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Cldrn: A dark underbelly of discrimination

By Duncan 'Thorin' Shields
Jun 6, 2011 04:06

Image'The Cauldron' takes a look at discrimination in esports as seen through the anti-Korean sentiment amongst many Western SC2 fans.

"The Cauldron" is a weekly column in which I address topical concerns, express opinions not represented elsewhere and/or hold court on matters which have been bubbling away inside me for seven days.

Across all competitive esports games I follow I've noticed an undercurrent of bias which has always been often present in the sentiments expressed by fans and journalists but it wasn't until the rise of SC2 that I saw it become overt and blatent at, seemingly, every turn. In this column I will go into more specific details regarding types of discrimination and their context but to begin with I'll start a more general theme I would like to state:

Fans should want the player who played the best in a series to win, irrespective of all other criteria.

In my opinion any approach other than that is discriminatory, mean-spirited and flat out contrary to the concept of fair compeitition. This is not about who you pull/cheer for, it's about who you give credit to as deservedly having won. If you cheer for a player/team who is less skilled, less prepared and plays worse than his opponent is up to you. But if you then claim that the aforementioned player deserved to win or that you wish he had won there is something wrong with that, even a little sinister. If your criteria for who deserves to win is not who played better then what is the point of fair competition?

"Fans should want the player who played the best in a series to win, irrespective of all other criteria."
One of the things we have always lauded as beautiful and unique about esports is that gender, race and social status shouldn't affect the results of the games themselves. It shouldn't matter what sex you are, where you come from or what material possessions you have in this world. All that should matter is if you have game or not. If you have talent and you can express that talent by winning then you deserve to win, and I would argue, though I won't in this specific column, deserve to be cheered for.

The reason SC2 has become the focal point of more extreme displays of discrimination can be stated quite simply: in other games there is a least a modicum of parity between the various scenes, and especially the elite level players. While it has always been the case that the Swedish CS scene has possessed the largest talent pool, if one actually picks out the top 5 CS teams of all time (UA Na`Vi, SE SK.swe, SE fnatic, PL Pentagram and DK mTw) one finds that the majority are actually not Swedish, though Sweden does possess the most teams within the list. In StarCraft 2, on the other hand, one could make the case that all of the elite players (NesTea, MC, MKP and MVP) happen to South Korean and that the majority of the top players happen to be Korean also.

As a result of that dominance by specific Korean players, note not simply Korean players, the standard labels of 'Korean' and 'Foreigner' have almost become banners behind which ignorance is shielded. It's not simply the case that simply German fans are cheering for German players and Norwegian fans for Norwegian players and so on. Now it's the case that there are many comments made which suggest there are Western fans who simply want the Korean players to lose, not to anyone specific or to any specific country's players but rather just to lose. Again: that's mean-spirited, discriminatory and against the spirit of fair competition.
"It shouldn't matter what sex you are, where you come from or what material possessions you have in this world. All that should matter is if you have game or not."

Some of that sentiment can be put down to the fact that less sophisticated fans seem to think the Koreans have an unfair advantage due to the strength of their ladder, the team house system which is employed and the acceptance of StarCraft within their culture making it, theoretically, easier to acquire sponsors. In reality I'd put it to you that the top Korean players make up more of the top players worldwide not purely due to those factors, though they play a role, but in fact because they work harder and as a result have developed their talent to a greater degree.

To use a more general analogy:

The top end of the Western SC2 scene cannot consistently compete with the top end of the Korean scene for the same reason the American manual labour force cannot compete with the Chinese manual labour force: the latter is willing to work harder, for longer, with more diligence, with less ego and with more of a sense of duty than the latter.

ImageYou can make side arguments of circumstance, similar to those applied to Korean StarCraft, that those Chinese workers are forced to live nearer their work premises, there is less civil uprising about wage levels/pay scales and that the level of their economy means people are more likely to work those hours for that pay. All of those points have merit but you could also make the case that those conditions are in some way, as with Korea's SC2 scene, a biproduct of the kind of people those workers are. Their nature and application is what leads to them being more successful and until such identical circumstances are replicated in America one cannot claim it would be the same for Americans, for now we can only look at the results.

