We’re now officially past the halfway point of the first season of Overwatch League. Clear leaders have emerged (the New York Excelsior who have the best record in the league by far), there’s underdogs (the Shanghai Dragons who have yet to win a match) there’s general favorites (the Houston Outlaws, much to my chagrin) and there’s the teams with drama that make the non-game days exciting (both the Dallas Fuel and Los Angeles Valiant). Blizzard has really been pushing their premier eSports league and while the OWL is definitely suffering growing pains, it’s slowly but surely been on a decent course to a more mainstream popularity.
Unfortunately, this weekend a huge accusation and bombshell dropped. Namely DreamKazper, one of the star players of the Boston Uprising, has been accused of knowingly sending message of a sexual nature to at least one underage fan – but possibly multiple girls.
Action has already been taken by his team – the Uprising has terminated his contract already (in under 24 hours). It seems like other members of the Overwatch League and OW pro scene have been instructed to keep quiet about anything else as the matter is investigated by actual police and what-not – this is thanks to a now-deleted tweet by one of the OWL broadcasters who said as much, but now that it’s deleted even just acknowledging that may have been deemed too much sharing.
But DreamKazper’s contract termination and (assumed) expulsion from the Overwatch League brings up a bigger question about the maturity of the Overwatch League and whether it’s really ready for the big time – both in its players and how the general league functions.
The most important thing to note about the Overwatch League is that the majority of the players are young. And I mean young. For example, the average age of the starting lineup of the San Francisco Shock last week was 19. They had two fresh 18 year olds (both having had birthdays in the second half of March) as their starters and the rest of the lineup wasn’t much older than them. Ryujehong, the “captain” of the Seoul Dynasty and one of the more established players, is 26 and the oldest player in the league is Cocco of the Dallas Fuel – and he’s only 28. The coaches of the teams aren’t that much older either – TaiRong, the head coach for the Houston Outlaws, is 27. (For reference – DreamKazper is 20 and the age of the girl was 14, so no excuses should be made for him.).
While a lot of these players have kind of grown up into the Overwatch scene having started playing in 2016 when the game was announced (and pro eSports not usually having an age limit until Overwatch League’s 18 year old minimum), they’re still mostly kids. They’ve grown up on Twitch and general internet culture. And since even the coaches are generally young (in comparison to regular sports for sure), there’s no matured, veteran players to guide them in the process of becoming “famous.”
Take xQc who was basically the Overwatch League’s poster child for drama. He’s a fast-talking, hot-headed streamer who always says things first and thinks later. I wrote a short article about him previously, and since then he was let go by the Dallas Fuel after committing another infraction and getting suspended a second time. He typed out an emote into the OWL twitch chat and it was construed as possibly racist, so to show a no-tolerance policy on typical internet behavior Blizzard suspended and fined him again and Fuel decided to terminate his contract instead of continue to keep him on the team.
All that is fine – Blizzard and the Overwatch League has adopted a no tolerance policy for any sort of racist/homophobic/general Twitch nonsense in regards to OWL. They even police players’ Twitch streams when they’re not doing official OWL stuff – Philadelphia Fusion player EQO was suspended and fined for making a racist depiction of Asians on his stream last week. But the fact that every other week OWL has to issue out another suspension or fine is a clear indication that something else needs to be done. There needs to be an adult in the room, so to speak, to help these kids get used to a “professional” atmosphere.
“I want to get paid to play video games” is the dream of many a 12 year old. I know I had that dream (and honestly still do, my negative Twitch viewership notwithstanding) but all the players in Overwatch League are getting to live that dream. Except they’re being thrust into it without any extra help. And they’re surrounded by peers and like-minded individuals without any real guidance or “adult” supervision. Yes, they have coaches, but coaches are mostly other players who aren’t young enough to have the twitch skills needed to play a professional game – at 27 their reflexes have already dulled to not be able to match up with the 18 year old Widowmakers nailing every head shot in-game. But at 27 they still aren’t old enough to be a true mentor. I’m 32 and I think I’d barely qualify at being able to help most of these OWL players navigate the stressors of the pro sports atmosphere on top of daily streaming.
DreamKazper is the worst end of the spectrum – he was recently gaining a lot of popularity for being the best North American Overwatch player and was one of the breakout stars of the Overwatch League. The interactions (that have been reported so far) with the young girls started in February, after OWL had started and he started rising in fame. He used his notoriety in OWL to seduce at least one girl and probably more. It’s a disgrace that it happened and I’m glad his team fired him – but the possibility of this needs to be snuffed out from the beginning.
Unlike regular sports, Overwatch League and eSports in general is heavily internet based. It makes it super easy for the players to interact with their fans – either through Twitter or their own personal Twitch streams. Players even have their own personal Discord servers. This level of interactivity gives them the ability to leverage their popularity in many different ways. Sometimes it’s a good thing – the Dallas Fuel have used Seagull’s popularity as a streamer to advance the team’s overall popularity as he’s pretty much drama-free and also a good “face” for the team. But as DreamKazper’s proven, they can also use their popularity for personal and awful purposes.
Philadelphia Fusion has started a good precedent – part of their punishment for EQO’s behavior was to revoke his streaming rights until the end of the first season of OWL. Making him focus on being part of a team and not interacting with fans all the time is a good way to enforce better behavior. The age of social media where you can directly interact with your idols causes all sorts of trouble – especially for young kids who are barely adults and yet still thrust into the limelight. Removing players’ direct interaction with people who are egging them on and possibly feeding their egos might give them some time to be introspective and learn. xQc already had a legion of followers that were justifying his actions each time he was suspended – if the Fuel had removed him from being able to interact with those followers directly, maybe he would have made enough changes that he wouldn’t have been let go.
OWL is going through growing pains. The first season has had a lot of ups end downs both with how the games themselves are played, along with out-of-game drama. One of the things they need to sort out in the near future is how to separate the players from their stream identities – 20 weeks of prepping for games and playing games plus multiple nights of streaming is a little too much. There needs to be more separation between the players and the general public because so far the community and players are way, way too integrated – to the point that the community may have more power than the actual people running the League. And the community is even less mature than the players – while the players may realize they have to be professional, all 100,000 viewers on Twitch have no such need.
Blizzard they need to figure out how to add some maturity to all the teams – with age comes wisdom and while all these players are great at Overwatch, they would really benefit from more sure-handed guidance on a psychological level. If they don’t, the Overwatch League will burn out its players, its audience, and the whole idea of professional, legitimized eSports very quickly.