Op-Ed: Bully Hunters A Complete Disaster and Marketing Nightmare for SteelSeries – Part 1

Appearing to do a good thing, but with clandestine ulterior motives usually ends in disaster. And that’s exactly what happened with Thursday’s launch of Bully Hunters– a self-described “vigilante in-game hit squad” that seeks to “beat bullies at their own game.”

According the Bully Hunters web site, 21 million female gamers have experienced sex-based taunting, harassment, or threats while playing video games online which was the impetus behind the Bully Hunters initiative.

“The Bully Hunters started as a pro group of female gamers who came together to disrupt the status quo, forming a vigilante in-game hit squad with one simple mission: to beat bullies at their own game,” the Bully Hunters web site explains. “What started as a small team has become a global tool to connect victims of bullying with elite gamers who can come to their defense in real-time. We invite all gamers who want to stand up to harassment to join us as bully hunters and help bring an end to toxic behavior.”

The way that Bully Hunters works is by virtue of a third-party application that integrates with various games such as Counter-Strike: Global Offensive. If during a match you feel like you are being bullied, you can call for remote help. When the call is made, a Bully Hunter will essentially take over your controls, remotely, and attempt to kill the person in-game to send a message that bullying isn’t ok. A peculiar eye-for-an-eye approach.

Anyone who would deny that scores of women and girls in gaming are subjected to some of the most demeaning and denigrating abuse in the industry simply doesn’t understand the space. Doing everything we can to stop such abuses so that gaming and esports can be a more inclusive place s the right thing to do. However, when a company is hiding behind something as altruistic as trying to eliminate bullying to sell their product without telling the consumer, it goes beyond the boundaries of business ethics.

So far the only thing that the Bully Hunters have gotten right is to say that there should be no bullying. Everything has been a series of omissions, misinterpretations, and outright misrepresentations of what was actually happening. All in the name of selling a headset with a logo of a modified Venus sign with a cross-hair.

From the start this entire campaign was doomed as it was mishandled by some of the most negligent decision-making ever witnessed in advertising. From the choice of host to faking an actual Bully Hunter intervention to fake crowd reaction shots this was a nightmare of epic proportions.

Natalie “ZombiUnicorn” Casanova, a popular Twitch streamer,  was given the nod as the host for the live launch–a half-hour show dedicated to explaining and debuting what the Bully Hunter program was all about.

To say the least, Casanova was not well received. And for good reason.

Immediately upon learning that Casanova was the host, a multitude of people took to twitter, sharing an old video where she launches homophobic slurs at some people after a DayZ game. Additionally, screenshots started to appear in which Casanova was quite angry and uses abusive language in lashing out at some people on Twitter. People see Casanova as a hypocrite.

“People are only showing one part of those conversations,” Casanova told VPEsports. “People have been harassing me for years and I honestly just got fed up with it and got angry. I don’t run away from my mistakes. I have apologized so many times for the video and now for those tweets. I think some people have legit concerns about me being there, but others have come into my mentions and direct messages and threatened my life. This is exactly the reason why I connected with Bull Hunters.”

It’s certainly believable that Casanova’s numerous apologies are sincere. Coupled with the fact that she hasn’t had any transgressions since does send the message she has changed. However, there is no doubt as to why these transgressions were seen as being hypocritical to the cause.

It gets worse.

It yet another faux pas, before the event, Casanova was taken to task by a mental health researcher over a series of tweets she made claiming that three million women gamers quit playing because of harassment.

While Casanova certainly shouldn’t be tweeting out statistics that she can’t validate, one has to believe that those were probably supplied to her by the third-party that hired her to be the host for the live event. Casanova deserves the appropriate criticism being leveled at her and honestly should not have been anywhere near the hosting desk. However, this debacle lies directly in the hands of the people and company that made the decision to misrepresent a cause when in reality they just wanted to move product-SteelSeries.

The guise of trying to end bullying when moving product was the actual goal may be one of the all-time greatest affront to the gaming community. To take a topic people care about and secretly use it for company profit is reprehensible. And when watching the Bully Hunters launch, the decisions to obfuscate and deceive was obviously a part of the overall marketing plan.