Imagine that your kid is competing in a professional video game tournament. You open the online streaming service Twitch to watch.
It’s not long before you notice the flood of racist comments quickly filling stream’s chat window. You have to make the video full screen just to avoid the hateful things being said about him.
That’s exactly what happened to Terrence “TerrenceM” Miller’s parents during the DreamHack Austin “Hearthstone” tournament in early May.
The worst part? Miller says these kinds of experiences are “nothing new.”
Speaking to The Daily Dot, Miller recounted his weekend at DreamHack Austin, saying, “Obviously, the fact that it was happening bothers me, but hearing that people are saying racist things about me on the Internet is nothing new and it’s not surprising that Twitch chat was doing that.”
Unfortunately, racism is just one of several issues plaguing competitive gaming — simple Google searches for “racism eSports,” “sexism eSports,” and “homophobia eSports” bring up far more results than one would hope to see.
As Colin Campbell said in his excellent piece about sexism in the “Smite” community, “ESports is a hostile, competitive environment where emotions run high and insults are part of the landscape.”
Anyone who’s played games online knows that it doesn’t take long for trash-talking to start flying — but in the context of a high-stakes professional gaming tournament, commenters seem to take advantage of the anonymity of an online comments section to a disgusting degree.
This open hostility towards people of colour, women, and LGBTQ competitors creates an extra barrier-to-entry for professional players that their straight, white, cisgendered male counterparts simply don’t have to deal with. (Michael Martin’s piece on trans professional gamer Ricki Ortiz is also especially good.)
When asked whether he thinks racist comments are coming from deeply prejudiced individuals or whether they’re just seeking attention, Miller says, “I think it’s somewhere in the middle. I think they are doing it just for attention, but thinking racism is funny is the same thing as being racist.”
So, what can be done to fight this? Miller says talking about it is the first step.
“Just ignoring it like some people are saying doesn’t make the problem go away. It will just keep happening. You have to keep bringing it up and try to find a resolution.”
Carling “Toastthebadger” Filewich acted as one of the chat moderators during the tournament, responsible for flagging racist commenters and banning people who were being abusive. She thinks the issue starts higher up — that it’s the responsibility of chat moderators to make sure hateful commenters aren’t allowed to participate in the first place.
In a post on GosuGamers, she writes that this tournament in particular failed to adequately fight the racism that plagues the world of gaming. She says many moderators were reversing the bans on racist commenters, even sometimes “joining in” and contributing racist comments themselves.
“This should have been a great showcase event for North American ‘Hearthstone,'” she writes. “Nobody will remember it this way though. Instead, this will be remembered as the event where Twitch chat was allowed to mercilessly harass a black competitor.”
In an email to Tech Insider, Twitch offered a response to the events at DreamHack:
In this instance moderation support was not requested and was handled by the broadcaster. Many of our broadcasters prefer to handle moderating their own channels while using the tools we provide.
We currently approach chat behaviour by providing broadcasters tools, education and autonomy to police their own channel. While in this instance the broadcaster was unable to fully prevent the described behaviour, Twitch has a responsibility to broadcasters and players to provide a welcoming environment. As such, we are exploring new tools and processes to increase awareness and mitigation of these issues, and will continue to take action against chatters who committed reported violations.
Filewich closes her article with a similar sentiment to Miller’s: that the only way to truly fight back against racism in the eSports world is to challenge it head on.
“We cannot keep allowing the lowest common denominator to speak for a community that is normally kind and welcoming,” she says. “That toxicity makes us all look bad, and I hope you’ll join me in saying enough is enough.”
Since posting her article, Filewich tweeted the following:
Hopefully, this means that the gears are in motion to make sure the days of infamously toxic chat windows are numbered.