Richard Lewis: Mental health, Social media & the internet mob - Dexerto
Opinion

Richard Lewis: Mental health, Social media & the internet mob

Published: 8/Jul/2020 11:18 Updated: 8/Sep/2020 15:08

by Richard Lewis

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Another week, another tragedy, another young life lost forever that leaves difficult questions alongside their legacy. I didn’t know Byron ‘Reckful’ Bernstein beyond the same way his many fans did. I knew of his struggles with mental health. I knew him to be a good person who was surrounded by friends and family who understood his condition and offered support when needed.

It is heartrending to know he is no longer with us, that he eventually succumbed to his illness in its tragic finality. The resultant widespread outpouring of love and appreciation is a testament to the lives he touched. It makes me sad to think he didn’t get to see it.

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His passing has prompted a conversation about mental health and the way in which our digital landscape can impact upon it. The connectivity of the internet, the fact we all have broadcasting tools in our homes, the space to share thoughts and ideas in real-time because of social media… What a time in human history to exist. And of course, it should surprise no-one that we’ve fucked it up and turned it all into a miserable battleground that is now unquestionably starting to have very real harmful repercussions on those who are consistently exposed to it.

So yes, I see those difficult questions and I see the talking points. I also see how fleeting that discussion is and how we all simply go back to this new form of normal within a few days. As I said, I didn’t know Byron. I have no insight into how much any of it all played in his passing. All I know for sure is that it absolutely can’t have helped. Over the past few days I’ve watched clips of him being goaded while he was in tears. I saw how total strangers routinely told him to kill himself every time he tried to speak about his depression and bipolar condition. It happened right up until moments before the fateful day he took his own life. It has left me feeling sick. Sick, but not surprised.

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Reckful
Twitch: Reckful
Reckful passed on July 2, 2020. He was 31 years old.

Some have said that the stigma around mental illness is the problem, that because no-one talks about it no-one understands it and therefore no-one knows how to react. Some of those people then said we should try and normalise talking about it and you may have some personalities you know come out and speak of their own battles with various mental health conditions. ‘If enough people do it, then why can’t it be normalised?’

I’ve decried the fakes and the phonies down the years, the people who behave one way when an audience is present and then another when the cameras are off. My God how I envy them. In a time when anything you say about yourself can and will be weaponised against you, what is the point of ever being honest with the general public? The reason talking about mental health can’t be normalised? Take your pick. Your experiences might not align with the prescribed wisdom about the condition you are suffering from so you’ll be attacked for ‘diminishing’ the very illness you suffer from. People in hiring positions say they support you but now in their eyes, you’ve basically said ‘hey, I could become a liability for your business at any given moment’ so you can be certain you’ll see less work. On top of that, you’re going to be mocked by people who think mental illness is a weakness and taunted with whatever triggers it by total strangers. Who would sign up for that?

I’m past the point of caring about how I am perceived. That is a lie. I care. I just know I am past a point of ever being positively able to affect it. I have struggled with clinical depression for years. I did all I could when I was younger to try and rewire myself. Therapy and medication, diet and exercise, relationships and hobbies. When those failed, self-medication, drinking and drugs. It’d phase in and out of my life and it would feel like it was gone sometimes but it would always find a way back. When something bad happened it would take over entirely. I was there the whole time but I couldn’t do much but watch from inside myself. As I got older I stopped fighting it. The illness and me came to a truce. We agreed that I’d get to be vaguely functional most of the time and in exchange it would periodically take over my mind and my life and get to do whatever fucked up shit it wanted before relinquishing control back to me ahead of too much damage being done.

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It broke that truce once. I took my eye off it after a run of bad luck. A bad break up, no money, friends around me moving on with their successful lives while I still had holes in my shoes in my late 20s. So I swallowed a bunch of downers and whatever else I could lay my hands on and went into cardiac arrest. The incident was public knowledge but people didn’t know it was a suicide attempt. I checked myself out of hospital after the best part of a week surrounded by geriatrics. They all vocally made their hatred of me known when they could. They’d heard the doctor talk. A young man throwing away their life when they’re at the end and desperate for more time. When I got out the hospital I wrote up a bullshit version of events for my weekly column, made a joke out of it and shrugged off the public messages from people saying that they hoped the next time killed me. Since then we’ve mostly kept up our respective ends of the agreement.

Six months ago my best friend died. She was my family. Through her I got to live a life I never thought I could. It made me a better person. Gone now and that version of me along with her. I’m no stranger to loss. I’ve lost friends to cancer, overdoses, suicide, murder and in combat overseas. It felt like my peers and I were like those turtles you see in nature documentaries, flung into existence and with a small window to make it to the water. And I understand that I am not the brightest nor the best but I made it off the beach. Now mostly I wish I hadn’t.

The first week afterwards, intense, unrelenting nightmares. Their content was always the same. She needed me and I wasn’t there and I had to go join her. Irrational. I don’t believe in an afterlife. Am I wrong? Irrelevant now. I should kill myself anyway. What is there to live for now? There were things to do. I had to handle the arrangements, help family and friends, deal with the media and the tributes. I can die later. After that week, the nightmares went. I haven’t dreamed since.

