Editorial: When professionalism takes a day off

Hearthstone Radoslav “Nydra” Kolev

There are some things you don’t say. There are occasions which require a person to have a certain demeanor, a code of conduct if you’d like. You do not make obituary jokes in a nursing home. You do not say in almost casual tone during an official press conference that your country has “tortured some folks,” although God knows this has produced more than enough jokes towards the Obama cabinet.

And you do not say “rape” in the biggest Hearthstone tournament of the year, in front of tens of thousands of people watching.

If you missed last night’s broadcast of Archon’s Team League Championship (ATLC for short), you’re in for a story with a pinch of drama. Paired with hosting and casting veteran Dan “Frodan” Chou was popular streamer, entertainer and loudmouth Byron “Reckful” Bernstein. Known for his colorful vocabulary and no-two-shits-given attitude, Reckful boasts a large following, one of the biggest in Hearthstone’s scene in fact. Seeing him appear in the ATLC, the $250,000 league organized by Team Archon, almost came that kind of confusion which you can kind of understand. With so much money on the line, viewership numbers are and should be the primary concern of the organizers, and securing the services of someone of Reckful’s stock is a smart move. On paper.

It didn’t take long for things to go awry. The tandem between Reckful and Frodan couldn’t have been more off. While sometimes differences in behavior and style can result in a colorful commentary experience, this was not the case. Where Frodan tried to salvage the broadcast and offer insight on the players, the teams, and the games, Reckful couldn’t have been bothered less.

While general critique could and will be shot Reckful’s way, it was one word in particular which rightfully angered the community. No matter the context, “a Swipe would rape him,” is just an offensive and insensitive thing to say from this official of a podium. And while that was what lighted the fuse, Reckful’s follow-up behavior did not aid his cause. He continued to behave inappropriately, showing completel disinterest and lack of knowledge and research done towards the tournament he was supposed to cast.

Professionalism should never be sacrificed to the detriment of the production quality or good taste.

Those who follow Hearthstone for a longer time would remember that this is in fact not Reckful’s first time acting like that in a tournament environment. His casting of Lord of the Arena 2 alongside fellow streamer Octavian “Kripparrian” Morosan was also a subject to negative feedback, following derogative and condescending attitude towards the female participants, namely DeerNadia and Rumei "Hafu" Wang. The case later brought up and discussed on popular Hearthstone podcasts like The Angry Chicken, where a very valid comment was made: You can talk however you want in your circle of friends or personal stream, but you never do that in an official tournament, regardless of how “casual” and “laid back” the atmosphere can be. Ultimately, Tempo Storm, the team which Reckful belongs to, had to issue an official apology.

While the “rape” comment was obviously made without malicious intent and is very much a part of the gamer’s slang, it could easily be seen as controversial. On social media, fellow journalists went on to say this is promoting of “rape culture” – a concept coined in the 70s to describe the normalized nature of the act and trivialization of the word – and one could agree to some extent. And though I personally wouldn't, throwing around words like “rape” without so much as a second of thought is concerning. This shouldn’t be read as me being convinced that Reckful consciously promotes and endorses rape. It’s simply the textbook definition of inappropriate behavior and it's something that will grab the attention in a way you'd rather not. 

There are a number of fallacies that can – and surely will – be mentioned in regards to this incident. “It’s all for the entertainment, it’s what brings the numbers,” is the first and the most wrong one, which is a terrible excuse. When the only way to excite your viewership is condoning crass language, then there are bigger problems to your concept than your casting line-up. Call me crazy, but I believe a tournament of that size on one of Twitch’s most popular Hearthstone channels can generate a following without employing a bigot. Professionalism should never be sacrificed to the detriment of production quality or good taste.

“If you don’t like it, don’t watch it,” others will say and they’d be missing the point, too. We’re not talking about why buy vanilla ice cream if you don’t fancy the flavor. This is not a matter of personal taste. If anything, the flow of logic is the other way around. With viewership numbers being the index against which success in all broadcasting is measured, “don’t watch” is what the horn of the media hearse sounds like.

