Opinion

Richard Lewis: What do you do when your harassers are journalists?

by Richard Lewis

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Veteran esports journalist Richard Lewis has been defending himself from trolls again on social media - but this time, it's other journalists with an agenda. 



It’s Esports Awards season again, so naturally, some games journalists have reared up and are currently in their annual attempt to get me driven out of an industry I’ve worked in for over 15 years. 

The attempts this time have involved journalists labeling me sexist, implying I’m a sexual predator and trans fetishist, blackmailer and have publicly condemned me for using the block function on Twitter… That last one is strange given their well-documented use of block bots but, as you’ll see, hypocrisy is pretty much par for the course in their world.

When I won journalist of the year at the Esports Awards in 2016, other games journalists tried to discredit my work. It was mostly mild grumbling on Twitter. Then they stepped up their attempts in 2017. A crowd-sourced hit piece where some journalists got together to research all my supposed sins was published on PCGamesN, with the cynical hiring of a freelancer to put their name to it.

The article claimed that “esports are being represented by people whose histories include racist, misogynist, homophobic, and/or transphobic views, as well as those with violent or deceptive pasts.” As I do not fall into any of those categories (the “crimes” the author managed to put my name to were being banned from a subreddit, acting in self-defense when someone tried to attack me and making a joke about how I grew up poor when accepting an award) I was able to pursue legal remedies. Needless to say, because these allegations were unequivocally false, they issued an apology.

I’d like to say that that’s the end of it but no. I’ve been nominated for Esports Journalist Of The Year again this year, and the latest attempts to discredit me have raised the stakes somewhat. Alongside the usual disgruntlement, a plan was hatched in August to run another hit piece and has involved public threats of blackmail. Let me tell you why.

Esports Awards
Esports Awards
Photo of Duncan "Thorin' Shields used in the 2017 PCGamesN hit piece

Between 2006 and 2009 I worked on a novel with the ironic title The Romantic. It was about a jaded office worker who was just an awful human specimen. A sexist loner who processed everything in a manner informed by the television he would watch, he trudged through his office job hating everyone around him and consoling himself by attempting to seduce coworkers. In 2011 I published extracts of this novel on a Wordpress blog that was used to share writing with my friends and the handful of Twitter followers I had at that time (I only created my Twitter in 2010).

Some of the published chapters include monologues of this character fantasizing about his male coworkers being blown up in terrorist attacks abroad, stating that women shouldn’t be allowed to be office managers, criticizing how generic porn had become, using Facebook for sex and making jokes about miscarriage. I do not consider these works of fiction to be any more extreme than the writers who inspired me, and creative writing was a big part of my life before I pivoted towards journalism. I ran a poetry collective with my friend and published author G J Wood in Birmingham and have read many of these pieces to audiences where they were mostly well-received.

These journalists planned to misrepresent them as my thoughts in a bid to prove once and for all that I am the bigot they have repeatedly said I am. The source who initially informed me about this also said that they were holding back for maximum impact. I won’t be blackmailed or intimidated so I am making people aware that these writings exist and of the context behind them.

If the extreme nature of the writing isn’t a giveaway that these are fictional, satirical pieces, then some of the details should. I didn’t have an office job in 2011 so I don’t know why I’d be blogging about one. I also couldn’t afford a cleaner, something the character refers to in one of the pieces they archived. You will also notice in the blog’s comments responses from women writers that I shared this with, something I doubt I would be doing if I was the secret woman-hater in the pieces. The same blog has a short story about two people dropping barbiturates and masturbating after a game of football. It isn’t a reflection of real life. 

Towards the end of the blog’s lifespan, I pivoted to using it for some journalistic pieces. I wrote about the failings of journalism in the UK and covered the Birmingham race riots, as well as writing some pieces about the issues facing the homeless in the city. It should be clear to anyone which pieces are serious and which aren’t, but if anyone still doubts the reality of this novel I have emails from two years before it being put on this blog that shows me sending it to publishers clearly explaining the novel’s title and intent.

I doubt this will stop the hit piece from being published but given the choice of having malicious people hold something over me indefinitely or be open and transparent about it, there’s no choice at all for me. Obviously, given my many years of advocating for more inclusion in the esports space and helping many people from underrepresented groups get their start in the business, it should be clear that these views are that of a character and not my own. Yet, if it is still your viewpoint that this exercise in creative writing is a cardinal sin, then hold me accountable for it however you see fit.

What I would ask of you is to focus on what is going on in regards to the persistent years-long harassment I am receiving. Why is it acceptable for the journalist Victoria Rose to publicly blackmail me with threats of “releasing” this wordpress that has been publicly available for eight years? You will notice that she specifically refers to “we”, which of course are the other journalists who have been working on this smear piece with her.