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One problem I found was that there was no place to grieve or try and get better, no practical way to shut down all contact until I had at least purged the survivor’s guilt from my system. You’ll try and distract yourself with anything when you’re in that much mental torment and work requires so much focus it’s usually a go-to choice. Not to mention that you have to slowly wake up to the realisation that your pain and loss isn’t anything special in the grand scheme of things… Your landlord still needs the rent, your boss still needs you to finish that project, your bank still needs you to pay back that loan… Sure, you get a week, maybe a month, where people give you a break. The needs of the world and your needs will never be truly synced up from this point onwards so fuck it, you jump back in when you’re not ready.

I’ve talked before about mental illness and explained how it’s like a computer virus. Once it is in the system the first thing it does is shut down the protections that would be used to fight it. After that it leaves the system vulnerable, compounding the existing problems and making fixing everything seem so implausible that people will eventually start to think you’ll have to format and wipe it all. I understand this because my depression has done this to me many times and what has pulled me out of the desperation has been the love and attention from others. Why do you think the disease makes you push people away?

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If your work involves you being in the public eye it’s difficult to hold it together in a way so people don’t notice. Sure, you can record a video. Burst into tears part way through? No problem, do it tomorrow. Too distracted to nail a take… Throw some post-its around the room. Manic episode? Great, use that energy. No-one is going to see you crash and burn afterwards. You only have to show them what you want to.

Or at least that used to be true. The influencer hustle is so much more than that now. Constant plate-spinning of every popular social media platform that’s out there. You have to be ubiquitous. Tweet something when you wake up, check in with your dedicated subreddit for creator content, put out that YouTube video, periscope your lunch, here’s a Tik-Tok of a viral challenge, what’s happening on Discord, then let’s get into that live-stream. All the while you’re watching numbers go up or down, talking to your manager about engagement and which sponsors are lined up. I’m not saying “won’t someone think of the influencers” because compared to doing construction work I think it’s a pretty sweet deal. What I am saying is if the product is YOU and it’s being consumed all the time, how do you hide your illness? How do you not fuck up and let your mask slip?

The answer is you don’t. You are human and flawed and sick and vulnerable. Your illness makes you behave in ways that put you at risk, consistently puts you in the wrong place at the wrong moment. You’re also being watched all the time. The slip is inevitable.

It comes in multiple forms. You might just break down and start crying. While it’s awkward most people will try and comfort someone in distress. You’ll get mocked, especially if you are a guy, but fuck it, that’s nothing compared to the pain you are already in. You might say something shocking. Sometimes the illness can manifest itself in risk-taking behaviour and self-sabotage. Depending on what you’ve said it might just be discussed in a thread or two, or it might be total cancelation and you get cast into the abyss. A temporary relief maybe but now you completely ruined your prospects and everything you worked for, which will cause further misery and depression when you realise what you’ve done to yourself. Maybe you completely lose control and have to deal with the public ridicule of your ‘meltdown’ or ‘freakout,’ those brief moments now being used as the go-to example to explain ‘who you really are.’ People on social media are always utterly convinced that someone’s worst moment is who ‘they really are’ and every other moment was some elaborate act that they struggled to keep up on a moment to moment basis. You are now Freakout Guy Or Meltdown Bitch, a new Kevin or Karen to be held up as an example of everything wrong with human nature.

Maybe you say you are going to kill yourself. What then?

There isn’t a set rule on what people’s motivations are when they express this. Sometimes it is a cry for help. It is saying ‘I need someone to show me compassion and empathy and convince me there is a reason to live.’ Other times, suicidal people can walk themselves to the edge but then realise they need a push to go over. I should also point out, as people with depression already know, saying it out loud can actually be a very calming thought. You are not in control of the chaos outside of your head but you can choose to end it. Sometimes people just need to say ‘I can do this’ to get that sense of control back. Fucked up but true. In the most tragic instances the person saying it has already made up their mind and saying it is simply a goodbye. You won’t know which, if any, of these it is.

Social media has created a unique problem for those experiencing suicidal thoughts. Before it there was no real way to share a suicidal ideation with thousands of strangers. There is a reason why you wouldn’t want to do that. It is one of many elephants in the room that we all squeeze past on a daily basis. There are people out there that want to see if you’ll do it and if they can influence that, they will. It’s the ultimate power-trip for a generation of people raised on reality TV, with its mechanisms that allow you to ‘vote people off,’ and social media giving you levels of access to people’s lives that simply shouldn’t exist. In their eyes you aren’t a person, you have no feelings, you have no life outside of the moments they see. You’re a content-generating hologram. It doesn’t matter to them if you don’t exist but it certainly matters if they have enough influence to help get you there.

