Terrence Miller loves card games. Long before he took second in the Dreamhack Austin Hearthstone tournament earlier this year, he competed in games like Yu-Gi-Oh and the Pokemon TCG. Unfortunately, many people know his name because he got showered with racist Twitch chat abuse during Dreamhack Austin earlier this year. Last weekend, it happened again. During Miller's big moment on a massive eSports stage in May, Twitch chat lit up. Some people praised his plays, but an overwhelming number spammed chat with racist sentiments and emotes. At the time, Miller said he hoped his family didn't see the sludge spewing down the side of the livestream. In the immediate aftermath of the fiasco, Blizzard issued a statement strongly disavowing those viewers' behaviour and saying it fell on companies like Blizzard and Twitch to make things better. "This is ultimately an industry-wide issue, and it will take all of us to make a real impact," Blizzard wrote. Twitch, meanwhile, said that they were "exploring new tools and processes to increase awareness and mitigation of these issues".
Last weekend, Miller took the stage as one member of a TwitchCon diversity panel that also included streamers RyogaVee, DeejayKnight and ChinnyXo. The whole thing was livestreamed. It wasn't long before shit hit the fan: The panel was meant to be a place to confront these issues in a constructive way, but hecklers were still able to break through and spam chat with racist comments. Again. Many comments were deleted by moderators after they appeared, but that only stemmed the tide. It did not stop it.
"I looked over at the chat during the diversity panel," Miller told me during an interview a couple days later. "It was pretty close to what happened at Dreamhack Austin. It's like, this is what we're talking about. It's happening right now as we're doing this."
Miller wasn't really surprised. "I don't expect answers [to Twitch chat's racism problem] to come in a couple of months or right away," said the 22-year-old. "I think it's going to take some time for there to be answers to it, but we need to start moving towards these answers. If I were to not talk about it at all, it would just stay the same."
As potential steps in the right direction, he suggested better moderation tools, things like IP banning and, more subversively, whitelisting, where people can get banned in big Twitch chats without being informed. He also pointed to Twitch's new six second chat delay as a smart improvement that allows for more effective moderation.
He added, however, that esports events in particular draw thousands and thousands of viewers. That's part of their appeal: Twitch chat is like watching your favourite pro players in a packed stadium, surrounded by other people going nuts over big plays. The downside, though, is that it's nearly impossible to wrangle that number of people when things get out of hand.
"I think there was at least 60,000 watching Dreamhack Austin, and you can't moderate that many," Miller said. "Of course, not all of them are saying shitty things in chat, but you can't moderate that amount of people in general. The community itself just has to be better about it."
Some other streamers I've spoken to have said their individual communities are well-behaved and often let new people know when something doesn't fly in their tiny, purple pocket of internet. The problem is that Twitch chats at esports tournaments and other big events are different animals entirely. For many people, the goal is not to casually chat, but rather to get attention in a stream of words and emotes that moves like Niagara Falls. So they act out.
In some ways, Twitch enables these types of people, albeit not on purpose. For instance, when people see a black person on Twitch, they will often spam the TriHard emote. It's the face of speedrunner Trihex, who is a person of colour. Unfortunately, that emote has taken on a second meaning as a catch-all for black people. It's become a way of singling folks out for the colour of their skin.
You might think, "OK then, just remove the emote," like Twitch did with certain butt, poop and orgasm emotes earlier this year. But Miller doesn't think that would get to the heart of the cultural problem. Instead, he believes Twitch viewers need more exposure to the idea that people of colour are, you know, normal.
"The TriHard emote is not the problem," he explained. "It's that, maybe if there were more emotes of people of colour, then people wouldn't use this one the way they do. Of course there's people that, if we add more emotes, that's more emotes for people to be racist with, but there's also more exposure to people of colour on the platform in general."
These are extremely important issues, but at the end of the day, Miller is a pro Hearthstone player. That's his passion. He told me that Dreamhack Austin and the months following have shifted his career in a big way.
"I think it was huge for my career," he said. "As shitty as it is to say, something that bad was really good for me actually. It got me tons of exposure. I was just joking with some friends. One was like, 'Oh, racism was really good for you.' I was like, 'I mean, kind of?' I don't really know how to respond to that."
At the same time, though, it means that the spotlight isn't really on Miller's skills. He's not very happy about that. "One joke I also made was, one friend was like, 'Oh, you haven't been playing as well [since Dreamhack],' and I said, 'Oh, they don't really care how I play anyway. It's just about race.' It was surreal to think about, but there's some truth to that. People didn't care as much about my play as that I was someone different or just a person of colour in a space where there wasn't as many people of colour."
The Hearthstone esports scene, too, he said, is in dire need of more people who aren't white dudes. Problem is, it's a pretty small scene in the grand scheme of things. "I don't think that's Hearthstone's fault," he said. "It's that the space is very [self-contained]. Once you're in the space, you're kind of guaranteed the spot. I've gotten more invites, and you see the same faces all the time."
Miller isn't letting it all get him down, though. For now, he's gonna keep talking about serious issues and doing his best to be a top tier Hearthstone player. He told me that he gets recognised at events like PAX and that people ask him for autographs now. Most importantly, though, his family finally gets it. They have always been supportive, but now they really understand that this whole esports thing is serious business.
"I have played card games since I was seven," said Miller. "I'd have my dad drive me every weekend to Rockefeller plaza just to play Pokemon at the Pokemon Center. Immediately after I got back from Dreamhack Austin, he was like, 'Oh, so driving you there every weekend and just sitting in the car for five hours was worth it.' That was amazing. That was an amazing feeling."