'I Am Esports': The Current Discourse Is Everything That's Wrong With Our Industry
There’s a lot of talk regarding esports right now. Simply opening Twitter and taking a look at what’s currently being said about our industry is exasperating. For something that has been around since the Space Invaders Championship in the 1980s, it feels like there’s more of a spotlight on us now than ever.
The recent discourse started on December 21, when ESL announced a $500k CSGO circuit for women’s teams. This is part of the #GGForAll initiative, which aims to directly address discrimination and toxicity in esports. Which, on the surface, seems like a great thing for everyone. Having a circuit that is solely for women, when esports has typically been a male-dominated space, makes sense, right? Well, not for everyone. Some people took this as a direct attack on men in esports, and didn’t shy away from taking to their platforms to say as much. I came across tweets such as: "We watch women’s sport for one reason, attractive, fit chicks, there aren’t any in the CSGO pro scene", and "Being a girl nowadays is so easy. If you are above average in any men dominated sport you can earn money and if it doesnt work then just take off your clothes."
One person who has shot to the forefront of this issue is self-proclaimed esports historian, Duncan "Thorin" Shields. A man who has been involved in esports since 2001, where he found a large fanbase due to his extensive knowledge in CSGO. He is also a specialist in Quake, StarCraft, and League of Legends, and won the Esports Award for Journalist of the Year in 2017. The guy knows what he’s talking about when it comes to (some) esports.
However, we need to take a step back and review exactly what’s happened, and why the backlash has been so massive. On December 22, Auguste "Semmler" Massonnat, a huge name in the CSGO scene, who has been a caster and host for many years, tweeted regarding the #GGForAll circuit. He wrote: "If the goal is to get more women to compete with men, isn't having a league with free money only for women actively working against that goal? Why compete with the men at all if you get a guaranteed payday in a far less competitive environment?"
He later added: "If the goal is to have a women's league, and that be the end goal, then this is a great initiative and I fully endorse it!”
Which is a fair point. Breaking it down, Semmler is simply saying that separating women from men is not conducive to the end goal of having a level playing field for everyone. However, this was quickly met with a barrage of negativity.
Replying to Lauren Scott, a prominent CSGO commentator, who asked: "why does it bother you its not like its costing you money or taking away from your sphere", Semmler wrote: "It's the dishonesty that gets me. Why does the messaging have to be ‘MEN ARE TOXIC’ instead of ‘We're starting a league to promote female players because we lose when we compete against the men.’?
"How were previous tournaments not #ggforall?"
At this point, things got messy. The founder of Rush B Media, @RyanAtRBM, sarcastically tweeted: "Ugh, Thank you!!! It’s honestly so hard out there for us. Nobody really recognizes just how difficult it is to be a man."
Semmler quote tweeted Ryan’s point, writing: "Pronouns in bio. Checks out." Once this was said, a whole new wave of hate came, and the original point Semmler was making was overshadowed by this controversy.
Thorin then Tweeted: "I wonder who might have a better take on new tournaments in esports: Semmler, industry veteran and one of the most connected broadcast talents in the history of the industry or *checks notes* sh*tter plebs on the infamously astroturfed reddit?"
From here, things spiralled. Thorin began blocking a lot of people, and the more he did so, the more people got involved. He has a bit of a reputation for blocking people, so for anyone with a little knowledge of him and the way he operates, this is pretty standard. There’s actually a peculiar unwritten rule that you’ve 'not made it in esports' until you’ve been blocked by him. But that’s neither here nor there. For the new wave of people who had not interacted with him before, and only come in contact with his Tweets as a result of the latest discourse, this was seen as an affront.
He then Tweeted a thread that has appeared to rile up the most people: "ESL: Since men are so bad and toxic we made a league only for women. Not because women can’t compete with men right now.
"Semmler: Seems disingenuous to make it about toxicity when that’s not the context of why you’re hosting this competitive circuit.
