For the past couple of years esports has been increasingly subject to mainstream attention. No longer a niche pursuit, this represents the mainstream catching up to the fact that esports is now the mainstream and it’s the mainstream that was behind the times and floundering. This attention can be roughly divided into two types. The Steve Buscemi “hello fellow kids” type that represents the desperate clamor of a failing business model trying to attract a new audience or at least present their current audience with a new reason to continue consuming their medium. This I don’t mind so much as long as they get it right, treat the subject with the respect it deserves, and reach out and consult with people endemic to this growing industry. I think they call it journalism or something or at least they used to. The other type? Imbued with a stubbornness that makes King Cnut seem reasonable, they pretend that everyone who participates in competitive games is an addict, a racist, a misogynist, the new buzzword that is “incel,” and everything else besides. Indeed, they hold the position that gamers are the most wretched, pathetic creatures on the planet while also simultaneously being responsible for many of the world’s woes including Trump being in the White House, any mass shooting and they are worthy of the UN having a stance on. The games journalist starter pack comes with Cognitive Dissonance.
Kotaku’s esports vertical “Compete” actually managed to be both things simultaneously if you can believe it. It hoped to lure you in and then lecture you about how much you suck and why you’re going to hell. Like a reverse Jehovah’s Witness, which is a fair summary of this new breed of woke esports journalists. They’ll mask their contempt long enough to get into the conversation then unleash their fire and brimstone sermon about why they are better than you and why you must change before using their platform to try and have you fired for something you said five years ago. It’s the only way you’ll learn that you must do better. Then they retreat back to their secret Slack groups where they all discuss what the next angle of attack on their audience should be coordinated across each of their respective publications. Calling out any of this makes you the next target. And even though they know all of this is unethical, they made a promise to themselves to surrender their journalistic ethics and integrity to make the world a better place. Oh their terrible burden. It’s no wonder they hate you so much for making them have to do it.
Fortunately, Compete is now dead. Dennis Young, their Fink-In-Chief, posted a short message announcing its demise that was in possession of about the level of self-awareness I’ve come to expect from the people who call themselves journalists these days. Referring to esports as a “weird little corner” he patted himself firmly on the back and said that it was a topic worthy of “skeptical, thorough and fun journalism,” things they produced virtually nothing of in their time. He ended by saying that they were “proud of the work they did.” I’m not entirely sure why.
In case you’ve never clicked on them, Compete was a variety of short pieces about viral video clips, regurgitated news that originated from another publication, hit-pieces described as reportage and opinion pieces typically written by people who had utterly no credibility or insight when it came to the subject they were espousing opinions about. To that last point see this example of two of their writers having a round table among themselves about why more women don’t turn professional in esports. Understand that this discussion is being had by two people who have never attempted to go pro in esports and in fact have had little to no involvement with esports at any level over the course of their lives. This would be like me sitting down and writing a piece about why more men don’t become nurses simply because I happen to share their gender. That of course would be mansplaining. Fortunately, I am too woke to fall into that trap. Oh and if you won’t take it from me, plenty of women debunked the sentiments expressed in this awful article.
Most criminally of all, because they’re not actual journalists and have no connections to the industry, they are reporting about, they didn’t break a single story of note. Endemic esports publications with a fraction of the resources and reach of a Kotaku or Deadspin vertical have consistently produced better coverage and more insight for both casual and hardcore fan alike. Damon Runyon always maintained that the best reporters got that way simply by hanging out around the scene that they were tasked with reporting. When you exude such obvious contempt for your subject how can you ever do that? When will the opportunity ever present itself? Compete was always playing catch up and they never had any interest in establishing the sort of relationships you need to do good work. I know because I tried, which is why I was happy to share my leaked copy of the Overwatch League’s code of conduct with them.
