Dexerto’s Richard Lewis takes a look at the controversy involving Gabriella ‘LeTigress’ Devia-Allen’s TSM segment and explains why it is illustrative of an industry that focuses on optics over principles and keeps pandering to toxic fanbases.
It’s quite telling about how awful the gaming industry is that a regular part of my output is reporting on a horrific example of harassment. Social media has enabled the emotionally stunted to verbally abuse anyone in the world in real-time, and in many ways, that is the thing it’s the most successful at.
If it stopped there it’d still be bad enough but because American “optics culture” now dominates every aspect of business, every fake furor and manufactured outrage has to be met with apologies and actions. Every day we now see an enactment of Stewart Lee’s “The values of the Carphone Warehouse” bit and nobody views it as absurd. The truly ridiculous part is that the recipients don’t even care and they won’t remember the incident they claim to be so upset about just as soon as they can latch themselves on to the next daily dunking.
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I’ve been writing about the awful things fanbases do to public figures for years. The only thing that has changed in that time is the level with which the industry will pander to them. No more will the corporate approach be “kill it with silence” because the all-consuming need for profit makes the prospect of a sincere boycott terrifying. Indeed, the wrong response could set off a chain reaction of corporate responses so wide-reaching that even companies two or three times removed from the initial incident could lose their sponsors or investors for simply ignoring a drama they thought they were far enough from. This attitude is especially hilarious in an industry like esports, where the fans simply don’t spend money.
Just know that when the mob comes, you will be absolutely on your own. In the end, you’ll be offered up by the people you thought cared about you, either a company you elevated with your work or friends terrified of guilt by association. It goes without saying there are types of behavior that should make someone a pariah, but it’s hard to imagine what exactly that would be when it comes to sharing opinions or creating content around the pursuit of competitive video games. You could maybe forgive a deranged fandom for swarming someone that said something unfair or overly critical although I never would… Yet what this latest example demonstrates is now the demand is that you fawn over the same things the fans do. Positive feedback only and never deviate from the consensus. Deviations from this will be punished.
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For some reason, we all just acknowledge this is a perfectly normal thing. Someone expresses an unpopular opinion or criticizes someone who just so happens to have a higher number of obsessive fans than the person doing the criticizing. We watch from the sidelines as people are beaten into submission for having a “bad take” because no one can recognize informed, valid conflicting opinions anymore. “My team good, you bad, you must be punished”. It can be a 16-year-old player falsely accused of cheating by the world’s biggest streamer, it can be someone having a mental health crisis that is “no excuse”, or it can be something as gruesome as a crowd-sourced suicide. I’ve covered selective outrage when it comes to racially insensitive comments and social media mobs demanding people be fired and getting their way. The specifics are largely irrelevant because the trajectory of these stories is all the same and while it’s considered weak to admit it, the reality is being the victim of an internet dogpile is psychologically damaging.
The vilification of LeTigress
The latest such example involved Gabriella ‘LeTigress’ Devia-Allen, a colleague of mine that I’ve worked with at esports events in the past and certainly someone I could never have believed would be an internet villain for a day. Her great crime was to script and deliver a monologue about why League of Legends player Yiliang ‘Doublelift’ Peng’s upcoming encounter against TSM would be something of a grudge match. Delivered as part of the LCS broadcast, the monologue made reference to the public spat between Doublelift and TSM CEO Andy ‘Reginald’ Dinh, who had recently been fined and sanctioned after an investigation into bullying and abusive treatment of staff. As Doublelift had been a player for the organization at that time, along with his partner, Leena Xu, who served as President for the period relating to the complaints, he had been vocal about Reginald’s behavior, which even prompted a legal response from the TSM organization. All in all, it’s the exact kind of thing that well-balanced, adult esports fans would discuss, especially given Riot Games’ penchant for sweeping any and all negative stories associated with their esports ecosystem under the rug.
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As an aside, anyone saying an official broadcast shouldn’t touch on these issues because it’s inappropriate to do so and that it would never happen in real sports is unequivocally a moron. Controversies that might affect the on-field play or make a compelling narrative are a standard component of almost any televised sports broadcast. Some examples… When Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt attacked a woman in public, the reason for his eight-game suspension was explicitly stated in the game. The NFL’s own website and league discussion show not only talked about the incident at length, but they also brought back another player who had been kicked out of the league years earlier for domestic violence to reflect on his own transgressions.
