On racism in esports - value of equality in games

▲ A Class Divided

Why is racism bad?

In 1968, Jane Elliott, an elementary school teacher of Iowa, did an exercise with her students. She classified her students into two groups depending on their eye color, and she announced that blue-eyed students were 'superior' to brown-eyed students. Brown-eyed students were given a collar to display their 'inferiority', and blue-eyed students enjoyed how they were given preferential treatments.

Soon, the children adjusted. Blue-eyed children shunned Brown-eyed children, and "brown eyes" became a slur. Next day, Jane Elliott reversed her actions as she announced that she confused the 'superiority' between the two. The tables have turned, and blue-eyed students were able to feel how brown-eyed students felt.

Jane Elliott's 'Blue eyes–Brown eyes' exercise was designed when Martin Luther King was assassinated, and one of the students asked why "the king" had been shot. The exercise was a part of learning experience to teach students what MLK died for. Through the exercise, students realized how bias can easily be ingrained, and how discrimination can effect people easily. A class was divided and turned against each other all because the color of eyes were different.

Equality is one of the most important concept in the history of mankind, and it can only be realized when people respect one another without prejudice. Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence asserts that "all men are created equal." Aristotle argued through his book 'Politics': "... because men are equally free, they claim to be absolutely equal." Zhuangzi cited that all humans can achieve happiness through "living equally spontaneously." Equality has been a value recognized by scholars regardless of the culture.

▲ The Soiling of Old Glory, a Pulitzer–winning photograph
(Source: Stanley Forman / The Boston Herald American)


Discrimination is bad, and racial discrimination is the worst. Too many times, racism was the basis of structural violence from one race to another. The Holocaust, The Nanking Massacre, September 11 Attacks, Rwandan Genocide, Darfur Crisis - Thousands, sometimes millions of people were killed only because they were born as a race that another race deemed inferior.

Racism has always been an issue in this globalized society, and esports is not an exception. On April 27th, Felipe "YoDa" Noronha of CBLoL's RED Canids used a racial slur to describe Japanese players who were in Brazil for MSI 2017 on his social media account. His comment soon went viral, and Riot Games swiftly punished him with a fine of US$ 2,000 and suspension for three games of MSI 2017.

This wasn't the first time that an esports player has been in controversy for racism. Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen, currently the jungler for TSM, had been suspended when he was playing for SK Gaming. He used a summoner name that contains words that are offensive to Asian people when he was playing in the Taiwanese server to prepare for the Worlds 2014. People did not forget that he previously compared a certain ethnicity to cancer either.

In All-Stars 2016, two LAS casters, Diego “Vendetta” Ramirez and Bastian Guzman, made racist remarks about Seongwoong "Bengi" Bae in the official broadcast. Riot Games pulled those casters from the air immediately, and subsequently fired them soon after.

Discrimination does not discriminate whether someone is a part of the people that are often victimized. Hangil “Road” Yoon, a Korean player in LPL's I MAY, was punished for making racist comments during Ranked Play in both Korea and NA server. Citing Clause 9.2.4 on Discrimination and Denigration, Road was suspended for a match and fined US$ 2,000.

▲ Terrence "TerrenceM" Miller was subject to racism
(Source: Robert Paul / DreamHack)

Other esports also had similar cases. Matt “Dellor” Vaughn of Toronto Esports Overwatch team repeatedly used a racially derogatory term in his live stream. Toronto Esports immediately released Dellor for breach of contract, emphasizing that the organization is "built on inclusivity... always had a zero-tolerance policy for any forms of discrimination."

In Hearthstone Grand Prix of DreamHack Austin 2016, Terrence "TerrenceM" Miller had to endure racist slurs from the Twitch chat when he was playing in the finals of the tournament. Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime didn't hesitate his disappointment at Twitch chat crowd.

"We’re extremely disappointed by the hateful, offensive language used by some of the online viewers during the DreamHack Austin...We can only hope that when instances like this come to light it encourages people to be more thoughtful and positive, and to fully reject mean-spirited commentary."

▲KeSPA holds a seminar for players on moral and ethical values


There are some who consider these racist remarks as harmless jokes. For countries that were often the subject to racial slurs, they are more tolerant to those tasteless 'jokes'. However, make no mistake - such jokes are not acceptable regardless of ethnicity or race. Esports players can directly interact with their fans young and old; players will need to be especially careful of values that they preach.

Fundamental changes are necessary as well. Esports players are often very young; players make their pro debut even before graduating high school. Those players will need to be taught essential values that schools teach the younger generation. For such education to be done effectively, an authoritative organization will need to be responsible for every esports without considering the ownership.

Korea e-Sports Association (KeSPA) has been responsible for teaching players of professionalism in Korea. KeSPA and Riot Games Korea have been holding seminars on the subject. League of Legends, FIFA Online 3, StarCraft 2, Hearthstone, Heroes of the Storm - regardless of esports that they represent, around 100 active players attend the seminar twice every year. In the seminar, players are taught dangers of match fixing, life after the retirement, moral codes and ethics.

As for other regions, there aren't any organizations that can effectively act as a responsible body that represents the interest and responsibilities of professional gamers. China has an association for each esports, but their power and responsibilities are very limited. North American region saw the formation of Professional Esports Association, but PEA went inactive without a meaningful achievement. Riot Games stated that they've done a cultural sensitivity briefing for players participating in Worlds 2014, but no further reports of similar briefings exist.


"Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status." The preceding quote is from Article 2 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, adopted by the United Nations on December 1948.

In a game, everyone is indeed entitled to all the rights without distinction. Race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion; national or social origin; property, birth or any other status does not make a player better than the other. Everyone is free to equally enjoy a game and achieve satisfaction and happiness. Gamers and those who are responsible for catering the gamer culture will need to think about the value of equality that games have.

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