Overwatch League Players Keep Getting In Trouble

Image: Félix “xQc” Lengyel.
Image: Félix “xQc” Lengyel.

Overwatch is still young as far as sports go, but if you’re a professional player of anything, whether that means basketball or Russian knight fighting, you’re gonna be held to a higher standard than most. Overwatch League’s players are having trouble with that.

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There’s still about a month left until Blizzard kicks off the first season of Overwatch League, and yet the esports org has already seen four different players get fined or suspended—one of them twice within the span of a month.

Over the weekend, Dallas Fuel tank player Félix “xQc” Lengyel got slapped with a seven-day in-game suspension after he got so angry that he decided to throw games on stream, something Blizzard deems “inappropriate for Overwatch” according to the suspension email it sent to Lengyel.

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While Dallas Fuel and the Overwatch League have yet to directly address the in-game suspension, Lengyel said in a video released today that “some more consequences are coming, I’m pretty sure.” He acknowledged that his actions were “not OK,” but also explained that he was frazzled after a long day of professional scrimmaging, which contributed to him getting mad enough to throw games and make jokes about how, actually, another player owed him an apology. “Listen, my dude,” he said on stream of the fellow pro player who reported him. “I will accept an apology, but I’ll only accept a re-add if he doesn’t lose against shit-tier teams on stage.”

This comes in the wake of a November incident in which Lengyel received a 72-hour in-game suspension for misuse of the game’s reporting system.

Lengyel is not alone amongst his Overwatch League peers. Earlier this month, Philadelphia Fusion player Su-min “Sado” Kim got benched by Blizzard for the first 30 games of the League’s upcoming first season after it came to light that he’d been accepting payments in return for logging in to other players’ accounts and leveling them up, which is against the game’s terms of service. Kim said he did it to scrape together some extra cash for his family after he dropped out of high school, back when he thought his chances of ever going pro were “basically zero.” Viewed in that light, Kim’s actions don’t sound all that unreasonable, but rules are rules, apparently.

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Last week, two Shanghai Dragons players, Chao “Undead” Fang and Junjie “Xushu” Liu, got fined by their own organization for sharing an account. Apparently, they only did it because their individual account rankings would have prevented them from playing together otherwise, but they were still in violation of Blizzard’s terms of service.

Image: Shanghai Dragons.
Image: Shanghai Dragons.
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“As professional game players, they should have acted as role models and abided by Blizzard’s account use codes and relevant regulations,” Shanghai Dragons wrote in a statement to the Daily Dot. The team fined both Chao and Liu 3,000 RMB, or roughly $450.

You’ll note that the punishments players received came from a variety of sources: Overwatch’s in-game systems, teams, and in just one case (so far) Blizzard itself. You’d think that Blizzard, owner and operator of the League, would be more involved in slapping wrists and designating timeout corners, but so far, it’s yet to unveil an official code of conduct for players. The company’s spent months in a mad dash to get OWL up and running, so regular terms of service have had to serve. That’s resulted in a wide variety of punishments, some of which don’t entirely seem to fit the crimes in question.

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The situation is also unusual in that these players are young, ranging in age from 18 to 22, and new to the bright, artificial lights of a corporately owned and operated competitive scene. Those facts don’t excuse their actions, but they help them make sense. On top of that, Lengyel’s match-throwing, player-insulting outburst is illustrative of the emotional strain many esports players put themselves through: they scrimmage all day, keeping their focus razor-sharp so they can go blow-for-blow with other top players, and then stream for multiple hours to build personal brands and prepare for a life after professional play. As a result, the spotlight’s on when they’re supposedly unwinding, and even when it’s off, communities on sites like Reddit scrutinize streams and clips and videos mercilessly. There’s very little room for players to make dumb mistakes in private, for better or worse.

This recent string of incidents seems to suggest that everybody—Overwatch League players, organizations, and Blizzard—have some growing up to do.

Kotaku senior reporter. Beats: Twitch, streaming, PC gaming. Writing a book about streamers tentatively titled "STREAMERS" to be published by Atria/Simon & Schuster in the future.

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DISCUSSION

Something important to note in all of this:

The, “I never asked to be a role model/hero/what have you” argument certainly feels like it should be salient, and it’s true, up to a point—sports figures of all stripes, traditional, e-sport, or otherwise, only ever asked for an opportunity to do what they do at a very high level—not to be held up as paragons of virtue or anything of the sort.

That said, their livelihood depends entirely upon their teams, which in turn are funded by sponsors and investors. The day an athlete becomes more of a liability for a sponsor than a boon is the day their stock plummets dramatically, and they’re more than likely to find themselves either out of a job, or at least severely reprimanded.

This kind of thing goes with the territory, and it’s true of any high-visibility public-facing job.

As a professor, I have to conduct myself with a bit of professional mien every single time I’m on campus. Have there been times when I’ve wanted to look at a student and question their ability to breathe and walk at the same time?

Certainly.

Have I ever done that?

No.

My job is to teach, not to belittle, whatever my personal feelings about an individual student happen to be. I have the freedom of expression to say whatever I damn well please, certainly—but I do not have freedom from the consequences of that expression—and if my utterances become a liability or an embarrassment for my university, I will be let go with the quickness (really, my contract won’t be renewed; that’s essentially how “firing” works in all but the most extreme cases in higher education).

Same thing applies to e-athletes. Their job is to perform at a high level. If they want to mouth off, or behave poorly, or anything else of the sort, that’s their right—but their sponsors/team/management also have the right to remonstrate them or even terminate their employment if their behavior becomes damaging to the operation as a whole.

So, TL;DR: These guys and girls didn’t sign up to be role-models, it’s true—but they are representatives of their employers/teams/sponsors, and they have to put forth an image that is good for those controlling interests, otherwise they risk censure or even loss of employment. This is the way it has always been—and it is the way it always will be.