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You’re No One Until Someone Accuses You Of Assault

Just a heads up: this column will be as self-indulgent as one of Milo’s. Well, perhaps not that bad… but more so than usual. You see, over the weekend I managed to get myself into a bit of a scuffle, and it became something of a runaway story.

Plastered throughout the gaming press and even making Swedish news, it blew up in a way I never anticipated. I was accused of assaulting someone. How exciting to join the likes of Jeremy Clarkson, Kay Burley, Sam Worthington and Russell Crowe, to name but a few – celebrities who have been either falsely accused of getting grabby or who defended themselves after being provoked but got all the press because of their reputations.

The situation was so ridiculous it could only happen in e-sports. Walking back from a typically late night of work we found a sign on the ground that proclaimed the holder to be the proud mother of a well known professional Counter-Strike player. Knowing the player and his mother weren’t actually in attendance, I thought I would take the sign, put it on my pillow and take a photograph of it claiming a groupie had left it.

The joke, of course, is that the fictitious fan must have been the player’s mother. The mother-sex joke is a staple of the internet and while this was a somewhat convoluted way to go about it, I was fairly confident that my followers would enjoy it. This is a gaming manoeuvre known to connoisseurs as “top bants.”

E-sports being such a small world, the sign coincidentally belonged to another professional player’s girlfriend, who herself has been a divisive figure in her respective line of work. Their bond must be a strong one as she also doubles up as his manager too. Believing that I was legitimately saying I had bedded his significant other, the chap in question naturally took to issuing some veiled threats about coming to “find me” on social media.

Keen to get whatever childish nonsense was about to ensue out the way, I replied that I would be working on stage, which he would not be doing as he had been eliminated from the tournament the previous day. (Provocative, I know! But I couldn’t help myself.) I also urged him to do whatever he planned quickly; this was as much about wanting to get on with the show as it was about showing I am not someone who will be intimidated.

I wasn’t worried for my safety, at this point. I thought that since he was a player from a completely different game to the one I was working on, he would need to contact security to come and get me, as such ensuring there was a third party presence.

Unfortunately, out of the blue I was treated to a confrontation with his girlfriend, which drew the attention of DreamHack staff. Asking what it was about I explained that the couple had been stating their intention to locate me and perhaps instigate what we in Britain refer to as a kerfuffle.

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It was at this point the bloke himself showed up, full of swinging bravado, demanding: “What jokes have you been making about my girlfriend?” I suppose there can be some criticism levelled at me. I could have walked away, but chose to stand my ground.

He took a step closer. I didn’t move. Closer still. His head was pushed towards my face. No-one was making any effort to step between the two of us. At the point I felt contact, instigated by him, I instinctively pushed my hands out and they caught the closest part, his lower neck and chest area, to keep him at bay.

After security and staff finally intervened I was asked to say nothing about the matter, told that it was important to “keep a lid on it.” It seemed such a small and silly thing anyway, predicated on a misunderstanding, that even at this juncture I was confident it would be laughed off once everyone realised what had happened.

The police came and left after a short period of time, stating that they understood how I could have felt threatened, that I had acted in self-defence and that most likely the report would find its way “into the wastebin.” That was the end of that.

Or so I thought. Despite assurances to the contrary, the player decided to take to social media and frame what occurred as an unprovoked assault, even posting photographs of his “wounds,” which amounted to little more than a vanishingly slight redness of the skin.

I know enough about this business to know the narrative is spun by those who write the first sentence. We live in the era of the crybully; here is its physical manifestation. “I attacked and he defended TOO HARD, making me the victim!” While disappointed by this I harbour ill no will toward the player.

Having attended multiple sporting and media events, it does feel like this level of hostility is something unique to e-sports. For example, imagine if after a particularly feisty game of your sport of choice, a player could simply walk into the rival’s dressing room and continue the conflict off the field. I’m sure many have tried down the years and yet it’s hard to find successful instances on record.

