Unfortunate timing – and an exodus of talent across the board – has resulted in the departure of three of the most prominent representatives of ethnic minorities in esports all stepping out of the public eye at once.
As far as broadcast talents go – especially when compared to traditional sports – there is a promising abundance of diversity within the esports sphere. Part being a defining turn within the modern zeitgeist, part just people becoming more accepting of everything as a whole – and rightfully so – esports broadcasts have a ton of possible representation.
Unfortunately, said representation is now sorely lacking in the ethnic minority department, with the notable exceptions of FGC and Smash. Whether this is due to the technology industry being historically very hesitant towards diversity and inclusion until recently, or a relative disparity in the skill/level of up-and-coming talent, the absence of role models in the industry isn’t something that esports usually faced.
A void to be filled in Summoner’s Rift
With the departures of Barento “Razleplasm” Mohammed and Christopher “PapaSmithy” Smith from the LPL and LCK broadcasts respectively, diversity in League of Legends broadcasts took a hit. As did immediate broadcast quality, with both being at the very top of their fields at the time of their effective retirement from casting.
To Riot Games’ credit, League of Legends esports in particular has prominent representation elsewhere. Notable female hosts Ovilee May and Eefje “Sjokz” Depoortere are the benchmark for excellence within their industry, with Sjokz in particular having had an already immensely successful career as both a host and interviewer.
Indiana “Froskurinn” Black is both one of the very best color commentators in the world, and nothing short of an inspiration for female and LGBT esports enthusiasts alike, unafraid to stand up and make a statement if someone is being treated unfairly. Unfortunately, Froskurinn’s admirable ability to unashamedly be herself has also drawn its own share of ire, from audience members uneasy with the shift in status quo and the very real presence of sexist and homophobic esports fans.
That being said, the League of Legends’ community as a whole is notorious for toxicity within solo queue, and sexist, racist, and homophobic language is almost guaranteed one in every handful of games. Even as recent as December there was only mild controversy around a professional player casually dropping the “n-word” in a scrim, though Tore “Tore” Hoel Eilertse has since apologized.
There are multiple amazing members of the League of Legends esports scene that come from many, many different backgrounds and walks of life. However, the lack of a positive role model on broadcast from an ethnic minority standpoint is no doubt going to be disheartening for some up and coming talents – as well as audience members within the LoL scene.
Overwatch League’s lack of diversity
For a game with such a huge focus on western audience appeal relative to other esports, Counter Strike: Global Offensive is surprisingly diverse. The separation into men’s and women’s leagues drew ire at first, but has generally been seen as something positive for the scene. It helps that talent between the two is not mutually exclusive, with notable analysts such as Christine “Potter” Chi demonstrating understanding superior to most of the others in front of the camera.
Potter is also a strong example of ethnic minority representation, and along with other commentators in the CS:GO sphere such as James Bardolph, offers a lot of connection to a target audience that may otherwise feel alienated.
The Overwatch League had two hosts for its first two years of function. One, Soe Gschwind Penski, is a strong female role model who drives the broadcast in an invaluable way. The other is Malik Forté, who is equally as invaluable and just… genuine. Both of these hosts, due to their natural talents, affinity towards putting an audience at ease – and the feeling that they give women and ethnic minorities, respectively, a feeling of “hey, maybe I can do that, too, someday,” – are irreplaceable.
Forté’s unique sense of humor and appreciation of it – even going so far as to use a screenshot of someone’s comment saying “I like black hosts for esports cause they know how to hype up the crowd,” as his Twitter banner – has its own unique place in mainstream broadcast esports.
Unfortunately Forté has since been released from the Overwatch League, commenting that his “hand was forced,” in regards to his departure. He referenced Blizzard’s unwillingness to pay him a better salary as the reason behind his departure. This is a sad moment for esports, since Forte’s presence is invaluable for the Overwatch community.
Diversity helps bring inclusivity in broadcast, providing additional audience members with better rapport and relatability – alongside understanding.
It also helps breed new talent, with key community members also serving as inspiration for the next generation. FGC and Smash both do very well in this regard, attracting a whole mix of players, talent, and community members.
Esports is truly bridging cultural gaps and bringing people together. I love Overwatch. I love CS:GO. I love League of Legends. I love Smash. I really love Marvel vs Capcom. And I am happy to bond with anyone over our mutual adoration of these – but from an outside perspective, 90% of esports broadcasting still very much seems like the white man’s game.
It’s up to us to focus on diversity and equality – without sacrificing broadcast quality – in order to show the world that esports can be a trendsetter.