StarCraft in the Spotlight: How to Deal with Controversy
As StarCraft II continues to grow in popularity, we are going to see a huge influx of press and media coverage intent on weighing in on this new oddity. There will be articles and blogs and blurbs and clips – each and every one giving their two cents on this emergent scene. Some will praise the innovation of eSports and admire those who have worked so hard at something purely for the love of it rather than for any hope of fame or glory; others will puzzle at why people would ever want to watch other people play a video game but ultimately accept that it is the way things are moving and merely want to point out something strange and novel; but there will always be that select few who mock the idea of “eSports” and denigrate anyone taking part in non-traditional sports out of spite and some self-righteous set of principles.
We’ve already seen how these play out, especially that last category of unrepentant trolls, and I cannot say that I have been impressed. Some online communities have a tendency to latch onto something negative and flame it like a blue-flame Hellion in a mineral line. If something offensive crops up, those communities see it as a personal offense and an affront liable to kill eSports and take the initiative to harass the guilty party (or someone close enough to the guilty party) until they receive a personal apology and admission of guilt from the transgressor.
Obviously this type of strategy is ineffectual, to say the least. Most people who write derogatory articles are hoping for exactly that kind of knee-jerk reaction. There was a Gizmodo article last month in which the author wrote a sensationalist blog post about her date with Jon Finkel, the 2000 Magic: The Gathering world champion. In her post, she bashes Finkel, claiming she felt deceived because he neglected to mention the fact that he was a world champion gamer before they got to their first date and because she felt that it was an embarrassment that he still plays MTG. This would be roughly equivalent to a woman being upset after going on a date with Day and being upset because he didn’t mention his 2007 Pan-American WCG Championship victory, and being even more upset that he is able to make a living by promoting and playing a game he loves, except that Day doesn’t have a StarCraft unit with his face on it like Finkel has in MTG.
As you can imagine, the community did not take too kindly to Gizmodo author; they assaulted the website with insults and used her picture as a platform for a new “scumbag” type meme. It was a witch hunt that even r/starcraft would be proud of. The next day, in the wake of all this chaos, Finkel created an account on Reddit and did an AMA. Predictably, most of the questions were related to the article. Finkel, however, did not insult his attacker, nor wish her ill in any way. His view was that it was bad form to write an article calling someone out by name and skewering them for a bad date, but that it really wasn’t a big deal in the end.
Jon “motherfucking” Finkel, as the article called him, just let the bad press pass. I think our community needs a little more of that attitude in it. The Gizmodos, Gawkers and Kotakus are only looking to get hits to their site and don’t care one way or another if people view what they have to say with “journalistic integrity.” The best way to deal with them is to just ignore their article, or if you really think it’s interesting, repost it to pastebin or the like to prevent the site from getting undue traffic.
If the author is not a complete troll, though, there are other ways to promote our community and take our good manner to the real world. In an another recent article, Gordon Hayward, a professional basketball player for the Utah Jazz, got slammed for planning to play StarCraft at a competitive level during the NBA lockout. The article lamented how soft the NBA had become when its players thought that video games of all things could be as stressful as a real sport. I fully expected there to be another outcry from the community and a public execution of this poor, ignorant writer.
What I saw was that his Twitter page and comments section were indeed flooded, but instead of the cruel japes and childish insults I’d grown so accustomed to seeing in situations like this, most of the comments were actually useful information about the scene and corrections when he said something obviously fallacious. There were, of course, a few of the obligatory comments too obscene to reprint here (which I think says at least a bit since I didn’t bat an eye at giving Finkel his Gizmodo epithet earlier), but they were few and far between.
The best tool we have against ignorance is knowledge. Being an unruly mob just solidifies the stereotype of the immature, man-child gamer. If you let people know that they overlooked something or just plain call them out on not doing any research, that’s at least not negative. If you let them know how awesome this game is and that you’d be willing to answer any questions about the game for their next article because the information in paragraph three was wrong and you want to have eSports fairly represented in the press, then that’s really positive.
There are the articles that seem to see StarCraft and eSports as an exciting new scene that deserves coverage. The “Wall Street Journal” recently did an article about BarCraft - when a large group gathers at a bar to watch professional matches together. While there were some nuances that I disapproved of (specifically stating that oGs.MC and EGPuMa “are not athletes,” and ending with a patron’s plea to change the channel), the article was otherwise overwhelmingly positive and well researched. And even those slight annoyances were not unwelcome by me. Although you and I might consider top-tier players to be athletes, most of the world is not ready to make that jump and to do so in a major publication might alienate people by coming on too strong. The same goes for the patron’s final plea; the WSJ needs something to demonstrate that they see the whole picture, that most people are not on the StarCraft bandwagon and would still prefer to watch their Sunday Night Football rather than their Sunday Night Fights. I really can’t begrudge them a couple hits here and there to make StarCraft more accessible to the general public.
For positive articles like the “Wall Street Journal” example, I think exposure is the best thing we can do to help. Emailing an article from a regular (read: non-eSports-centric) periodical will go a long way to legitimizing the eSports movement with those who are on the fence. And while it will not quell the hardcore naysayers, I don't really think there is much that ever will; even sports like golf and baseball still have people who complain that they do not require any athleticism to play.
We can also let those organizations who do features on StarCraft, like the WSG and Forbes (who interviewed Steven “Destiny” Bonnell II, Sean “Day” Plott, and Shawn “Sheth” Simon) that we notice them and that we appreciate their support. It may not seem like a lot, but even large companies take notice if enough people write in to thank them for running a story.
So let’s try and keep the witch hunting to a minimum and really show that more gg means more skill.