I have seen it too many times now to doubt this is what is going on. I watched it with Etika and have been forever changed by that. I watched the internet push and pull a desperately ill and vulnerable person, whose only flaw that I could perceive was being too unwell to help himself, to the point where he felt he had to apologise to them moments before ending his own life. Some were subtle… The people who said ‘he just wants attention. He won’t do it’, for example. Some were explicit… “Do it pussy.” Others made sure to exploit him at his weakest moment for views, for money, making the shame he felt unbearable. As I asked a year ago – Why am I left with the uneasy feeling that I watched the internet crowdsource killing a man for their entertainment?

Etika Instagram post
Instagram: Etika
Etika passed in June 2019, also due to suicide, at 29 years old.

It was a rhetorical question. I know why I felt that way. I felt that way because that’s exactly what happened. A year later and I feel like I just watched it happen again and I know it’s going to keep on happening. It’s just who we are now.

Let’s get back to social media for a moment. Over the years I have written and talked about it extensively. I think I understand each platform and its problems in a way that probably most people don’t think too deeply about. It’s a regular feature on my podcast to talk about how it is my belief that social media is a catalyst for the mental health bomb that is already detonating across the Western world. It is having a two-pronged effect on human behaviour, making people act in ways they simply never would in any other environment while simultaneously rewarding us for laying bare our vulnerabilities for others to exploit. It has reduced us to thinking about other people in terms of usernames, avatars and character counts. It is a window into people’s lives that we are all too happy to throw bricks through.

Out of all social media platforms there is nothing quite like Reddit. What it is very good for is quickly creating a consensus and then encouraging anyone who happens to read a thread to share in it. This goes down to its core mechanics with the karma system, where dissenting opinions only need five more people to disagree with it than agree for that opinion to disappear from the discussion. If a commenter acquires too much “negative karma” their comments will stop appearing at all on the subreddits in which they accrued the downvotes. In popular subs one particularly controversial opinion can see an account you’ve held for years rendered essentially worthless. Studies have shown that the tone of a thread is dictated by the first few comments made within it and that upvotes generally tend to beget more upvotes.

But it’s more than just that. The website has radically shifted its values over the past six years, eschewing the ‘all opinions welcome’ model that made it popular. Now the staff play favourites, allowing some subreddits to break the rules with endorsement and others constantly treading on thin ice for any minor infraction. Recently it was shown that 92 of the top 500 subreddits on the website were run by the same five people and that these moderators would often ban users from all subreddits they controlled over disagreements. The account that made the thread pointing this out was suspended from the site and staff intervened decrying it as harassment. Calling it an echo chamber would be to downplay just how successfully the site forges unified agreement and disagreement about the same subjects in short spaces of time.

In an environment where everyone, clearly, holds the right opinion, there’s a strange psychology that emerges, one where users start to believe that it is upon them to ‘fix’ wrongdoing and to crowdsource meting out punishment to wrongdoers. Sometimes this is something like coming together to boycott a business to force them to change a policy or to use the sheer reach of the site to locate a missing bicycle. “We did it Reddit” was a legitimate self-congratulatory phrase you would see uttered all too often. It is now used mostly ironically because of the sheer breadth of harm Reddit witch-hunts have led to. Whether it’s falsely attributing the Boston Marathon Bombing to an already deceased suicide victim , incorrectly identifying a woman who claimed to be deliberately rejecting male college applications or the classic of doxing someone who posted a meme, causing them to lose their job. It is also a place where users have taken a perverse joy in pushing people over the brink and in to committing suicide in the ways I described earlier.

Crazy then that one of the often-repeated counterarguments you will see aimed at anyone being critical of this mob mindset that is prevalent on Reddit is that ‘we aren’t a hivemind. We are all different people.’ The latter is inarguably true but the reality for the way most subreddits operate is that when people see behaviour they disagree with they do not actively challenge it but rather simply ignore it and go to another thread. Their ‘votes’ and input could easily sway discourse, or perhaps temper reactions. Instead, because of the rewards for agreement that Reddit offers, users choose not to. So yes, you might not have been one of the people handing out flaming torches when the mob started its latest march, granted. By the same token let’s not pretend you were there with buckets of water either. Rather, you watched and reveled from a safe distance to retain that manufactured social standing among the very group that was off to burn down the mill.

And so Reddit entered into the discussion and one subreddit in particular, r/livestreamfail. What used to be a place to post amusing clips of streamers making faux pas has morphed into being the hub to discuss all issues related to streaming. Yes, you will see the occasional clip of someone talented doing something awesome as “a win” and some popular streamers take over the front page with mundane footage because their Discords co-ordinate upvoting. However, what constitutes a ‘fail’ is the biggest problem the subreddit has gone on to have. Mostly now they take the form of either someone saying something the crowd vehemently disagrees with or breaking the terms of service alongside demands for them to be banned. Oh, and let’s not forget how it is a library of almost every embarrassing moment of accidental nudity any streamer has ever had to endure. Want to delete a clip? The subreddit has a bot that automatically creates a mirror of the clip on a platform notoriously slow to respond to DMCAs. Containment is impossible. It’s that way by design. You must be punished.

