Racism and hate are a problem in any culture, but the Internet has become an especially nasty place. Even something as innocent as a digital card game competition isn’t safe.
Last week, Terrence Miller (who plays under the handle TerrenceM) finished in second place at the DreamHack Hearthstone tournament in Austin, Texas. However, the overwhelming number of racists comments made by viewers on the streaming site Twitch overshadowed his accomplishment. Today, Blizzard president and cofounder Mike Morhaime issued a statement about what happened:
“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.”
GamesBeat contacted Twitch for a reaction to Blizzard’s statement, and a company spokesperson responded with this statement:
We take harassment very seriously and understand how important this is for the entire Twitch community. We currently approach chat behavior by providing broadcasters tools, education, and autonomy to police their own channel. While in this instance the broadcaster was unable to fully prevent the described behavior, Twitch has a responsibility to broadcasters and players to provide a welcoming environment. As such, as Blizzard noted, we are exploring new tools and processes to increase awareness and mitigation of these issues, and will continue to take action against chatters who committed reported violations. We can’t comment on specifics at this time, but we do have a team dedicated to improving these aspects of the chat experience with a lot of internal progress already that we hope to share with the community soon.
Esports will have to deal with issues like this as it becomes more mainstream. For a long time, a large portion of the audience that enjoyed watching competitive gaming shared a crass and immature sense of humor. If you look at the chat for any popular Twitch stream, you’re far more likely to see a constant stream of memes and insults than any kind of meaningful discourse.
Part of that is because so many people are chatting during these events, it’s hard for any single message to get noticed. That’s why people either join in group-spamming of the same memes (flooding a chat with the same image posted by hundreds of different users), or they’ll try to stand out by saying the most shocking, offensive thing they can. Soon, so many hateful messages flood the chat that no amount of moderating can help.
It’s a culture that has gotten out of hand, and it’s one that Twitch, event organizers, and game companies will have a difficult time altering.
Update 4:51 p.m. Pacific: Twitch provided a statement to GamesBeat.