Racist Jokes Keep Showing Up In Overwatch League Broadcasts

Racist Jokes Keep Showing Up In Overwatch League Broadcasts

From a SF Shock tweet that uses the Ugandan Knuckles meme.

On the opening night of Overwatch League, a Dallas Fuel fan at the Blizzard Arena hoisted a sign with the alt-right meme frog Pepe on it, and had it confiscated by event staff before the night was over. But that was only the first meme with racist associations to worm its way adjacent to Blizzard’s big mainstream esports push.

“Ugandan Knuckles,” a meme that became racist for reasons that are excruciating to explain, has appeared not just on signs in Overwatch League’s crowd, but also in promotional tweets from three OWL teams: the Dallas Fuel, the San Francisco Shock, and the Los Angeles Valiant. In addition, the Overwatch League broadcast showed Shock players quoting the meme and doing what they believed to be a Ugandan accent amongst themselves:

Much like Pepe the Frog, a character created by cartoonist Matt Furie, Ugandan Knuckles does not look like a racist dog whistle at first glance, and the fans and pros who hop on board with it may not even know its association with online bigotry.

Ugandan Knuckles is actually a mash-up of two unrelated memes. A YouTuber who goes by Gregzilla made a video review of a Sonic game featuring a squat, cartoonish rendering of the character Knuckles. His version of the character became a mouthpiece for funny songs and other memes, such as a popular one-liner from an indie Ugandan action-comedy movie, Who Killed Captain Alex.

In the context of the movie, the one-liner "He knows the way of using a gun!" is absolutely intended to be funny -- it's one voiceover line in a series of fourth-wall breaks that mock action movie tropes. It's also something you could shout at opponents in Player Unknown's Battlegrounds, a multiplayer shooter set in a wasteland.

Fans of the PUBG streamer Forsen brought the meme to new heights by mobbing him in-game during his Twitch broadcasts and quoting the movie at him, while also playing as black characters.

But on the internet, which was a mistake, these reenactments go beyond just quoting a comedy movie. The movie's original quote has now been bastardized into the phrase "do you know the way," and it's often followed by racist jokes that have nothing to do with Captain Alex, like exaggerated imitations of the clicking from Khoisan and Bantu languages, or cracks about the Ebola virus outbreak in West Africa.

Meanwhile, Gregzilla's cutesy drawing of Knuckles, so often used as a mouthpiece for other popular memes, has become the primary mouthpiece for this exaggerated Ugandan caricature.

By now, the two memes have fused into one. Ugandan Knuckles has gained newfound popularity in the community for the game VR Chat, and since then, references to him have popped up in many other gaming communities online, including Overwatch.

Ugandan Knuckles' repeated appearances in and around Overwatch League have prompted confusion from viewers who rightly point out that the meme has become a racist caricature.

As of week two of OWL, Ugandan Knuckles signs were still making occasional appearances in the crowd on match broadcasts. Blizzard did not comment on whether they would confiscate them in the future, but their "arena" was originally for The Tonight Show -- it seats less than 500 people, meaning it would be pretty easy to spot a sign immediately.

Some of the teams seem to have been shamed into disowning the meme. At this point, only the Shock's tweet depicting Ugandan Knuckles remains up, while the Valiant and Fuel have deleted theirs. Compete reached out to all three teams to ask why they embraced Ugandan Knuckles in the first place, and only the Fuel replied, saying, "The Fuel no longer uses or engages with that meme on social media."


    • Discriminatory mocking of black African accents and language.

      I’m pretty sure that’s an easy call as being quite racist, but if it helps you rationalise an enjoyment of Ugandan Knuckles against a desire to not be labelled racist, sure. Split that hair!

      • You very often see people make jokes about scottish, new zealander and Aussie accents (and many others), no one ever calls them racist. This is no different. People just get way too over protective when any joke involves someone not white.

        If this were “haha ugandans are stupid and worse than me because their accent is funny” then it would be racist. But when its just “ugandan accent is funny because its different to how i talk” then its offensive/insensitive (barely, i mean i sure dont feel bad when people mock australian accents, i find it funny too) but not racist, just like what happens with the above accents getting mocked.

      • Ugandan Knuckles falls into the camp of ‘doing a shit accent’. It’s not necessarily racist.

        I’m not saying I even enjoy it, just that it’s not outright bigotry or driven by hatred of a race.

    • Have you considered that it may be offensive because of the inherent racism? Y’know, surely it’s offensive for a reason, and perhaps that reason, when it’s defined, is racism.

      • A shit accent isn’t inherently racist. Just as a shit Australian, American or British accent isn’t.

        If it was a caricature (i.e. black face knuckles) doing a shit accent, intended to look foolish, it would be racist. This is just a weird looking knuckles with a shit accent. It’s insensitive to Ugandans… maybe? (it got the name Ugandan from the original movie the quote is based on, so we will go with that).