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During my decade in e-sports, I’ve been attacked physically on a handful of occasions and been threatened countless times. I have become desensitised to death threats. This seems to be the price for being a purveyor of strong opinions; part journalist, part pundit and part provocateur.  The reason you haven’t heard about these instances is quite simple: they took place in a time before social media dominated our business, before patrols of virtual witch-hunters tried to initiate mob justice and public shaming every time they see something they vaguely disagree with, irrespective of the facts.

Yet it has always rankled with me how little event organisers seem to care. I doubt I’ll be getting a meeting with the U.N. any time soon, put it that way. One time a group of players in an amateur Counter-Strike team spoke openly about how they were planning to stab me at an upcoming event. When the organiser learned of this they told me it was most likely just a joke and not to worry; some classic British horseplay.

I attended and nothing occurred, and yet I often wondered what would have happened if the threats had been genuine. Indeed, how does one discern which threats to disregard and take seriously when you are subject to so many? Even figures who seem entirely loveable in ways I can never be, like my good friend Anders Blume, have found themselves told they will be sent home in a box. There is no widespread condemnation of this, as a rule. Each case is judged on the contents of your Twitter feed. Apparently mine makes me fair game.

Security at gaming events is notoriously lax, of course. You have thousands of people attending these sporting events but the security is usually a skeleton staff, sometimes even made of unlicensed volunteers. Some events don’t have any at all. Anyone with any status at all can’t walk from one part of a venue to another without being surrounded by fans who want autographs and selfies.

I personally enjoy the ego stroke but nobody has asked what happens when it isn’t a fan. I feel like we’re waiting for something to happen, in our typically reactive way, before we address this.

Speaking honestly, I have very rarely felt threatened by keyboard warriors and Twitter trolls. I am not a shrinking violet. In my younger days I’ve boxed, played rugby and even worked as security myself. I won’t seek it out, but if it comes to me I won’t shy away from it either. Yet it is tiresome to know that events will continuously throw something like this up. Even at the last CS:GO major tournament in the city of Cluj, a prominent professional player whose blushes I shall spare drunkenly threatened to fight me over something I said on a podcast. A podcast!

Social media is a big part of the problem. Because most revenue streams in e-sports relate to having “presence” everyone is desperately trying to come up with ways to warrant attention. Opinions can be expressed in seconds and, even if subsequently deleted, there’s a horde of people taking screenshots and archiving links to make sure your words remain permanent. When we say things about one another in e-sports the reality is that we will eventually meet in real life.

Last year I reported on a women’s Counter-Strike team getting into a brawl after winning the Electronic Sports World Cup. Despite the attack allegedly being motivated on the grounds of nationality, the internet barely registered this as a big deal. It is nothing new. One of the first e-sports themed memes – “it’s like a cheater” – stems from a video of a punch-up at a LAN. For years, Call of Duty struggled with an image problem because of the constant spill over from relentless in-game trash talk.

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In this case, some of the reason my encounter blew up in the media is down to the country in which it happened. Sweden’s desire to be ultra-progressive has filtered into e-sports, resulting in absurdity. We have been treated to multiple articles and comments about how misogynistic everyone involved with e-sports events must be because on-screen talent is male. The same thing happened with the recent Frankfurt Dota 2 major.

Even as of this weekend the same tired voices were railing against the use of the word “cunt,” ignoring any cultural differences and branding its use in any context a form of hating women. In five years, there will be financial incentives for men to self-neuter. In ten, will it be a crime to have too much testosterone?

Anyway, don’t take what you read about last weekend too seriously. The descriptions of “choking” and “strangling” border on parody. Sadly, some people believe them. They believe them because they want to, because it’s the worst case scenario and that’s what feeds the drama machine.

It also provides progressives with ammunition to say: “See, we were right, you all do need to change.” And yet where I’ve lived and worked worse altercations than this occur on a daily basis and are resolved with a handshake and a grumbling acceptance that it was probably stupid.

I’ve spent ten years promoting what we do in this ever-expanding niche and I’d rather be writing the headlines than be in them. As such, I am saddened that I was put in this position and then subsequently offered up as a sacrifice on the gory altar of reddit. I’ll also reiterate my apology to the player for the record and I have certainly accepted his. It was not the ideal way to meet but it has all been resolved and won’t colour any interactions I will have with him in future.

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