EVO scandal just the latest in a wave of sexual-misconduct allegations in gaming
The gaming scene as a whole seems to have thrown its support behind this latest #MeToo moment.
The news, as it so often does these days, came in the form of a tweet.
On July 1, the official Twitter account of EVO—a.k.a. Evolution Championship Series, the premier tournament for fighting games like Street Fighter V and Super Smash Bros. Ultimate—announced that the organization was placing Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar on administrative leave.
The move came in response to allegations of sexual impropriety on the part of Cuellar, EVO’s president and one of its founders. In a TwitLonger post, a user with the handle @PyronIkari (who also goes by the names “Crack” or “Mikey”) detailed a few such instances that he alleged took place at Stanton, California’s Southern Hills Golfland arcade in the early 2000s, when he was a young teenager and Cuellar was part of the arcade’s “old boys club”.
None of what @PyronIkari alleged constitutes sexual assault, and he asserted that he wasn’t traumatized by it, but it was serious enough for EVO to place Cuellar on leave “pending a third party investigation”.
This is just the latest chapter in what is becoming a long and unsettling story. The gaming world, it seems, is starting to catch up to the rest of the culture.
The #MeToo movement
When the #MeToo movement began to sweep through the entertainment industry in the fall of 2017, it rocked Hollywood and the music business to their very cores. Some of the most high-profile sexual-misconduct cases have led to the downfall of very powerful men—like movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, sentenced to 23 years in prison after dozens of women came forward to accuse him of rape, sexual assault, and sexual abuse over a three-decade span.
It was probably inevitable, then, that the shady underbelly of the gaming world would face its own period of reckoning. That time has come—and, as with much of #MeToo, it all started on social media, according to a CNN Business article dated June 25:
The floodgates opened over the weekend, after a Twitch streamer Hollowtide tweeted that a well-known ‘Destiny 2’ streamer was “scum.”
Although the original tweet received only 1,500 likes, it had a ripple effect on the industry. Others in the community saw his tweet, and began to share their own stories.
In the past few weeks, hundreds of people in the gaming community, primarily women, have shared their own stories of being sexually harassed and assaulted, or facing discrimination on the basis of their gender at the hands of fellow gamers or industry figures.
With the caveat that social media is not a court of law and that a public accusation is not the same thing as a formal charge, here are a few of the more notable developments:
- In an email to employees, which he also posted to Twitter, Twitch CEO Emmett Shear addressed accusations of assault and harassment involving “Twitch-affiliated” individuals: “I want to assure you all that we are looking into all the incidents and will be taking action and cooperating with law enforcement. Actions may include banning, removing partnership, or removing people from promotional opportunities and activations if we have concerns based on credible accusations and their historical behavior on Twitch.”
- Both digital-entertainment law firm Morrison Rothman and ESports branding agency Evolved Talent put cofounder Ryan Morrison on unpaid admin leave after accusations of inappropriate conduct came to light. The Esports Bar Association also relieved Morrison of his duties as a board member and vice-president.
- Game developers Techland and Gato Studios removed designer-writer Chris Avellone from upcoming projects after several people alleged that he had used his status to sexually assault and harass women who were hoping to break into the games industry. Avellone is known for his work on such titles as Fallout 2 and Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance.
- Evil Geniuses dropped Dota 2 player Grant “GranDgranT” Harris for alleged sexual harassment, and released fighting-game pro Chris “NYChrisG” Gonzalez after racist and sexist comments he posted in 2017 resurfaced.
- Super Smash Bros. player Troy “Puppeh” Wells alleged that a well-known professional commentator initiated a sexual relationship with him when he was 14 and she was 24.
Going beyond lip service
The gaming scene as a whole seems to have thrown its support behind this latest #MeToo moment. Based on a cursory scan of Twitter posts, the general consensus is that game developers and ESports organizations need to go beyond paying lip service to “zero-tolerance” policies on sexual misconduct and take real action against abusers. In light of past controversies, most notably the unapologetically misogynist and transphobic GamerGate movement, this can only be seen as a positive development.
According to a recent New York Times article, it’s also a sign of the times:
Gaming scholars said the community may be more receptive to addressing allegations of sexual misconduct this time around after embracing social activism during the recent Black Lives Matter protests.
“It did seem like there is a wellspring of support that might have been there in the past, but because of the times we’re in, it seemed to me even more profound and supportive,” said Jennifer Jenson, who studies video games and gender at the University of British Columbia.
The headlines about sexual misconduct are upsetting, and although none of the accusations discussed in this article have led to formal charges, let alone been proven in court, the stories victims tell may cast the gaming community in a bad light. This is an opportunity, though, to address some uncomfortable truths, and to start making gaming and ESports the safe and welcoming spaces that they ought to be. As famed American adjudicator Louis Brandeis wrote in 1914, decades before anyone knew what a pixel was, “Publicity is justly commended as a remedy for social and industrial diseases. Sunlight is said to be the best of disinfectants; electric light the most efficient policeman.”
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