During the recent Dreamhack Austin event, Hearthstone pro Terrence "TerrenceM" Miller came in second. It was quite a moment, a breakout performance for a relative unknown. And while many viewers were impressed, others in the thousands-strong Twitch chat refused to stop pointing out the obvious: Miller is black. You can probably guess which slurs were involved. In the immediate aftermath of the weekend-before-last's event, multiple publications chronicled the nastiness spewed in Miller's direction, as did one fed-up Twitch moderator and Miller himself. "I knew it would be bad, but I didn't think it would be that bad," Miller told Polygon at the time. "I was getting texts from my parents saying, 'Oh, we saw you on your interview, really good job.' And I was just hoping they saw it in full screen and didn't see the chat."
It was not Twitch's best moment, but it's not like it came out of nowhere, either. For better or worse, people often feel comfortable saying (or spamming) anything in large Twitch chats. The hype that Twitch chat adds to a great eSports event is undeniable. It's like watching your favourite teams throw down from a packed sports bar, only with fewer dudes in sleeveless shirts elbowing you into a pit of sweat and despair so they can see better. However, some of Twitch chat's most popular memes have strong undertones of casual racism and sexism. You can only take the good with the bad for so long.
Today, Blizzard released a statement about the Dreamhack Austin incident, promising to do better in the future and urging players, streamers and moderators to do the same. Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime said (via PCGamer):
We're extremely disappointed by the hateful, offensive language used by some of the online viewers during the DreamHack Austin event the weekend before last. One of our company values is 'Play Nice; Play Fair'; we feel there's no place for racism, sexism, harassment, or other discriminatory behaviour, in or outside of the gaming community. This is obviously a larger, societal problem that affects us on many levels. We can only hope that when instances like this come to light it encourages people to be more thoughtful and positive, and to fully reject mean-spirited commentary, whether within themselves or from their fellow gamers.
To help combat this type of behaviour during live events, we've reached out to players, streamers, and moderators, along with partners like Twitch, DreamHack, and others, to get consensus and collaborate on what to do differently moving forward. To that end, we're investigating a pilot program that Twitch has in the works to streamline moderation and combat ban evasion. We're also updating our esports tournament partner policies with a stronger system of checks, balances, and repercussions to provide a better chat experience around our content.
We believe these are important steps to take to help address the related issues, but we acknowledge that they only address part of the problem. This is ultimately an industry-wide issue, and it will take all of us to make a real impact.
It's a strong mission statement that needed to be made, and I'm glad a company of Blizzard's size and clout went for it. Hopefully others will follow suit. I'm surprised Twitch has yet to weigh in, though this pilot program of theirs sounds interesting. Twitch streamers and moderators need better tools in the fight against rampant dickery, especially with mainstream eyes increasingly taking a shine to eSports. Wanna ensure something stays niche? Try doing nothing while the lowest common denominator of your audience alienates massive portions of the human population on a regular goddamn basis.
Ultimately, Twitch chat's hype and playfulness can survive — thrive, even — without people behaving like insensitive jerks en masse. It's actually pretty easy to poke fun at someone without being racist, believe it or not! It's like the old adage says: The more people not being complete dickbags, the merrier. Change can be messy and scary, but in this case, it's more than warranted.