For years now, I have been hearing about racism in the South African esports scene. To be fair to the scene, racism isn’t unique to the scene. It is reflective of our deeply racist society. Racism exists at all levels, from subtle microaggressions to the overt kind. There’s the denialism of the racism, the apologising for racists, the discounting of the extent of the racism, the ignoring of it until it hurts directly. Then there’s the superficial punishments for racist behaviour or ignoring and therefore tacitly accepting racist behaviour.
There’s a general acceptance of this racism because that’s just the way our society is. There’s also a covert feeling of being defeated because people are just not ready for a truly anti racist space. Who are these people? And why are we prioritising their readiness when they have no interest or inclination towards any anti racism?
There’s an unwritten rule that tournament organisers and MGOs can’t come down too hard on racism because they’d be coming down on half the scene. This put them in a bind. And the show must go on. There’s money to be raised, paid, costs to cover. So MGOs and tournament organisers aren’t going to take the actions required to bring about meaningful change.
There are enough players who have no problem playing with players that have exposed themselves as racists. “Just don’t fuck it up for all of us and get us disqualified” seems to be the order of the day.
Gamers of colour. You’re on your own here.
While, MGOs aren’t going to make those changes, they still need you. They need you as a signed player so they can say, ‘See we’re not racists, we have players of colour in our organisation.
While TOs aren’t going to make those changes, they still need you. They need you to play in their tournaments so they can say, ‘See we’re not racists, we have players of colour playing in our tournaments’.
Players aren’t going to make those changes. And they don’t need you or need to. The system is working for them.
Gamers of colour, you’re on your own here.
You are the only people who can actually bring about meaningful change. The good news is you have the power to do so.
If you’re thinking that there are too few of you to have a significant effect, you’re wrong. You see, your participation is necessary in order to for the show to go on. The scene loves you for showing up. For your presence. For your tacit agreement on how things are run. They love what your presence can do for the scene. When they’re getting sponsorships and funding, and listing your colour as a positive aspect of themselves. Even as they’re dance a thin line with racism in practice. Even as they hang on to players caught being racist in order to rehabilitate them. Even as they continue to play with them. Their actions tell you who their priority it. It is not you.
But THEY NEED YOU.
And you can say NO.
Saying NO MORE doesn’t mean you stop playing!
Saying NO MORE means you organise yourselves.
Saying NO MORE means speaking with one voice.
Saying NO MORE means building your own spaces even while you’re playing in these spaces.
Saying NO MORE means talking to each other, supporting each other across titles and leveraging your power as a group.
Saying NO MORE means finding allies that are committed to making esports an anti racist space.
What would happen if you all refused to participate in say VS Gaming’s upcoming tournaments. A loud BOYCOTT as a last resort?
How would sponsors feel about sponsoring a tournament that allows for racism?
How would Comic Con feel if you brought it to their attention?
How would MGOs, those that are funded by sponsors, justify their actions.
How would sponsors respond when told they’re sponsoring events and organisations that are indifferent to racism and indifferent to gamers of colour?
A few possible things that could happen if you organise yourselves
The number of players of colour will grow. When there is a safe space for them to participate, they will come.
A growing scene means you the have numbers to potentially start your own tournaments (if there is no budging from the scene as it is now).
But they’re also going to have to explain why there is zero participation of gamers of colour. And how are they going to spin it given that you’re loudly refusing to participate? When you’re saying no normal esport in a racist environment! (Create a good hashtag)
As it stands now, gamers of colour have very little power in negotiating with MGOs or TOs.
As it stands now, not much is going to change. Can you name three spaces that committed to anti racism and anti oppression of their own volition? Esports isn’t any different.
It is unfortunate, but structural, institutional and societal racism is the default. That is why people often can’t see it. Because it is so normalised.
It is even more unfortunate that people of colour have to fight this everywhere – whether you’re a Serana Williams or a 1K players playing in SA pubs.
So step out, start self organising, establish a power base and engage with the established TOs and MGOs. Insist on seeing their policy on anti racism. Force them to create one. Hold them accountable. If they say no, at least you know.
There is nothing that scares established spaces more than organised people of colour.
That is your power.
Nobody is going to bring about the change you desire.
Only you can!.
You have the power to do so.