Athletic sports have had to deal with racist chants during football games, fans throwing bananas at players, and even physical violence in the stands. When it comes to esports, racism is primarily contained to the online spaces where the games are played, but that means even more access to bigger crowds, and potentially thousands of people with the chance to direct anonymous hate toward a player. The internet can be a cruel place, and even a competitive online card card game isn’t safe.
Last week, Terrence Miller (GT: TerrenceM) took home an impressive second place win at DreamHack’s Hearthstone tournament in Austin, Texas. The tournament itself was played on LAN in front of a live audience, but it was also broadcasted on the largest streaming platform for gaming: Twitch. Viewers who watched from home could not have ignored the overwhelming number of racist messages in the chat whenever Miller, an African American player, was on the screen.
The abuse went so far that gamemaker Blizzard’s president and co-founder Mike Morhaime issued a statement about the chat:
“We’re extremely disappointed by the hateful, offensive language used by some of the online viewers during the DreamHack Austin event the weekend before last. One of our company values is ‘Play Nice; Play Fair’; we feel there’s no place for racism, sexism, harassment, or other discriminatory behavior, in or outside of the gaming community. This is obviously a larger, societal problem that affects us on many levels. We can only hope that when instances like this come to light it encourages people to be more thoughtful and positive, and to fully reject mean-spirited commentary, whether within themselves or from their fellow gamers.
To help combat this type of behavior during live events, we’ve reached out to players, streamers, and moderators, along with partners like Twitch, DreamHack, and others, to get consensus and collaborate on what to do differently moving forward. To that end, we’re investigating a pilot program that Twitch has in the works to streamline moderation and combat ban evasion. We’re also updating our esports tournament partner policies with a stronger system of checks, balances, and repercussions to provide a better chat experience around our content.
We believe these are important steps to take to help address the related issues, but we acknowledge that they only address part of the problem. This is ultimately an industry-wide issue, and it will take all of us to make a real impact.” – Mike Morhaime
As for the player targeted by the trolls, TerranceM talked to The Daily Dot about his parents opening the stream and witnessing the racist trolling. He says he had to explain to them that Twitch chatters can be immature, and this is nothing new:
I was aware that it was happening. I was told about it, but I didn’t see any of it while it was going on until I got back to my hotel and watched the VODs. I was told that it was bad, but it didn’t affect my play. 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.
Esports continues to rocket toward the mainstream, but will the Twitch trolls come along for the ride?
It’s still the Wild West when it comes to policing and behavior online, and this kind of racist trolling is nothing new when it comes to Twitch chats. In streams with 20,000 people or more watching, the messages can fly by so fast that they can’t be seen- so people spam the chat. In this case with DreamHack’s stream, moderating the chat had to be incredibly difficult due to the massive amounts of hate speech spam. The moderators could ban users from the stream, but the trolls could simply make another account to come back to the stream to spam hate all over again. Only Twitch staffers can IP ban users, and they get many harrassment reports each day.
It will be interesting to see what Twitch has in the pipeline to combat spam and ban evasion. Twitch has been around for years, and massive gaming tournaments have been broadcast on their platform for quite some time. Eventually Twitch will need to come down hard on the racist/sexist abuse on their platform, and risk losing some of the long time trolls in order to gain more new watchers.