        • We’re not talking about just a shit accent though are we? Although, we should probably address a little important thing about it first.

          Shit accents are shit, fair enough, and if you’ve been paying attention over the past few years you’d know about blackvoice – the practice of getting Caucasian actors to voice black characters – and why it’s more than just a shit accent, it’s actually quite racist. Have a look at some of the discourse surrounding Hank Azaria’s portrayal of Apu from The Simpson’s if you need to catch up, in particular check out Hari Kondabolu’s work. On that initial level, a large group of Caucasian folk adopting a shit, generic South African accent to spout stereotypical crap is them engaging in racist behaviour.

          There’s also the matter of that generic South African accent. Uganda is a specific country with a range of spoken languages: chucking on a generic “aww yeah this sounds a bit South African” accent is similar to using a French accent to depict a Greek national. Not only does it make the person look like a dickhead, it makes them look like a racist dickhead. That erasure of nationality is a shit problem.

          To compound their racist behaviour, a whole bunch of these folk are punctuating their memes with tongue clicking and mentions of Ebola and AIDS – the usual racist smorgasbord of things that people vaguely know about South Africa. Their whole method of operation is to fall back on racist caricatures of South African people.

          The people engaging with and perpetuating these memes may not themselves be racist, but their actions and behaviours are racist. “We’re not being racist because we’re quoting a film” is an exceptionally poor defence to hide behind here, closely followed by pretending that there are no racial connotations in this behaviour. As mentioned elsewhere in this thread, the most insidious thing about this kind of behaviour – ironic racism – is that it’s the modus operandi for white supremacist groups like The Daily Stormer to establish and normalise their beliefs in society. Creating breathing space for groups whose raison d’etre is the removal and/or eradication of dissimilar ethnic groups isn’t exactly tenable, is it?

          • Yes, there is a difference between Apu (which is a racist caricature) and this.

            Again, where I disagree is that this makes people look like ignorant dickheads. Not racist. Until they actually say something hateful, they are just being ignorant, and it’s better to educate then call them names as well.

          • Okay, your understanding of racism is restricted to hate, I see where the miscommunication lies – but then, why can you identify Apu, a character neither created nor intended as hateful, as a racist caricature but not Ugandan Knuckles?

            Ugandan Knuckles boils down to “hahaha, aren’t black African accents and stereotypes funny” which is definitely racist, and definitely a caricature. Although it can be reduced to something so simple, you really need to expand the notion to something that includes an understanding of systemic oppression, the effects of colonialism on contemporary attitudes, and different strata of violence if you want to get to the core of the issue.

            Racism is so much more than using a hateful epithet against someone and, as you’ve well pointed out, education is critical to reaching a broader viewpoint on that. Being ignorant of the subject in this instance is just a euphemism used to abstain from inspecting their racist behaviour – who wants to step out from ignorance and acknowledge upon re-evaluation that they’re acting out with shit behaviour that is racist?

          • If we swapped ‘Ugandan’ accent, for most other countries, we wouldn’t be having this conversation, that’s why. Is the Swedish chef in the muppets racist?
            It’s funny, but i don’t think many of us would say it’s racist.
            The third Austin Powers movie spent a large amount of time with shitty dutch accents. Do we decry it as a racist movie? No. Because it’s not.

            No one is saying ‘Ugandan’s are ‘insert negative trait here”. The only reason we identify the meme as Ugandan (because honestly, who could differentiate between the shit attempts at vaguely african accents), is because of the origins of the meme.

            Apu tends to rely on stereotypes to create the joke, often based on that stereotype. Additionally, he isn’t a deformed echidna from a video game, he is a drawing of a person. Those stereotypical features are often the butt of the joke, and based on the stereotypes of indians (even look at his brother Sanjay). I’d say the same thing about the Asian kid in American Dad.

            There is also more depth and facets of stereotypes to his caricature than Ugandan Knuckles. Which is ‘he’s ugandan because the movie we are quoting’.

            That said, I don’t expect a character from a show originating in the late 1980’s to reflect standard societal norms in the vast majority of it’s appearances as a result. Similarly, like most characters on the systems, he underwent a lot of ‘flanderization’ which further exacerbated those stereotypes. I think it’s worthwhile pointing it out, so the creators and writers and be a bit more nuanced about Apu in the future, (although i think they should just wrap the whole show up and call it a day, because who even watches the Simpsons anymore?)

    • Not possible anymore. All you need is one racist to use a meme and then all other uses of the meme are tainted (if you agree with the authors premise).
      I don’t specifically think any of the memes mentioned are racist, they have been used in the past in racist and non-racist ways, mainly non-racist actually. But the puritans are always looking for new things to shun, ban, point at and hate, all to make themselves feel superior.

      • The regressive left. Shouting down discussion and argument on the basis it might offend someone or hurt feelings, in particular, a minority.

