Opinion: Our expectations for online celebrities matter more than ever

click By Payne Ray
enter site Staff writer

With the Overwatch League ramping up the mainstream appeal of eSports, we should all be asking more from our favorite internet personalities.

YouTubers and Twitch streamers alike have been making waves lately which have begun to seep from their usual circles.

A “prankster” YouTube personality, Logan Paul, made headlines at the beginning of the year for his disrespectful treatment of Japanese culture and the infamous recording of a body found in the Aokigahara forest.

On Twitch, a streamer who goes by the name “Dr. DisRespect” is popular for “griefing” other players. A supercut was released in February presenting multiple instances when the streamer used a racist “Chinese” accent while complaining that the players killing him were from China and shouldn’t be competing in the same server.

While the problem is growing in the YouTube sphere, the traditions that Dr. DisRespect embodies are long-standing in the world of games, especially in competitive multiplayer.

Before the Overwatch League, we’ve had the League of Legends Championship Series. Started in 2011 by Riot Games, the Series offered a million-dollar prize to the team who won. It gave an opportunity for the best of the best to shine in a large-scale tournament that was meant to draw crowds.

Among fans of the game, the series was a big deal, but from the outside, League of Legends was an impenetrable game in which players were openly hostile to one another. None more than the infamous, and newly reinstated, “Tyler1.”

Tyler made his brand on the performance of rage, tolerated in part by his ranking as one of the top players in the game. Even more because of his talented use of a character who has only rarely been considered usable by the majority of players.

As a streamer and top player of the game, he is representative, like it or not, of the game’s culture. He would frequently scream at other players, tell people to kill themselves in the in-game chat, and throw matches out of spite for those on his team.

Riot Games banned him and all of his future accounts in April of 2016, making him one of only five people to face such a ban. The response from League fans wasn’t unanimous joy. Since 2016, fans of Tyler1 campaigned to see his return, and he rebranded himself to be a “reformed” gamer.

Tyler1, reformed or not, was given his account back in January 2018, when he broke the record for concurrent viewers on Twitch.

That isn’t just a cool feat or fun fact, either. Tyler1’s 350,000-plus viewers, unable to use the Twitch-provided chat, began sending messages to Tyler1 using paid subscriptions, sending him real money with each message.

The people we give our attention benefit from it immensely. Tyler1 made more in a night than many people will see in a year. 

The Overwatch League, standing as the newest platform for the next generation of high-level play, has already seen some scandal. The League began its run with no women among the competing players, despite several qualified candidates, arguably better than some of those who were picked up by teams.

“Tyler1”

 

Overwatch is a game that was held up for its diverse range of powerful characters with whom players feel they can identify and connect. With no women among its League, was that the League saying that there were no women good enough? It was a question that echoed among fans of competitive Overwatch.

The answer isn’t complicated. There are many women playing Overwatch who rank among the top players, and who should have been signed.

It was three months after League play began that the Shanghai Dragons, a team with no wins, signed on Seyeon Kim, known by competitors as Geguri.  Kim is one of the top competitors of Overwatch, regardless of gender. Why did it take so long, and why was it only the team on a severe losing streak?

That’s two-fold, coming first from the persistent idea that women just don’t play games. Often, people will see teams filled with men and will never question the lack of women.

The other reason women aren’t seen in competitive games is an issue of mistreatment. It’s hard to keep up in a competitive scene, and adding on that extra stress often isn’t worth it.

That’s an issue of culture, much like the issues presented by Dr. DisRespect and Tyler1.  When a community fails to hold one another accountable, bad behaviors take root in the cracks.

That is why we don’t hear about eSports the same way we might hear about a football game while entering a classroom or walking down the street. ESPN covers eSports now, but we don’t see that play on barroom televisions.

Overwatch is proving that these games are watchable, and that people are interested in the phenomenon of eSports. But what happens when they discover the dark underbelly of games?

For those of us who treasure games and want to share these experiences with our loved ones, what happens when a player “slips out” a racial slur on-stream? Logan Paul proves that this is the trend in media, but in games, it’s been a constant.

If Overwatch is going to pull eSports into mainstream coverage, then those of us who watch must be willing to demand better of those we support.