Two weeks ago I wrote a long, long article about toxicity in Overwatch. This week, Matt “Dellor” Vaughn, formerly of Toronto Esports, destroyed his career by spending 30 widely publicised seconds screaming the n-word at a player who had upset him. (Content warning for racism the video within the link.) In doing so, he demonstrated every problem I brought up with astounding clarity.

“Whilst toxicity can be aimed at anyone, it is all too often built upon oppressive social constructs”

It seems that Vaughn knew nothing about the two players who most upset him: the opposing team’s Widowmaker and a member of his own team who questioned how well he was playing. Yet he chose to respond by yelling out a racist slur over and over. In his own words he was trying to upset them by saying “the most offensive thing that came to mind.”

 

Vaughn can claim that he isn’t racist, but the unavoidable fact is that he used a racist act in order to upset. This sort of behaviour –  which is hardly limited to Vaughn, though his was particularly vitriolic – most harms the marginalised. In this case he normalised an anti-black slur as a generic tool for denigrating someone. But slurs cannot be generic; they are deliberate hate speech against a particular group of people, whether the person on the receiving end is of that group or not. What Vaughn did inherently suggested that being black is an insult. It was racist.

“This isn’t okay”

Vaughn both claimed that there was “no excuse” for his behaviour (in this, he was correct) and then gave a slew of reasons –  a bad day, tiredness, tech problems, the opposing Widowmaker was cheating, anger problems.

This inherently suggests that what he did wasn’t a big deal. We cannot forgive every person who contributed to toxicity in Overwatch because they were tired and having a bad day. There are plenty of people with “anger problems” who do not resort to this sort of bigoted behaviour.

Screaming a racist slur dozens of times is simply not behaviour that can be excused. Toronto Esports, Vaughn’s former team, agreed, and responded by immediately dropping him.

But Blizzard?

Overwatch’s code of conduct is clear: “You may not use language that could be offensive or vulgar to others. Hate speech and discriminatory language is inappropriate, as is any obscene or disruptive language. …Violating any of these expectations will result in account restrictions. More serious and repeated violations will result in greater restrictions.” And Vaughn tells us “This isn’t the first time this has happened.”

Slurs are so normalised in Overwatch that even playing Lúcio can lead to hearing the n-word

He will not be able to play Overwatch professionally anymore. But what about for his personal edification? If he does not face sanctions for this extreme racist outburst, which is by his own admission a repeat offence, what message is Blizzard sending about the acceptability of both toxicity in Overwatch and the direct violation of their code of conduct? And is this event not in and of itself a demonstration that their new reporting tools are not working?

What will it take?

At what point will Blizzard and other companies do more to address the toxicity in their games? Vaughn’s racist act, though widely publicised, was hardly an isolated incident. If this bigoted outburst from a professional player of their game leads to no action, how can we hope for improvement in the future?

There are many questions left unanswered here, all leading to one: how seriously does Blizzard really take toxicity in Overwatch? And it still seems like the answer is “not seriously enough.”


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Jay Castello

Contributor
Jay is a freelance games writer specialising in intersectional feminist critique, how to improve games and use them to improve the world, and cute dogs. She loves inhabiting digital spaces in all their forms, and being constantly surprised by just how weird and wonderful games can be.
  • J.j. Barrington

    Okay, so here’s the thing: this is what playing a game online IS. It’s not remotely unique to Overwatch, and doesn’t make the game or community “toxic.” It’s an unfortunate byproduct of the anonymity of the internet. That is to say: because there are no real-world consequences, people will say things they know they couldn’t otherwise get away with.

    Again, this is nothing new. And the more competitive a game is, the more likely you are to run into people like this. Overwatch is just the lightning rod now because it’s the new popular multiplayer game, but the same thing happens in Call of Duty and Halo and pretty much anything else if mics are allowed.

    It’s about time to stop treating communities of specific games like they’re worse than others, and just understand that this is something that being online provides for.

  • MiamiBeachMedMan

    Losers will be losers….steer clear of those types. Those who attempt to denigrate others with weak words and foolish taunts only illuminate their own insecurities, fears, and weakness. Surround yourself with positive people, and your life will be better for it.