        • Priceless.

          Please, please explain how Ugandan Knuckles is a constructive and compelling discussion or argument, and not just edgelords trolling people by parroting racist mockery.

          Alternatively, we can cut straight to you labelling me a regressive libtard cuck if it’s less effort for you. Keep fighting that good fight buddy!

          Props for the heavy implication that a society shouldn’t care about a minority too, btw. My bingo card’s almost full.

          • No worries mate. I like the number of assumptions you’ve made.

            I’ve campaigned for more left-wing social causes then you’ve typed out angry tweets, I also know when to call bullshit on the same people.

            Overreaching with this sort of shit is what allows the Right wing T_D types to mock and caricature the left. It only works against the cause.

      • That’s an oversimplification of the problem that somehow manages to put the blame on the people fighting against racism. While it is true that one use of a meme (or, whatever) by one racist person is not enough to label anything as intrinsically racist, it is also true that white supremacists and other racists are continuously on the hunt for viral mascots and memes and they are quick to adopt the ones who work well.

        So while not every use of a meme that is embraced by racists is racist per se, you have to be aware of how much that use of the meme is being used by racists to subtly (or not) maintain racist message or connotations in the mainstream. Is the meme or the meme creator (if innocent of the racists connotations) to blame for it? No, it sucks but there’s a well known term for awful people damaging good or neutral things: “The reason why we cannot have nice things”.

        • I agree, but the sorts of over reaction that we see here only further helps them, because the general public look at it and goes ‘this is a bit excessive, i see why those right wing nut jobs call them snowflakes’.

          We have all broadly got to a point where things that are ignorant, or insensitive are labelled as racist. Racism implies hatred. Most of the people using something like this are just ignorant. To then attack them and call them racist does not do anything to change their mind or educate them.

          • I get what you are saying, but it is a bit naive to say that the word “racist” implies hatred (or as others argue, violence). Ignorance, tactlessness or poor attempts of humour that allows hatred to thrive need no different monicker. If pointing out the error of one’s ways with the word that best describes it is cause for one to refuse to learn or even embrace the thinking instead of giving one pause to reflect, I assure you that consciously or not, one’s sympathies already leaned that way and no indulgent mincing of words would change that.

          • Yes. Ignorance. The word we should point it out with.

            Racism implies a degree of intent that doesn’t exist here. Whether they unconsciously lean that way or not, i’d rather not call someone a racist if they were ignorantly and innocently saying ‘do you know dae way?’, because that’s ultimately unproductive.

        • I’m only placing the blame on SOME people who are fighting against racism. Sadly these puritans gain more attention, because their stance is so out there, but it does not make up the majority opinion.
          I’m with you on the racists using too much of something it starts taking on those connotations, but in the same way the swastika is still used by hinduism, pepe is still used by not just non-racists, but anti-racists. Context matters.

  • a select group of people can make anything the bloody want racist. the rest of the damn world cow towing to it is what makes it worse.

    here we go im officially making the word hello and all pictures of puppies racist. they are now biggoted and mean something really mean and nasty. no one is ever allowed to ever use those ever again … ever…

    get out.

  • Every single Overwatch League story I read is negative and generally to do with the conduct of the competitors.

    I think this is simply due to the toxic internet subculture of competitive video games. The elite players are not somehow ‘better’ than this. They are the same people mic spamming and trolling in games that you see at the lowest and highest levels of play.

    I am in no way saying that their conduct is good, but I think it’s foolish for people to expect anything less than what we have seen. Internet trolls are good at video games. They will compete at the highest level. Their bad behaviour won’t disappear overnight.

  • Patiently awaits 4chan associating the Kotaku logo with something filthy. We’ll have to ban that as well.

  • If it were “Australian Knuckles” and he constantly said jokes about dingo eating my baby and spoke in exaggerated Aussie accent no one would says its racist, insensitive sure but not racist. I hate how any joke involving someone not white is instantly called racist.

    • Well, Knuckles is an Echidna which is native to Australia so now how are we supposed to react?

  • Is it really racist, if its quoting a movie? That’s a bit of a stretcher. Its on the same level as the ‘Oh, hey mark’ meme. Is a bad movie with some funny as hell lines that people repeat. That’s it. That’s all. Stop seeing red where there is none, because it makes actual red things less prominent.

  • An once again the gaming community shows that it has a fundamental lack of understanding and sensitivity for “what is racist?”

    Top marks for perpetuating the stereotype that games enthusiasts are deadshits.

    • racism
      prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior.

  • Kotaku turning into Polygon and virtue signalling that something is racist and offensice without actually asking anyone from uganda.

    The creator of the movie the line comes from loves the meme and retweets heaps on them regularly.

  • from reading this article, it would seem then that warcraft is racist because the Trolls have jamican accents and lets not forget the pandaren then either.

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