I’ve had my own experiences with this. I’ve been battling with a relapse of severe depression since my friend died. I’m barely holding it together. My life is a lie. I don’t want it to be that way but I cannot see a path back and in truth there isn’t one. I wanted to be normal again. I rushed myself and went on one of the most popular podcasts on Twitch while I was five or six days deep into a binge of booze and sleep pills. Bloated, red in the face, drunk, slurring, I of course behaved awfully. The most embarrassing clips were posted to that subreddit. I am now Freakout Guy on top of all the other things people say about me. That thread is mostly cleaned up now, but in it were, and probably still are, insults aimed at my deceased friend, assertions that three months was long enough to get over it, and every insult under the sun aimed at me. Worse yet, my words were being used to criticise the host of the podcast, who himself suffers with mental health issues.

I was a mess by the end of that show. I don’t remember it or anything I said on it. I don’t want to. I have vague memories of Slasher and Esfand talking me down and telling me things were going to be OK. Mostly it wasn’t. There was no getting away from the wrath of the livestreamfail audience. I’d been a bad person and so it was only right and fair people came and twisted the knife. You can see for yourself below how that went. These are a handful of the messages I received. Without that thread, chances are most of them wouldn’t have happened. Still, not the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, right?

As a journalist and YouTube commentator I understand that discussion of the actions of public figures are absolutely not only part of the territory but also an essential mechanic of how any entertainment industry functions. The problem lies in the moderation and the contextual sensitivity that the mods of that subreddit apply. Naturally, it suffers from all of the aforementioned problems Reddit does as a whole. Why would a moderator of a subreddit not look at a clip of someone accidentally showing a boob and think ‘God, that’s embarrassing for them. I am sure they won’t want this to be shared and highlighted. I will be sure to delete any submissions of that clip.’ It’s just a lack of empathy and consideration. Now apply that same lack of empathy and consideration in how they respond to people who have mental health problems or are going through a bad time. I know of streamers who have these health issues who say they simply cannot get these threads about them removed.

The threads themselves are at least contained. You don’t have to read them. But, because of that Reddit psychology, it doesn’t stay on that subreddit. The users come to Twitch, come to your YouTube comments, come to your DMs, come to your business emails. All of the ways you are connected to the internet are now all pathways for people to attack you and they are doing it because it aligns with the consensus of a popular community who believe you deserve it and that it comes with the territory for being famous.

This cannot continue without more casualties. It’s a callous deflection to say that people who can’t handle this level of hate shouldn’t be in the public eye, or that people who have mental health issues should stay off the internet. The internet is us. It just doesn’t have to be the way it is. No-one was ever meant to be able to cope with thousands of people poking you in the areas where you’re most vulnerable on a daily basis, let alone if you are suffering from mental health problems. It’s not some irrational response. It’s unexplored territory for human psychology.

There’s no way to distill all this down to anything succinct and yet profound. ‘Just be nice to each other’ isn’t it. There’s something rotten about all of it. The relationship between personality and audience, the fairweather friends, the fact that we all became cops angrily holding people to standards we ourselves can’t meet, that strange desire to clench the magnifying glass over the ant we never grew out of… We’ve agreed to suffer in exchange for the ability to make others suffer. This is how we spend our time. Another week, another tragedy, another young life lost forever.


If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, or know anyone that is, and you would like to talk to someone, please reach out and call the Suicide Prevention Helpline 1-800-273-8255 (USA), the Samaritans 116-123 (UK), or Lifeline 13-11-14 (AUS).

CS:GO

Richard Lewis: MiBR’s legacy will be one of petulance not excellence (Part 2)

Published: 14/Sep/2020 19:13 Updated: 14/Sep/2020 21:45

by Richard Lewis

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The second part of an exploration into MiBR’s legacy and their core players who were once the unquestioned faces of competitive CS:GO, but had their prestige eroded by skirting conflicts of interest, consistently poor performances, and more. (You can read the full first part of this post here)


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

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Where we left off last time we were about to segue into another reason why the MiBR core had gone on to become so disliked by common fans; and that was their litany of excuses they come up with to explain away defeats. However, in the few days between publishing this second and final piece, something extraordinary happened.

The team’s long-standing coach and manager, Ricardo ‘dead’ Sinigaglia, was given a six-month ban from participating in ESL competitions for using an in-game bug to ascertain information about the opposite team. The offense, ESL said, took place during the Road to Rio competition places the violation squarely in the same timeframe as the team went off the deep end with public allegations made against Chaos and their young players, going into an apoplexy that ruined the reputation and compromised the safety of two young and upcoming players.

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Of course, Singaglia went down the predictable route of feigned confusion and denial, claiming he had been sent a clip from the CS Summit 6 event that showed the bug in action against Triumph. The clip he made public was, of course, edited to make it look like it was a simple error that garnered them no advantage at all. When the full clip was posted it showed Singaglia not only following Triumph players around on a crucial pistol round but also his teammates then lying about the coach being AFK after the round was won.

Beyond The Summit took the decision to ban Singaglia from the next two of their events and retroactively disqualify MiBR from the event. Valve have also subsequently stripped them of all Regional Major Ranking points, which is less of a punishment as CS:GO Majors have been canceled for the foreseeable future.

