I’ve been at the heart of e-sports drama before, that goes without saying. I am often the commentator, watching it all is it unfolds. Rarely have I been accused of being the cause. Yet I woke today to find myself victim of what read like a targeted smear campaign from someone I have had no cause to mention other than praise prior to that moment.
For those who had missed it, it started with an errant tweet. I had heard that ROOT Gaming were picking up a SMITE team, an interesting development for sure as it represented only the second big gaming organisation – one with an impressive Starcraft 2 presence – moving into a game that was viewed by the e-sports elitists as not so much the “little brother” of the mainstream MOBAs but more like the “annoying nephew”.
After checking with several sources and verifying the authenticity of it, and a brief period of trying to get a bigger e-sports journalist than me to tweet about it, I decided to reveal. It didn’t quite generate the response I expected. People weren’t talking about it like the open secret it appeared to be, nor were they talking about what it meant for SMITE as a whole. Instead we were talking about journalistic ethics once again, something the grown-ups had put to bed several weeks prior
, and whether or not it was wrong to issue such a tweet.
The motivations were fairly clear. The idea that SMITE would garner me more attention than any of the other games I had a presence in was ludicrous. If I wanted to channel my energies into getting a strong enough following so I could follow the tried and tested e-sports method of getting paid (get the community of a game behind you, then blackmail the keepers of the pursestrings with the prospect of you suddenly having to quit e-sports) everything I do now would be about LoL. What I was doing was preparing the existing community aware of my work (you, Tek-9, those who know my work in SC2 etc) for the our new website’s foray into SMITE coverage. What better way to start the discussion than with what could be the genesis of a genuine competitive scene with a strong e-sports presence?
Shortly after I was contacted by the captain of the team, Jeremy “Jerbie” Branham, who was less than friendly. Despite an attempt to open a dialogue the player wanted instead to threaten to have me prevented from covering the game or working with the people behind SMITE, Hi-Rez Studios
. Which was odd because I had been the person who had put my company in contact with them in regards to helping see the game reach its full e-sports potential.
The player seemed content to continue trying to throw his perceived weight around, telling anyone and everyone who would listen that I was a “nobody”, that I was a “kid” with a small website that just wanted web traffic, as if revealing the pick up on our site (you will notice we’ve not even published the news on Cadred) would be comparable to breaking the World Cyber Games intention to go mobile only.
The ensuring “drama” lead to me going on the 82nd episode of the community based webshow, Beyond The Rift, to confront the player and what he had said about me. As far as I was aware though the player would only be on for five minutes and the rest of my input would be to talk about journalistic ethics and the development of SMITE as an e-sport, topics I would much rather have been talking about.
What ensued was a prolonged period of shaming someone who had been caught in his own web of lies. It went on longer than I expected it to. For some it was no more than Jeremy deserved, for others it was too brutal, a car crash in slow motion that showed someone no-one took seriously anyway being discredited in a way he hadn’t anticipated. Certainly though no-one had felt that anything I had said was untrue and no-one wanted to perpetuate the myth that the player was an innocent victim in any of it. Even the players own team and members of ROOT’s editorial team came on after the show aired to talk about how all animosity was coming from their captain and that they felt all he had to say was “no comment” at the time, which was as accurate a summary as could be given.
I woke up today to see that the player had been sanctioned, something I didn’t really expect as to me the player had already had a bad enough time. On closer inspection I saw that the link was actually little more than a diatribe about me and about how I had bullied the player on air, that I had prevented him from making an apology. It flipped and flopped – one minute saying e-sports needed more people like me, the next saying I had no ethics and was a dick. It looked rushed and poorly thought out. Yet this wasn’t a response put together in the heat of the moment from a player, these were the words of the co-founder and owner of the organisation, Paulo "CatZ" Vizcarra.
There are few things sadder than seeing someone you had respect for try and occupy a moral high ground while acting in a manner completely beneath them. This is especially true when you know they are intelligent enough to know they are wrong and to see the inherent contradiction of their actions. It frustratingly makes you question not only them but also your own assessments, that somehow you have been duped and you always thought you knew better than that.
In an article entitled “Response To Journalist Dude” (subtitled: See how we didn’t use his name huehuehuehue)
The management from ROOT adopted the strange position of portraying the player who had lied about what offers he had and hadn’t received from organisations, had lied about me costing him a livelihood, had lied about me being a liar, had threatened to “cut” me to the show host prior to it airing, had threatened to vandalise my property on air and had – ultimately – disrespected his new home by the implication he’d rather be somewhere else, was somehow a victim.