If this sounds harsh, I will assure this is an accurate portrayal of the site’s output and you can go see that for yourself. I will say it wasn’t all bad though. No publication, no matter how agenda driven and rotten to the core it might be, can achieve being utterly worthless. In the beginning, I recall some coverage that even made me think it might be a good thing to get some fresh blood with differing ideas and opinions covering our game. This write-up about a Dota 2 analyst placing bets on the outcomes of an event his team was competing stood out to me. It was a refreshing take, especially given the fan consensus seemed to be that this was perfectly fine, when of course it is self-evident that it is not. Alas this was an exception and for the most part if you never read Compete you missed absolutely nothing that you couldn’t get elsewhere.
It didn’t have to be this way. One of my true dirty secrets is that I consider myself friendly with Stephen Totilo, the longstanding Editor-In-Chief of Kotaku. We’ve had chats both genial and heated and he’s somebody I can respect at least, even if I’ve no doubt we would differ on a lot of topics. I know that he’s capable of insightful and nuanced discussion, that he rejects binary thinking despite it being the preserve of most of his acolytes. He just knows that Kotaku needs to be the way it is to keep the audience its fostered. It’s too late to make overtures to gamers. Their audience are the gamers who hate gamers. It’s not a cult for him, it’s just business. We talked briefly when Compete was being established and I retweeted the call for applications and think I pitched a few names to him that he should consider. I’d have liked it to work out. Instead it didn’t take long for them to set the tone of what their coverage would be like.
Before we look at some of their greatest hits please remember that I am the journalist who has been responsible for turning over more rocks in my 13 years covering this business than anyone else. This isn’t somebody who only wants the positive side of esports to be reported on. I’ve had more industry people tell me to shut up, threaten to blackball me and drive me out or attempt to bribe me into silence than I care to count. Their prevailing sentiment? “If you keep telling the truth people won’t want to invest and we’ll not get our payday.” Yet Compete’s choice of targets were absurdly weak. Every time a streamer used a slur, a write-up was guaranteed. I don’t condone that behavior at all and there obviously should be consequences. Twitch made sure there always were usually before the Compete staff had even started hammering out their piece. However, in terms of industry impact it’s pretty low. There are some genuinely abusing young people’s trust, exploiting their labor, emotionally manipulating them and sometimes even worse. There are predators, sex pests, scammers and influencers violating every guideline that exists as they hawk their wares. There’s companies using malware to spy on their consumers or mishandling their data and then attempting to cover it up. Compete never seemed to be able to find any of these types of scum despite the fact I come across them on a weekly basis, but they could always find the time and energy to tell me why Overwatch’s latest character was cultural appropriation at is worst. Reporting is a matter of priorities and I always felt that Compete got them all wrong.
We can breeze through some of the more stupid pieces that they put out. Take for example this “opinion piece” that could have been, and probably was, written on the back of a bar napkin about how competitors should use their real names. Short, pointless and the type of discussion the industry moved on from round about 2006, this has “esports tourist” written all over it. This is like someone wanting to express opinions about American football using that fucking awful and tired “hand-egg” joke.
How about a lengthy discussion about the sexual politics of “teabagging” in a video game? Who knew that using the crouch feature had so much more to it? “In queer subculture, teabagging began as a joyful dance” the piece reads, which means I’ve been doing it wrong all these years by simply placing my balls in my partners mouth. The seeming inability to separate a real-life sex act from a video game mechanic that doesn’t even simulate the said sex act seems demented to me, but what do I know. I’m one of the dinosaurs who simply sees teabagging as a non-verbal form of trash talk that can be enjoyed by a live audience and used to put your opponent off kilter.
To the publication’s credit they did put a huge dent in racism. They stood up against the horror of Pepe The Frog signs being used by audience members in the Overwatch League. They also highlighted the short-lived and terminally unfunny Ugandan Knuckles meme because it’s important to know that regional accents are racist now as well.
