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Toxicity in gaming has been a thing since the dawn of voice and text chat in games. I came from the era where players would yell out slurs and damning accusations while playing Call of Duty on the Xbox 360.
And it didn’t stop there. While playing games like Counter-Strike or League of Legends, I have heard phrases and swearing coming from players that shouldn’t even have known these things at their age.
So, one could say that I am pretty immune to it, having seen how the toxicity in gaming have played out since the start.
VALORANT seems to be no different.
There will always be that one game every day that consists of people continually trash talking in game, sometimes even resorting to talking about each others’ mothers, for some reason, throwing slurs to prove a point.
Reporting these players in VALORANT MAY cause them to get muted or banned at some point, but I have no idea how it works.
To be fair, Riot Games is no stranger to such issues, having been working on ways to combat toxicity and abuse in League of Legends since the earlier part of the last decade. That said, things got so bad that, earlier this year, they disabled all chat for publicly matchmade games.
Everyone can say that this is all part and parcel of playing an online game, but my question then is: should professional VALORANT players promote this behaviour as well?
The zombs saga
Recently, during VALORANT Champions 2021, Jared "zombs" Gitlin, a player for Sentinels, decided to ruffle some feathers with the Brazilian region by tweeting “cant wait to beat your s*** region again”, in response to a ruling debacle in the match between Furia and Sentinels.
For context, there was a technical pause during one of the last rounds in the Furia vs Sentinels match. Riot officials called the technical pause because they suspected a glitch was employed by Furia during the match. At that time, Sentinels were at match point, but Furia had been on a comeback to narrow the scoreline to 12-9.
Shahzeeb "ShahZaM" Khan, the in-game leader of Sentinels, has publicly stated that they didn’t care for the glitch and would like to move on with the game, but the technical pause was still called.
Furia lost the match 1-2 to Sentinels, and the Brazilian community were up in arms, especially after a previous incident involving another Brazilian team, Keyd Stars, and European team Acend.
Fast forward to a different match, ShahZaM tweeted “should have called a tech pause”, in reference to the technical pause called by Riot officials in the Furia match, in what he claimed was a light-hearted jab.
However, his initial tweet prompted Gabriel "Revolta" Henud, a Brazilian League of Legends player and Gustavo Melao, a Brazilian VALORANT caster to reply with some strong words.
It is after this that zombs decided to fire the toxic shot.
Now, with all this explained, let's get back to my original question: should professional VALORANT players allowed to be this toxic?
Granted, trash talking, especially to your rivals, is a familiar thing in some sports. Football, hockey, boxing, you get the picture. It happens in other esport titles, too (and one might accidentally galvanise the opposition to hit back in the arena). But to be this toxic to an entire region is really another level.
With so many young and impressionable players playing the game, should Riot allow these kinds of comments to stand in the real world?
Riot preaches about equality and eliminating toxicity from the game. They even put up a blog post stating that they are looking into tackling harassment in game. My question is, would Riot let this debacle fly by?
In 2018, when Dota 2 player Carlo "Kuku" Palad used racist language in a game, Dota 2 developer Valve banned him from their upcoming Major. Earlier this year, when Mobile Legends player Duane "Kelra" Pillas used homophobic language against another player during a livestream, the Philippines MPL slapped a two week ban and a fine on him.
A lot of players look up to Sentinels, as they have been dubbed the ‘best team in VALORANT’ for the longest time.
And while they will not be winning Champions this year as they were sent home packing by Latin America’s KRU Esports, that wouldn’t take the limelight away from them overnight.
Many players still look up to them as the gold standard in VALORANT, and zombs is a part of that team.
If no action is taken, impressionable players may think that it is cool to be toxic to other people, just because their VALORANT idols did it and got away with it.
This will no doubt affect people playing the game as well, as many will think that being toxic has no repercussions. As most players would be able to tell you, we are already battling a lot of harassment in game.
Professionals must set the bar high
Esports professionals should realise that their behaviour has influence over a much younger audience.
Their actions will affect young players that look up to them. Unlike some other sports, gaming is the most accessible to children and teenagers, because that is what everyone likes to do.
Coupled with the fact that VALORANT is an easy-to-run, free to play game, the title is much more accessible than many others out there.
In our modern connected world, young players will be looking up to the pros to see how they play, what kind of lifestyle do they lead and what they say or do in real life.
Information is easily accessible, and zombs’s response is easily traceable by simply looking in the VALORANT threads on Reddit.
Esports professionals (in all titles) need to realise that they are role models for the young and upcoming players.
Toxic responses and mean harassments shouldn’t fly in the world of esports, simply for the fact that the world is watching.
Judging from how Riot wants to eliminate the toxicity in VALORANT, they should start by making sure the professional players don’t do it to their peers.
I sure hope that satisfactory action is taken by Riot Games against this. Calling other people s*** isn’t cool, even if you are better than them. Heck, I would argue that it would be cool just to not say anything at that point.
And directing that at a whole region? Yeah, you get the idea.
Dominic loves tech and games. When he is not busy getting headshotted in VALORANT or watercooling anything he sees, he does some pro wrestling.