World of Warcraft has been bleeding players since the start of the year. Add to that the drama swirling around a big-time streamer and the general toxicity that festers in just about every online gaming community and you have a recipe for bad stuff to happen. Simply put: It’s tough to look at certain corners of WoW and not feel like Community’s Donald Glover carrying pizzas into a room that’s on fire.
Even before Activision Blizzard became the centre of a California lawsuit alleging widespread sexual harassment and discrimination, the active player population of Blizzard’s flagship MMO had been falling year after year. A lot of players have been unhappy with recent expansions, and some have even tried to piggyback general complaints about the state of the game onto larger discussion of what’s wrong with Blizzard’s work culture.
The exodus appeared to fly into overdrive in early July, however, when the massively popular WoW streamer Asmongold decided to start streaming Final Fantasy XIV: A Realm Reborn instead. If community frustration over a lacklustre Chains of Domination update and generous free trials for the competing MMO supplied the tinder, Asmongold was the match, and recently he and his fans have been taking direct aim at WoW’s developers.
It began when someone on the Asmongold subreddit posted an image of a WoW developer liking a tweet that suggested Asmongold himself was in part responsible for making the WoW community so “trash.” While some content creators foster a collaborative relationship with the developers who make the game they cover, Asmongold has a reputation for being combative and hyperbolic in his criticism of WoW. The streamer, who regularly tours the r/Asmongold subreddit in his streams, went on to lambast the lone WoW developer for insinuating he was a symbol of what was wrong with the community.
“I have to read this bullshit, right, I have to read this bullshit that gets the seal of approval from the people that work at the game, who make the game this way,” he said. “Before you call me toxic, deal with your own fucking game.”
Events only escalated from there. A bunch of other posts targeting the specific WoW developer started appearing on the subreddit, many of which have now been deleted by the moderators because of failing to remain civil or encouraging harassment. One person even sent the developer a message over LinkedIn telling him to “get fucked.” The developer screenshotted this, including his harasser’s LinkedIn name, job role, and city, and shared it on Twitter. Asmongold’s fans then accused the developer of doxxing, despite the fact that no private info had been released.
“The moderation team of /r/Asmongold is made up of volunteers that act independently and our actions and comments do not necessarily reflect those of Asmongold himself,” a Asmongold subreddit moderator told Kotaku in an email. “We do not condone any sort of harassment or brigading, no matter who it’s targeted towards.”
Today, Asmongold followed up on the controversy, writing on Twitter, “Recently more than ever I’ve been accused of harassment when I’ve had the audacity to defend myself and my community. The idea that I should allow myself to be attacked is driven by narcissism and entitlement. I don’t punch down, I don’t punch up, I punch back.”
You could try to disentangle potential legitimate grievances from the shitty mob dynamics. Asmongold infamously encouraged players to spit on those in-game who spent money on fancy mounts as an act of protest against WoW’s current updates and monetisation model. Blizzard then removed the spitting emote from the game. At the same time, there’s clearly plenty of ambiently toxic behaviour in the game that has nothing to do with Asmongold. Blizzard has historically been criticised for failing to aggressively moderate hateful speech in WoW and other games. It only began finally blocking some racial slurs altogether earlier this year.
But beyond the competing counter-claims of who’s more responsible for WoW’s toxicity problem, the fact that some players have taken to doubling down on harassing developers over the latest flashpoints is just further evidence of what a bad spot the game’s in at the moment. Blizzard recently set about purging in-game references to a past developer accused of sexual harassment as part of an ongoing effort to “re-build trust” in the wake of the California lawsuit. Even so, some fans and content creators are still debating boycotting the game and other Activision Blizzard products until the company agrees to employee demands for more equal and inclusive working conditions.
There’s clearly a lot of soul-searching going on in the larger WoW community, and this latest shitstorm will likely only add to it.