Having good public relations doesn’t necessarily mean your company is a good company. However, regardless of your company’s “goodness,” good public relations are necessary to ensure the long term health of your organization.
Good PR is about both what companies say and what companies you do.
If you say the right things, but don’t actually follow up on those promises in your business, people will eventually get angry. For example, when Blizzard claimed to support free speech but punished Blitzchung for speaking out about the Hong Kong protests, the entire internet turned on them. If you do the right things but communicate them poorly, then your organization is missing out on the opportunity to maximize your positive social clout.
As a result, the best organizations will take proactive, concrete steps towards improving their reputation through service and clear communication about how their service benefits the community. This theory of public relations, which is the dominant one in America today, is called Social Responsibility PR. Essentially, organizations take action in their communities to demonstrate that their values are in line with their customer’s values.
The most infuriating part of working in esports, for a PR buff like myself, is watching the absolutely tragic attempts at public relations. When something happens that needs reputation or image management, esports companies often fall well short. This is not only true for smaller organizations and players, but also large organizations like FaZe, Blizzard, Riot Games, and the Boston Uprising, who have all fallen into serious blunders in regards to their PR, doing irreparable damage to their reputation among customers and the public at large.
Public Relations in Esports
Public relations in entertainment differs greatly from other markets. Although there is some attention given to the individual workers in other markets, no market is more public facing than entertainment. As a result of its publicity, most entertainers, athletes, and other public figures have a full time publicist, whose only job is to control the public perception of their brand.
Esports exists within the entertainment market, but many teams and players rarely display the professional conduct that a publicist would bring to the table. When Jay “Sinatraa” Won retired from Overwatch, his retirement post was filled with random typos, super unprofessional language, and a total lack of clarity. Even major players like Sinatraa don’t have dedicated publicists? This situation is made worse by the unprofessional practices present throughout esports.
Only yesterday, the Assistant Coach of the Los Angeles Valiant posted a crude tweet which clearly references oral sex, with the implication of coercion, and the implication that giving someone oral sex is a “loser” thing to do.
These sorts of tweets would never be posted by a coach in the NBA or the MLB, and if they were, you would expect a resignation to come soon after; but the esports industry has fostered an environment in which this type of comment is normalized, so many people in the comments supported this Tweet.
There have been a number of other notable examples of unprofessional behavior over the past few years. Some behavior threatened the safety of players, some behavior exploited customers, and other behaviors challenged the competitive integrity of esports itself.
- FaZe Banks was recently found to have run a shady CS:GO skin gambling site in the past.
- The Boston Uprising terminated not one, but two different players for sexual misconduct in the past few years
- League of Legends player John “PapaChau” Le was released from Clutch Gaming Academy after his history of emotional abuse became public.
- iBUYPOWER and NetCodeGuides were revealed by esports journalist Richard Lewis to have been fixing matches.
- Blizzard banned Blitzchung after using a Hearthstone event to promote the Hong Kong protesters
- Riot Games settled a class action lawsuit after Kotaku exposed their highly toxic, sexist culture
These examples only scratch the very surface of the many PR nightmares found in the esports market. If you need further proof of esports bad behavior, you can read about even more PR crises in esports here.
With the increasing profile of esports, I think it’s high time for esports organizations to pay more attention to their public image and put an end to the crude, immature, and downright offensive parts of the industry. Those parts of the industry are holding esports back. Esports companies need to devote themselves to taking actions and publishing communications that contribute to their brand, instead of damaging it.
- No, I like the personal touch of Twitter statements directly from players, coaches, orgs 67%, 2 votes2 votes 67%2 votes - 67% of all votes
- Yes, they need a professional touch to avoid more PR issues going forward 33%, 1 vote1 vote 33%1 vote - 33% of all votes
Case Study: Boston Uprising’s “All Lives Matter” Post
When the protests against police brutality in response to George Floyd’s murder began, many companies, including esports ones, put out statements supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. These statements function within Social Responsibility PR to demonstrate that companies support human rights and will ostensibly stand with their black employees. Most of these statements were good, or at the very least neutral, however one statement stood out from the rest as particularly bad.
