The toxicity of gaming is one of those things that everyone has an opinion on, even if they have never touched a single title. Writers in newspapers that have zero interaction with gamers or gaming will wax lyrical about the danger of online play, and it’s a constant battle to fight against the flood of misinformation. From the outside, gaming and esports are under siege, and the subject of regular public condemnation.
For this reason, it is vital that the people within gaming, and particularly esports, fight the battle pre-emptively, working not only to clean up the scene, but make it harder for the prejudiced types to spread their "gaming is evil" poison. Sadly, there are times when players, faces and teams that don’t proactively speak out, and this weekend saw an example of the consequences of such inaction on a larger scale.
Jordan ‘JKap’ Kaplan is a professional Call of Duty player currently on the books of the North American organisation eUnited. EU was founded in 2016, and so far has had some impact in titles like Super Smash Bros Ultimate and Call of Duty, as well as in the lower tiers of North American CSGO and other games. They do have some top level performers in smaller scenes, most notably in console gaming, and their Call of Duty roster is certainly one of the higher-profile parts of their portfolio.
TRIGGER WARNING: Slurs
In the video above, JKAP he uses a homophobic term to refer to another EU player, James ‘Clayster’ Eubanks, with whom the community has speculated JKap might have some disagreement. While that speculation has been confirmed by team moves to some extent, it obviously isn’t professional to have the information public, and says a lot about the culture around this team at least, if not all of CoD esports pros, who have long been notorious for their toxicity.
Perhaps worried for his career on the EU bench, JKap was quick-ish to apologise for his ‘mistake’, although it’s clear from the clip that he certainly meant to use that specific word, and wasn’t trying to compliment Clayster. You can see his own version of the standard "I didn’t mean to say what I deliberately said, unprompted and entirely seriously" below, and have no doubt seen similar efforts from other names in esports and gaming.
In the replies to JKap’s tweet you can see a variety of takes, but one consistent line that appears is essentially "who cares?/it was worse in the old days". More than 300 people liked a gif essentially asking why he even commented, and eUnited have been extremely quiet on the matter, not commenting on Twitter or other social media sites at the time of writing. Luckbox contacted the organisation for comment, which they have declined to offer.
For an org which claims to be "Unifying esports fans and players", it’s an interesting decision to potentially alienate a massive number of fans by failing to challenge prejudice and hate where it occurs, especially if the person is someone you employ and who represents your brand. Sadly, it’s not the first time the use of that word has proved an issue, and we cannot claim to be any better in CSGO, Dota or the like, where our biggest pundits come out in support of those who use homophobic slurs, or brush off racism as 'cultural'.
As long as this goes on it will be hard to stand up for ‘gamers’, and equally hard to get people to identify as such if they also care about being thought of as decent, intelligent folk. One of the reasons so many surveys suggest gaming is skewed in one direction is that many people enjoy playing, but would shudder at the thought of identifying as an actual ‘gamer’ because of the negative stigma attached to the word.
Reducing the appeal
Some of that, the Mountain Dew and the Doritos, is going away as the scene becomes more professional every year, but the other parts still exist, and it’s no longer enough for single groups to fight that battle, we must instead present a united (no pun intended) front. Presently, eUnited could do more to support minorities in gaming and it seems that some of their fans are equally unempathetic, and this reflects on them, Call of Duty as a whole, and all of esports to the man in the street.
If we allow this to continue, then gaming will always have a hard cap on how far it can go, and deserve to be limited thus. There is no reason parents should encourage their kids to go into a world where they can be abused and spoken to with hatred, only for fans to support the hateful and organisations to look the other way, and no reason large companies would want to support that. The conversation is bigger now, and the consequences of not addressing the issue could be more dire than any of us imagine.