The word toxic is perhaps the most consistent word across all online gaming communities.
Toxic behavior, such as derogatory conversation and insults, has found its natural habitat in the mostly anonymous realm of online gaming.
Overwatch, the latest big contender in the competitive gaming world, is no exception to this phenomenon. As a lover of Overwatch and almost daily player of its competitive mode, I get to experience firsthand the depths that people are willing to go to because of their anonymity.
In just the past couple of weeks, the stigma of Overwatch toxicity has reached a new height. xQc, one of the most popular Overwatch streamers, and player for the Dallas Fuel, one of the teams in the recently launched Overwatch League, was suspended from professional play by the League and by his own organization.
xQc is known as one of the more “toxic” members of the Overwatch community, at least compared to other streamers and known players. He has been banned multiple times for different behavior which would undeniably be labeled as toxic.
However, his recent derogatory remarks to another professional player have resulted in his most severe punishment yet, and put another negative spotlight on the Overwatch community.
The actions of xQc unfortunately reflect on the competitive Overwatch community as a whole.
If people see that these players at the professional level, who should be well behaved and professional as their title implies, behave in this way, then the rest of the community will follow suit.
Not only does it reflect negatively on the community as a whole, but it also puts the Overwatch League in a difficult position. This incident has happened right at the beginning of what is perhaps the most ambitious esports competition of all time.
Because it is still new, it is still vulnerable to the impressions of new viewers. Being seen as both a legitimate sporting event, and a professionally handled one is critical to the mainstream success of the league. If the first impression new viewers get is that the professional players are immature or toxic, then it will be hard for the league to bring in a wider audience.
Is there a solution to the xQc incident?
There are dozens of excuses why players might choose to act negatively in these environments, but I believe that this toxicity exists because gamers see this environment as toxic. What I mean is, online gaming is seen and understood by many to be a place where this sort of behaviour is acceptable.
To the average player, acting toxic isn’t wrong because, in their eyes, they are being toxic in a place where toxic behaviour is the norm. Such online environments are self-fulfilling — players are toxic because they’re in a toxic environment, and the environment is toxic because of the negative behaviour of its players.
The only way to break the cycle is to focus less on controlling the toxicity and start paying more attention to the positive aspects of the community.
That isn’t to say that the punishment of toxic players is a concern — people like xQc deserve to be punished. However, these incidents shouldn’t dominate the headlines.
It’s worth noting that xQc reached 100,000 YouTube subscribers in the days that followed his suspension.
If we were focusing on highlighting the positives and paying less attention to those damaging the community, I believe that we would start to see a decrease in toxic behaviour.