It's Time To Think About Protecting Nicknames In Esports

Even though the prizes are bigger, the platforms larger and the audience more enormous than it has ever been, esports has remained steadfast in allowing players to keep and promote themselves on the basis of their chosen online monikers.

It’s a practical measure more than anything else. But as the industry grows, so does its accumulated history. Question is: what do you do when two gamers, both professional, adopt the same name?

Image credit: ESL Australia

Until now, the answer has been nothing. In small circles you see players publicly shame others into changing their name, but that generally only applies to players within the same scene. Communities are generally good at policing newcomers from tarnishing established legacies.

What the wider esports fraternity is pretty downright awful at, however, is recognising and upholding legacies from different games. Take recent reports that Galen “Moon” Holgate, a fresh-faced jungler for NRG Esports in the top tier of North American League of Legends, might step down from the roster.

There’s nothing untoward there. It’s just that Holgate is using the same moniker as Jang Jae Ho, one of the most successful WarCraft 3 players of all time with more than US$356,000 in winnings.

Jae Ho was also one of the few professional gamers to this day to develop a rivalry that played out on the biggest stage, with his matches against Manuel “Grubby” Schenkhuizen at the World Esports Games and the World Cyber Games 2008 finals being some of the most epic in the history of competitive games.

But in today’s world of streaming, mass sponsorships and YouTube subscribers, the legacy of a professional gamer today holds more weight than ever before. Their fanbases are larger, their salaries bigger and their influence is more substantial. But those gamers are already starting to infringe upon the greats of the past, and before too long the pros of today will find themselves in a similar position.

Sadly the industry, in Australia and abroad, is currently too small for such a measure. And there are more immediate protections that need to be put in place before enshrining people’s legacies; players are winning tournaments and still walking away empty handed.

But year on year the industry’s disasters are reducing. Conversely, the numbers of players signing full-time contracts, winning tournaments, becoming full-time streamers, making a name for themselves and establishing an international fanbase is rising. And the industry is growing rapidly. According to SuperData, the global esports segment will grow to US$1.9 billion by the end of 2018.

Gaming isn’t as small as it used to be. If esports is going to continue to uphold a player’s nickname over their actual name, then perhaps the simplest way forward to ensure all players remain unique — and that their achievements aren’t muddled by another player from another game five or ten years down the line — is to establish a central database upon signing a professional contract.

Developers could be the ones to first implement such a scheme. Riot would be a perfect candidate to start, as all players’ contracts are centrally registered with them. It would also be a logical step for a players’ union to enforce if it was ever to be formed, adopting the principle set in place by the unions that oversee actors and actresses.

It seems a little pie in the sky, but there are two realities to consider. Gaming, as an industry, is only getting bigger. Competitive gaming, esports, or however you care to think of it, is also getting bigger. Their trajectories may not be the same, but they are both growing regardless.

Secondly, the framework of esports and the world of streaming relies on icons. It’s designed to create heroes and villains for fans to follow and hate. The players need to grow their personal brands to make a living, but the industry needs those brands to grow to attract and retain the audience.

It makes sense to if not build, then at least plan for a future where those brands have some measure of protection. It certainly won’t happen today. It won’t happen tomorrow. And I doubt there’ll be much movement in five years time. But sooner or later a conversation needs to happen on what this industry will look like in 20, 30, 50 years time.

It’s not going anywhere. People need to think about that, and what it means.

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