NRG Esports Won't Show Us Its "Zero Tolerance" Policy, But It Probably Sucks

Max Bateman (third from left) poses for a photo with his former Overwatch League colleagues (image via San Francisco Shock/Twitter)

On November 6, NRG Esports CEO and founder Andy Miller announced the firing of Overwatch team manager Max Bateman via Twitter, 14 hours after a woman said that he had sexually assaulted her. Miller tweeted that Bateman's firing was "in accordance with NRG ESports zero tolerance policy."

Brett Lautenbach, president of NRG Esports and the San Francisco Shock, told Compete via phone that the organisation would not comment any further about Bateman's case.

Compete asked Lautenbach for the text of this "zero tolerance policy," as well as whether team members and staff have to agree to the policy upon hiring, and whether any employees at NRG would be willing to discuss the process of developing and implementing the policy.

Lautenbach declined to answer any of these questions.

Compete emailed NRG's CEO Andy Miller with the same questions, as well as a more specific question about exactly what types of misconduct fall under the auspices of this policy. Miller has not yet responded.

Whatever the policy says, it must've been strict enough to allow NRG Esports to fire Bateman within 14 hours. It's common for esports organisations to cite supposed "zero tolerance" policies when scandals arise about team members or staffers.

Earlier this year, Toronto Esports fired one of their Overwatch pros after he streamed a racist rant on his Twitch channel, at which time Toronto Esports' president cited "a zero-tolerance policy for any forms of discrimination."

The player got fired within a day of the video going viral online.

More recently, a League of Legends pro got cut from his team after a Twitch live-stream in which he screamed at his girlfriend and trashed his room, culminating in what sounds like a visit from the local police.

His team acted even faster than NRG or Toronto Esports; they fired him within hours.

These firings have so far been popular ones. There has been little to no public outcry against the removal of racists or abusers. However, the vague and all-encompassing nature of these policies -- as well as the fact that they only seem to kick in when there's a social media outcry -- introduces the potential for misuse.

In practice, the term "zero tolerance" appears to mean that staffers get one strike and they're out. But it's not clear what types of behaviour these organisations have "zero tolerance" against. The games industry is no stranger to smear campaigns and social media crusades against unwitting targets.

Not every incident will be as cut and dry as video evidence of an Overwatch pro screaming racist slurs, especially as esports grows in size and visibility.

If Max Bateman's case had arisen after Overwatch League pre-season begins on December 6, his firing could have gotten more complicated. Before his firing, Bateman described himself as a team manager for the San Francisco Shock, the NRG Esports team in Blizzard's Overwatch League.

However, Blizzard told Compete that Bateman was "not an Overwatch League team manager," despite Bateman and the San Francisco Shock claiming otherwise. And since Overwatch League's pre-season hasn't started yet, Bateman's case unfolded during a time period when NRG Esports could operate without considering Blizzard's code of conduct.

Blizzard did not respond to requests from Compete about Overwatch League's code of conduct before press time. Based on precedent, however, it's unlikely that Blizzard's Overwatch League policy would have spared Bateman.

For example, Blizzard's ruleset for Heroes of the Storm pros dictates:

A Team Member may not, during the North America League, commit any act or become involved in any situation or occurrence which brings him or her into public disrepute, scandal or ridicule, or shocks or offends the community, or derogates from his or her public image or reflects unfavorably upon Blizzard, Heroes of the Storm or any of the other products, services or sponsors of Blizzard.

This ruleset does not have a "zero tolerance" policy towards misconduct. Punishments for misbehavior range from a fine to a firing, depending on the situation. For example, earlier this year, Blizzard decided to bench a Heroes of the Storm pro for a week after he harassed a popular Twitch streamer.

Much like the other incidents cited above, that situation came to Blizzard's attention after it went viral on social media. Blizzard's policies have vague enough language about "unsportsmanlike conduct" to encompass all manner of sins.

As esports grows, so too will the possibility that angry gamers will try to inflict their own justice and start campaigns to get people fired.

Esports organisations should clarify the terms of their policies about misconduct, and in so doing, they should also look to the failures of traditional sports when it comes to "zero tolerance" policies, which can create further problems for victims.

Traditional sports leagues have always struggled with this. For decades, they simply turned a blind eye to domestic violence; once public pressure increased after Ray Rice, the NFL went into damage control overdrive.

When it comes to doling out punishments, they still seem to be making it up as they go.

Esports has operated in relative obscurity for years; as its moment in the sun approaches, it seems like they're on the second part of this progression. It's not too late for these organisations to implement more nuanced policies and be transparent about what behaviour is and isn't acceptable among esports pros and staffers.

Given that confusing smear campaigns have been effective for angry gamers in the past, esports can't afford to wing it on this one.


Comments

    So correct me if I'm wrong, but he was fired over allegations that he sexually assaulted a woman?

    I'm all for protecting women/men/anyone from sexual violence/abuse/whatever, nobody should be subject to it. However, the fact you can literally ruin someone's life with a single allegation is beyond ridiculous.
    What happens now if the allegations prove to be false? He's out of a job and the company can just wash their hands clean of any controversy because of their so called 'zero-tolerance' policy. Companies are so worried about protecting their image that they'll throw anyone under the bus if they have a chance of tarnishing it. Whatever happened to innocence unless proven guilty.

    In a community which has already shown that its not above petty attacks on each other, this is extremely worrying for its future.

      With social media, there is no 'innocent until proven guilty'. It's a witch hunt, an e-lynching, pure and simple. The organizations with the 'zero tolerance' policies are just noping the fuck out so they don't get lynched as well.

      In a fair world, the employee would be suspended with or without pay while the allegations were investigated.

    That 'smear campaign' Maddy referred to was Alison Rapp, a self-professed supporter of pedophiles' right to consume child porn. She was not fired as a result of the smear campaign, but officially - according to Nintendo - because she had a second job that was against company policy. Turns out the second job was as a prostitute. So yeah, the smear campaign (which did exist) muddied the waters, but was not the reason Rapp was fired.

    Zero tolerance is the stupidest idea by the stupidest people. It means 'zero intelligence'. Infractions should have measured punishment, that matches the crime.

    This has been a problem in schools for a long time. Zero tolerance drugs policy expels a year 10 student with panadol for period pain.
    Year 12 student who parks his car on campus. Expelled for zero tolerance weapons policy because a butter knife was on the floorboards of the backseat of his car that fell out while he was helping a friend move house.

      Draconian laws (or policies) have no place in our society. Due process and considered punishments are what elevates us from authoritarian regimes like ISIS.

        Good luck with that. They are creeping in anyway. Minimum sentences and zero tolerance are being signed into laws here.

          Sadly this happens when judges fail to take the community's views into account in sentencing. I don't think I've ever seen minimum sentencing laws that haven't been introduced because some judge gave an extremely lenient sentence in a matter.

            Judges need to be up for election or some shit. Old rich fucks in their old rich fuck bubble is not the best idea for sentencing.

Join the discussion!