to fit all the important examples into such a short space.

I would probably be better off leaving it at this point. I seem to have come out of the exchange roughly unscathed. The original plan to retaliate has been shelved it seems and instead the Esports Awards received mostly no coverage at all from these outlets as it would be impossible to do so without addressing the fact that they are the elephant in the room. Yet, many of these publications and writers, the ones that commit the bulk of the aggressive attacks on people that push our industry forward, are counting on there not being an up to date or comprehensive list of their nonsense anywhere. 

For this chapter we will concentrate mostly on the hypocrisy of a group of people that would almost universally fail the purity testing they insist on applying to others in exchange for “hateclicks.”

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Richard Lewis’ speech at the 2019 Esports Awards:

Constant Hypocrisy

While no one condones the use of slurs against marginalized groups or communities, it is also undeniable that there is a disproportionate amount of focus put on these incidents by the mainstream games press. Some games journalists are quick to claim that anyone with these particular skeletons in their closet are irredeemable and use each instance as further proof that there is something rotten at the core of gaming culture.

This stance would be one people could respect if the people using their platforms to report this also hadn’t made similar mistakes. However, some of the loudest critics in the mainstream games press have said things worse than what they condemn others for, all the while refusing to report or criticize their colleagues and co-workers in the same way they do other public figures in the gaming and esports space.

As we’ve demonstrated, often these publications say that apologies aren’t sufficient to satisfy them, yet when their own transgressions are exposed a short apology on their behalf – usually saying they’ve “grown as a person since” – is sufficient. Here are some notable examples:

Kotaku News Editor Jason Schreier used a homophobic slur on Twitter in 2011.

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Kotaku’s weekend editor, Zachary Zwiezen, used homophobic slurs repeatedly between 2009 and 2010.

Danny O’Dwyer, the mind behind the NoClip documentary series, has falsely accused people of racism on Twitter in the past.  His past tweets show him using a racist term for Pakistani people, racist slurs against black people, and slurs against disabled people. He also publicly tweeted that he “hates black people and muslims” in 2010.

O’Dwyer made a short apology on Twitter but said that anyone criticizing his tweets was simply a “troll.”

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Jed Whitaker, former Destructoid and Motherboard contributor, used homophobic slurs and joked about rape in a live stream from 2015. He tried to explain it away as satire but also refused to acknowledge he had used the slurs. He also abused DMCA laws to have all traces of the supposedly satirical video removed from the internet.

Ben Kuchera of Polygon has said he thinks rape is funny, made jokes about “gassing” Jewish people, said immigrants in the US shouldn’t expect others to learn Spanish to accommodate them, said pedophilia wasn’t a “moral wrong” and repeatedly used racial slurs while critiquing black culture.

Patricia Hernandez of Kotaku and Polygon had a penchant for telling people in video games that she had “raped” them. She took this as an opportunity to write an article that it was “rape culture” that made her do it.

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Michael Fahey, a senior reporter at Kotaku, wrote several articles complaining about sexualised anime characters in video games. It would later come to light that he had a sexualised anime character tattooed on his body.

Leigh Alexander, published at Kotaku, Vice and The Guardian has written numerous articles railing against the “toxicity” of gamers. She posted a tweet in 2010 appearing to say black men who live in the inner-cities need to be the victim of a violent backlash. She even went so far as to admit she was cloaking her language, making it look even more like her comments had a racial component.

Kotaku ran an article entitled “Animated Video Game Porn Could Be A Lot Sexier And Less Gross” that contained several images of underage children characters in sexual acts. This, from a publication that just a few months prior had said the new Soul Calibur game “objectified” women. The editor, Stephen Totilo, would issue an apology.

Occasional games and tech reporter Peter Bright rallied against anyone using the “OK” sign as being a Nazi in response to the news Blizzard had banned anyone from using it in the audience at their broadcasts. He would later be arrested and charged for soliciting sex from minors. Despite being well known and connected to games journalists none of the mainstream publications would cover the story with the exception of the Daily Dot.

Shortly after writing an article about esports journalist Duncan ‘Thorin’ Shields that made the false claim Shields had retweeted links to white supremacist website The Daily Stormer, photographs from Patrick Klepek’s past surfaced that showed him joking about rape, joking about making women engage in non-consensual sodomy, and labeling a photo of black friends as saying there’s about to be a hate crime.

Despite these incidents being easily on par with the behaviour he was decrying Shields for engaging in, and a public assertion that anyone who makes jokes really believes what the joke is about, he made a mealy mouthed apology on his podcast and all was seemingly forgiven.

No games journalism outlets covered the reveal of these images from his past. It is also worth noting that when James Gunn’s old tweets making jokes about child molestation and the sexualisation of minors made headlines, Klepek tweeted out a defence that reads almost identical to a defence Shields offered for another Twitch streamer that Klepek included in the article as alleged proof of Shields’ bigotry.

Steve Asarch from Newsweek falsely accused Shields of defending homophobic slurs, despite the tweet chain he reported on actually condemning the use of such slurs, in an article entitled “’CS:GO’ ANALYST THORIN DEFENDS STREAMER’S USE OF ANTI-GAY SLUR, STILL WORKING WITH ESL.

The article made reference to a 2014 incident where Shields was removed from an event in Poland for saying “Poland is one of the worst countries in Europe,” leaving out the fact that one of his critiques of the country was the volume of racist football fans.

