The Gonzo Awards: The Worst of Esports in 2015 Pt. 1

AP Photo/Jacques Brinon, File
AP Photo/Jacques Brinon, File

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but when it comes to eSports the self-congratulatory end of year scenes are akin to what the average British public schoolboy would encounter in the dorm after dark: a sweaty, frenzied mass of guilt-free circle-jerking where everyone gets their turn, a blend of giddy exhaustion and gratification leaving the group satisfied.

Yes, we did it folks. This year is the year that eSports became legitimatised… again. And we owe all of ourselves a collective pat on the back. Without us, none of this would have been possible. Award after award, reams of press releases that read like balance sheets, fixed mannequin grins until someone cracks and growls “now cut me my fucking paycheque” to the highest bidder.

It’s grotesque bullshit for anyone that can see through it, and I know, like me, many of you can. The Gonzo Awards are for you. Spanning five years and four publications these have been my alternative awards designed to recognise the bungled and botched, the great failures, the disgusting excesses and the comedic amateurishness that only eSports can throw up. No voting, no criteria, just one man’s bitterness and vitriol coupled with the ash of bridges burned.

Worst Event of the Year

2010: Gamersject

2011: ESWC

2012: Northcon

2013: HoN World Tour Finals

2014: ESWC

2015: Gaming Paradise

If we’re being honest about it, every eSports event is a little bit ghetto. There’s always something that doesn’t go the way that it should. Quite tellingly, us stalwarts will often make apologies for these deficiencies, pointing to the things that went right as if that somehow absolves the organisers  of any responsibility for what went horribly wrong. “Yes, the players might have all been robbed at gunpoint by tournament umpires,” will come a typical eSports lament, “but at least they got paid the prize money before it was stolen.” Then comes the refrain intoned by every sucker and failure apologist: “Give them another chance to get it right next time.”

Because of this undeniable truth this award has always been contentious, but fortunately this year one event raised the bar for cluster-fuckery so spectacularly high that it is unlikely to be ever beaten. Even the name was perfect. Take a collective bow all who were involved in the atrocity that was “Gaming Paradise.”

Another failed attempt to bring a sizeable gaming event to an untested part of Eastern Europe, the event got off to a fine start when teams weren’t even sure if they could attend up to twenty-four hours before it started. This was due to the organisers booking travel on a solitary credit card that had such a woefully low limit that paying for travel for even a full team at a time was impossible. The players lucky enough to go were left in a minuscule airport waiting for a shuttle that turned up many hours late. By the time they got to the venue there was already a story circulating that the high-spec computers that had been hired had been stolen by the person responsible for transporting them to the venue. He had simply driven off into the Slovenian mountains cackling all the way.

It was a lie, of course. In reality the organisers hadn’t paid for them, so they instead cobbled together something close from computers they were using for a bitcoin mining operation they were running on the side. That was followed up by a power outage, presumably because they were trying to route everything through one plug socket, a series of sparking adapters stacked like a game of deadly electric jenga. The delays these caused put the tournament so far behind it was never likely to finish in a meaningful fashion.

But don’t worry, competitors, there’s the luxury hotel to relax in. Except that hasn’t been paid for either, and the hoteliers, not knowing what an eSports tournament was, expected the attendees to pay up front. Things turned sour when this wasn’t forthcoming, and some players even had their passports confiscated; a problem at the best of times, but when you have a flight to Dubai the day after this tournament finishes, absolutely horrifying. The police were called, sweet lies were told, and maybe some money changes hands. At this point you think it can’t get any worse… by now many players were learning the grim reality that the luxury apartments they were staying in were not designed to house six people, leaving some players sleeping on the floor while stars laid claim to the few beds.

The event didn’t finish properly as it happens. When it became clear that the prize money being paid was about as likely as finding a Swede who hasn’t typed the word “cuckold” into a porn search engine, last minute meetings were called. The players had to agree to finish out the event, and the tournament organiser pinkie promised to pay out the money — for real — as if there was ever a world where it’d be acceptable not to.