The argument that a handful of genuine racists have “appropriated” these symbols and therefore no-one else can use them doesn’t make sense to me. We have to discount years of internet and gamer culture because of some pieces of shit deciding to incorporate it into their ideology? Well, let’s hope then that they don’t take the Kotaku “K” and do anything with that. What about if they took the Overwatch logo and turned it into a meme about ICE “overwatching the borders?” Do we all have to change up? It’s like using a sledgehammer to kill a fly and saying it’s reasonable that the furniture got obliterated. I’ll say it again, the fact that we all have to pretend a cartoon frog is racist because the DNC wanted to portray Donald Trump’s son as a racist for tweeting one out is the most absurd Orwellian bullshit. Even Hillary’s own website deleted the claim afterwards because it was nothing more than a stupid attempt to score some political points in an election (I want the mass psychosis that the US election brought about to be kept out of esports and so do most of the people who participate in it.)
If stories like these are supposed to show us that Compete were all about the high ground, what about this one? An Overwatch pro makes a video about being a better person, a message that seems to be one consistent with Compete’s own views. It was then revealed that he had been engaged with relationships of a sexual nature with people other than his wife, almost as if anyone endlessly spouting virtuous bullshit is nearly always a massive hypocrite. This type of tabloid garbage was passed over by multiple endemic esports reporters because, honestly, who gives a fuck about who anyone has consensual sex with unless that relationship creates a conflict of interest with real world repercussions? Compete didn’t just do a write-up that was intent on humiliating the guy it also linked to the consensually received images of him exposing himself, which is signal boosting revenge porn, even if his dick was blurred out.
Things weren’t much better if you invited them to your events either. This report about the Eleague Major in Boston, which I hosted, was filled with so much objectionable and false content it was hard to process. I can almost forgive the historical inaccuracies – such as CGS being the “nail in the coffin” for the 1.6 scene, when it was still one of the most viewed esports titles and had many huge tournaments two years after the CGS shut down – as they are clearly an attempt to seem authoritative on a subject. What’s harder to forgive are the numerous fictions in this piece of reporting. For example, the assertion that there was a Donald Trump banner present at the event is nonsense. I saw the banner. It said “Make American CS Great Again.” It’s a joke, a joke that Kotaku themselves have used again and again and again. Those fans allegiance was to American Counter-Strike and anything else you infer from that banner is in your mind. I can also add that I didn’t see a single red cap in that capacity crowd, which I’ll put down to it being a politically neutral environment and not because anyone wearing one would most likely be assaulted. Also worth adding, is that there are photographs from the event, but not one of the banner? OK.
watching CS:GO all weekend felt like entering a time capsule to 2004 but, you know, also still clearly 2018, given the guy with a trump banner https://t.co/qqX0tBlehv
— Maddy ‘MIDI’ Myers 🌈 (@MIDImyers) January 31, 2018
Despite people being on hand to be interviewed (admittedly not me as I had added Compete to the list of publications I will never speak to) the quotes we get in the article are of an incredibly dubious conversation in a toilet that just so happened to supplement the paragraphs about representation the author had penned. Awfully convenient. Then the article brings up the tired talking point of not one of the teams at the major having a female player (no women are excluded from joining teams and tournaments but men are excluded from the female circuit, so it’s not like we’re not trying) and even lays the blame for Overwatch’s then lack of female players on Counter-Strike’s doorstep.
I think the most objectionable part is protraying the fans as being indifferent to it all. Repeatedly talking of their boredom, the author also lied about the response given to American veterans. The segments involving the US Air Force took place while fans were getting drinks or emptying bladders. Those who were in their seats paid the proper respects and the applause wasn’t “tepid.” There’s also this weird inference in the piece that the military maybe shouldn’t have been there. I’ve had my ups and downs with the military. I didn’t support the war in Iraq, even so far as marching in protest against it and lost my best friend during that conflict. He was killed in a friendly fire incident that the Ministry of Defense tried to cover up as it was due to incompetence. I had a hard time “honoring the troops” after that, but after spending time with many veterans during my voluntary work with the homeless, many of whom I encountered had spent time in the military, I was able to find a much healthier outlook. Whatever your opinions on the foreign policies that put these young men and women in harm’s way, they need your help and love when they come home. Events like the Boston Major did a small part to help with that.