The top Korean players win more consistently than the top foreigner players because they deserve to due to their talent and by earning those wins through hard work. As I previously stated I'm not against people cheering or pulling for whoever they want. Sometimes we can't even choose who we feel a connection with and want to win, even if it is for illogical reasons. Nevertheless we can strive to avoid unnecessary discrimination in doing so. If you are a true fan of a game/discipline then in my opinion your ultimate ideal should be held to be wanting to see, and encourage, the highest possible level of competition within that game/discipline.

To give an example with a personal bent:

"I'd rather see my favourite player/team lose a series played at the highest level than win a series played at the lowest level."
My favourite currently active basketball player is Kobe Bryant and in last year's NBA finals his team, the Lakers, reached the 7th game of the finals. Game 7s are always surrounded by hype in basketball history because they are the ultimate pressure cooker where the consequences of every single possession and play can become amplified tenfold in their significance on the outcome of the series and both team's playoff success. Someone who makes a key mistake is branded a goat, a failure, and someone who makes a key play in his team's favour is a hero, a success and a legend. In this game 7 the Lakers managed to win the title by beating the Boston Celtics, but it was one of the worst playoff games of the year and certainly one of the very worst playoff and finals game 7s ever played. Both teams shot terribly, made mistakes routinely and all of the star players struggled all game long.

My favourite player, Kobe, shot an appalling 6 for 24 from the floor (25%) and if his team had lost the game would have been suffered a serious knock on the perception of his career as an all time great player. Instead, because his team won, Laker fans were jubilant and they continued to laud his greatness and generally people who supported that team seemed as happy as they possibly could be. Personally I found almost no enjoyment in watching that game. The level of basketball was very poor and I took no satisfaction in seeing my favourite player fail but get a W added to his team's record. In fact, given the choice between the two, I'd rather have seen my favourite player lose but in an amazing game played at a very high level where he displayed an excellent performance.

Put more simply:

I'd rather see my favourite player/team lose a series played at the highest level than win a series played at the lowest level.

That's because ultimately the jersey a player is wearing, the country he comes from and the team he plays for are arbitrary categories, what really matters is how he played! And so it should be in esports and in SC2 in my opinion. If you cheer for IdrA and he loses to MC then don't say "IdrA should have won that series" unless IdrA played better within that series. Even moreso don't say it if IdrA played worse and is an inferior player compared to MC, even in the slightest.

ImageWhenever I've referred to Koreans in this article, and technically it should be South Koreans anyway, I have gone to lengths to phrase my sentences quite particularly to reflect that we are talking about top players who happen to be Korean. I have mentioned some factors which help contribute to why so many Korean players are amongst the top players but what is key to express is that it is not simply that since they are Korean they are on top. They are on top due to their talent, their work ethic, their diligence, their long practice hours and their attitudes. That they are Korean is a secondary quality at best and should not be used as a primary criterion of discrimination.

The reason I have gone to pains to make that clear is that in using blanket terms like "Koreans" and "foreigners", combined with pulling for the underdog and for specific players to win, I feel like some people have lost track of exactly what they're cheering for. Rather than being about cheering for their favourite players to win, but then giving credit to their opponents based purely on the merits of the game, people have taken on a discriminatory undertone in their speech.

Suddenly they're not even a German fan cheering for a specific German player to beat a player who happens to be Korean. Now they might be a German fan cheering for anyone to beat a Korean player purely because he is Korean and the player they are cheering for is not Korean. Not only is that bad form, in my opinion, but it also, at least, borders on becoming a highly distorted and disturbing form of discrimination. It even borders on some degree of racism. You'll cheer for anyone vs. a Korean as long as they don't have yellow skin and come from Korea?

"Cheer for those players who display great play and express their talents within the server, regardless of their nationality."
Do you really cheer for one player based purely on what the "Nationality" field on his passport says as opposed to his actual game in the server? Do you long for a non-Korean player to win a game so you can say "See: non-Koreans are as good as Koreans" whether that is objectively true or not? If so then why even bother to watch the game? Why not just look what flag is before the players' names on a website and then base your decision on who you want to win on that alone, that's what you're doing for all, practical, intents and purposes.

Let's put aside the most base, banal and uninteresting aspects of human culture and strive for higher ideals. Appeals to the past or referencing of other sports are not valid excuses. Colour should not come into esports whether it's skin colours, flag colours or team colours.

Cheer for those players who display great play and express their talents within the server, regardless of their nationality. Support greatness and in doing so support the greatest aspects of esports.



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