“To anyone who glanced over the VOD, I invite you to watch it again with a different lens and put yourself in Jerbie's position. Imagine you dug a hole for yourself, acknowledged it was a mistake, showed up to apologize, and got outed, treated like like a liar and a fraud, and had people laugh and talk over you. Jerbie has a explosive personality, but he's for the most part a really cool dude, and we're gonna get behind him and our Smite team. Obviously, he's not going to do anything crazy and we're going to coach him on keeping his temper, but he SHOWED UP TO APOLOGIZE. He got attacked OVER and OVER and OVER again and he exploded. Not to make excuses for him. He blew up and we're sanctioning him for it. I'm sure many of you would have no problem admitting, "Yeah I lied to you, I'm a liar." Jerbie tried to say, "no I didn't lie, it was partly true" in efforts to not look like an ass.”
Does anyone believe that the player had showed up to apologise on air? Clearly that was never his intention, at all. He wanted to say his piece and to try and make me look foolish, using his standing within the community – compared to mine, which is nil – to do so. Indeed, while I’m loath to ever use “logs” to prove a point (something which puts me in the same league as Rakaka, a place I’d always hoped to avoid) Branham had made his views about me and about participating on the show clear hours before we aired when he spoke with the host:
[6:22:35 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: ive been friends with you damn near since the start of beta for smite
[6:22:57 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: but i promise you if he comes on your show we will have nothing more to do with you, your show, or future programs
[6:23:14 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: and i will do everything in my power to make sure noone associates as well
[6:23:20 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: that richard lewis guy is fucking scum
[6:23:34 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: and if i see him, im going to cut him
[6:23:33 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: if hes on youre not doing the show on drews stream also
[6:23:37 PM] DeamonMachine - BLGaming.com: bart is also coming on
[6:23:42 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: i dont give two shits
[6:23:45 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: if richards on
[6:23:46 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: we're out
[6:23:50 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: sorry
[6:24:02 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: richard lewis cost us a sponsorship opportunity with EG
[6:24:26 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: when he made that post that we were signing with root
[6:24:31 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: we hadnt decided yet
[6:24:33 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: had signed nothing
[6:24:42 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: but eg backed out when they read that we had signed with root already
[6:28:54 PM] DeamonMachine - BLGaming.com: i was going to do it on nutral ground as it was anyway (blg stream)
[6:29:09 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: well do what ya want
[6:29:15 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: but we're done with ya if hes on
[6:34:48 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: hes a fucking no name
[6:35:00 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: but
[6:35:03 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: your show your call
[1:05:15 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: alrighty deamon ill give you a few minutes on the show
[1:05:35 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: but i promise you now
[1:05:46 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: and this is just advice
[1:06:03 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: this will only be a negative mark
[1:08:16 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: ill give you 5 minutes then im going back to practice
[1:08:20 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: take it or leave it
The only thing I need to shoot down the "apology" assertion is this - if he had planned to apologise then why was he so adamant that if I was on the show, he wouldn't be? Why was he telling the host he would give him five minutes to confirm the pick up. There was no plan to apologise. That is spin, a lie not verifiable by contradictory words, just contradictory behaviour.
I had made attempts to contact Paulo "CatZ" Vizcarra prior to going on air, to maybe talk it out and say that this was about me and Jerb not me and ROOT. He didn’t deem me important enough to respond to, evident from his post, but again I made the effort to avoid what unfolded. That’s not to say I’m sad in the slightest about a liar being exposed as one but for someone to say it should have been dealt with privately, then refuse to interact with that person on the grounds they aren’t important enough to interact with, seems a hypocritical standpoint. Any criticism after that fact is clutching at straws.
The assertion that the newly acquired ROOT player was also set up for an ambush is also a lie. It was absolutely clear to everyone participating on the show that we would be discussing not only the ethics surrounding “leaking” things via social media but also some of the claims Jerbs had made about other teams. I even warned him, through the host, that if he had told lied it’d be better to not stand by those lies by the time the show aired. Had he admitted that I hadn’t cost him a salary with Evil Geniuses, a pretty serious claim, I’d have not gone any further into it:
[06/02/2013 23:28:35] Richard Lewis: You might want to mention to Jerb I know Alex (Garfield)
[06/02/2013 23:28:38] Richard Lewis: so if it's a lie
[06/02/2013 23:28:42] Richard Lewis: he might want to back out of it now :D
[07/02/2013 18:16:01] Richard Lewis: Yeah
[07/02/2013 18:16:13] Richard Lewis: I've known ODEE for years
[07/02/2013 18:16:38] Richard Lewis: Worked together during CGS
[1:11:36 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: ah so you know michael o'dell personally/
[1:17:06 PM] DeamonMachine - BLGaming.com: I don't no, but richard talked w/ him and knows him personally
[1:17:15 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: ah
[1:17:18 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: the mighty richard
[1:17:19 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: :P
[1:17:30 PM] DeamonMachine - BLGaming.com: boy's been around, he's got a vast history in esports
[1:17:35 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: im sure
[1:17:51 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: not going to get into this any more
[1:17:54 PM] Jerbie - Juice/Blight Gaming: you got your 5 mins
[1:18:01 PM] DeamonMachine - BLGaming.com: that's fine
I gave the player ample opportunity to at least admit to some exaggeration on his part. Instead he was more obsessed with living out the fantasy of being important, treating a solid and selfless SMITE community member like shit in the process. Be under no illusions he knew exactly how easy it would be to expose any lies and he still refused to come down from his lofty pedestal, pack away the ego and simply apologise for what was said.
