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The reaction of some politicians blaming videogames for recent mass shootings in America serves as a reminder of the esports industry’s vulnerability with issues around violence.
The shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, led President Trump to reference videogames as a factor he felt contributes to such violence. Other elected officials went on talk shows to echo the remarks. In the days that followed, ESPN delayed the airing of an esports tournament for Electronic Arts’ Apex Legends game, citing the incidents in Texas and Ohio for the delay, while Walmart removed signs and ads in some stores related to videogames that involve guns.
Many of the most popular esports titles in competitive play involve first-person shooter games. But the esports industry stresses that videogames do not cause violence and points to research in support of that position. Still, the reaction by major companies and the ensuing speculation is something that should be a major concern to those in esports, according to Rod Breslau, an esports reporter and consultant who advised Sony Music.
“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,” Breslau said. “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.”
In the days after the shootings, Breslau went on the Fox News show “The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino” to stand up for the industry. Breslau had already appeared on the show in the weeks before to talk about the positive buzz around the Fortnite World Cup, but after he saw the blame videogames were getting in the days after the shootings, Breslau contacted Fox to request to go back on.
Several other stakeholders in the esports industry have made passionate statements on social media, cautioning people against the sentiment that videogames are destructive — a claim the industry has faced for a couple of decades. However, there was also some criticism that not all of the major publishers of the world’s most popular first-person shooter games spoke up in defense of videogames in recent weeks.
Jason Lake, founder and CEO of esports organization Complexity Gaming, said he understands that some publishers will want to stay quiet over the sensitivities around the issue and in hopes of moving on as soon as possible, but he believes people in the industry need to speak up. Lake was among those who shared his views on the topic on Twitter.
“Some publishers will choose to kind of avoid the issue, but I think it’s important that gaming tackles this head on,” Lake told Sports Business Journal. “There’s been plenty of voices that have come out after the recent incidents; people [in esports] won’t take kindly to being a scapegoat with these accusations.”
With sponsorship a key revenue stream for franchised esports teams, the industry is watching closely to see whether corporate America is swayed by the latest criticism of gaming. Blue-chip companies already deeply involved in esports include T-Mobile, State Farm, Coca-Cola, and Anheuser-Busch. Sponsorship revenue can make up to 50% to 80% of the revenue of many esports teams.
Adam Stern is a writer for Sports Business Journal, where this article first appeared.