Why can she

ya he's a trans girl chaser who white knights em and manipulates them like he does other women, and what about it

— Victoria Rose :3c (@riningear) October 15, 2019


" target="_blank" rel="noreferrer noopener">publicly label me a sexual predator

for helping a trans friend get corrective surgery they desperately needed to live pain-free? Worse, why is she targeting my friend? Doesn’t she have enough to deal with without a journalist publicly implying she is being manipulated by me? This is, hands down, the most vile lie any journalist has told. No one will criticize her for it. There will be no penalties from her employers or colleagues.

Why is it acceptable for Jay Costello, the weekend editor of Rock Paper Shotgun, to publicly lie that I was blocking all women in esports from my Twitter? Then to follow it up with the claim I am inarguably sexist (something I’ll wager she feels comfortable saying, believing this ancient blog to be a smoking gun). Where’s the sense in her then pressuring another female writer who wrote a positive piece about me for GINX implying that in doing so it invalidated the websites pro-LGBTQ stance?

Incidentally, and not that this should need to be said, the charges of bigotry, which have come day after day since these journalists discovered esports in about 2015, stand up to zero scrutiny. Forget helping my friend, I was writing about problems with racism in Britain and the rise of the EDL in 2010. In sports writing, I vocally supported the Ferdinand brother's challenge for the Kick It Out anti-racism campaign to do more and said the then England captain John Terry had no place in the squad after using a racial epithet towards a fellow professional.

In gaming, I wrote about racial stereotyping and how we needed more representation of minority groups. I challenged the League of Legends community to do better when it came to responding to racial insensitivity from its figureheads. I said the decision by Riot Games to hold its World Championships in Singapore, a country where homosexuals can be imprisoned, was not acceptable. I called out ESEA for making fun of someone with Down’s Syndrome for the purpose of an advertisement. I recently spoke at length with professional player and advocate Stephanie ‘missharvey’ Harvey about how best to combat any sexism in competitive gaming spaces.

I’ve been vocal for YEARS about the systemic sexism and alleged abuse of women at Riot Games, something mainstream games journalists refused to speak up about during that time.

There are dozens of examples of me standing up for people that need it and rejecting all forms of bigotry and prejudice. Go out and ask anyone I’ve worked with. Surely every time you spoke of my bigotry, if there was any substance to it, people would be beating down your door to tell you all about it. On the contrary, every woman or person of color who has ever vouched for me is then, in turn, abused by you for being on “the wrong side”.

When do I get to be considered woke enough to be left alone? Is there a point where I get to ascend to the same plane of sainthood that you exist within? When will you accept that there are plenty of actual stories to break instead of trying to break the wills of people you claim to wish to ignore? It couldn’t be that there is an ulterior motive for these constant falsehoods being used about me, could it?

Some journalists today, including a few who write about video games, like to exist in a quantum superstate of being. They want all the benefits of being a public figure – verification on all platforms, invites to conferences, respect at all times for their opinions – and yet simultaneously want none of the responsibility that it comes with. You aren’t allowed to tweet at them when they tweet about you. You aren’t allowed to critique their positions. You aren’t allowed to hold them up to ridicule when their work is substandard. They file this reasonable discourse alongside the harassment.

Then there are the rules they set for others in the social media space that are just riddled with double standards they seem oblivious to. Have a larger following than them? Well, you can’t tweet about them in case one of your followers then says something they don’t like. ’Dunking on low follower accounts is gross’, they will say without ever explaining why, but they’ll do it to you of course and they’ll do it relentlessly.

Case in point. Yesterday, when addressing these issues on a live stream, they concocted some wild fantasy suggesting that by showing tweets I was encouraging harassment of these people from my viewers. They reported my stream to Twitch. I, of course, violated none of Twitch’s rules. 

Tweets are public. I can talk about them on a live stream. How would news work if this was some sort of official rule? It’s insanity. Meanwhile, they have used their public platforms and association with their sizeable publishing outlets to brand me a sexual predator and a sexist. This isn’t harassment. It was truly me, addressing these lies, who had crossed the line in their mind. Can you believe that?

So, even though we all know what’s coming before the Esports Awards, I am at least going to participate in the narrative this time. I expect lies to be printed and for me to be, once again, labeled a bigot anyway. It’s not enough that I spent one year needing a bodyguard detail when working on television because of the sheer volume of credible threats I received. It’s not enough that I can no longer attend public esports events because of incidents like convicted felons stating they are going to come and shoot me live during a broadcast. It’s not enough that I live with the knowledge that if I was ever doxed I would need to leave home immediately or risk being killed due to an attack or a swatting incident. 

No, I’m fair game, because these games journalists say so. For all the talk about how they are anti-harassment, how they want the internet to be a better place, when it’s someone they disapprove of they’ll do everything they can to ensure that their target’s life is miserable.

I’ve given 15 years of my life to making esports a better place and pushing it into the mainstream. No one will lead a mistake-free existence over such a period. I’m not going anywhere. I’m not going to cave. The only question left is to ask is this: if I have to be held accountable for everything I’ve done, when will you be?


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