The finalists played out a single map to decide who won (as opposed to the usual best of three or five), and there was much rejoicing that it was at an end. Except the joke is that the winners, nor anyone else, will ever see a penny from this event. The organiser announced the inevitable before the end of the year. He is subsequently facing lawsuits from production companies and partners, but it’s doubtful any reparations will be made. Bizarrely, as if this wasn’t enough to deter the organiser, a fine chap named Sasa Bulic, when we did an interview he declared that he was thinking about another event. Should it happen anyone who attends deserves everything they get.

Worst Decision of the Year

2010: ESL UK

2011: CS:GO Beta Key Distribution

2012: Absolute Legends Ghosting

2013: Alexey ‘Solo’ Berezin of Team Rox.Kis Match Fixing

2014: “I’ll just boost you up there” – Fnatic

2015: Leigh “Deman” Smith Leaves League

You are the voice of the most popular eSports title come marketing exercise in the world. You went from being a first-person shooter journeyman to reaching hundreds of thousands of adoring fans on a weekly basis. In their eyes you can do no wrong. Then, through a combination of circumstances, you are faced with a choice — stay and bask in all this glory, God-emperor to a teenage audience, or accept a contract with ESL that gives you more freedom, variety and scrilla. This is the story of Leigh “Deman” Smith.

On the surface the move looked like a golden ticket to ESL’s Esports Factory, a system that has churned out some of the top talent in the industry. Instead a seeming lack of respect for the subject matter saw the CS:GO community decidedly turned off with what they were hearing. This was compounded by the perception he was “leapfrogging” other talent in the scene, with ESL shoehorning him into important matches in place of commentators who had, in the eyes of the community, “earned” their spot. This particularly blew up in March at ESL Katowice.

When the inevitable drama around this reared its head Smith handled it with the subtlety of a Jehova’s Witness on your doorstep. Emotional tweets and claims that removing himself from the finals was his choice and done before the very public drama overshadowed the broadcast, putting his co-commentators in an uncomfortable position.

While there was some sympathy being generated at this point, it wasn’t infinite. The CS:GO community is a very different beast to the League of Legends one, the latter content to cast everyone in a pantomime setting, either villain or hero, with nothing in between. The adoration that Smith had enjoyed in that game would never be likely to arrive. Not even people like Anders Blume enjoy that luxury. Faux pas such as saying on air, “I do not fucking want to be here,” at smaller CS:GO events didn’t make it look like he had a love for the game in line with the other talent in the pool.

If all of this was a bad decision making process, it could have only been compounded by the announcement in an ESL published interview that he regretted leaving Riot to commentate on CS:GO specifically. This was hardly what the community wanted to hear, and it placed his stock at an all time low. Furiously back-pedalling, he claimed that his words had been twisted, although it was hard to see how they could have been. From this point on, CS:GO fans have been less forgiving, as have the talent who were marginalised in favour of someone who never seemed to have his heart in it anyway.

Since then he has been making his way back to more frequent League of Legends commentary, appearing on the BBC’s coverage of the World Championships, and the League community have been mostly welcoming of his return. With rumours of a potential return to Riot Games, it might be that he can get back to where he was and erase from his memory the hubris driven experiment of his time in Counter-Strike.

Most Irritating Fanboys

2010: The French

2011: The French

2012: 1.6 Enthusiasts

2013: Dota 2

2014: Team SoloMid

2015: League of Legends Community

In the first ever recorded instance of League of Legends doing something better than Dota 2, this year there could only be one winner for this coveted award. The League of Legends community has really stepped up their game when it comes to expressing their fandom, whether it’s forming mobs designed to make the lives of anyone saying anything they disagree with a living hell or blindly worshiping those who cynically pander to them, they remain a testament to why the word “fan” has its root in “fanatic.”

Journalists, of course, are a favourite target. Having already driven several out of the scene, they continued this trend with fervour in 2015. Jacob Wolf, one of the few remaining real reporters the game has left, has been under constant attack for a year for the simple act of reporting on roster-swaps. This has not only seen the community wrongfully and maliciously spread exaggerations of his lack of accuracy, but it has also seen multiple calls for his work, and the work of The Daily Dot as a whole, to be “banned” from the League subreddit. Yes, because only the League community could embrace censoring the few people who actually have their interests at heart because they want to be cocooned away from hearing uncomfortable truths about their favourite teams and players.

