The Esports Industry Grew; Now It's Time For It To Grow Up

from the get-some-new-skin dept

As we’ve discussed for some time, the esports industry has been the subject of unprecedented growth in competitive sports. This growth trend began nearly a decade ago, but its pace steadily increased and was then supercharged by the COVID-19 pandemic. The industry is now looking back at a year when it nearly doubled in size, basking in its new found cultural position. So, the esports industry has grown. Now it’s time for it to grow up.

What do I mean by that? Well, it’s time that the industry learn the same lessons many other sports leagues have had to learn: it’s the players that drive interest among viewers. Personalities are what become popular in competitive sports and those personalities need space to shine through, rather than be muzzled. And, unfortunately, the esports industry has a nasty habit of trying to muzzle its personalities.

The most glaring example of this came during the Hong Kong protests of 2019. During those protests, many esports athletes spoke out in support for the protests. This led to those athletes being punished, including bans of high profile streamers and others. Given all that’s happened in and to Hong Kong since, it’s hard to imagine companies like Blizzard arguing they were on the right side of history when it comes to Hong Kong. Frankly, I think I’d enjoy seeing them try.

But the Hong Kong protests are far from the only example of gaming companies and esports events taking a heavy hand to silence athletes. You will recall that Nintendo, after nixing a competition over its use of a mod that basically made putting the tourney on possible, likewise nixed a Splatoon tournament broadcast for the crime of some of the players criticizing the company.

And the latest example of all of this is a Mortal Kombat player being disqualified from a tournament all for mildly chiding the game developers about an over-powered character in the game.

During an official Mortal Kombat 11 Pro Kompetition tournament on January 16, finalist Titaniumtigerzz was disqualified after jokingly calling out developer NetherRealm Studios by labeling his Sheeva variation—a personalized moveset that displays a custom name to opponents—as “WhyDidNRSdoThis.”

The disqualification made for an awkward moment on the stream. When the official broadcast cut away from the top 8 match after just a few minutes, commentators Housam “Mitsuownes” Cherif and Miguel “Darth Arma” Perez were left fumbling for words to explain what happened.

If you’re thinking that there’s no way that a player was DQ’d from a tournament simply for having that moveset name and are about to go hunting the internet for an alternate explanation…don’t bother. That really was the reason. The Sheeva character is the subject of some controversy among Mortal Kombat fans due to a specific move she does that most agree makes her overpowered and nearly impossible to defeat if used in a certain way.

The variation name, Titaniumtigerzz told Kotaku, was supposed to be a very mild criticism of Sheeva’s strengths.

“It was meant to be funny since the character I was using is basically extremely easy,” Titaniumtigerzz explained to me via DM. “The joke was, ‘Why would they make such an easy character?’”

He went on to note that it was the first time he’d used the name, that he wasn’t given any notice or warning for using it, and that he wasn’t given any opportunity to change the name. The competition rules also don’t lay out any rules for this sort of thing, but they do give tournament organizers basically full discretion when it comes to banning players for pretty much anything. Meanwhile, this whole thing backfired anyway, with gamers hurling about the #whyDidNRSdoThis hashtag on twitter.

But, Streisand Effect aside, the point is again that esports needs to grow up. Part of that maturation process is going to require growing a thicker skin. Athletes criticizing their own leagues is incredibly common in competitive sports. It’s also common to see athletes using their voices for political and social movements. And, love or hate how athletes use their voices, its those voices that fans connect with, not league executives.

So grow up, esports leagues. Let your players be heard. And if that means hearing them criticize you? Well, that’s okay too.

Filed Under: ,

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “The Esports Industry Grew; Now It's Time For It To Grow Up”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Koby (profile) says:


He went on to note that it was the first time he’d used the name, that he wasn’t given any notice or warning for using it, and that he wasn’t given any opportunity to change the name.

According to a well-known YouTuber among the NRS community, the player was told by a moderator to change the name, and supposedly was given a warning in the chat. However, the first warning was given AFTER the game commenced. Reading the chat during the game is unreasonable for a fast-paced game like this. Also, disconnecting from the game in order to change the name would typically result in automatically forfeiting the game anyhow. So, indeed, there was no opportunity to change the name.

Ben (profile) says:

Given that competitive egaming seems to have largely come out of the Far East (Japan, S Korea, etc.), and derives a lot of the culture from having sumo-like stables of players, or K-Pop-like manufactured bands (with rotating-door catalogues of members), I’m not surprised to see a similar culture of control and heavy-handedness around the tournaments as well.
If the culture had been derived from western team sports instead, i suspect the results would have been different. (not necessarily better, just different)

TFG says:

Re: Re: Re:

Meanwhile, while Sony and Nintendo are poster boys of being idiotically controlling, they are joined by EA (US of A), I think. Pretty sure Ubisoft (French) is in there too.

And then the real, true poster boys of idiotic, hyperventilating control aren’t in the games world, but are still western: MPAA and RIAA … and lets not forget that multi-genre all-consuming black hole known as Disney.

Kind of like the idiocies of control aren’t restricted geographically, would you not agree, Sam?

Anonymous Coward says:

Stepping WAY outside my area of expertise here, but don’t these issues stem from esports leagues being run/supported/owned by game developments houses & corporations? Wouldn’t an independent league be able to sidestep these conflicts?

For instance, professional golf tournament organizations are largely separate from any course they play, golf equipment manufacturers and sponsors. The PGA in the U.S. is not beholden to any one course and frequently do switch. Tournament sponsors bid to have their name featured on a tournament. Sponsors and courses come and go frequently, but the PGA remains independent of other stakeholders in the golf ecosystem. In fact the main instance when golf in the U.S. ran into issues was at the one course they are beholden to: Augusta National where the Masters tournament is played. The racial makeup and practices of the private club caused sponsorships to back out and generally became a headaches for the PGA. Augusta eventually implemented enough mild reforms for the big money to get comfortable once more.

Couldn’t an independent esports league benefit from such independence? Couldn’t a core of star players form such an organization and wrest control away from the game production powers? They could essentially make or break a game by choosing which to feature in tournaments/seasons.

Elena Steiner says:

Do those guys who play cybersport earn on it? I would better consider virtual sport as a way to get some income. Well, that is my opinion. And I am not a fan of playing games. I like to watch it more than to be involved. By the way, I should say that the level of virtual sports popularity has also increased. I don’t think many people did bet on it several years ago. Now everyone can do it on or any other platform. The most important thing is to check if the website works with blockchain technology that allows you to bet safely.

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...