You see, the opportunity for an apology was before the show aired, not on air when it would seem contrived and forced. That would have been the measure of the individual and the show would have gone a lot different, although I’d have still expected a retraction that I in any way lied because, you know, I didn’t.
What a journalist is was also constantly talked about. I’m happy to define it but instead let’s talk about what it isn’t. It’s not my job to be a positive influence on the scene, or any scene for that matter. A journalist reports and / or editorialises. The responsibilities that go hand in hand with that have little do with abstract concepts such as positivity or negativity. One is about facts, the other about informed opinion. It is also definitely not the job of a journalist to act as a PR manager by extension for organisations, teams and players, or to sit on things they don’t want others to know. This cannot be argued. As such I find little grounds on which to call into question whether or not I am a journalist, or to even discuss what type of journalist I am. A body of work spanning years cannot be summarised by one tweet, that much is obvious.
Paulo "CatZ" Vizcarra’s response is a clever one for several reasons. First it trades on his own reputation, which is well respected with reason, and uses the lack of status afforded any journalist in any scene to portray an intelligent fiction. In this story someone you don’t know is vindictive and spiteful, someone you vaguely know is the victim of his own naivety and someone you know and trust is vouching for both their characters and telling you their version of events is true. It is the definition of unreliable narration. Naturally the reach of ROOT extends to their fans, people who are inclined to believe them, but also knowingly goes beyond my own in this particular instance. Why? Well, while everything points to good journalism reaching far, this is a story about secondary e-sports title that wouldn’t register in the minds of people who know me from other work. The reaction to that story, coming out of ROOT as it does, reaches anyone who has heard of the organisation, meaning plenty of Starcraft 2 enthusiasts. In short, it’s a pretty cynical attempt to show who has the widest reach and to smear my reputation to people I’ve spent two years working to show that e-sports journalism can be improved across the board, namely the Starcraft 2 community.
It is safe to call it a fiction when you see broad character statements such as this made about a person who he has known all of a fortnight.
“Jerbie is the type of guy who couldn't stand it for a second if he knew he was hurting his friends and teammates with his own action. He would retire without us having to say a word.”
It isn’t, of course, as clever as it wants to be. For example, for all the air of respectability it wishes to portray, just how very “beneath” them it is to have to write it at all, the mask frequently slips. Paulo’s continual insults are simply in line with that of his player, an instructional on how to be call someone a “nobody” without ever having to resort to something as obvious and clearly distasteful. The maturity of the argument is pretty much apparent when you invoke the number of Twitter followers you have.
“He called you a nobody, and that's simply not fair, you're somebody, just not anyone of importance.”
“if you honestly think I or ROOT cares about you exposing our announcement a few days early to your 1600? followers + whatever else, you're completely wrong.”
“I'll tell you, if I wanted coverage or interviews done, I'd go to Slasher and GameSpot, not Richard Lewis.”
“I don't like the work the guy does on a personal note, most of ROOT management agrees, and it was confirmed on the show. So what if I don't like it? He isn't quite simply, relevant to us, and giving him attention helps his brand, but not ours, so why would we do that?”
“Richard Lewis, I know you're gonna be hurt by some of these statements and come off with a pretty clever way to answer, that's your job. If your intent is to fix anything or pretend you're an Angel sent to Smite by the Gods of Tier-3 Journalists, save it.”
None of which, ultimately, seems relevant to any of the spin he’s peddling and clearly points to being upset at having his hand forced in the first place. Then again, it’s not a cohesive argument in the first place. Both in his open letter to “journalist dude” and his responses on Reddit where he states that negative player behaviour is OK if they are being made to look stupid about previous negative behaviour:
“Outbursts like that happen from professional players, all day every day. Moderators moderate. Players are emotional, players are players, Jerbie is no longer the captain of the team as a result, but he's a heck of a nice guy trying to grow the game just like you.
