Blizzard Entertainment and Twitch are working together to develop a pilot program targeted at combating online harassment following an incident during a recent Hearthstone live stream.
The incident took place last week during Dreamhack Austin, an eSports event that emanated live from the Austin Convention Center during May 6-8. Terrence Miller, an African-American player known as "TerrenceM," rose from a nobody in the Hearthstone community to second place in a tournament—and in so doing, became a target for racial epithets in the live Twitch stream.
Twitch moderators did their best to stamp out the abhorrent behavior, but were quickly overwhelmed. "As Terrence got further into his run, it was obvious that the situation was going to deteriorate," according to Carling "toastthebadger" Filewich, one of the moderators during the Dreamhack stream (per Polygon). "At that point, more mods were recruited. There weren't enough mods. I don't think anyone would disagree with that. For the most part, it was an experienced group of people that I have lots of respect for."
Filewich went on to explain that most of the instigators hid behind handles none of the mods recognized. But the larger problem was that there were no policies or guidelines in place to handle an uprising of abuse. "That led to some friction," she admitted to Polygon. "R9K [an automated form of moderation] would be turned on, then someone would turn it off. Slow mode would be enabled, then disabled, or the length would be changed. Most of the mods were doing what they thought was best; there were just a few who wanted to encourage the chaos."
Miller admitted that he didn't notice many other black players at high levels in Hearthstone. Still, he told Polygon, that didn't stop his opponents at the event from applauding his skills. "Everyone was super nice. Everyone was congratulating me — 'you did really well', 'your play was super impressive.' I had nothing negative happen to me in person while I was there. I guess most of those people saying that stuff in Twitch chat wouldn’t actually say that to my face. But there’s definitely a big difference between the internet and in-person."
Blizzard president Mike Morhaime responded to Polygon's request for a statement about the incident. "One of our company values is 'Play Nice; Play Fair;' we feel there's no place for racism, sexism, harassment, or other discriminatory behavior, in or outside of the gaming community."
Morhaime went on to reveal that Blizzard will partner with Twitch, Dreamhack, moderators, and streamers to develop a weapon able to fight back against online abuse. "To that end, we're investigating a pilot program that Twitch has in the works to streamline moderation and combat ban evasion. 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."
Online abuse affects gaming at large, not just Blizzard games or Twitch streams. Morhaime and his partners know that, and hope their collaborative effort will be seen as a first step on the difficult journey to widespread thoughtfulness and respect among players.
"We can only hope that when instances like this come to light it encourages people to be more thoughtful and positive, and to fully reject mean-spirited commentary, whether within themselves or from their fellow gamers."
Articles from Polygon were used to write this report. The image of Miller comes from a report on Kotaku.