Asarch also railed against ESL using him in their broadcasts, implying that even though Shields was a freelance contractor his views represented that of a company that did not employ him. Shortly after the article was published, a search of Asarch’s Twitter would find him openly using the homophobic slur in question. Despite this being made public, Newsweek made no statement, took no action against the journalist and Asarch himself didn’t quit his job, which is strange because by his logic he represents the whole of the Newsweek organisation.

It’s Just A Conspiracy Theory

One of the stranger critiques of my speech was that it was supposedly filled with “conspiracy theories.”  I cannot think what that might refer to other than the claim that one of the motivating factors behind these constant, disingenuous attacks on esports personalities is a desire to eventually replace them with people they know and approve of. I only brought this up not because of some imagined paranoia but rather something that has been explicitly stated on multiple occasions, none more transparently than with the PCGamesN article entitled “The esports industry has a problem with who it is choosing to represent it.”

The opinion piece reeked of being crowdsourced, the editors of the publication letting a news writer of little experience and knowledge of esports take the byline for the lofty claim. The article concludes: “anyone that feels attacked by the esports industry is reminded that the source and product of their harassment are considered by the sector’s gatekeepers to be the best of the best… until the big names recognise that certain words are not acceptable, that is going to stay the same. It is imperative that the industry instead supports those participants who are inclusive, and offers platforms to anyone who will help esports and its surrounding culture grow in a more positive direction.”

This seems fairly clear in stating that existing esports contributors such as myself should be replaced based on the lie we are not “inclusive.” This article was shared far and wide across social media by mainstream games journalists within minutes of its publication.

Despite the conclusions in the article it fails to show a single example of any exclusion on the basis of gender, sexuality, race or religion.

What it does instead is misquote Duncan “Thorin” Shields while also offering criticism for him stating there were genetic differences between men and women. It would also criticize me for the heinous crime of being banned from a subreddit (something that could happen to anyone with a Reddit account and would be true of millions of people across the globe) and falsely stated I made a joke about an incident where I had to defend myself from someone attacking me because the author doesn’t understand the economic limitations placed on those from British working class communities.

This was presented as me having a “violent past,” an assertion that absolutely cannot be true as I have passed multiple vigorous background checks to work in both schools and the United States on a visa. After consultation with a lawyer I contacted the publication and they issued an apology.

Seemingly running thin on examples, the article then went on to complain about Tyler ‘TrainwrecksTV’ Niknam who has never been involved in any aspect of the esports industry. The same was true in their criticism of Tyler ‘Tyler1’ Steinkamp, who, at the time of the article, was blacklisted by Riot Games and played no active part in esports. The piece would also rehash some basic facts about the issue of skins gambling by referencing Trevor ‘TmarTn’ Martin.

The article seemed unable to make the connection that it was journalists such as myself that exposed the multiple scam artists running the skins casinos and therefore I had played my part in ensuring that people that engage in those practices don’t represent the esports industry.

Félix ‘xQc’ Lengyel

Robert Paul, Blizzard Entertainment

Lengyel is a popular Overwatch player who was at one time contracted to the Dallas Fuel team. During his time as a competitive player he seemed to be constantly mired in controversy due to the sheer volume of reports that were about him. In reality, this perception revolves around two incidents – the first where he was suspended for a season for telling an openly gay player to “suck a dick” and the second time was for using an emote of popular Twitch streamer Mychal Ramon Jefferson known as Trihex.

Due to the timing of this second incident, while OWL host Malik Forté was on screen, Activision-Blizzard said it was “racially disparaging” and despite receiving a four-match suspension, internal pressure meant that Dallas Fuel decided to terminate his contract.

Kotaku’s esports vertical seemed to relish constantly reporting on Lengyel. In December of 2017, Lengyel was the focus of an article called “Overwatch League Players Keep Getting In Trouble” that decided “This recent string of incidents seems to suggest that everybody – Overwatch League players, organizations, and Blizzard – have some growing up to do.” Lengyel’s trouble? He had become frustrated while streaming some Overwatch games and refused to play his best for a few rounds. For most esports this would be a non-issue.

Rather than point this out they would do a follow up on this serious business when they published an article in January of 2018 entitled “Overwatch League’s Dallas Fuel Lets Players Be Themselves, Even When That Causes Trouble”. “It remains to be seen what that means for the future” Nathan Grayson melodramatically stated.

A few months later, an article called “Former Overwatch Pro Continues To Be A Self-Own Machine” covered him calling a smurf account a cheater during one of his live streams. He would later go on to apologize when the account was revealed to be Florida Mayhem’s Jung-woo ‘Sayaplayer’ Ha. Why this is newsworthy in any meaningful sense is anyone’s guess but anything that could portray Lengyel as looking stupid was covered by the publication.

Underlining their bias against the personality, Cecilia D’Anastasio rushed out an article in August 2018 that falsely accused Lengyel of having used homophobic slurs on stream, an incident that applied to another Dallas Fuel player. Despite this being easily checked with a quick Google search, the article was published with the false claim, prompting Lengyel to call out the publication on Twitter. This led to the editor of Kotaku Stephen Totilo publicly apologizing and saying it shouldn’t have happened. As demonstrated across these three articles, such errors would continue to occur under his watch.

Hoping to be able to wrap this series up in four parts now. The next one will focus on the constant need to focus on outrage pieces to generate clicks for their ailing publications.

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.