There has been a lot of news recently in the eSports community and most of it has been pretty negative. First there was the repercussions following MLG Summer Championships between League of Legends teams Curse and Dignitas, then recently there was news out of Evil Geniuses, an eSports franchise which had to suspend a member of its Starcraft 2 team for a wildly inappropriate comment made to another player while that player was streaming, which was followed by news that a very popular and respected team SlayerS was disbanding, and finally a generally ridiculous post by a sometimes respected member of the SC2 community that stated that SC2 will be dead unless Blizzard does some thing about it.
World of Warcraft players should be chuckling at this last one.
In a soundbite, tl-dr got it right. eSports need to grow the hell up.
We could draw parallels to the sports universe (like the Gameronomist did over at tl-dr), but I think we can illustrate a problem with eSports by looking at them without the comparisons. For example our newest GSL champion (the most prestigious tournament) is 15 years old. As someone with a M.S.Ed. in secondary education I feel completely qualified to comment on the average person aged 13-18. Narcissistic and inconsistent would be the 2 words that fit the best. And juvenile of course. And the eSports scene depends heavily on the ‘male 16-24′ age demographic, a group known and celebrated for its maturity and dedication to reason and rational thought.
What is confusing to me is that this is not a new problem. When young men and women are put in the spotlight, bad things can happen. We’ve seen it over and over again, whether in sports or entertainment or politics. Publicity can be very difficult to handle, and I would venture an opinion that younger people have a more difficult time coping with the increased pressure of that spotlight.
The difference between a 16 year old tennis player participating in the U.S. Open and a 15 year old participating in the Starcraft 2 GSL is that eSports ONLY has the internet to promote and show its product. I’m willing to bet that if you wanted to find disparaging remarks and inappropriate comments regarding the tennis player you could, but you would have to go searching for them. For competitive eSports you must watch live streams, which automatically exposes you to the horrors of anonymous internet chat. While streaming technology does a great job of bringing these games to the viewers, sites that offer streaming need to think seriously about insulating these same viewers from all the trolls and the bullshit wagon they are constantly pulling.
It continues to boggle my mind that someone can complain about how eSports isn’t growing, and at the same time make the place in which it will grow best a toxic environment.
I will also echo what you will find at tl-dr (which in fact we discussed together on twitter) that the teams involved in the eSports scene need to do a better job providing guidance and mentoring to these young professionals, helping them to handle the media spotlight, the pressure of winning and success, and how to handle themselves online to prevent them from making the same mistakes we see get repeated time and again.
It’s impossible to grow your sport through advertising and sponsorships when the community and the professionals when these kinds of behaviors are not only tolerated but in some cases defended. Even in established professional circles sponsors will pull their backing in a heartbeat if they think it will damage their brand. If we want eSports to grow, then the community needs to as well.