Jehong “ryujehong” Ryu in tears is an image that will resonate with Overwatch League fans throughout the offseason. This was the start of a heated debate among the community about the treatment of these vulnerable moments for players. Some sided that they shouldn’t be subjected to this at all, while others saw no issue with it. The debate intensified when the broadcast team utilized the image of Ryujehong crying as a meme.
Throughout the playoffs, there have been three main examples of displays of emotion on the OWL broadcasts discussed by the community. The Ryujehong and Jin-mo “tobi” Yang interview, Jong-ryeol “Saebyeolbe” Park and Yeon-oh “Fl0w3R” Hwang on Rialto and replays of the desk slams from the regular season. All of these have been handled so differently and many people want a better understanding of why.
Ryujehong and Tobi
The Seoul Dynasty exit interviews hurt. They have a world of expectations and a roster of legendary players. Even people who aren’t Seoul fans became fans of the support line that day. The accessibility of the Overwatch League and the presence of a broadcast that emulates traditional athletics have given a gateway to a lot of esports fans to latch on to a competitive team for the first time. In athletics, these emotional displays are normalized. They show heart. And character. And passion.
This is a good example because De’aaron Fox was a 19-year-old amateur athlete whose team was just eliminated from the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. Interviews like this have also been seen in esports previously. Team SoloMid recently resurfaced this clip of Marcus “Dyrus” Hill for their 10 year anniversary and the reaction of the fans speaks for itself.
— TSM (@TSM) September 16, 2019
For some reason, the perspective of the Dynasty interview was far different. It was looked at by many as an invasive showcase of a player’s vulnerability. When people voiced this concern, instead of starting a dialogue, it started a debate.
As a competitor, I wish I was interviewed more often following a tournament exit.
I can't describe to you what it feels like to put 12 hours a day into something, only to have dreams evaporate. That level of emotion is hard to find in day-to-day life and deserves to be captured.
— Jonathan Larsson (@Reinforce) September 8, 2019
I don’t blame the younger ones from being uncomfortable around sadness. It’s new to them!
They grew up on social media and have only ever seen happy people. Or at least people pretending to be happy.
— MonteCristo (@MonteCristo) September 8, 2019
This continued to snowball until it came to a head when “Crying Ryujehong” was used as an emoji as part of a broadcast segment.
— Arnold [COO @SeoulDynasty | @Gen.G] (@arnoldwh) September 15, 2019
The interviews themselves were wonderful. The camera work could use some improvement (the zooming was rough), but the players showed so much passion. It really gave fans an opportunity to see just how much this means to them. A large part of the issue was how Overwatch fans, as a community, refer to the players on stage. They are often portrayed as kids by both media and fan bases, but at the end of the day, every OWL player is a paid professional who is at least 18 years old. Ryujehong is 28. Thinking of them as pros and viewing this as passion, not vulnerability, makes these interviews admirable.
The Ryu meme was, at best, hypocritical. But it is in everyone’s best interest to learn from mistakes and leave it at that.
SBB and Flow3r
At the very end of the San Francisco Shock’s warpath through the lower bracket, an amazing and unique moment in esports happened. The New York Excelsior were the latest victims of the Shock’s blitzkrieg and were down 3-0, a map from their season ending. Flow3r was subbed in for Hae-seong “Libero” Kim as part of their pre-planned Rialto strategy. The first half did not go well. Then this happened:
HOW CAN ANYONE NOT LOVE SAEBYEOLBE PLEASE EXPLAIN IT TO ME pic.twitter.com/ZcAlddNYZV
— BackpackMatt 🦉 (@MattMersel) September 15, 2019
SBB was a fan favorite before this. He’s always been a joy to watch play and the way he high-fived and rallied everyone after making his way back to the stage for the playoffs was incredible. He’s the best visual example of leadership in the Overwatch League right now.
But this was an inspiring moment on an entirely different level. SBB grabbed Flow3r’s hand and reassured him. The South Korean prodigy looked distraught with the weight of the match on his shoulders. This is a wonderful interview where SBB talks about the moment.
The broadcast also loved it. They focused on how great it was to see that from SBB and did a wonderful job of showing Flow3r’s emotion without it feeling exploitative.
Saebyeolbe cemented his place in the hearts of fans with this moment. Moments like this being captured are rare in traditional athletics and even rarer in esports. This was a premiere example for casual fans and parents of young fans of exactly how the competition of esports and gaming in general can mirror the lessons learned in traditional athletics.
Thankfully, the WatchPoint desk was all about this moment. It just felt sadly superficial in the days following Ryu’s meme-ing.
The compilation of desk slams was also brought up in the aftermath of the Dynasty interview as another example of how emotions are showcased. Jacob “JAKE” Lyon, Harrison “Kruise” Pond and Cameron “Fusions” Bosworth are all guilty of blaming the table this year. The desk slam has become the gaming equivalent of a baseball player breaking their bat. When one trains at the highest level, they have every right to show frustration.
Losing is inherently emotional, especially when a player is paid to perform at the highest level. Every one feels frustration when it feels like their hard work isn’t coming through, but the players frustration is caught on camera. When a persons job performance is defined by wins and losses, the pressure is amplified. As fans, it can’t be expected for teams to show so much joy after wins, and never be upset during losses.
Own it. Desk slams are unavoidably going to be re-broadcast and laughed at. While the broadcast should laugh about it, they should continue to use it as an example of how much this means to players. And a player should not ever feel embarrassed by it. Again, competition is intense and these players work as hard as anyone at their craft, so if things just don’t click on stage, they have every right to hit a desk. Hard. Then when they ask about it the next day tell them you don’t like losing. We don’t have a problem until sportsmanship suffers.
Emotion is a wonderful thing for the Overwatch League from both the perspectives of entertainment, and fan engagement. Emotion is the most natural human element of competition. It makes players appear far more relatable. The League has been at the forefront of being inclusive and diverse in gaming. Becoming positive role models for displays of emotion in both young adults and the gaming community would be another step forward in that mission. It’s important that both the broadcast and the community continue to showcase that these players’ emotions are normal and acceptable.
Overall, the league is in its second year of existence and still learning some of these situations. Overwatch has emulated traditional athletic broadcasts more than most other esports and generally succeeded. Finding the line when it comes to player’s emotions has proven to be a process that will need to be refined. And refined quickly, because with home crowds every weekend in 2020, the intensity and the emotion will be at whole new levels.
Featured Image Courtesy of Robert Paul for Blizzard Entertainment
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