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Will Esports Events Suffer After Being Linked to Mass Shootings?

4 Sep, 2019

By: Mary Helen Sprecher

There was plenty of fallout after two nearly back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. Social media was flooded with sentiments on both sides of the gun issue. Victims’ funds were established. The news cycle kicked into high gear with coverage from every possible angle.

And then, unpredictably, esports became a victim as well. ESPN delayed the August 11 airing of a tournament for Electronic Arts’ Apex Legends game, citing the incidents in Texas and Ohio, while Walmart removed signs and ads in some stores related to videogames that involve guns. (In a separate move, the retailer announced it would exit the handgun market and stop selling some ammunition.)

The esports industry came alive with indignation over ESPN's move. According to an article in The Esports Observer, Rod Breslau, an esports reporter and consultant who advised Sony Music, noted, “Whether we think it’s ridiculous or not — and it obviously is … you still cannot deny what has happened since [the shootings] with Walmart and ESPN. For ESPN to cancel their own tournament they broadcast in such a hasty manner, and even though Walmart is a little less surprising … shows there are real-world consequences for the industry that cannot be ignored.”

The question, of course, is whether the reverberations will continue to be felt, and whether there will be other seismic shifts in the hosting and broadcasting industry when it comes to esports.

It’s not like there hasn’t been loud criticism of first-person shooter (FPS) games all along. For years, the IOC has steadfastly refused to consider allowing esports, noting that if it ever did, it would consider gaming only if it were the electronic form of a traditional sport, such as soccer. However, those games have not been met with enthusiasm by esports players, and the most popular games by far, Fortnite, Overwatch and Call of Duty, are all FPS games. (The IOC continues to say this is incompatible with Olympic ideals, although gamers have long held that sports such as wrestling, boxing and martial arts are all combative in nature, and that shooting sports are only one step removed from FPS games as well). And on multiple occasions, various high-profile organizations and individuals (including politicians) have campaigned against and complained about the level of violence in games and said playing makes children and athletes insensitive to the real issue.

While the ESPN incident certainly gained its share of attention, proponents of esports are calling the move both a knee-jerk reaction and an attempt to curry favor among audience sectors. This sentiment seems to be bolstered by the fact that right after the announcement it wouldn’t show the broadcast on August 11, ESPN announced it was pulling ads for 'The Hunt,’ a film in which a group of wealthy people hunt down "deplorables," or those they view as lower class. The movie itself was subsequently shelved indefinitely as well, though not without controversy.

It is worth noting, too, that ESPN’s cancellation of the August 11 event – a rebroadcast of the Apex Legends tournament that took place at X Games Minneapolis on August 2 and 3 – is still just a gesture. ESPN has since confirmed they will be airing the tournament three separate times during the month of October on ESPN2.

However, it is hardly an issue that will remain static. As esports grows, and unfortunately, as mass shootings have continued to occur, it is likely that violence in video games will come under scrutiny again, and event owners will be in the spotlight.

However, one thing esports does have in its corner is the backing of an enormous lobby, as it were, of its own: sponsorship. Investment in the esports market is growing exponentially, with major companies jumping on board as sponsors of franchised teams. As a result, the industry will be looking for signs that corporate America is swayed by the latest criticism of gaming. So far, the litmus test is showing a rather neutral reaction to all this, with no companies dropping their names from tournaments.

According to the Esports Observer, blue-chip companies already deeply involved in esports include T-MobileState FarmCoca-Cola, and Anheuser-Busch. Sponsorship revenue can make up to 50 to 80 percent of the revenue of many esports teams. Tournaments have also seen sponsorship from popular snack brands, such as Pringles.

SDM will continue to follow this developing issue.

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