Written by Tyler Anderson, Opinion Editor
“Overwatch” is currently one of the most played, streamed and viewed online multiplayer video games of this console generation. Since its release in May 2016, the first-person shooter juggernaut has amassed a following that dwarfs many of its rivals.
The game’s developer, Blizzard Entertainment, Inc., wasted no time in building an esports empire known as Overwatch League around the successful game. With a steady cash flow and burgeoning viewership, it appeared to be smooth sailing for the league as players participated in the first week of competitive play.
However, one week is all it took for competition to give way to scandal.
Overwatch League player Félix “xQc” Lengyel of the team Dallas Fuel was fined and suspended on Jan. 19 for directing homophobic remarks towards Austin “Muma” Wilmot of the Houston Outlaws. This is far from his first transgression against other “Overwatch” participants, but what makes this a particularly troubling offense is that Wilmot is openly gay.
Many “Overwatch” enthusiasts are aghast that a grown man has been reprimanded for bad behavior. (How dare his actions have consequences, indeed.) Hostility, racism and toxicity among gamers is simply par for the course in an industry dominated by straight men with so many complexes my apartment is jealous.
As an avid “Overwatch” player myself, I can confirm the trite, playground insult of “that’s so gay” is still used freely. Does it necessarily hurt my feelings or cause me great emotional distress? No, not really, but it does not surprise me so many people are sticking up for Lengyel and defending his behavior.
When it’s all said and done, perhaps it’s not entirely Lengyel’s fault. The culture surrounding the gaming industry has been anti-diversity since its birth. Women and people of color regularly find their identity under attack when they attempt to enjoy something as simple as a video game. Live chatting with other online players will validate my accusation in seconds if one has doubts. Immaturity still thrives, unfortunately.
But I believe the time for coddling sensitive egos is over. Blizzard was quick to condemn Lengyel’s comments and reported his fine and suspension soon thereafter. With a firm hand and a simple public statement, the developer forwent a rambling response regarding their values and the importance of respecting everyone, and instead chose to swiftly denounce the behavior and dole out appropriate consequences.
Had Lengyel made death threats or more vile comments, I am confident Blizzard would have taken appropriate action. The rapid evolution of Blizzard’s reporting and ban system gives me faith that such behavior in the future will be dealt with in a similar, or harsher, manner.
The public narrative concerning societal privilege and diversity is evolving, as is how we react to racist, homophobic and sexist banter. We don’t need a corporation to influence or define our culture’s social and political movements. The conversation is already evolving on its own from “give everyone the chance to defend their point of view” to “insulting a person’s existence and hindering the ability to live freely is wrong and is a non-defendable offense.”
Competitions get heated, and some things can be said in the heat of the moment that may not fully represent a person’s character or values. This does not, however, excuse the behavior in question.
I applaud Blizzard for dealing with the issue at hand quickly. The developer has saved itself from a nasty public relations debacle and made its position on harassment known. Other companies should take notice and stop providing a platform for immaturity and harmful behavior to thrive upon.