Before I begin, I’d like to thank each and every person who contributed to the stunning view count for my last article, “What We Keep Getting Wrong about Women in the FGC.” I was completely overwhelmed by the traffic, and I have to thank Kayane, the Combo Queens Facebook, and Tom Cannon for sharing it so it could reach the widest possible audience. I hope you stick around, and I’ll do my best to keep putting out quality stuff.
Now, onto the main event.
So I’m at Midway Airport a couple weeks ago, all ready to start drafting the second half of my look back at my career through Mortal Kombat 9, when I suddenly see Twitter is aflame with constant chatter about ELeague. ELeague, for the folks at home, is a professional e-sports league that actually has big money behind it in the form of Turner Broadcasting. They’ve been running for a couple years now, with mega hit Counter-Strike: Global Offensive as the basis of its league format. Recently, they’ve added fighting games to their repertoire, running invitational-style league events for Street Fighter V and Tekken 7, as well as hosting the finals of the Injustice 2 Championship Series. The prize pools are huge, with the SFV season reaching $250,000, and the events have top notch production from the Turner studios in Atlanta, which broadcast the events on TBS, Turner’s basic cable channel. Sounds awesome, right?
Naturally, to capitalize on the rising tide of the FGC, ELeague announced the awesomely goofy titled “ELEAGUE The Challenger: Street Fighter V,” a Big Brother-style reality show in which chosen SFV players live in a house and compete in various challenges to earn the grand prize: a spot in the next SFV invitational tournament. To play on that “once in a lifetime” style marketing, ELeague chose to feature players who may have results here or there, but are otherwise not the mainstays we’d expect in one of these invitationals. One of them is Daluan “LowTierGod” Sparrow.
For the folks at home who may not understand my trepidation, let me do my best to sum it up. LowTierGod is a YouTube personality who is probably most known in the general FGC for a set he played against Jay “Viscant” Snyder that was rife with trash talk and blowups. The antics there are pretty much just an extension of his YT stuff, where he will curse heavily, rage quit if he is losing a match, and just generally be an awful human. Not content with just living the YT life, he occasionally makes his way to Twitter to be awful to trans women as well. He’s also in the habit of being an edgelord on Facebook and linking to posts of animals getting tortured with some sort of “Lol so fukd,” as if that acknowledgement means he’s doing a public right in exposing it. I could go on and on, but I’m already battling a headache. I won’t link any of his actual YT stuff, but if you are morbidly curious, look it up for yourself.
So in spite of all that unsavory bullshit, LTG is going to be a featured player on a reality show from a major cable channel, a representative of the FGC mid-level player looking to do good. Aside from that being absolutely insane, defenders of this decision would tell you to stop hating. The dude’s trying to make a living, and his hustle worked, so why bother blowing him up? Shouldn’t we celebrate people in the FGC getting a big time opportunity? Well, normally I’d say yes, but the reality is that giving someone like this a spot on national television validates two ideas: one, that being a terrible human will get you opportunity after opportunity, and two, that this is an accurate representation of the average FGC player.
And both parties involved know this.
See, as I was getting ready to write this post, presumably righteous anger flowing from my fingers onto the screen, I realized that I was being a mark. For the non-wrestling fans, a mark is the person that buys a ticket to a wrestling show with the firm intention that the events that are happening are legitimate. The mark will cheer to support the good guy wrestlers, and boo the bad guy wrestlers until their throats are sore. The promoters of the wrestling show snicker, because, as we all know, the events are pre-determined for the very purpose of creating a dramatic show that will keep the fans coming back for each new event.
In this scenario, ELeague and LTG were the promoters, and I was the dutiful fan, cheering and booing like a good boy.
