Despite having not played in a while, I love Overwatch. I love its bright and vibrant characters from every part of the world (with one glaring omission). I love its message of hope for better, and how we all have the capacity to affect positive change. As the heroine Tracer says, “the world could always use more heroes.” I love Overwatch esports, the friends I’ve made within that community, and the opportunities I’ve had to interview players and fans and write about the game. But this weekend reminded me that sometimes this game does not love me back.
On Saturday I came across a tweet concerning a team participating in Overwatch’s Open Division tournament. Open Division is an amateur tournament in which players compete for the opportunity to ascend the ranks of what Blizzard calls the Path To Pro, at the end of which lies the Overwatch League. In the tweet, the team Nice One Good Round was being called out for being blatantly racist. The team name “Nice One Good Round,” spelled out, is a banal phrase one could hear or see during end-of-match chat. However when you make the name an acronym and substitute the number “1” for “one” you get a nasty racial slur.
As a Black woman it’s disheartening to see that on its own. It became worse when I looked more closely at the team’s Twitter page. Their banner made it clear the acronym wasn’t a sick coincidence, featuring both the slur acronym and a racist caricature that looks like it’s supposed to be a sambo. Worse yet, in tweets welcoming new members, they call their players “N1GGAZ.” And, if all this wasn’t sickening enough, the team’s tweeted that they were actively recruiting racists.
All that blatant racism, just out in the open for anyone to see. I can’t tell you how demoralizing it is to see that. Racists recruiting more racists to be racist together in a game that I love and have devoted the last three years of my life to covering.
It’s difficult when things you love hurt you. I understand that those people are assholes and have no affiliation with Blizzard and Overwatch. I get that. And I don’t blame Blizzard or the Open Division team for what’s happened here. According to an Open Division tournament admin I spoke to, the team has been banned from participating and the Twitter account no longer exists. I also reached out to Blizzard for comment, but have not heard back.
That should be the end of it, and as far as Overwatch and the Open Division tournament is concerned, it is. But in other ways it’s not. I still have to live with being a Black female gamer in a space that can be actively hostile to me. It’s difficult to reconcile loving and participating in something that treats you poorly. Common sense would suggest leaving behind something that hurts you.
But the next day as I was watching the premiere of HBO’s Lovecraft Country, the main character said something that perfectly summed up my experience as a Black female nerd subjected to the double whammy of misogyny and anti-Blackness in the communities I occupy. Main character Atticus Freeman, played by the foiiine Jonathan Majors, is a fan of Lovecraft, a celebrated horror/sci-fi author and notorious racist. Atticus makes no excuse that the person whose work he loves would hate that he, a Black man, is reading them.
“Stories are like people,” he says to his Black companion as they walk to their destination, both having been denied a ride on the truck that came to pick up stranded bus passengers. “Loving them doesn’t make them perfect. You try to cherish their virtues and overlook their flaws.”
“But the flaws are still there,” answers his companion.
Upon hearing that I had to raise my hands and shout. What a word! What a perfect word to encapsulate everything I went through yesterday dealing with those racists and everything I’ve been through just for daring to exist in my skin, in places once dominated by folks who did not look like me. That Lovecraft Country scene comforted me. Assured me that the cognitive dissonance that is sometimes required to be who I am is not singular to me. I’m not crazy. Nor am I ignorant. But seen and understood—empathized with. An emotion I wished those Overwatch players had exercised before doing what they did.
I reported the racist tweets and the members of the team being racists in the replies to tweets calling out the team. I sent an email to Blizzard and reached out to contacts to figure out how this happened so brazenly. According to Blizzard’s Open Division rules, team names must be submitted to Blizzard for approval. Anything offensive would be rejected. This team’s name, when spelled out at length, appears inoffensive to Blizzard’s cursory checking. Logos also have to be submitted. The tournament admin told me the team didn’t submit one.
Twitter pages are not subject to those rules. For the team’s part, some members said it was a joke. “[It was] an experiment to see how far we can get to see how corrupt blizzard [sic] as a whole truly is,” the team manager tweeted. Others remain committed, even gleeful in owning up to the racism they put on display. I have no words for that.
“But the flaws are still there.”