When UFC fighter Conor McGregor lost his mind and threw a dolly through a bus window in a bid to start a fight with one of his opponent’s entourage, it was one of the most shocking things to have ever happened in combat sports. He ended up injuring several fighters, some of whom withdrew from their upcoming fights as a result. The UFC ended up using the footage of the incident in the promotional material. The fight with Khabib Nurmagomedov remains the largest pay-per-view event in the UFC’s history. During a protracted dispute between Cristiano Ronaldo, one of football’s ‘GOAT’ contenders, and his Manchester United manager, the player employed all manner of dirty media tactics to get a move away from the club. The Sky Sports broadcast of the match featured two of his ex-teammates tearing strips off each other arguing about whether he was in the right or not. Inarguably, the problem isn’t the content, it’s that esports fans are and always were coddled babies.
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Anyway, what should have been just another piece of narrative content delivered as part of an esports broadcast was quickly being denounced as one of the most egregiously insensitive things ever to air. If that sounds utterly insane on the face of it let me show you how we got to that point. Initially, it was posted without commentary to the TSM subreddit. All esports fandoms suck, but TSM’s is one of those ones you could compare to K-pop stans or The Barbz. You see, even though Riot ignored their own previously set precedents to enable Reginald to still work within the League of Legends domain, TSM fans seem to think they were dealt with harshly. Even though Reginald’s behavior is reprehensible, the TSM fans believe that’s all relative. Certainly, they believe that there is no benefit to mentioning any transgression from their organization at any moment in time. They believe anyone critical of TSM in any way is simply a jealous hater who deserves to be harassed into submission. And so it didn’t take long for the comments to subvert the topic at hand to be about LeTigress and her suitability for her job.
“Holy f***ing sh*t. This is awful and I can’t even bring myself to finish watching,” one user said as if the segment was akin to a LiveLeak video. “The fake scripted incompetence is really hard to watch. What is this?” read another world salad. “BuzzFeed quality segment with the BuzzFeed host,” decried another. “Le trigress (sic) is and always has been trash tier. It’s only fitting she does something this cringe and unprofessional. Who in their right mind gave this segment the green light?”
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Austin ‘SmaK’ Haggett, a senior team manager at TSM, was seemingly more than happy to encourage the resulting harassment. He posted the following. “I don’t comment on Reddit much anymore, but I work in team management with TSM across multiple teams. Anyone that knows me can tell you I’m a big advocate for our players across all games. I was one once myself. This is the primary reason I was shocked and saddened by this segment. We have a team of great players who put their heart into their work and just want to play the game. They did nothing to deserve to be disrespected like this right before one of their most important matches. It’s an important topic that should be discussed anywhere else. Let the players play the game.”
Now, to be absolutely blunt about it, I find it hard to believe he even watched the segment. At no point were the players on the TSM roster disrespected. In fact, the segment actually ended up pointing out the new line-up and how hard they had been working. It’s also not clear how this would impact the players’ ability to play the upcoming game at all, given they wouldn’t see the segment as it aired. It’s also not exactly clear why the segment would have to be a puff piece about how great the players are, to begin with. Why does everyone have vocally fellate every esports competitor? And most crucially of all, if you don’t want your players to be distracted by content about your CEO’s antics, then remove your CEO instead of demanding everyone else have to tiptoe around his bullsh*t.
So that comment was cheap manipulation, a practice that never fails in our industry, so by the time the segment was posted to the main League of Legends subreddit, the descriptor “unprofessional” had been added to it. The greatest minds assembled from far and wide to explain exactly why it was so bad. “TSM is Riot’s partner. That’s what franchising is. Why are they actively trying to harm the reputation of their partner?” one genius said. “The players don’t deserve this shit right before their game” chimed in another. “Absolutely horrid… This is PROFESSIONAL esports, and it’s being delivered like it’s a show made exclusively for pre-pubescent teens with high school drama hit pieces and arts & crafts segments,” another said. The jokes write themselves so I won’t inflate my word count by doing it.
What formed in the middle of this was the notion that because the segment referenced the harassment and bullying Reginald was punished for within the context of why Doublelift might be especially fired up for the game, it was somehow making light of harassment and bullying. This is of course an unbelievably uncharitable interpretation, one that ignores the fact that it is Reginald’s continued employment that is the thing that truly makes light of workplace bullying, but the mob was dialed in with laser focus at this point. One of the things social media does that few people talk about is it empowers halfwits with talking points they could never arrive at themselves, effectively providing a list of talking points for every idiot to use in order to justify what is simply irrational anger born from boredom. And so the mob, thus equipped, proceeded to spam and harass a woman on the internet who had only recently suffered a bereavement in the family to make a point about how wrong it is to make light of bullying. Classic esports.