By contrast, serial liars are held up as pillars of the community. Multiple team owners have repeatedly lied about roster swaps, sale of teams, and leaks about Riot’s plans, and yet the fans conveniently forget all the times these individuals treated them with contempt. Even when they colluded with the one journalist that League fans enjoy, publishing proven lies and misinformation to ensure that a team owner they didn’t approve of, Chris Badawi, would receive no public support when he was banned, the community lapped it all up.

Riot Games themselves also frequently misled the community to varying degrees. It’s one thing to have ginger omnishambles Nick Allen declare that a replay system is on its way, quite the other to cover up the details of a cybercrime attack, being complicit in an organisation breaking their own league rules and abusing players, pretending that they didn’t try to strong-arm organisations into not having Dota 2 teams or that trying to stop LCS players streaming other games in their free time was an honest bit of “overreach” they totally did not change due to public outcry.

Every time a story breaks about their latest plans to further control their marketing exercise sport, it doesn’t take much to bring the community to heel. “Riot would never lie to us to protect their financial interests and maintain popularity,” they intone. They believe it too.

It’s not even as if the fans truly appreciate the game. The now suspiciously bland front page of the subreddit (with all troubling content about depressed players, scammers and criminals all conveniently removed due to “not being related to League”) contains mostly clips of players engaged in noteworthy moments and highlights. The comments show just how little the fans actually care about what happens on the server. “LOL standard,” “what’s so special about that,” “I do that all the time” are all staples of such threads, which makes you wonder why they watch in the first place.

Already off to a good start in 2016, they formed a mob to attack a female streamer for “animal abuse” that never happened, creating enough of a fuss that her channel and partnership with Twitch TV was terminated. After a mildly intoxicated Nicole “kneecoleslaw” Slaw handled her cats in a bit of a clumsy manner and got clawed as a result, the League of Legends community decided that she had “repeatedly strangled” her pets and went after her in any way they could.

Not content with trying to strip her of her livelihood, the police were contacted, as were PETA, and death threats and abuse were sent directly to her. An innocent person had their address leaked after one misguided chucklehead thought they got her address. Most of those involved weren’t even there because of the animals. Typical complaints were “she was a cam girl anyway” and “all she does is show cleavage. Get her off Twitch.” This was encouraged by a Riot employee and enabled by a Reddit moderation team who are happy to see unpopular figures publicly crucified, while acting to protect those more popular.

In a nutshell, the only reason anyone caters to this collective in the first place is because there’s so many of them. Pandering to them can be lucrative if you lack the self respect to treat them accordingly. The LoL community has become the insufferable rich kid at college that you let hang out with you because he can afford to pay the bar tab.

Worse Promotion of The Year

New Award

ESEA mock the disabled

ESEA are no stranger to controversy. Whether it’s Eric “LPKane” Thunberg stating how little he needs his customer’s money or them turning their client into a bitcoin miner, they have the same grasp of public relations as Kanye West, just with none of the talent and even less charm.

Following the bitcoin scandal, they made updates to their client that, understandably, made people nervous. Naturally LP Kane handled the questions with all this trademark charm. What they needed to do was to address these concerns in a professional manner, using easy to understand language and examples that would allay any fears and restore confidence in their brand. What better way to do this than to make a video that mocks someone with Down Syndrome and implies that anyone with this condition is somehow subhuman?

Recording a 90 second video designed to make light of what remains the biggest abuse of trust in eSports history, the video opens up with someone on camera explaining that a young, athletic male doing backflips is representing the ESEA client. Rival clients? Well, they have someone with Down Syndrome slowly walk out, smile and wave at the camera. Yes. This really happened. Presumably after a focus group that included the ghost of Joseph Goebbels.

The video was hastily removed and copyright strikes launched against any mirrors, all without any public statement on the issue. ESEA initially tried to explain that because the main narrator, Ben Roesser, and the actor with Down Syndrome were brothers, it was all in good fun. Later Thunberg had to enter into unchartered territory and accept responsibility, issuing an apology. It still doesn’t excuse the levels of idiocy involved in creating something so arse-puckeringly cringeworthy that it could have came straight out of “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”


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