My initial draft of this article was one condemning ELeague’s decision under the idea that they didn’t vet their contestants, that they were the marks in this scenario. We’ve seen it a million times: unknowing mark with cash to blow starts up an E-sports team and hires up a bunch of talent, only to realize too late they are in way over their head, leading to an inevitable announcement that they are leaving the FGC (this one is my favorite, a “world class” brand announcing their departure with the team manager in a hoodie on his phone). It stands to reason that Turner, like any of these other guys, was just another person investing in the FGC without much knowledge.
To an extent, I believe this to be true. I don’t think Turner knows whether to wind their ass or scratch their watch when it comes to actually knowing who’s who in the FGC beyond what the people they’re paying tell them. But what they do know is business; Turner Broadcasting has, by hook and crook, survived for 50 years through mergers and acquisitions (not murders and executions) because it knows the game. And I hate to give him him credit, but Daluan Sparrow knows the game too.
I don’t believe, for a second, that Mr. Sparrow is even 35% of his LTG character in everyday life. Just to be a functioning human, that just can’t be. What I do believe is that Mr. Sparrow is well aware that acting like a piece of absolute human garbage is a way to get people talking and to drive engagement. As satirist and marketing expert Peter Coffin puts it, algorithms exist to direct people’s attention to content that has been engaged. Whether that means it is heavily voted “disliked” and shared with disdain or embedded in rabid, dogpiling tweets, abusive and negative content tend to get a ton of clicks. This has propelled LTG, a person of profoundly average talent and terrible personality, to be on a major FGC reality television show.
In perfect synergy with the horribly cynical scenario I’ve described above, the people at ELeague knew full well what they were getting into. He’s gone now, but one of the main people feeding ELeague information as its main host was Richard Lewis, a longtime E-sports personality who is well known for attracting controversy. A lot of people have a lot of things to say about ‘ol Dicky Lew, but for the purpose of my post, I’m going to keep it simple. Lewis has cultivated a large following through his various media outlets, including being a contributor at far-right news syndicate Breitbart, writing E-sports columns for a host of specialty websites, and a YouTube channel with thousands of subscribers. A simple cursory glance through his Breitbart archive will pull up, amongst legitimate discussion about tech and E-sports, articles decrying social justice, Black Lives Matter, and “the libs.” One of his articles even describes himself as “Part provocateur.”
Like a lot of hacks in the modern age, Lewis realized he had an audience in the angry white gamer, and he’s gotten a nice little audience out of that. Much like LTG, this hateful group of sycophants will swarm the comments on Facebook and Youtube and join in on the tweet discussions anytime the guy faces criticism, often with horrible comments. It’s an aggressive behavioral pattern that is most commonly associated with hyperconsumers, those who would defend what they’re consuming from a completely uncritical base. Somebody watches a bunch of LTG or Dicky Lew videos and because these two are cultivating an identity of the gamer that “keeps it real” amidst a bunch of bullshit social interests, the same person identifies with that phony persona and consume the content until the grievances of the parties that these two provoke become the screeching of “the haters,” which incites rabid defense, which leads to the abuse that is part of these guys’ bread and butter.
This is why I’ve really turned on ELeague. I, like everyone else, was mad that they pulled a stunt in which they used a rivalry between two young black players as an excuse to put a real security guard on the stage in case “something happened.” I was also very weirded out when Lewis went on Twitter to chastise David “Ultradavid” Graham for criticizing the idea. But then I realized: that’s all part of the bit! At the next big ELeague event, there was David on the desk, sniping at Richard. Coincidence? Hardly. If David did his job, you have a professional at the desk who provides good content. If he acknowledges the previous Twitter spat? Twitch clips gold. David’s a good guy, but he was really between a rock and a hard place on that one.
Bring all this back to ELeague The Challenge: Street Fighter V. LTG is on the show, and he’s going to be forced to interact with two women, who are some of his favorite punching bags. Not only that, he already has a history with one of them as far saying hateful things to them on Twitter. A simple Google search would tell you this, and if that’s the case, why is it happening? Because they, the guys writing the checks down in Atlanta, know that the fans of people like LTG will tune in to watch, and they also know that the people who hate that he’s a thing will share and dislike, but otherwise engage with the content.
