The Reality of Being a Gamer Of Color in eSports
Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Jeremiah Timmons. Jeremiah is an avid gamer and somewhat less avid in his interactions with other human beings. He writes for various publications, screenplays, as well as his personal blog Fukette.com
If you were to travel back to 2005 and approach a gaggle (for the sake of this piece, a group of players will exclusively be referred to as a ‘gaggle’) of teenaged gamers with the prospect of gaming AND getting paid to do so, I’m confident in saying that at least one, if not all, of them, will call you a liar. Well, that and a whole host of other obscenities one can’t help but learn just by spending a few hours play playing against other depraved souls online. The mere concept of participating in a competition against other gamers from around the world while earning more money than most people make in an entire year is incredibly exciting. And why shouldn’t it be? Not only will you get the chance to dive into the abyss when it comes to the games you know and love, but you’ll also get to meet like-minded individuals that are hopefully as obsessed as you are.
At least, that would be an IDEAL scenario.
When it comes to the reality of participating in professional leagues, gamers of color are subjected to experiences that are very different than what would be considered ideal. Where most people would expect to find others with compatible interests and somewhat similar sensibilities, gamers of color are reporting discriminatory practices that seem to go out of its way to target players whose demographics are scarce, if not completely non-existent, to begin with.
An example would be the constant barrage of racial slurs and insults hurled at black players through platforms like Twitch whenever they compete as evidenced by Terrence “TerrenceM” Miller’s ordeal as he competed at the DreamHack Austin tournament last May. Viewers of his matches, which included his parents, had started to notice that the chat window had become blanketed with racial slurs all directed at Terrence. Unfortunately, with the exception of his family, Terrence had steeled himself in preparation for dealing with racist trolls because he’s long since learned to expect these things.
“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.” Miller says.
As even the most casual of observers will note, gaming, with eSports being a highly visible example, can be a very hostile and combative environment where insults and even threats are considered commonplace more than isolated incidents. Often, POC, women, and generally gamers who are known or even rumored to be homosexual or anyone whose demographics are relegated to the margins of what is considered ‘normal’ will get inundated with comment threads ranging from ethnic slurs, homophobic threats, and even statements threatening female competitors with rape. Couple this with the fact that most tournaments simply have no protocol in place to mitigate this disgusting behavior if only because it affects such a small percentage of its players and the cost-benefit ratio just does not support such efforts at this time. How tragic.
With the current climate in professional gaming being the unabashed racism and prideful ignorance exhibited by mainly cis, white males, there’s hardly any confusion as to why the African-American presence in the professional league circuit is almost non-existent. According to the findings of The Kaiser Family Foundation, African American children between the ages of 8 and 18 play games 30 minutes more per day than white children, while Hispanics play an average of 10 minutes more than white children. It also states that African-American and Hispanic children are more likely to purchase games than white children. (Source) That would indicate that children of color are just as enamored with the concept of gaming as much as their white counterparts, but are frequently subjected to barriers white players could not even imagine much less have to contend with.
When asked about what can be done to combat such behavior from his fellow competitors, as if the task of curbing vicious hate-speech from other humans with developed brains and at least a cursory knowledge of American history is incumbent upon him, Terrence Miller responded with “Just ignoring it like some people are saying doesn’t make the problem go away. It’ll just keep happening. You have to keep bringing it up and try to find a resolution.”
It goes without saying that this is an incredibly eloquent response considering the context.
However, real change must come from the organizers and sponsors who responsible for hosting these tournaments. One really can’t rely on substantive change being employed as a result of a moral imperative, but one can always count on organizations taking heed from those who are its customers, the buying public. The amount of money that could be amassed by making the tournament scene accessible to players from all walks of life is staggering in estimation, so it begs the question: Why would you allow your negligence regarding such a serious issue deprive you of so much in terms of both financial and PR capital? Encouragingly, the DreamHack staff has publicly stated that they are “taking active steps to improve for DH Summer.” While the measures have not been explicitly outlined, one can only assume that whatever action taken has to be better than the laissez-faire attitude taken by most organizations up til now.