"If you don't like it, don't watch it" is very much missing the point.

“That’s part of who Reckful is, give him a break,” is the least valid excuse of all. As was mentioned earlier in the article, a change of demeanor is necessary when publicly representing an organization. This is not the Reckful Team League. It’s Archon’s, and for the few hours that you’re on stream, you’re the voice and face of Archon as much as Amaz, or Firebat, or Orange are. Those who are not convinced such a change can happen, should revisit the appearance of Sebastian “Forsen” Fors at DreamHack Bucharest, who underwent a total makeover, leaving his streaming personality and home and delivering a polished, professional and educating product which still carried the essence of what makes Forsen enjoyable to watch.

If you believe saying “rape” was the least of Reckful’s offenses during last night’s ATLC, that too much attention is being paid to it and that there are other offenses that need mentioning, you’re spot on. A single mention of the word could’ve gone almost unnoticed if not for the repeatedly displayed disinterest in doing the job he was hired for. Before he would ultimately get replaced by Amaz, Reckful gave a crash course on the “DONT’s” of professional casting. It’s not OK to refer to a team you do not know as “these Asians” when they’re the strongest team of the east. Or to refer to a player you do not know as “that other guy” when he’s one of Hearthstone’s veterans, competing in tournaments since the earliest days. Or to mispronounce a player's name. Just like it's absolutely unacceptable to not pay attention to the games and to openly admit that preparing for a casting gig is not important.   

Towards the end of this editorial, the other party who bears the fault for Reckful’s appearance ought to also be mentioned – the organizers themselves. It’s understandably difficult to find popular casters who are available, willing to cast and/or are not playing in the ATLC itself. However, employing a personality comes with understanding his or her quirks and peculiarities and being aware they can and most likely will appear on stream. I’m sure Amaz and Co. were aware of what they were getting into; I do not believe for a second they were utterly shocked and surprised of what happened during the broadcast. If this was a bet, based on a hope that Reckful would not be his true self, then it was a lousy bet and one you shouldn’t make while operating a tournament of this magnitude.

This is not the Reckful Team League. It's Archon's, and for the few hours you're on stream, you're the voice and face of Archon as much as Amaz is. 

Following the controversy, Reckful was let go of the ATLC casting desk and replaced by Amaz. Speaking to industry insiders, the organizers promised this was Reckful’s first and last appearance as a caster in the tournament. And while applaudable, this fallout is almost ironically in contrast with ATLC’s vision of what is offensive and what isn’t. If saying “rape” is not OK, how can a team slogan reading “Bringing the cancer” on a logo designed by ATLC’s organizers themselves be justified by the “context”? As I wrote on Twitter myself, I'm not the one to be offended even though I have close friends who've experienced rape and others who have fought cancer, but I'm not all people and the fact that saying or writing these things can be considered normal is mind-boggling. "Context" is not an universal safety vest which makes things more acceptible. Quite the opposite - it's a dangerous enabler of misconduct. The fact that we're watching a video game should not make a difference: A professional broadcast production must adhere to the written and unwritten standards of the industry and the modern society.

Speaking of which, going on stream to say one of your casters was replaced due to being too offensive is not the way to do damage control either. Iconic esports host and presenter Paul “ReDeYe” Chaloner has “don’t point to mistakes in your production while it is ongoing” as one of the core rules of shoutcasting and broadcasting, and it’s absolutely vital. Honestly, the Pinnacle 4 qualifiers should’ve been enough of a lesson.

In the end, I’m not saying a person like Reckful should never get any casting jobs, ever. There’s a place and time for everything. But acting in an unprofessional and insensitive manner when the occasion demands the opposite is not only unacceptable: It’s unforgivable, tasteless and appalling.

As for the ATLC crew: You can’t order a soup and expect a steak.