I often hear people in esports, as well as those in the gaming world at large, say that esports needs legitimacy. In their minds esports won’t be successful, taken seriously or “legitimized” until the folks who follow Football either watch it or give it the same respect as they would traditional sports. The idea that esports needs any kind of “legitimacy” is strange considering more people watched the 2014 League of Legends championship then the NBA finals. If anything esports is already legitimate, and the overall scene is growing all the time. TBS even runs their own Counter-Strike league on live television, it seems like we already reached this goal we people keep pining for.
Regardless of these facts people still look down on esports and I’d argue it has nothing to do with how successful it is. Esports doesn’t need legitimacy, it needs professionalism. In 2015 at the Archon Team League tournament, an event with a $250,000 prize pool, a caster by the name of Byron “Reckful” Bernstein made a casual joke about rape during a game. The comment became a controversy not only in the Hearthstone community but in esports at large. This isn’t the first time Reckful has apologized or been removed from casting a tournament, in 2014 he was taken off the casting roster during Lords of the Arena 2 after saying inappropriate things about two of the female players.
During the 2014 Dota 2 International, caster Bruno Carlucci commented “How sh*ty was that Sh*ty Doom pick”, criticizing a draft pick by one of the teams. During a recent Overwatch tournament, caster Jason Kaplan kept playing the game “marry boff kill” with fellow casters and players. What’s worse is all of these people are still in esports today. Can you imagine how the public would react if an NBA or NFL commentator did any of the things listed above? Chances are they would be removed from their position permanently instead of getting a slap on the wrist. There are tons of instances where sports personalities have been fired for saying inappropriate things on the job and off, This kind of thing is simply not tolerated in traditional sports.
The problem doesn’t only stem from casters, players are also guilty of unprofessionalism. Many CSGO players have been banned from official tournaments by Valve and ESL for both doping and cheating. League of Legends player Khaled Abusagr was given a lifetime ban from League of Legends after he was accused of anti-semitic speech, physically threatening a Riot games employee and a ton of other complaints. “Abusagr’s behavior represents the extreme edge of violations of the letter and spirit of the Summoners Code,” said Bitingpig, the senior esports manager for Riot Games. ”The persistence and ferocity of his abusiveness and aggressiveness are the antithesis of acceptable conduct for the League of Legends community.”
The audience is also to blame for a lot of these problems as well. At a recent Hearthstone tournament a player by the name of Terrance Miller was subject to racist comments and harassment by audience members. The comments and messages coming through the Twitch broadcast were coming in so fast Blizzard moderators couldn’t delete comments or ban users fast enough to stem the tide.
All of these are just some highlights of a lot of the unprofessionalism we see in esports today. I would argue that this phenomenon is one of the main reasons esports is held back, and why an outsider, and even some of those who enjoy it, don’t take it seriously.
The fact that casters for the most part don’t even use their real names is a big red flag to me. Many argue that it’s because of the internet gaming culture’s long use of pseudonyms, but I don’t think this is a valid excuse. Professional players and casters are public figures, in an industry that’s trying to grow and be taken seriously. I can tell you for a fact that people unfamiliar with esports think it’s weird, and silly, that people commentating on games use strange screen names. We need to move away from this idea that people are more recognizable because of their screen names. The only reason their names are recognizable is because we watch the players regularly, we hear their names constantly in broadcasts, or we might be able to put their face to their name. If we moved away from using screen names predominately, you could argue it would be exactly the same if we used people’s real name. It would add another layer of professionalism for the scene.
For the most part when esports works, it’s great, the Dota 2 International is a shining example of how the format can be taken seriously. Legitimacy for esports means nothing if we can’t take it seriously. If we can’t treat esports with the same professionalism and respect people involved in traditional sports do, then we shouldn’t be surprised when people on the outside don’t take it seriously.