Why silence can be dangerous to esports' growth

Esports can be a boys' club and it's for that reason that we need to be more vocal about issues we see.

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This article was originally published on GameSpot's sister site onGamers.com, which was dedicated to esports coverage.

Update: onGamers has received statements from several individuals regarding what was said at HomeStory Cup, including HSC organizer Dennis 'TaKe' Gehlen and Evil Geniuses' Geoff 'iNcontroL' Robinson who was casting the event.

Robinson: eSports suffers from a lot of problems and one of them is how women are treated within our community. That is about as safe of a statement as you can make. But that doesn't mean it's ok. I myself have made comments in the past and it has been part of a journey for me. We are mostly guys.. we make "guy" jokes.. we all get that right? Wrong. Some people are hurt by speaking about women as if they too benefit from the protective coating that is gender dominated community in this case male. I guess I say this because we all are learning. What is ok and what is not. I have a perspective I hope many share and that is that of a guy who started off on one spectrum and through faults and learning experiences is gradually (some might say TOO gradually) is learning to travel to the other side of the spectrum.

There have been several instances recently that were done publicly and are bringing to light one of the areas we as gamers can seek to improve. How we treat women or really minorities. Again, what an incredibly generic bland idea right? Well apparently not so much. I hope through discussing it and being a bit more aware of the harm it causes we can diminish it. People will never stop because, well, we are people. But that doesn't mean we have to ignore the conversation and accept that it will always happen so that is the excuse we pull over every instance. Demand apologies. Expect better. Work for a better place.

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Gehlen: Well regarding what James said live in the show I'm pretty sure this was below the belt and I know that even Geoff apologized to Scarlett. It s great to have personalities like Scarlett at the HSC cause we should be an openminded community cause we are the future the young people etc. I just want to make sure once again since also alot of people in my community told me they disliked it a lot that this should not happen again.

On the other [hand] I think James was in a good mood cause he had some beers and thats happening at HSC and probably wasnt thinking to much about what he says - Usually it can be very funny sometimes not. I think we should not overreact on that cause all of us already said dumb stuff in their life.

Original Story:

A girl pitches a question at the NYU eSports Summit, a one-night only event pivoting around the discourse of that "vibrant and growing sector of the games industry and culture." Her words are nearly inaudible on the recording, but not to the gathered luminaries. They stare for a moment. Quiescent. A little anxious. Unsure. One, dappled in green and Zelda's iconography, speaks. He addresses the dearth of inclusivism in esports, the need for personal action, for everyone regardless of stature to stand up against poor behavior in the scene.

An uncomfortable silence pools in the crowd. Another murmured question. Another answer, this time from a different speaker. He talks about the roots of the problems, how it isn't as much a question of the game as it is an issue pertinent to the demographic. Boys will be boys, regardless of the setting.

"You're going to have to be the change you want to see. You can go do your event and if someone gets out of line at your event, you can shut them down."

His words are capped by the chair person. Talk to me if you're looking to build space spaces for gaming. We'll help. No applause, only a fumbling detour in a less controversial direction. It takes a moment for the smiles to feel real again.

The message itself is kind. Misbehavior should always be reprimanded. Esports might be a place for boys but better can always be built. But that doesn't stop the implications from being worrying. Better, it seems, means safe spaces outside of the established norm. Better is making something new, not correcting the integral flaws in the core.

Esports is ballooning. Last month, over 32 million fans tuned in to the League of Legends Season 3 World Championships Finals event, making it one of the biggest showings in history. In comparison, Rod Stewart's 1994 Copacabana Beach concert drew only 3.5 million attendants. It can be argued that Stewart's viewership was, in varying degrees, physically present at the event while those attending the World Championships Finals were not but that doesn't change the fact that the tournament had more viewers than some countries have citizens.

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Which is why vignettes like this hurt. Less than a fortnight ago, at the recent HomeStory Cup VIII, famed commentator James '2GD' Harding made what many regarded as, at the very least, an off-color remark about Starcraft II powerhouse Sasha "Scarlett" Hostyn.

"I'm fine. In all fairness, Scarlett is here. Best of both worlds. She actually bought me a Jack and coke a little bit earlier. Absolutely lovely lady. And, uh, all I'm saying -- get me a couple more." 2GD purred after professional Starcraft 2 player Geoff 'InControl' Robinson remarked that the introduction of more women to the scene may "help people like James to grow up".

Reddit went into a frenzy of polarized opinions over the comment and the subsequent, similarly awkward follow-up. ("Can you say a lot of nice things about Scarlett right now? Seriously." "I mean, I couldn't find her on Pornhub.") Some cried foul, describing the statements as "transphobic" and "misogynistic". Others shrugged. To them, the jokes were harmless, titillating and grossly misconstrued by those lacking a sense of humor.

2GD and Scarlett had little to say about the events themselves. On Twitter, a day after the incident, 2GD flippantly observed:

Scarlett was even more taciturn, offering only muted bewilderment over the possibility that anyone could think the comments sat well with her. And while social media bristled with arguments for the first few days, it soon began tapering off. A week slipped past. No one really said anything at all.

And there lies the problem.

The issue here isn't that inappropriate words were spoken. In an industry fueled by personality, it's not unusual to see someone capitalizing on their smarminess, on the expectation that they will indeed ululate something elegantly crass. Edgy invites attention, after all. The dilemma here is that so few influential voices were raised in protest. No media outlet crowded 2GD for apologies. No official statements were made. What little shots were fired took place in the ephemeral confines of Twitter, easily lost amidst the torrent of 140-character messages pouring through the medium each day.

It's a stark contrast to how such cases are taken in adjacent sectors. While video games at large have yet to become universally inclusive, it is better at noticing its own inadequacies. Entire communities will rail openly, loudly against perceived misdeeds. Until something is done. Until the antagonistic party capitulates. Until they're too prominent to ignore. A good example is Rock, Paper Shotgun's recent engagement with Blizzard over the hyper-sexualization of characters in ARTS/MOBA games. Instead of providing a diplomatic account, Rock, Paper Shotgun documented the interview in its entirety -- including the brusque dismissal.

Today, Blizzard apologized.

The esports community can be complacent, but that is dangerous. True, the general public may lack the authority commanded by esports dignitaries but it is still, at least in part, the responsibility of the masses to point attention where it is needed. 2GD's witticisms were frustrating because they are a haunting reminder that sometimes the best someone can say about another human being is how sexually desirable they are. However, what is even more vexing is that, by and large, people allowed them to slide. This is how things are. This is how he is. This, that -- an avalanche of excuses that accomplish little outside of burying esports' attempts at legitimacy.

The scene is growing but it is continually beleaguered by anecdotes about sexism, racism and homophobia. It's beset by silence, restrained by tradition. If esports ever plans to be properly recognized, it needs to stop being a place where the best way to encourage safer spaces is to exit the main event.

P.S: If you'd like to present your thoughts on the matter, Mr. Harding, we'd love to hear from you.

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