With these latest sanctions issued against MiBR they are the only professional team in CS:GO history to have been caught and punished three times for cheating at major events. The timing of these revelations is too perfect and underlines everything stated in the first part: these players think rules do not apply to them while publicly masquerading as the only honest competitors in a rotten scene.

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Conflict Of Interest Violations

Speaking candidly I was surprised that ESL took action at all given that there was an even more egregious violation of competitive rules enacted by the Brazilians. On the 23rd of April 2020, in the North American Road To Rio competition for the Valve sanctioned CS:GO Major, MiBR took on another Brazilian team simply called “Yeah.” The brand name is another throwback to Counter-Strike 1.6 and thanks to some investors they were resurrected at the start of 2018. Now here for the potential to play in the biggest tournament in the CS:GO calendar, they were taking on MiBR for the first time since their return to action. This sounds like a great story, right? Well, if you look a little closer you’ll find plenty that will make you realize that this match should never have happened and would not have happened in any other professional sport.

Let’s start with those investors. Can you guess who they are? As the kids say “it’s ya boi” Epitácio ‘TACO’ de Melo and the aforementioned and freshly banned Singaglia. Both of them are in for a 25% share each, giving them essentially a controlling influence in the team through direct ownership alone.

mibr yeah gaming csgo esl one
ESL
MiBR and Yeah Gaming played a qualifier match in April for ESL One: Road to Rio.

You might recall that back in November of 2019 Valve said they were going to have a big clampdown on conflict of interests in the competitive CS:GO space. This came after years of work from beat journalists, myself included, having to catch multiple moneymen with their hands all the way in the monopolistic cookie jar. I’ve been doing it for years and at great cost to my bank balance, sanity and hairline (still not insisting broadcasts allow me to wear a hat yet though.) “Finally,” I thought reading this blog, “I have dented the financial membrane of Valve and got them to care about the thing that matters most to any competitive pursuit; its integrity.”

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I must have temporarily forgotten I was referring to a game developer, which is easily done with Valve at times. In the grand scheme of priorities, the top three of which are all variations of “add gold to the hoard,” the matter of allowing player-owned teams to compete against the players that own those teams are so way down it’d give you vertigo to look at them. Combine that with the usual lack of communication (Valve’s philosophy is “we’ll tell you when something happens we don’t like or if it upsets China.”)

Incredibly this game was scheduled despite the fact that the players had disclosed ownership in writing prior to the competition. And to be fair, it was no secret to begin with. Yet there is something beyond distasteful about a team who have spent so much time complaining about how they are victimized by big tournament organizers seemingly oblivious to just what was being ignored here. Oh, and it gets worse.

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The parent company of MiBR, the Immortals Gaming Club, are such suckers for all things Brazilian they’ve either bought all the businesses their players own or created working business relationships with them. So it is that the parent company of MiBR pays an annual fee to Yeah that enables them to buy any two players they wish from the organization at “an agreed-upon price.” This means that Yeah is in essence the academy team for MiBR. And they played against them in a qualifier. For the Major.

MiBR beat Yeah Gaming 2-0 in their opening match on the Road to Rio.

Incredibly the result still stands to this day and neither team has been disqualified. Valve completely bottled the issue when, in a statement to HLTV.org, they went back on their previous stance and instead said: “The sole requirement for ESL One: Road to Rio was that participating teams disclose existing conflicts of interest and that those disclosures be made public so that the community can have an opportunity to discuss them.”

I’ve been covering Counter-Strike now for over fifteen years. I’m qualified to say this. The average fan doesn’t even understand what a conflict of interest is, let alone grasp why it matters within the context of a tournament. While there was discussion in the CSGO community, these were punctuated with the usual moronic arguments; “why does it matter” or “are you saying that Yeah would throw a game just because they were told” or “But Yeah are so bad they can’t beat MiBR anyway.” That last one becomes especially hilarious when you consider their recent defeat against the team ranked 64th in the world Wisla Krakow.

So, even though there are multiple pathways in which a match between these two teams could be compromised, the “resolution” was for Valve and ESL to come to an agreement that as long as MiBR divest themselves before the Major itself in November (which, let’s be real, isn’t happening anyway) it is perfectly fine for any matches prior to that, such as qualifiers for that tournament, to be compromised. Man, people really do pick on those MiBR guys, don’t they?

Why Does Everybody Pick On The MiBR Guys?

There are few groups of players as humorless as the core of MiBR who’ve shown themselves to be over their careers. Despite the numerous examples of clearly preferential treatment they have received over their careers they seem to remain utterly convinced that everyone is out to get them. The record shows them to be some of the most widely praised players in the history of the game, their dominant era seeing them rightly showered with plaudits. By the same token, there is a significant blind spot in the community when it comes to behavior that would see other entities “canceled” in the current environment. I won’t get into the fact that the players have openly supported Jair Bolsonaro because, frankly, we should all be tired of playing the very American ‘gotcha game’ that the Twitterati have made a national pastime. However, there are some actions that usually carry consequences.

