Esports’ Reaction to Black Lives Matter

In late May of 2020, the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement made international headlines once more in the wake of the George Floyd protests. Within days of Mr. Floyd’s death, multiple esports organizations posted statements on their social media in support of George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement and black communities. Activision-Blizzard’s Overwatch League (OWL) and Riot Games’League of Legends Championship Series (LCS) took time on the live broadcast before games to make a statement in support of BLM.

Riot Games’ Responses to BLM

In addition to the broadcast, Riot Games acknowledged BLM in the form of charitable donations to organizations that stand for marginalized groups.

Riot Games President Dylan Jadeja announced on Riot Games’ social media that he intended to commit $1 million in contributions to organizations like The Innocence Project. Additionally, he stated that Riot Games would contribute $10 million towards “investments and startup programs focused on founders underrepresented in the games community.”

Riot Games later announced on social media that the company would match up to $1,000 per Riot employee for qualifying donations to BLM causes.

Riot Games also launched an investigation into Ron Johnson over a shared social media post that seemed to question George Floyd’s character. At the time, Ron Johnson was an executive at Riot Games as the Global Head of Consumer Products. He was placed on leave after sharing the post on his Facebook account and later resigned from his position at Riot Games.

Electronic Arts’ Response to BLM

Publisher and developer Electronic Arts (EA) also made a statement that promised actions in support of BLM and against racism.

The company behind popular games such as Apex Legends and the FIFA series, EA posted a note shared with EA employees by CEO Andrew Wilson.

EA promised to contribute $1 million to organizations fighting against racism. In addition, EA pledged to double match employee donations to the same or similar organizations in the month of June through its YourCause program. Thus, if an employee donated $100 to the NAACP, EA would donate $200.

EA also announced the launch of a new program that would “give everyone in the company an additional paid day each year” for community volunteering. It would also celebrate the Juneteenth holiday with “an additional company-wide volunteering day” on June 19.

Infinity Ward’s Response to BLM

Call of Duty (CoD) developer Infinity Ward posted on social media several days after the initial protests. In the post, Infinity Ward promised to take more actions against racism expressed in-game and work to prevent it.

This followed an initial announcement by the Call of Duty social media that the developers would postpone the launches of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Mobile’s latest seasons. The post claimed that the delays were to raise awareness for “those speaking up for equality, justice, and change.”

Roughly a week later, Infinity Ward’s parent company Activision-Blizzard announced it would make charitable donations to “support efforts focused on educational access and opportunity.” Activision-Blizzard CEO Bobby Kotick announced a $1 million donation to support organizations such as the United Negro College Fund. He also promised a $1 million personal pledge and a $1 million pledge from Activision-Blizzard to match employee donations.

Contrasting Responses to Political Movements

It is all too easy to mistake the actions of individuals within companies or organizations as the actions of the companies or organizations themselves. It is important to remember that what individuals want and what companies want are not always the same thing.

The esports industry’s response to BLM stands in stark contrast to the industry’s collective silence roughly one year earlier during the Hong Kong protests in late 2019.

There were no executive-level statements on the organization’s behalf taking a stance on the protests. There were no million-dollar donations.

Riot Games’ John Needham stated in a social media announcement that Riot had “a responsibility to keep personal views on sensitive issues (political, religious, or otherwise) separate” from the broadcast. He said that Riot had reminded casters and pro players to “refrain from discussing any of these topics on air.”

Activision-Blizzard banned a Hong Kongese Hearthstone player (Ng Wai Chung aka “Blitzchung”) who spoke in support of the protests on an official stream and fired the casters interviewing him.

The contrast sends a clear message. Esports will take a stand on political issues… so long as it isn’t inconvenient to do so.

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