Recently, Cloud 9’s mid laner Hai “Hai” Lam released a blog discussing the unique situation that eSports players have. Never before has a community been so tied in with the players. If you look at any ‘normal’ sport, players are hardly ever subject to the same sort of criticisms and backlash that a pro gamer would get. That isn’t to say a normal athlete wouldn’t get the same criticisms, but criticism is much easier to shield with ten million dollars and hiding in your mansion while wiping your tears with hundred dollar bills. On the other hand, a pro gamer has to deal with the constant criticisms through Twitter, Reddit, in the game itself, YouTube, and not to mention the infamous Twitch chat. It’s even more exacerbated because the player’s job entirely revolves around the computer, so everywhere they go with their username or handle, they will find their critics.
The stress isn’t for everyone. More than one pro player has succumbed to the massive negative backlash and decided they couldn’t handle it anymore. Multiple other pros have even come forward and talked about how difficult it was to deal with, such as Gravity’s jungler, Brandon “Saintvicious” DiMarco, Team Liquid’s Christian “IWillDominate” Rivera, and perhaps the most famous case of pro player backlash, CLG’s former top laner, Zach “Nien” Malhas.
On Reddit, there seems to be a pretty constant cycle. We’ll use Nien as our example. First, the payer underperforms or does not live up to the expected standard a player should be making. This generally cumulates until a breaking point occurs where there is a huge uproar about a players performance. In this case, it was when CLG played TSM during the 2014 NA Summer Playoffs. CLG had been up one game and was poised to take the second, when a certain Alex “Xpecial” Chu managed to bring TSM back into the game with a few clutch plays, giving TSM the second game. Going into the third game, the camera focused on a clearly distraught Nien before TSM’s Dyrus proceeded to go on a tear in the third game, with TSM getting the victory. Following the game, there was a huge call and backlash for Nien to be benched, where he decides to step down due to “intense criticism of his play and general attacks towards him had become increasingly taxing mentally”.
The next stage in the cycle was the communities’ repentance. Outcries and apologies were made to Nien, but at this point, the damage was clearly done. Nien was no longer the starting top laner for CLG, but we would fortunately see him again in the Challenger Scene. The community even seemed to be determined not to let this happen again, but of course it does.
All of this isn’t to say the pros should be immune to criticism. Like any professional, they should be criticized! We should be giving feedback on where they should improve, what we would like to see from a player, building hype for a game and player performances, etc. However, constructive criticism is very different from destructive cynicism. When you tell a player they have a huge nose, acne all over their face and you don’t like their skin color, that’s not exactly the kind of feedback that will help a player win their next game. Of course, most pros have become a bit jaded to these sort of criticisms, but when one player underperforms, the attacks get much more numerous and much more vicious. (Currently looking at CLG’s mid laner, Link, who has been under pretty constant attack for two or more splits now.) It’s difficult for anyone, regardless of how jaded they are, to deal with thousands of people telling them to kill themselves. If you want to see a perfect example of personal attacks, go look at any video with TSM’s coach Yoonsup “Locodoco” Choi speaking or a video of Gravity’s coach Nick “LastShadow” De Cesare or even post-game reviews of CLG in the most recent play off results. It’s also very prominent if you’re not the most popular pro player (or former pro.) If you look at XDG’s former player Zuna, almost every post or remark about him used to be negative. People often attributed this to his trash talking, but really, his trash talking wasn’t much different than CLG’s Doublelift at the same time, and yet he is a pretty well-loved member of the community.
Again, I want to emphasize this is not about critiquing a players performance. When a player constantly underperforms, criticism is to be expected and very much warranted. While a player may also get a ton of positive feedback as well, negative feedback is the one that sticks out in your mind.
This leads us to the next problem, “What do we do about it?” Well, honestly, there really isn’t much as a whole we can do other than try to cut back on the intentional personal backlash but try to keep it focused around the game. Trying to ask the internet to do anything, however, generally doesn’t work. I suppose the best we can do is ask for the community to try and keep criticisms about the game. We could ask Twitch chat to try and be a bit more positive, but frankly, I think that has less chance than CLG winning next split’s playoffs.
-Michael “TheRiverSaint” Brannan
TheRiverSaint is new to writing for the eSports scene but is always looking to improve. He follows League of Legends and is beginning to follow more and more of the CS:GO scene. He can be contacted on his twitter, @TheRiverSaint or on his youtube at www.youtube.com/theriversaint .