Following the death of George Floyd while in police custody, the Black Lives Matter movement gained significant momentum in carrying its message to a much wider global audience. This brought with it a wave of corporate statements keen to capitalize on positive messaging at this time. MiBR were no different. On the 1st of June they posted a message to their official Twitter account in both Portuguese and English. It read: “No to fascism. Yes to respect. No to racism. Yes to diversity. Killing? Just in a game. In real life, just life. The only acceptable supremacy is respect for our differences. The differences unite us, and the respect doesn’t separate us.”

 

Fernando ‘Fer’ Alvarenga streams on Twitch regularly by professional player standards. During a broadcast just two days after MiBR’s statement about respecting differences and rejecting notions of supremacy, Alvarenga made comments to a viewer that his straight hair was “good” and that the viewer’s Afro-textured hair was making them angry. This also has significant cultural overtones given Brazil’s long-standing history of racism towards the country’s population that are of African descent, including a period in their history where they implemented eugenics to increase the European descended population. The message in and of itself is horrendous with this analysis but the timing of it, the way it actively contradicted MiBR’s public stance, meant that it would be almost impossible to ignore. Almost.

MiBR’s response was to put out an apology only in Portuguese, one would assume to avoid the wider world noticing their acknowledgment of the player’s culpability. There was nothing directly from Alvarenga.

As is the usual strategy for the organization their statement went to great lengths to explain how words can sometimes be divorced from intent. “We all know, sometimes, language or phrases have, if taken to the extreme, a set of implications or meanings disconnected from the speaker’s intention” their apology read. “However, it cannot be an excuse to hide behind it. Fer knows and recognizes this type of language feeds a narrative that is wrong and deeply damaging. Instead of hiding, he faced the problem and apologized.” The story did the rounds but, despite it being the worst possible thing to say at the worst possible time, nothing really came of it. Weird, given the extreme amount of bias and hostility that the players believe they face.

So, I’ll just state it plainly: had this been someone from any other team, broadcast or media company, they would have been fired and on an indefinite vacation. Inflammatory, racially dividing statements at a time when people were addressing systemic racial inequality would have been, rightly, viewed as inappropriate for any other professional. When you factor in that Alvarenga had been banned from Twitch previously for using racial epithets to describe who he was playing within America it’s hard to fathom how MiBR players think they have anything other than an incredibly privileged position in the esports landscape.

Despite MiBR’s claims that the player had been fined and warned it doesn’t seem that the player learned any significant lessons about expressing bigotry on his platform. The same month, following the aforementioned dispute with Furia, Alvarenga went on a tirade about the Furia players that made some charged comments about “taking it in the ass” and “not being a man.” This was ignored by all parties.

kNg – The Law Unto Himself

Vito ‘kNg’ Giuseppe is a relative newcomer to top tier Counter-Strike. He has, however, wasted no time in establishing himself as belonging squarely in the company of his fellow teammates when it comes to both talent and consistently unprofessional behavior. There isn’t a single person in the Counter-Strike scene who isn’t aware of his meltdown at DreamHack Montreal while representing Immortals but I’ll provide a summary. The Brazilian roster, then a top ten team in the world, was late to a competitive match against CLG. The admins gave them a warning but took no further action. They won the match and made it to the final where they would face North. Having a few hours of downtime between matches they went back to their hotel rooms and somehow managed to sleep through the call time. This being their second late showing the admins made them forfeit the first map. They would go on to lose to the Danes.

Now, as a point of information, it was widely stated by many attendees at the event that three of the players from the squad, Giuseppe being one of them, had been seen out drinking late the night before. The sheer volume of people claiming this never gave me cause to doubt it as being true but if you harbor any doubts in your mind the team captain at the time, Lucas ‘steel’ Lopes, said that while he didn’t think they were partying hard or that they went to a club, he said they were at the hotel bar late the night before.

As always what was fed back across the internet was likely an exaggerated version of the truth. Equally, these players, despite claiming it was jet lag that made them late, clearly weren’t feeling those effects bad enough to have an early night before must-win matches.

Anyway, CLG’s in-game leader Pujan ‘FNS’ Mehta tweeted a joke that it sucked to lose to players who were hungover and Giuseppe lost his mind. In a tweet that has now gone down in Counter-Strike history, he resorted immediately to death threats. “You’ll prove it or I’ll kill you” he said. It would transpire this wasn’t a quaint turn of phrase. Giuseppe was actively seen trying to find Mehta with the intent to assault him.

CSGO pro KNG’s response to FNS. The tweet has since been deleted.

The CLG captain had to avoid being in the hotel while people actively tried to calm down the Brazilian and even in the aftermath he stated he would never apologize for what he did.

While this ultimately set of a chain of events, that not only saw him removed from Immortals but also ended up having a huge negative impact on the upcoming Major, there was never any formal action from DreamHack. For a company that is on the record publicly as having stated that everyone must feel safe at their events, when a competitor tried to assault another one they took absolutely no action nor even addressed the matter publicly.

Of course, if they were being consistent, the player would have been banned from attending their events for a period of time and, in line with the code of conduct guidelines in the handbook, would have forfeited a percentage of his winnings. Instead, he was issued with zero penalty from the tournament he disgraced.