The Boston Uprising seemed to entirely miss the point of putting out a statement to support black communities, instead parroting the classically tone deaf “all lives matter” sentiment. The Boston post is a great case study of an obtuse and misguided PR statement which doesn’t understand its own purpose.
- The post does not cite any concrete action being taken by the Uprising organization to address systemic racism
- The post does not acknowledge the Black Lives Matter movement or its demands
- The post does not point to specific structural racism or police violence
- The post uses the language of the “all lives matter” movement to dismiss the black lives matter movement
This statement was not received well by the public, with hundreds taking to the comments to let the Uprising know how dismissive and offensive their statement was.
To those who don’t closely follow the Black Lives Matter movement, the statement may seem innocuous. After all, they do claim to be “horrified by acts of racism” and “heartbroken” for families and communities who have lost people. Unfortunately, at no point in the post do they explicitly mention black people or police brutality.
Yes, they mentioned “people of color” but the current movement is about black people specifically, and how the police target them. At no point did the Uprising condemn the police, point to systematic racism, explain how they will do better in their own organization, or verbally offer any support to black folks. They offered no course of action, only generic promises to do better. They didn’t even bother to say that ”black lives matter.”
I understand this statement is from the Kraft family, but the statement made the Uprising look insensitive and out of the loop.
The Kraft family claimed they have a long history of “supporting vulnerable people” in New England, however, the lack of examples listed in the statement make me doubt that they have done much. If there are examples, it was the communication team’s job to provide them.
All I know about Bob Kraft is that he was arrested for soliciting prostitutes after the Super Bowl once and that he supported the election of Donald Trump, who has engaged in a variety of racist statements and acts throughout his presidency. Trump has refused to support Black Lives Matter, and has even called peaceful protesters terrorists. Trump most recently tear gassed thousands of Black Lives Matter protesters so he could take a photo in front of a church he does not support or attend. He has even called for the military to be brought in to attack and remove protesters.
You can’t fight systemic racism while supporting those who keep it in place. Voting for Donald Trump doesn’t make you racist, necessarily, but voting for him does indicate you are willing to overlook racism. Those who actually oppose racism wouldn’t vote for him, so supporting Donald Trump’s presidential bids makes it really hard for the public to believe Kraft’s statement against racism to be genuine, especially when there is a distinct lack of concrete action plans listed in the statement.
To make matters worse, the Krafts finished with “to stand up for what’s right and to value ALL people,” parroting the “all lives matter” sentiment rather than stating their support for black lives. The phrase “all lives matter” is a cooptation of the black lives matter movement, meant to remove the focus from black communities who are suffering and to cut the teeth out of demands for police reform.
All lives can’t matter until black lives matter, and that is the point of the Black Lives Matter movement. Saying “all lives matter” has been a dog whistle to racists and apathetic moderates for five years. As a PR writer, choosing this phrasing was one of the worst mistakes you could make in this political climate.
Many Overwatch League fans were justifiably upset with the wording, phrasing, and ultimate intentions of the Boston Uprising BLM post. This statement is a public relations dumpster fire, which made the Uprising look worse than if they had just said nothing at all.
Learning to control the narrative
In discussing the issues with esports PR, I don’t want to paint with too broad a brush. There are many orgs with excellent communication officers, or who have hired top tier PR firms to deal with their stakeholders. Organizations who are doing things right should be recognized for their professional practices, but that is the thing about PR: You only hear about it when it’s really good or really bad.
If esports organizations want to be taken more seriously, they need to figure out how to properly manage their reputation and public image. This means more than saying the right things, it also means doing the right things. In the end, what you say AND do is why people follow you and give you money. If you aren’t committed to proactively protecting and improving your reputation, you won’t be able to control your own narrative. When you lose control of the narrative, your organization is in trouble.