Alex wonders where to draw the line.
By Alex Walker on April 7, 2013 at 10:08 am
Competitive gaming has been around for a long time, but its players, tactics and infrastructure can be little mystifying to the layman. People scream a lot; it’s a little intimidating. There’s a lot of action on screen; it’s a little confusing. It’s very in-depth and without prior knowledge, difficult to report.
Covering gamer rage has never been a complicated matter.
Eurogamer and the Penny Arcade Report highlighted the issue recently when they examined the behaviour of players at the Electronic Sports League’s Call of Duty European Championships in Cologne.
The furore was largely provoked by a recording of what happened, so before I unload with both barrels, here’s the video so you can make your own judgement.
Putting things in perspective, the behaviour isn’t a surprise. It’s not even shocking. What’s bizarre is that it took so long for the mainstream gaming media to catch on, even with their heightened interest. Major League Gaming has regularly hosted Call of Duty tournaments for years; surely a few teams have been caught swearing blue murder at their opponents.
MLG competitors can be heavily penalised. The league specifically prohibits “excessive” profanity, defined as a “consistent” use of swearing and anything directed towards admins or fellow players is forbidden. Referees are more lenient in practice, but the regulations are there for the most extreme cases.
Australia banned swearing once. In 2004, the Intelligent Home Show at Melbourne decided to run a Counter-Strike tournament amongst hundreds of businesspeople and the unsuspecting public.
The principle is sound, proven by the Intel Extreme Masters’ numerous events in trade fairs around the world. It’s easy to sit back and watch video games after looking at gadgets all day. The model even worked in Brunei; the Brunei Cyber Games was held in the middle of a consumer fair. Mops and tile cleaners weren’t quite as spectacular as the offerings at CeBIT, but the idea works.
Nevertheless, most of the spectators will be adult professionals. I’m sure most swear in the privacy of their own home, perhaps even copiously. But you try not to do it in public, out of courtesy to bystanders.
Teenagers never quite grasped that concept. Memento Mori, one of the two best teams in Victoria at the time, had eight rounds deducted purely for profanity violations. They would have won their match by a landslide if they’d took a trick from Battlestar Galactica. Hell, they would have won their match on de_train against the West Australians at all if the captain took a swift backhand to the mouth of his teammates. Or himself. Just once.
(The link above only contains the final scores but no discussion surrounding MM’s penalties. I was in close contact with the leader of MM, who was an old friend of mine that kept trying to convince me, for a time, to move down to Melbourne. For Counter-Strike. As a 15-year-old. We were all crazy back then.)
This was more civilised behaviour. There’s a long-running story within Sydney about a player whose tyres got slashed. Many players threatened bashings. One player, who graduated from Counter-Strike 1.5 to Call of Duty, repeatedly warned me on IRC that my face would have an unfortunate meeting with the pavement if I ever showed up.
I turned up, sat my team next to his, wiped the floor with them in the quarterfinals and finished third for the day. He stopped threatening to put me in hospital afterwards, and since mellowed into a rather decent human being.
And even this was considered mild at the time. There was one tournament where a player who travelled from New Zealand was told “he would be killed” if he left a Melbourne netcafe. The threats were backed up by a bevy of insults from — and I’m not making this up — two fifteen-year-old Asian girls dressed like Gogo Yubari, minus the psychotic weaponry.
“I just want to punch that guy,” one of them said in a rather Clueless-esque voice. It would have been one of the funnier moments, had a friend of mine — normally quite a placid and laid-back character — not tried to bash someone within the confines of a Sydney netcafe.
Fortunately, my friend’s anger was negated by the limited arsenal at his disposal. Everyone broke out in laughter after we realised he was wielding a Sprite bottle as a baseball bat — although things could have gotten ugly very fast.
Most of this wasn’t a spur of the moment. It was all engendered by a liberal, and what was considered healthy back then, use of sexist, racist, bigoted, anti-Semitic and downright offensive remarks online and at LAN. If you were simply trying to throw the other team off, rattle them up a little, then hey – it’s all fair game.
Some were able to draw a very clear line between in-game abuse and how they treated people afterwards. Whether that makes them admirable I don’t know. There were a few that absolutely point-blank refused to trash-talk under any circumstances, believing it only egged-on your opponents and made the match even harder.
That’s largely true. The competitive atmosphere usually brings out the warrior in most, and those likely to crumble under pressure are weeded out well in advance. But that doesn’t make it acceptable to volley a torrent of racist remarks because it might improve your chances.
This is a culture that has persisted for well over a decade. Propagated by individuals who accepted and even enjoyed this behaviour, others were encouraged to follow suit. It’s particularly virulent in a team environment. Everyone wants to climb the ladder, and if they’re all doing it … well, you want to fit in, right? You want to become the next upcoming star!
This is the true under-current of eSports and the structure needs to be dismantled for its own good. Such behaviour is widespread. Australia is lucky that more embarrassing incidents, like what happened on Cross Assault, hasn’t happened here. The conditions are ripe enough — some cases I’ve seen, especially those involving women, would sicken you.
The problem is the current crop of administrators have an unfortunate habit of sweeping things under the rug and dealing with issues behind the scenes. Handling matters quietly can indeed limit the fallout, but it also abandons an opportunity to set standards and show that actions do have consequences.
Too many currently behave without fear of repercussions. There is no strong moral compass; many players are getting bullied, too many running their mouths off without penalty. Sooner or later, someone will cause outrage to a degree that will spawn a backlash large enough to significantly damage players, admins and organisations, irrespective of how swift the response.
All we can do is to prepare for the worst, and act accordingly. Warnings are effectively useless; players know when they have gone too far. They should be replaced with harsh penalties, and organisers should have the gumption and courage to strip players and teams of wins if they step out of line. There will always be a situation where one team could be stripped of a tournament win, but integrity should never be sacrificed for the sake of appearances. And Australians should demand better of their administrators and players than the behaviour shown in the video above.