Hello Violence My Old Friend

We can all agree that there is no place for violence spilling over from what should be a spirited competition. Giuseppe’s Montreal incident is widely regarded as the worst of its kind, although Singaglia and de Melo threatening Oleksandr ‘s1mple’ Kostyliev’s life over a throwaway in-game knife could just as easily be brought to the discussion. However, what isn’t talked about as much publicly is when one of the Brazilian entourage that was brought to the PGL Major in Krakow actually assaulted a professional player at the event’s after-party.

Although I wasn’t personally in attendance the story has been told to me many times by those who were. It has mostly been covered up due to the combination of embarrassment and obviously the fact that there should carry some form of reprisals. Removing any embellishments from the story, here are the consistent facts that all present parties have repeated independently.

Esports after-parties generally tend to take place before the event has finished because it’s cheaper to do so. In this case, the event took place the day before the final, which featured the Brazilian team Immortals taking on the Kazakhstanis of Gambit. Markus ‘Kjaerbye’ Kjærbye, then playing for Astralis who had beaten the other Brazilian team of SK Gaming 2-0 in the quarter-finals, approached the group of Brazilian players from both teams who were together.

He made some seemingly disparaging comments that downplayed the likelihood of Immortals playing in many more finals in their careers, a comment that is often paraphrased as “enjoy the final you probably won’t play in many more” and a fracas ensued where one of the group assaulted the Danish player. This is widely accepted as a brother of one of the SK Gaming’s squad, although in the subsequent squabble it seemed even Kjærbye himself was unsure of who had done it. It is also worth noting that depending on who you ask the assault varies from a full-blown punch to the face or a finger being poked close to the eye of the player.

A now-deleted tweet from Kjærbye confirms the incident as having taken place, although due to his reputed intoxication it seems he aimed the tweet at a German racing driver. Fellow Dane Mathias ‘MSL’ Lauridsen also made light of the incident with a tweet at the time, with some fans who claimed to have witnessed the incident responding to him.

When it comes down to how I should view this incident, I am conflicted. I’ve been around sports my entire life and I’ve seen how quickly adults can behave like children when emotions are running high. Mix alcohol in with that and we all know what it can lead to.

I was raised on legends from the Welsh rugby team tours of the 80s and 90s, the insane antics of American wrestlers, and the rivalries of the golden age of the Premier League. As such, a part of me wants to file this story away on a mental shelf next to all of these, something to be saved for an esports speaking tour or a book. Yet by the same token, I know that violence is completely inexcusable and has no place at an event.

Competitors shouldn’t need to worry about being assaulted over trash talk or banter, which Counter-Strike fans agree is a part of what makes our esport stand out from the more sanitized, developer-controlled ones out there. It also cannot escape my attention that the most notable incident of an assault at a sizable Counter-Strike event just so happened to involve players who have actively threatened to assault other players. The fact that everyone with knowledge of the incident has a silent agreement to essentially never speak of it again may very well show a sensible maturity, but what would we say if another incident were to happen involving the same figures? We’d probably ask why they hadn’t been banned.

The answer to that is simple. We have collectively agreed to treat those with a certain level of status in our scene preferentially. As I can attest to personally, as someone who has been publicly smeared and castigated for five years over an act of self-defense, not all of us get to feel that benefit.

Excuses By The Bucketload

Another thing happened while I was working on this article. I was sent a thread from the forums of CS:GO’s leading coverage site HLTV.org. It was an update of an earlier thread that hadn’t attained much notoriety entitled “MiBR excuse list.” While I had planned to address some of the excuses as another example of how the players had tarnished their own legacy, this thread did include a few that even I had forgotten about. Sure, the thread does include some unsourced claims that I wouldn’t take as being the gospel truth but it shows that the fans are becoming increasingly cognizant of the lack of accountability the players display. After the latest round of drama, the thread has now been updated an additional five or six times.

Rather than rehash a forum thread here let me simply select some of the choice examples that have come from the team’s in-game leader Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toledo. Like a lot of great former champions, he seems to have fallen into the trap of believing in his mind that there are always explanations for losses that go beyond simply understanding that you weren’t good enough. Right now, you would hope that they would be waking up to that reality as, at the time of writing this, the team has lost matches to rosters that fall outside of the top fifty ranked teams in the world. This includes a loss to Copenhagen Flames who are ranked #75. Few excuses have been forthcoming lately but let’s take a look at some of Toledo’s greatest hits.

There’s the obligatory reminder that he claimed players were cheating when they lost to Chaos worth repeating as his fans peddle the lie he never directly accused anyone. At the 2018 Boston Eleague CS:GO Major, the schedule meant one team would have to play twice in one day. It was randomly attributed to his team. He peddled a conspiracy intimating that Eleague had somehow been biased towards his team, relating it to their disqualification for moving organizations partway through the inaugural season.