I’d say it was brilliant if it weren’t so damned obvious.
I really hope that I don’t come across as selling Mr. Sparrow or Mr. Lewis as these Machiavellian schemers who are making money hand over fist with their ingenious marketing techniques. This is all pretty basic stuff; it just happens to work brilliantly for both the talent and the people footing the bill, since they aren’t the ones dealing with the aggression it breeds. The people getting hurt are the poor saps who fall for this crap and the marginalized people who speak up against the abuse that forms around this kind of behavior, and that’s what sucks the most. Make no mistake about it, this is a money-making endeavor designed to appeal to those hyperconsumers.
I mean for God’s sake, look at the advertising that ELeague does through their official Twitter:
It’s always goofy memes, meant to cultivate that identity of the stream monster, the person who watches on Twitch and is constantly posting emotes and memes in the chat. Arby’s does the same thing, but at least they have good sandwiches. ELeague does it to get any eyes on the product, and then their lead host leaves or retires or whatever and goes on to blame the FGC, he can then say he got bullied out when all he tried to do was fit in. Well boo fuckin’ hoo, but I can’t imagine falling for those crocodile tears.
Like I’ve said, I don’t believe Mr. Lewis or Mr. Sparrow are even half of what their internet presence would proclaim, but they play it up knowing that they will get an audience, which, to me, comes off as sleazy, perhaps even worse than what they portray. At least if they said some ignorant bullshit you could chalk it up to ignorance, but to knowingly breed hate and fuel aggressive fans in order to make a profit? Fuck you, and feed you fish heads.
Now I’ve gone off on a lot of shitty E-sports activity, but I always try to bring attention to some positive things at the end, if only to keep my sanity. So with that, I’d like to talk a little bit about Red Bull and their movement into the FGC.
Red Bull has been making waves in the FGC for a while now, from sponsoring players to hosting big invitational events with scores of strong players. While they continue to do both of those, they’ve also moved into the regional circuit with their Red Bull Conquest series. With this series, RB is hosting smaller, open events all throughout the United States as a means of allowing players without the means to travel an opportunity to compete for a chance to go to a final national event in Washington D.C. Aside from just the Conquest events, they occasionally host smaller events, called Rise events, that are strictly local to certain areas and are meant to be sort of a training ground. Local and regional events are the backbone of the national FGC, so it’s great to see RB doing their best to support that through events like this.
Aside from just their tournaments, RB also produces great content that highlights players, events, and developers in the FGC. I’m as skeptical as anybody of corporations coming into the FGC and throwing money around, but RB has shown that the spotlight isn’t entirely on SFV, which tends to be a flaw of a lot of other E-sports ventures. Given that they’ve been around for some time and show no signs of stopping, I hope that I’m not getting worked, but I really don’t think I am this time.
Well, I guess that about does it. Wraps it all up. In conclusion, I’m not really sure what to say. I’d like to say that I wish this type of dishonest marketing would go away, but it’s unfortunately the world standard by now, and if there’s money involved, you’d better believe it’s not going away any time soon. And to be honest, for all the LTG types out there, there are plenty of others who are getting opportunities that truly deserve it. I guess I could say then that my hope is that people with real power in the FGC start calling out this dishonest shit, and sticking to their guns. That means if we are going to call out LTG for his shite behavior, that means we are consistent in calling out all the bad behavior in the FGC, regardless of whether or not it’s someone’s buddy or someone with “E-sports” means. Also, please don’t speak out against and call attention to a real boneheaded move and then stan for them on Twitter, that’s a special type of dickless previously thought to exist only in Walter Peck.
If you like this rambling nonsense, give me a follow on Twitter, and I’ll try to have at least three articles a month. Next up will be that follow-up on my time playing Mortal Kombat 9, I promise. Until we meet again!