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Blizzard and Twitch pledge to fight racism with pilot program

An incident at a recent live-streamed Hearthstone tournament has highlighted the need for change in eSports

Blizzard and Twitch are working on a pilot program to combat racism in live-streamed events - a response to a recent incident at a Hearthstone tournament during DreamHack Austin.

Terrence Miller, an African-American man who plays for the Gale Force eSports team, managed to reach the finals of a Hearthstone tournament on May 8, his best best ever performance as a competitive gamer. However, the Twitch stream of his performance and subsequent interview were blighted by a torrent of racist imagery and invective, leaving the event's moderators unable to stem the flow.

Speaking to Polygon last week, one of the ten moderators covering the match, Carling Filewich, said that these incidents are not uncommon in livestreamed events, but the amount of abuse aimed at Miller exceeded their expectations.

"If you've been on Twitch, you know an event like this is going to draw out racist, sexist and hateful comments," Filewich said. "I don't think anyone anticipated it would be this bad, though. As Terrence got further into his run, it was obvious that the situation was going to deteriorate. At that point, more mods were recruited."

Now, Blizzard CEO Mike Morhaime has responded to the incident, stating the company's commitment to values like "Play Nice; Play Fair." Blizzard has already started drawing together those involved in the livestreaming of events - "players, streamers, and moderators, along with partners like Twitch, DreamHack, and others" - to develop a solution to the problem.

"This is ultimately an industry-wide issue, and it will take all of us to make a real impact"

"To that end, we're investigating a pilot program that Twitch has in the works to streamline moderation and combat ban evasion," Morhaime said. "We're also updating our esports tournament partner policies with a stronger system of checks, balances, and repercussions to provide a better chat experience around our content.

"We believe these are important steps to take to help address the related issues, but we acknowledge that they only address part of the problem," he continued. "This is ultimately an industry-wide issue, and it will take all of us to make a real impact."

Twitch has also released a statement, noting its current policy of giving broadcasters the knowledge and tools to police their own chat channels. However, that the moderating team at DreamHack was unable to "fully prevent" the abuse from breaking through has highlighted the need for more direct action.

"As Blizzard noted, we are exploring new tools and processes to increase awareness and mitigation of these issues, and will continue to take action against chatters who committed reported violations. We can't comment on specifics at this time, but we do have a team dedicated to improving these aspects of the chat experience with a lot of internal progress already that we hope to share with the community soon."

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Latest comments (8)

Daniel Trezub QA Analyst, GameLoftA year ago
One simple solution would implement a rule "behave nice and you can play. Behave badly and you are banned from the game". People like this should not be allowed to participate in any kind of decent online community or game. This is the only thing they care about: cut their access to the games they love and they will get hurt. It's a shame.
Other measures would be only marketing to show the world "look, we are dealing with it", but they will provide none or very little results.
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Jess Kappeler Senior Game Designer, Pipeworks StudioA year ago
Daniel, I believe the hateful racist comments were coming from the twitch chat room, not people actually participating in the game. To make it even harder, if you ban a twitch account, someone can just make a new one.
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Daniel Trezub QA Analyst, GameLoftA year ago
I understand that, Jess. But do you agree that a big part of this same twitch audience are actual Hearthstone players? It wouldn't be hard to trace their twitch accounts to their hearthstone accounts and ban them all. I know the technical and social limitations of this, but it's a beginning. But, again, I don't think there's much of an interest on banning paying players from a game, no matter how stupid, racist, sexist or whatever they are...
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Paul Jace Merchandiser A year ago
Hopefully this pilot program makes some progress. Another alternative would be to ban the IP addresses of the one's who were making those comments in the chat rooms, especially if they are repeat offenders.
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Casey Anderson Game Data Analyst, Big Fish GamesA year ago
@Daniel There is probably some overlap, but given how easy it is to create Twitch burner accounts, it would be pretty much impossible to link Twitch accounts to Hearthstone accounts without huge margins of error that would impact innocent players.

To your second point, at least for an evergreen title, banning or quarantining toxic players is almost certainly a revenue positive decision. Toxic players are a small vocal group that increase other player's churn and are probably relatively poor monetizers in the first place (if maturity is a good indicator of income). Decreasing player churn (without changing a games economy) has an enormous positive impact on revenue.

Edit 1: I forgot to grammar
Edit 2: I forgot to "Edit 1:"

Edited 2 times. Last edit by Casey Anderson on 19th May 2016 1:14am

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Christophe Danguien games developer A year ago
@Paul, banning the IP wouldn't make sense, IP of people changes all the time. Mine is dynamic for instance and change each time I check it out.
Good idea though, but undoable :/

I think banning the twitch account still makes sense, people will get tired recreating a twitch account eventually.
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Andrew Watson Tools Programmer A year ago
Considering this is something people have been trying to deal with for what, centuries? I don't have much faith in any sort of system like this. People can and will find ways to get around it, no matter how zealous you make your filtering system.
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Aleksi Ranta Category Management Project Manager A year ago
@Andrew I agree. People will always find a way. And to make matters worse i fear the hate will become more condensed and extreme if and when the accounts are banned. The haters will just make better use of the time they have. Banning and moderating is a band-aid solution, the issue is just with people, their education, their up-bringing, their parents and so on. Its a social issua that needs to be tackled outside of the internet if you want true results.
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