Overwatch’s Toxic Professional Scene Shows Little Improvement

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Video games have a special way of turning anyone playing them into the most degenerate version of themselves. Racial epithets, homophobic language, misogynistic jokes and general psychological harassment make up the depressing majority of the online matches I play. One begins to expect this much from the community members of most multiplayer games, and it doesn’t take a lot to filter out this behavior after being subject to it for so long.

While this may be the norm for casual players, professionals in the industry should hold themselves to higher standards. This has not been the case for the Overwatch League, the official year-round professional competitive scene for Overwatch. Players have been banned, fined, and suspended from their teams almost weekly due to inappropriate actions both in and outside of the game.
Most prominent of these accounts was Félix “xQc” Lengyel’s recent dismissal from his team after he spammed an emote of a black man’s face in a Twitch stream while a black shoutcaster was on screen. While people have attributed his use of the emote as just another cog in the blatantly racist culture of Twitch chats, professional players such as xQc are watched and admired by many who may accept this behavior as correct. And XQc is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Overwatch’s immature professional atmosphere. Josue “Eqo” Corona received a three-match suspension, a total of $10,000 in fines, and a revokal of his privilege to livestream himself playing casually until June 17 because he pulled the corners of his eyelids back after making a comment about Korean people.

Many have decried Overwatch League’s willingness to punish players for their juvenile actions, stating that many of them are only doing what everyone else on Twitch is doing anyways. However, these people forget that playing on a professional level places one’s life under constant scrutiny, not only by those who are waiting for someone to make a mistake but also by impressionable viewers.

Twitch is an amazing service, allowing people to follow their passions and produce wonderful live content that pushes the boundaries of scheduled entertainment. That being said, many members of the community engage in mob mentality toxicity, spamming emotes depicting people of certain races when people of those same races appear on screen, and going even further by making racist jokes about racial stereotypes when certain words are spoken during a livestream. Just like playing games yourself, it can be a toxic environment that encourages young people on the website to follow suit and normalize their casual racism.

It is therefore up to the streamers and professionals, literally the only people with voices on the platform, to direct these viewers away from harmful trends and towards a more accepting mindset. Similar to rock stars and athletes, these people didn’t choose to be famous and influential. However, since they are, they need to accept that fact, mature, and understand that their positions give them a considerable amount of power among the people who watch them.

The most bewildering part of these penalties coming out the League is that actions like this seem to be predominantly centered in the Overwatch pro circle. I follow quite a few professional gaming circuits (ladies, it’s hard to believe but yes, I’m single) and it’s difficult to find the number of unsportsmanlike actions that have sprouted from the League in any other community. While games with notoriously angry communities like League of Legends have had their share of professional bans, most people have finally learned to accept that to play professionally, one must also act professionally.

Overwatch League is a relatively new scene, only conducting its first season of competitions this year and plopping tons of streamers who are used to acting without repercussions into an environment where they are expected to act with a certain level of respect. While many of these people are surely having difficulty transitioning to the lifestyle the League requires of an individual, there is no excuse for these players to ignore the faults of players in the past and realizing how to conduct themselves before entering the circuit.

Overwatch League can be incredibly entertaining on a day with good matchups, but the Twitch chat’s inability to let the mistakes of banned players devolve the experience into that of a typical gaming experience. Hopefully time will help the community recover and realize the error of its ways, as it seems the players are not willing to do so themselves.

Isaac Espinosa is a third-year electrical engineering major. He can be reached at imespino@uci.edu.

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