Reginald was subject to a Riot investigation over allegations made by current and former TSM members and staff.
Right on cue came the apology, which is basically the social media equivalent of tapping while in a guillotine choke. In it, she also said she was “horrified by the harassment and vitriol” she had received, which is a fair point to make. Pointing out that this had happened to her was now another crime that the internet had to take her to task over, and so once again it went back to Reddit. “[I] always like to see when the person takes the smallest amount of blame possible, then shift most onto something else and finish it off by making themselves the victim. what a classic response.” “Why is she apologizing to TSM? Apologize to the people Regi abused for making a joke out of their abuse.” “This isn’t how you apologize. The backlash/harassment victimization should be a separate post not included with the apology.” It’s never enough, is it?
Then Doublelift, a man seemingly so dense light cannot escape his surface, decided to chime in as well. A vocal anti-fan of LeTigress’s work (he’s given her the almost inexplicably sh*t nickname ‘Le Cringetress’) he made the demand that she “Apologize to everyone who experienced verbal abuse and workplace harassment” and “then remove the useless strawman where you still see yourself as the victim” because it’s 2023 and he still doesn’t know what a strawman is. As a popular player and streamer with a significant fanbase, this only made things worse for her and in my opinion, it’s most likely this was the intention from the outset. After all, Doublelift only became publicly vocal about what was happening once he left TSM and he didn’t seem to have any issues with representing the organization when he re-signed for them from Team Liquid in 2020. Relevant because many examples of Reginald’s inappropriate conduct were public long before then.
If you thought Riot might have stepped in to act as a lightning rod for one of their talent, you’d be wrong about that. Jackie Felling, the head of League of Legends esports for North America, posted an apology in the thread that didn’t so much jump on the grenade but rather kicked it towards the only person it was going to blow up. Saying you “really appreciate the feedback” during a witch-hunt that isn’t coming your way may as well read “keep dunking that witch, she’ll confess eventually.” A hilarious response to this was, “Not intended to be disparaging? You literally allowed Le Tigress to blast TSM live. TSM fans are already struggling and this is just beating a dead horse.” Won’t somebody think of the poor TSM fans? In the end, LeTigress “decided” it would be best if she took some time off, citing mental health as the reason for it. Another Reddit thread, this time though, it was reflecting on just how it’d got so far. How indeed.
A history of attacking female esports talent
I’m more than aware that everyone gets it on the internet. I’ve been at the bottom of so many dogpiles you’d think I was permanently in heat. I’m also one of the few journalists that kept it real during the great Gamergate grift. It remains true that, according to research, men receive the majority of online abuse, but that comes with the additional caveats that it isn’t gender fixated and rarely is it sexually aggressive. For instance, I’ve only ever been sent an unwanted photograph of someone’s genitals a handful of times whereas that is an experience my female colleagues endure almost daily. There’s definitely a dynamic at play and when it comes to the esports industry I’ve been in it too long now not to notice those same female colleagues all have a similar origin story.
Establishing yourself as a woman in esports at times resembles being “jumped in” by a gang; they kick the sh*t out of you but if you can handle it eventually you’re part of the family. At that moment, the people who were doing the kicking swear that they loved you the whole time and that anyone referencing the abuse is lying. The reality is that the internet loves a good witch-hunt and if the witch just so happens to be a woman then it’s a bonus. What else explains harassing a pregnant woman for asking a perfectly fine interview question? Or attacking a host for making a throwaway joke to the point she felt it necessary to publicly apologize? Or driving an award-winning commentator out of an entire scene because morons can’t differentiate between ability and personal preference? Or throwing years of sexist comments at a female commentator and streamer for simply not being an elite-level competitor? Or pinning the entire fall of an already failing company on one woman simply for expressing an opinion that was considered too woke? The list goes on and on.
But whatever, I guess. There’s actually no preventing any of this as long as we have an industry that focuses on optics over principles and a business model that requires everyone that participates to pander to the lowest common denominator. Those two things together disproportionately empower those that engage in recreational outrage. Working in such an environment means you’re even encouraged to pick up a torch and join the mob, even though there’s a very real chance you’re the next to be put to the flame. Until that changes, and with the upcoming esports winter, it’s absolutely not going to any time soon, you might want to consider how much you want to commit to a “community” that will give you little back except abuse.