The Overwatch League has been drawing hundreds of thousands of viewers over the first two weeks of its inaugural season, presenting e-sports in its most digestible form to date. Over the same period of time, the league has already seen a few controversial moments related to the conduct of its players.
All aspects of the league have played out in public view of the league’s audience, but one major component that has not been made public to date is the league’s code of conduct, and the commissioner of OWL doesn’t have a good reason as to why.
Speaking to The Telegraph, OWL commissioner Nate Nanzer said, “We just haven’t gotten around to it. [...] I don’t know the exact timeline, but it’s something that we’re working on.”
For a league that prides itself on its professional presentation and similarities to traditional city-based sports leagues, saying the reason you haven’t made your code of conduct public is because you haven’t “gotten around to it” comes off a bit sour, especially when the league has already faced multiple conduct issues from its players.
Last week, the Dallas Fuel’s Félix “xQc” Lengyel was suspended for four matches and fined $2,000 by the league for telling Houston Outlaws’ Austin “Muma” Wilmot, who is openly gay, to “suck a fat cock” and adding that he “would like it.” The Fuel later extended Lengyel’s suspension until Feb. 10, when the first stage of the OWL season ends. Earlier this week, two instances of the Ugandan Knuckles meme reared its head in association with the league. Two San Francisco Shock players were overheard using the racist meme jokingly between matches and three OWL teams (San Francisco Shock, Dallas Fuel and Los Angeles Valiant) tweeted out team-branded images of the meme.
Obviously the league doesn’t want its players and teams using racist and homophopic terms and images, but the details Nanzer gave about the OWL code of conduct sound very vague. “We’re basically asking: don’t be a jerk, which is just sort of a basic thing you would expect from any human interaction,” he said. The fact that the majority of OWL players are 22 years old or younger and haven’t been on a stage the size of the one OWL provides means that there are going to be some conduct issues, but that doesn’t mean that the league should be dragging their feet on clearly defining how players should act and be punished for misconduct.
Nanzer has another problematic opinion about the players that populate his league’s rosters. “I don’t have any expectation that these players are role models necessarily, but they do need to understand that Overwatch is a game that is very broadly appealing,” said Nanzer. While it’s alright to not expect the league’s players to be role models at the league’s birth, it is the league’s and individual teams’ jobs to coach players on how to conduct themselves so they don’t bring unneeded controversy on the league. Nanzer and the OWL players should realize that once you are visible to an audience topping 200,000 viewers daily, you become a role model, whether you like it or not. No one is exempt from the scrutiny that comes with a far-reaching public image.
Nanzer does have a plan for when the code of conduct will be more visible to the public, though. “I think we’ll have it published within the next few months,” said Nanzer. Until then, players will be subject to the conduct policies of their individual teams.