Columns, Opinion

Gaming the System: Balancing enthusiasm with hate in inter-regional esports beef

On TwitchQuotes, a website cataloging copypastas — jokes that are copied and pasted by different users regularly — from chatrooms on video game streaming platform Twitch, the tag for “EU vs NA” jokes is several pages long.

If North American trolls’ insults are to be believed, EU stands for “Easily Upset” or “Expect Unsatisfaction” rather than Europe. Meanwhile, their counterparts across the Atlantic retort that NA stands for “No Achievements,” “Not Advancing,” or “Near Airport” to imply losing in international competition.

Yvonne Tang / DFP Staff

The debate between these two continents over which one is better at competitive video games is not a new phenomenon and has been a topic of discussion for many years. Tempers run the highest in games with heavily regionalized competition, where teams play other opponents on their home continents before they go international. League of Legends has had a storied NA-versus-EU debate for many years, and this is presumably why.

The much younger esport Valorant, a tactical shooter game developed by the same company as League of Legends, has recently seen its own regional rivalries crop up. Following bad blood over an issue with technical difficulties and game pauses hurting a Brazilian team, a member of the North American team Sentinels caught flack for making light of the situation.

His fellow teammate from Sentinels, who plays under the username “Zombs,” refused to back down. “Can’t wait to beat your s— region again,” Zombs wrote, taking a dig at South America’s perceived lack of Valorant chops.

Was this a fun bit of inflammatory trash talk or a step too far? Opinions vary. One of the CEOs of a Brazilian team defeated by Sentinels called for Zombs to be disciplined by his team or some other entity. Zombs himself refused to back down, adding later that Brazilian players need to “do less typing [and] more playing.”

It is tempting to dismiss Brazilian calls for punishment for these remarks as being unable to take a joke or evidence of “snowflakes” in modern society, but jokes at the expense of other regions in video games often do get taken too far. While many of the copypastas on the TwitchQuotes link I mentioned at the start of this article are in good fun, others invoke police brutality, the Holocaust and racist tropes around refugees to name a few. One can only imagine what insensitive jokes might come to pass in a rivalry between North and South America.

Of course, those in favor of trash talk might respond that, even if certain internet strangers take it too far, it can make competition more exciting by heightening the stakes. In fact, at the ongoing Valorant Champion 2021 tournament, Sentinels played against the South American squad KRÜ Esports on Monday — and lost in a freak upset. The ecstatic celebration of KRÜ’s players and staff after securing the victory shows how much it meant to them. “Greetings to Zombs,” said a coach for the winning team through a translator, exuding some well-earned smugness. 

I personally tend to agree that trash talk between regions has a well-deserved place in esports. In my opinion, esports are still relatively tame compared to traditional ones like football. It’s obviously regrettable that some people take it too far, but I see it as a product of internet anonymity anyway — Twitch as a website has had all manner of problems with hate speech.

We as a community can work on heightening social expectations of good conduct, as well as technical solutions to better detect and punish trolls online. Finding a happy medium where storylines intensify the competition is well worth this effort.

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