Some Esports Fans Blurring Lines Between Fandom and Friendship

There are some major differences between a traditional sports fan and an esports fan, that goes without saying. From my experience as a pro player, Riot has been very involved in trying to connect fans with their favorite professional players through content. The idea that they’re just like you and that one day you too could be up on that stage wearing a generic esports jersey is something Riot has been planting in people’s’ heads for years. Now, this isn’t necessarily a unique marketing ploy that the evil geniuses at Riot Games cooked up themselves, it’s rather common in traditional sports as well. However, this appeal to the individual has had some ill effects in esports. But today, we’re not going to talk about Riot’s marketing strategies, we’re going to talk about the significant increase in fans twisting professional players’ nipples.

Yes, you read that right. A video recently popped up showing a fan in the LCS crowd grabbing 100 Thieves support player Aphromoo’s nipple as he went to high-five the crowd. First of all, in what world is this an okay thing to do? I honestly can’t think of a single reason why someone would assume this was acceptable behavior towards a complete stranger. What if the fan thought Aphromoo was their friend, though? Would it be acceptable then? That’s still going to be a hard yikes from me. Many fans feel a very strong connection to professional players in esports. They follow them on Facebook and Twitter, get updates about their personal life, share their selfies and pictures, and watch them live stream for hours. As esports has grown and become more lucrative, professional players were able to take a step back and stop sucking up to fans to get a check from Twitch. Unfortunately, this culture of entitlement has stuck around. A culture ripe with socially awkward fans not really understanding the barriers that exist between them and professional players.

How many times have you read “without me you’d be nothing” coming from an angry fan when any professional player criticizes their behavior? That’s definitely an esports classic. I’ve read a few of those in my time for sure. How many times have you heard obnoxious fans in the LCS crowd cheering for stupid things and making the event about themselves instead of enjoying the competition? That’s another classic. Just what exactly about League of Legends and esports in general encourages this kind of inflated sense of self-worth in fans? The constant outrage followed by contacting teams’ and players’ sponsors, acting as judge, jury, and executioner of every players career and treating professional players like garbage when they lose. As esports as an industry has grown, the fan entitlement has grown with it. It will take a while to unpack why I think this culture exists, but a good place to start is social media.

A culture ripe with socially awkward fans not really understanding the barriers that exist between them and professional players.

One thing that separates esports from traditional sports is the accessibility of esports professionals on social media. Daily updates on twitter, hours of streaming content and fan interaction, and sites such as Reddit that Riot seems to cater to all contribute to this idea that esports is all about the fans. The fans are consumers which means they hold all the power, right? Well no, that’s wrong—more so now that more money has come into the space. How many fanatical sports fans get to watch their favorite player train while yelling criticism, encouragement, and memes at them live? I’m going to say zero. In Esports? A lot. There is very little privacy for an esports professional. Fans pop up in every aspect of their lives. They track down their private Facebooks (mine is completely flooded with random people), stalk their Instagram’s, find them on Tinder, and make sure they are heard as individuals. My entire work email inbox is full of fans just trying to get a one on one conversation with me and I wasn’t even a remotely good or successful player. The more extreme individuals refuse to respect socially accepted boundaries between them and pro players. They feel entitled to know private information relating to pro players just because they are “the community”.

It’s not only the pros though that deal with entitled and unreasonable fans. The fairness of Riot Games’ LCS rulings was under fire for withholding personal information about players that could have resulted in retaliation had it been made public. Many fans don’t respect journalists’ sources and their need to protect them which seems to be a pretty universally understood concept in my opinion. Not in esports, baby.

Now, the entire Renegades situation has been beaten to death, but I figure I should touch on it. At the time of the competitive ruling, many fans were hostile towards Riot and demanded they show proof of wrongdoing. Reddit was up in arms, like usual, about how unjust this was and that Riot was conspiring against the owners. Riot, like most sensible companies, didn’t want to release the private details of what happened to protect all players and staff. This left fans openly speculating and attacking whoever they thought was at fault. I was someone who had a lot of vitriol thrown my way. They felt entitled to know the information as “paying customers of Riot Games” despite it being withheld to protect players from retaliation. Entirely unreasonable behavior from those vocal esports fans and now that the details have come out it’s quite obvious why all of it was withheld in the ruling. Didn’t matter at the time of course, those consumers demanded Riot release private information, or they’d stop watching LCS altogether!

That being said, this obviously isn’t the majority of esports fans that behave this way and honestly thank god for that. The fringe of socially awkward, overly invested and generally creepy fans just happen to be the loudest for pro players which seems to be their exact goal. The rest of the moderate, well-adjusted and sensible fans in esports are the best part. The entire Twitch ecosystem is amazing. Fans get to support creators and creators get to build communities and interact with their audience directly. It’s what makes esports so unique and personal and sets it apart from traditional sports. Professional players have the opportunity to reach out to their fans in ways that traditional athletes cannot, and fans have a way to support their favorite personalities directly through subscriptions and donations. Each fan can have a huge impact in this industry whether for good or ill and that’s the double-sided nature of fans in esports.

For every one nipple twist though, I’m sure there are thousands of emails telling pros how much they’ve impacted a fans life, helping them through depression and hard times. I’ve received some really touching letters and I’m happy that I could carve out a space for my community in this unique industry. But for pro players, being up on that stage is mentally taxing due to the magnifying lens over each player. The easy accessibility for those who wish to stalk a pro’s personal life, harass them, obsess over them, or potentially touch them inappropriately while they walk by just amplifies the stress of being a prominent figure in a mostly online community. While I’m sure every pro player and personality appreciates their subscribers just like Riot appreciates their customers, there are clear boundaries that fans and consumers in this space breach regularly that can’t be justified by a five-dollar subscription. So, before you spend hours searching Facebook to find someone’s parents to tell them how much of a fan you are of their child, take a step back and think “is this acceptable behavior?” And before you stick out your hand to grab a piece of your favorite pro player remember that being a subscriber on Twitch doesn’t make you two bros.