When they lost to Astralis at IEM Katowice 2018, it was because the PCs were randomly tabbing out in-game. At the same tournament, he said the headsets were so uncomfortable it was unplayable. After having gone on a poor run of losing pistol rounds around this time he publicly said that one pistol in particular, the CZ, was too overpowered and should be removed from the game. Even though there was nothing stopping them from using it too, it wasn’t a gun that their squad naturally gravitated towards. Just a coincidence.

During the FACEIT Major in London, where they had an early scare by losing against TyLoo, he complained about the tournament PCs not performing well despite the spec being in line with what most tournaments use. When they lost to TyLoo at the Asian Championships in 2019 it would be the flu, not PCs, that was to blame. Oh, and most recently, when they failed to beat Mad Lions after they choked in the finals of the Flashpoint League earlier this year, the reason they lost was that the tournament system didn’t give them more of an advantage for having been undefeated prior to that point. This is especially hilarious given the caliber of the team in the league and the fact that it was the easiest lay-up in the world for them to take the title.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means and only spans the last two years. It is also only Toledo’s excuses and, take it from me, the other players on the roster have all learned from the best when it comes to explaining away defeats as being circumstances beyond their control.

It’s good to see the wider community recognizing it for what it is. No sports fan likes competitors that can’t be gracious and humble in defeat. This is because in many ways it is the ultimate insult to the victor, a way to strip their moment of its luster and make it about yourself. Whatever you do though, don’t ever criticize them publicly about this or imply they might have lost their hunger.

A Fundamental Inability To Accept Criticism

As a public figure, criticism will come your way. Not all criticism is valid. A lot of it is coming from people that aren’t in any position to offer informed critiques because they are profoundly ignorant as to what they are talking about. Think the sports fan who is absolutely adamant about how they can fix the team they support without knowing anything about how the players train or interact with each other. They express themselves as you’d expect… Red-faced morons whose ignorance is only eclipsed by the confidence that they are right. You’ll have to hear those people, but you don’t have to listen to them.

However, in sports, there are those whose job it is to critique what you do. Many players feel these people are as equally clueless as the angry fans, and that is true in some cases, but certainly not the majority. Commentators, analysts, pundits and journalists religiously watch the games and are also privy to information shared behind the scenes. We know when a team is breaking down due to in-fighting. We know when in-game leaders are looking for someone new to add to the squad. We know when contracts are expiring and when players want to get a better deal. We know when orgs are shopping around a star player they can no longer afford. All of this gives insight and perspective that players sometimes don’t take into consideration when it comes to putting out an opinion.

Most players do understand that it is part of the business though. The MiBR guys have consistently lashed out at anyone either criticizing them or even making lighthearted jokes at their expense. It was this behavior towards Chaos, a team containing a young player whose reputation has been ruined by their claims, that was the last straw for me. The MiBR core enjoy an unbelievably privileged position in the esports landscape. They are, seemingly regardless of how badly they act, national heroes. They bring huge viewing numbers whenever they play, meaning tournament organizers and broadcasters will look to accommodate them in ways that other teams do not have the luxury of. They are paid a huge salary, one of the largest in Counter-Strike, without even the expectation to achieve results commensurate to their reputation and ranking. There is no oversight when they step out of line. Their coach is a lifelong friend and business partner. Their employer is also in business with them on several projects. They are completely untouchable and can act with impunity.

Because of all this, it leaves an especially bad taste in the mouth when you lash out at a young social media manager for implying that, due to bad results, you might be missing a legendary former member of your squad. It is beyond petty to take to Twitter to lash out at a broadcaster who says that you appear to have lost the hunger you had in 2016 (which would be an understandable reality by the way) and whine endlessly about how hard you work. The truly mean-spirited would point out if you’re working so hard and failing so consistently it might be time to quit. There were no such suggestions here because people still remember the Brazilian core of old.

We remember the team that came from nowhere to shock the world and win the country’s first CS:GO Major. We remember the style and swagger, the never-say-die attitude that meant until 16 rounds were on the board you could never be counted out of a match. We allowed the gamesmanship because it came alongside a healthy dose of showmanship. And we remember the gestures of giving back to the scene such as streaming to raise money for South African team Bravado because of their desire to come from a scene hampered by a lack of economic opportunity but go on to be among the best mirrored your own journey.

Since joining MiBR this has become a distant memory. Now what remains is a group of players too egotistical to see their own faults and labor under the delusion that everything else has changed while they remained the same. You’ve shown spite to your fellow pros, including youngsters who aspire to be like you. You’ve cheated while accusing the innocent of cheating themselves. You’ve diminished the achievements of teams that right now are better than you. In doing all of this you have taken a brand that should be a source of national pride and turned it into a bad joke, one that will never recover from the reputational damage you have all done to it. When your old colleague Lincoln ‘fnx’ Lau said “if MiBR comes back it will be a joke in my humble opinion, they will ruin a name that was once well represented” he couldn’t have known how right he would be.

Regardless of whether or not this farce is allowed to continue by the people that sign the checks after two years, it is too late to change what you’ve turned your legacy in to. It could have been one of the greatest stories esports had ever seen. Instead, it has become the all too typical one about unchecked power, ego and greed, and we had plenty of those already.