Was the event patriotic? Absolutely. I’m an immigrant who lives in America and I’m not ashamed to say I love this country. I don’t think there’s anything exclusionary about waving an American flag, the same way the Brazilians were waving their flags, the same way the Russians waved theirs. It was a global affair on American soil, with an American victor. Of course there were chants of “U-S-A.” Those same fans would have stayed and applauded their opponents had they lost. They love their country, love their players but before any of that they love the game. That’s why they’re there. The piece didn’t tell you anything that you couldn’t have made up from the comfort of your bedroom. Almost as if the person who went drew a short straw and had an agenda going in.
Finally, earlier in this piece I called Dennis Young a fink. Here’s why. If you follow esports seriously you know the name Jacob Wolf. He’s probably the leading journalist in the space right now. Full disclosure, I am the guy who discovered Jacob and gave him his first job, but that doesn’t make what I’m saying any less true. He’s broke big stories in every beat he’s covered and that has been a huge part of the reason that even a downsizing ESPN has kept their esports division open. Far be it from me to suggest that there was a bit of the old green-eyed monster at play, but two of Compete’s journalists decided try and force ESPN’s hand into taking action against Jacob Wolf for comments he made when he was 13. Yeah.
While Wolf was covering another Overwatch professional using homophobic slurs one of the fans of the player’s team decided to use advanced Twitter search in a bid to discredit him and found he too had used some unpalatable language when he was a teenager. These comments blew up on social media and Compete, not just content to basically piggyback on Jacob’s reporting by posting a rewrite of his story, decided to dig deeper. In an act of what these new glorified bloggers consider “investigative” journalism they went though Jacob’s old tweets using the advanced search function running some other slurs and came up with some hits. Then Eric Van Allen as well as Young took it upon themselves to contact Wolf’s employers about it under the guise of “asking for comment.” Wolf received an appropriate sanction for the words he used as what I would consider a child but the write-up on Compete is just embarrassing.
Once again showing their contempt for the subject, Young sighs “However, this is esports” and then goes on to misrepresent what Wolf had actually done. “Nearly as soon as ESPN’s Jacob Wolf broke the story, his lengthy history of using slurs like “cunt,” “fag,” “nigga,” and more on Twitter became clear” it reads. That “lengthy history” is four instances since 2012, all of which came when he was still a teenager and not a person representing a sizeable company.
Young also then goes on to compare use of the word “cunt” to the n-word. No, seriously. “Interestingly, while Wolf deleted most of his “faggot” and “nigga” tweets, he’s still left up about ten that use “cunt.” Either he’s not aware of them, or has decided that there’s a hierarchy of slurs” he wrote. There IS a hierarchy of slurs and how fucking insulting to black people or to gay people to even compare the word “cunt” to the slurs used to dehumanize these groups of people.
To show how we all are fallible and have done and said things that we may regret or aren’t representative of who we are as people I spent two days going through all of the Twitter feeds of Kotaku staff, colleagues I’m sure that Young would consider being above reproach. I couldn’t do it for Young though because he had deleted every tweet he had made before 2018. Can you guess what I found? That’s right, Slurs and edgy jokes galore. Even celebrations of the word “cunt” that got Young’s panties all up in a bunch. Of course, no action was taken against any of their staff. They’re the good guys. They can say what they want.
As you can see, Compete hated competitive gaming. It seemingly hated everyone involved – except Geguri obviously – at all levels. It hated the fans, the casuals, the pros, the sponsors, their fellow reporters and anyone else you might care to think of. Most of the staff seemed to be almost embarrassed to be writing about it. This sentiment bled through its digital pages. It is no surprise to me that it’s died. It would have gone the same way even if a bag of hammered shit like Univision wasn’t running it.
My eulogy? Usually when something dies it leaves a space that something else will have to fill in time. I think the most telling testament to Compete and its output is that its death is as meaningless to the space as its existence was.