Please, rewatch the vod, and put yourself in jerbz position. Or if it'll make it simpler, go to a zoo and poke at any animal repeatedly.
There are a lot of wrongs here, but to imply that Jerbz had most of the responsibility for the circus that was the first half of that show, is a bit naive. He did his wrongs, he got humiliated on that show, and reprimanded on our end.
Worry less about the players personalities and more about the content that's being put out, If you are GENUINELY worried about SMITE recieving a negative critique based on professionalism, ask Bart to remove the sunglasses and title of "aka J.R.R Trollking, aka The Butt Collector" from his twitter account. He works for the company making the game. Personally, I think its great, that he can let his personality shine through a bit, SMITE gave me a nice relaxed vibe to it, cause I watched Lassiz' stream and from talking to people like Matty Pocket and the rest of the guys. LionHeart dude seems cool too. That's your personalities, that's your Hook.
Get behind your players and your talent, empathize, this was partly Jerbz' fault, but don't put it all on him, he tried to apologize plenty.”
It seems that “provocation” as a defence for unacceptable behaviour is something that Paulo likes to talk about a lot. It is interesting then that this only extends to his own player and no-one else. The provocation of being sent vague threatening e-mails is not something to be resolved publicly for journalists, nor are they supposed to respond to the provocation of being called a nobody, having years of their work denigrated, or being called a liar in a very industry where truth telling and reputation go hand in hand. Having made personal threats, no matter how hilariously improbable, in private is also something to be glossed over. These actions are not provocations and if they are the title “journalist” precludes me from viewing them as such. I can’t be alone in seeing this argument as completely flawed and illogical.
But that is the nature of the business. The manager thinks that ROOT are being hurt in all of this and that damage can’t be minimised at its source. Better to try and subvert the truth and attack the person that has brought the negative attention to light. It is far easier to do that than to correct it, than to admit that it has been an embarrassing start to a relationship that could define a significant chunk of the game’s immediate future. Why go to all that trouble when you believe you have a louder microphone than that of the person you want to drone out?
Do I think it’s right to use Cadred to fight battles that appear ultimately personal in nature? Absolutely not. This is why I’ve let it slide dozens of times before in the past when others have taken it upon themselves to launch baseless attacks. In E-sports there are no points ever scored for being the bigger person and walking away and no-one will even notice or remember that you did it. Yet often you have to do it even though it allows your detractors a platform and you no means to defend yourself. It’s not fair but it’s the way it goes.
Of late, however, I see a worrying trend forming of organisations trying to bully and smear journalists, to tell them what they can and can’t do, to use their status amongst the community to try and obfuscate the truth and control information. In this instance to call ROOT’s take on what happened “selective” would be generous. It is a series of half-truths, skewed facts and a deliberate attempt to try and shift responsibility from their player to that of a single journalist, which just so happens to be me in this case.
Their lies will remain in print, the fiction will be passed down among those who read and regurgitate it as fact and even this response will fall well short of addressing the damage. They knew that would be the case when it was published. They didn’t want to “win” by occupying the moral high ground, in the same way Republicans don’t want to win elections by debating the issues. They responded to a player they have deemed suitable to act as a brand ambassador being exposed as a liar and a thug by trying to smear the person who revealed that. Losing the captaincy? A private in-joke, a way to announce the sanction and appear to be doing the right thing, while at the same time giving them the opportunity to run with that smear. There was no way to make what their player did seem right, so they make what I did seem wrong and contextualise his actions in an inaccurate manner. It’s nothing more than a cheap political trick.
Privately, while trying to talk about it with Paulo, he lectured me about the importance of using my talents for good. He refused to clarify exactly what this meant, or how I had done “bad” at any stage in this process. I guess there’s a parallel with his own position. His position as the owner of a gaming organisation should also be used for “good”, for the benefit of e-sports as a whole. I’m not sure what good is achieved in lowering once high standard to fall in line and support a proven liar and someone threatening violence and vandalism. Equally I’d say you have a real responsibility to choose who you champion very carefully because of the tone it sets across this small industry, especially in fledgling scenes.
The good news for SMITE in all of this? Well, the game must have one hell of a future. A respected personality prepared to put his own reputation on the line with a transparent piece of spin and standing by a player who did something worse than Steven “Destiny” Bonnell, the most popular Starcraft 2 streamer, ever did… The long term ends are obviously worth it. After all that’s what motivates organisations, trivialities such as the truth less so.