More problems with sexism mar esports’ start to 2019

“It’s really cool to see ladies playing,” Street Fighter commentator Let Blood Run said during a Third Strike match at Cooperation Cup just a few days ago. A decent enough statement, though the sentiment didn’t last long. “You know what? I mean, I respect it, but it also pisses me off when girls, like, just want to play Chun Li. Pick Q. That’s cool. You’re gonna lose anyway.” Oh, no. Not this again.

It’s almost like a running gag at this point. Somewhere on Twitter, there’s an exhausted factory worker writing a zero on a “___ days without incident” chalkboard. Though many players (Dominique “SonicFox” McLean) and organisations (Los Angeles Valiant) have been doing exceptionally good work and making the space feel more inclusive, many others are still shrugging off their responsibilities. Indeed, “I didn’t mean that,” being the aegis of Let Blood Run and others who seemingly feel as though they’ve done nothing wrong.

It’s the mantra we’ve become so accustomed to in the shadow of these all too common occurrences. This notion that the burden of acceptance and responsibility is on the audience is thoroughly abhorrent, but it’s something that we’ve seen become more of a cultural norm over the last few years. In order for the overall quality of a community to improve, its leaders must be cognizant of the fact that they have quite a bit of influence.

Particularly in the FGC, where a good number of spectators are also tournament competitors. If the idea is to see a scene grow, throwing poison into the well won’t help to achieve that goal.

Unfortunately, this was not the only incident that left people shaking their heads over the last week. In what was one of the most bizarre occurrences in professional Overwatch to date, we witnessed the rise and fall of “Ellie,” a supposedly female player that was acquired by the Contenders team Second Wind. In about a month’s time, this personality spawned like a juicy item on a heavily populated map — and had about the same impact. People on all sides fought over Ellie’s legitimacy, but she was gone before anything really happened.

At the heart of this issue was the curious fact that a high-ranking DPS player appeared overnight, and no one in the professional community had heard of them. Simply put, this would be an incredibly difficult feat to pull off. After plenty of conjecture, Cloud9 streamer Aspen revealed that Ellie was not real. She was the invention of a player named Punisher, who apparently created Ellie as a “social experiment.”

The fallout from this mess has been widespread. While many in the community crucified journalists that were quick to report on the drama, the fact remains that there was a lot more brewing than the development of questionable talent. Most of this stemmed from leaked comments by Haunt, a player with a history of toxicity, who said he was going to dox, or publish private information about, Ellie.

Regardless of which side of the fence you’re on, this mindset is dangerous for pretty obvious reasons. Moreover, Punisher’s actions have now put the genuine female players in a situation where the typical scrutiny will be amplified. Se-yeon “Geguri” Kim’s experiences of harassment are probably the most well-documented at the professional level, but other issues continue to plague the competitive ladder.

Outside of professional Overwatch, women have been pretty vocal about the hostility that comes from simply using voice chat. Analynn “Bawlynn” Dang, Social Media Director for the Los Angeles Gladiators, recently tweeted about a poor experience on her way to Grandmaster ranking last ladder season.

Imagine not even being able to talk, lest you become an instant scapegoat. Or having a warped sense of social agency and importance to the point where you feel comfortable saying these things to fellow players. Unfortunately, this is just another in a long list of similar examples from that camp.

Truly tackling this issue necessitates a widespread paradigm shift that will likely not come anytime soon. As many panellists said at the Girls in Gaming Summit last year, playing games regularly and at high levels of competition has only recently become culturally acceptable for many girls and young women. Of course, winning the fight at home is very different from earning the respect of random online people who are likely out for a quick laugh for themselves.

Hopefully, the esports community will actively work on improving its image this year. Maybe instead of wading through “I didn’t mean that,” and “The internet raised me, so I didn’t learn how to be nice to people” posts, we can start seeing some meaningful progress and healthy growth.

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