"Women in esports: boo hoo. Poor white man feels oppressed. You that mad that women get to play in a tournament? You get no p*ssy.
"Thorin: Don’t dismiss an opinion from an industry veteran with connections and relationships with women for countless years.
"Women in esports: If you’re not a woman you can’t have an opinion on this. Because you’re a f*cking white male!
"You must hate women so much! You are saying you don’t want women in esports.
"Feminism! Feminism! Ha! Feminism, Thorin. Block me. BLOCK ME. BLOCK ME P*SSY LIKE YOUR MOTHER THE WH*RE! OMG HE BLOCKED ME JUST FOR BEING A WOMAN AND DISAGREEING WITH HIM!"
He continued: "Wonder why only cynical marketers and future sex offender male feminists want to help you gals and you can’t seem to get the most talented and prolific individuals in this industry to engage with you or your initiatives?
"Tell you what, you do that cute thing where you tell me to get out of the industry I built and still rests on my f*cking shoulders. I AM ESPORTS! Begone, peon."
It’s very easy to dismiss Thorin’s points by just taking these individual Tweets that we see pop up on our timelines at face value. A lot of people have been joking about his 'I am esports' comment, and while doing research for this article I have come across some really abhorrent replies, such as telling him he’ll die alone, his mother should have had an abortion, and that he’s a 'nonce'.
However, he is not innocent when it comes to making assumptions about people. The fact he Tweeted saying 'women in esports' and then a made-up comment he is attributing to that community is doing the opposite of what he is trying to prove. There are multiple voices and opinions within every section.
He has also overstepped the line in regards to spewing hatred, questioning people's mental health, and directly attacking female journalists in esports. One example of this was calling Dot Esport's Liz Richardson a 'sack of sh*t', while quote Tweeting her, before quickly re-blocking her. Which, arguably, is sending a flurry of hate her way from his 200k+ followers.
This was due to her above Tweet, where she mentioned that Semmler had previously talked about a player's weight in a press room.
It's worth bearing in mind that earlier this year, Riot Games faced a backlash following the VALORANT women-only event - VCT Game Changers EMEA Series 2 - when they announced that the October tournament would have been open to mixed-gender teams (as long as the majority of players were women). Following criticism, Riot backtracked on the premise, and reverted to a women-only event. In an interview with GamesBeat, head of esports partnerships Matthew Archambault said that 30-40% of VALORANT players are women. So we have to question whether the current discourse is a result of CSGO itself, as VCT Game Changers had the opposite problem.
One issue now is that the two people at the forefront of this discussion regarding women in esports are men. Which, when talking about this particular issue, seems counterproductive. We need to be amplifying the voices of women, ensuring that their varying opinions are listened to, rather than just dismissing everyone we disagree with. We need male opinions too, but only concentrating on the people who shout the loudest is not going to get us anywhere.
People I follow and engage with on Twitter who have never been interested or involved in the esports scene before are now seeing it through the view of toxicity. And I’m not pointing the finger solely at Thorin or Semmler. Yes, they have responded poorly to the controversy, however those opposing their views haven’t been completely innocent. Semmler’s original point regarding the issue of separation not being a solution to the overarching issue of an equal playing field was a valid one. However, many members of the community and the public have cherry-picked the most controversial points and ran with them, without actually addressing the initial conversation. This is a huge issue with Twitter discourse. As someone who has only started properly engaging with Twitter over the last nine months or so, I have seen how toxic it can be from a fresh perspective. There are often important conversations to be had, yet they are overshadowed by people taking the most contentious sound bites to garner the most impressions and engagement.
This point is proven on both sides of this argument, with Thorin and Semmler being just as guilty of this as those who oppose them. We are never going to be able to have real progress in esports, and other areas in general, if we are constantly looking for public enemy number one every day on Twitter, without actually trying to understand the points of the opposition. If we did, we might actually get somewhere.