Esports is the latest trend gaining traction everywhere, particularly among youth. The global esports industry garnered around $1.08 Billion in revenue last year, which is projected to grow by more than 40 percent over the next few years to sit at just over $1.6 Billion in 2024. This growth is driven by massive participation and viewership numbers that have been increasing over the pandemic. The emergence of professional and recreational leagues, school programs, and community initiatives are all growing the youth base of esports participants.
Given how quickly it's growing, many leaders invest their time and money to create the optimal experience for all participants and viewers. Unfortunately, there's still a major impediment to that happening: cyberbullying and targeted online harassment.
Bullying is an issue that affects millions of people every day, but those who often engage in online forums, social networking platforms, and esports leagues are uniquely disadvantaged. The anonymity and removal from social consequences that online activities afford tend to create environments where people act more bravely than they would in real life. The negative impact on victims is also more pronounced, as people are interacting with their devices more than ever.
The Cyberbullying Problem
Bullying in online spaces is a pervasive issue in our tech-enabled era.
Cyberbullying is even more impactful in the current climate, where more and more activities are being moved to virtual spaces. The pandemic is accelerating the growth of esports and online learning, meaning adolescents and youth are now interacting online even more than before. People are aware that comment sections, social media platforms, and other online media are prone to asocial behavior and harassment, but few think about the esports space. This is a big mistake.
Massive platforms like Twitch and Discord, video and messaging apps highly popular in the esports space, put people of all ages and backgrounds into a highly anonymous digital space where accountability is difficult to maintain. It’s in these spaces where trolls and cyberbullies do the most damage.
Trolling can be defined as purposefully provocative online behavior, characterized by the intentional act of upsetting someone or eliciting an angry response. Trolls exist across all sorts of online spaces, including esports leagues. These behaviors are often defended as a type of “humor,” but it’s increasingly obvious that this is a new form of bullying that can have devastating effects on victims. In recent years, we’ve heard numerous stories about trolling behaviors that specifically target marginalized people within the gaming community and escalate to more targeted forms of harassment.
In some cases, trolling and cyberbullying escalate to more insidious forms of targeted harassment, where bullies follow people across their different online presences. The following practices have been exhibited by ba actors throughout the esports industry, whether recreational or professional gamers:
Cyberstalking: The majority of people have multiple digital presences across the online world, some of which may or may not be directly connected. Cyberstalking occurs when bullies follow their victims across different gaming leagues and even social platforms to continue to harass them.
Doxxing: One of the more extreme outcomes of cyberbullying and targeted online harassment is doxxing —the process of collecting and publicly posting the personal information of an individual. This includes everything from their name to their occupation and place of employment and even their personal address.
The unfortunate truth is that anti-bullying initiatives, anti-cyberbullying campaigns, and anti-trolling efforts have been around for a long time now. It was only recently, however, that bullying found a home inside of the esports community.
Current Initiatives Addressing Bullying in Gaming Leagues
To combat this problem, some anti-bullying advocates are calling for anti-trolling laws that punish those who engage in trolling, cyberstalking, doxxing, swatting, etc. With the constant advancement of technology, it’s crucial to keep up with evolving forms of bullying. Here are some of the major developments in the esports space that are arising to fight against
Children's Esports Leagues
One of the easiest ways to protect youth from the dangers of cyberbullying is through participation and development in structured gaming leagues. Children’s esports leagues provide the guidance of certified esports coaches, consistently monitor player behavior, and keep youth safe from bad actors. Not only this, but they also provide a great place for developing gamers to learn the importance of mutual respect, fair play, and inclusivity. While children's esports leagues are only just beginning to grow over the last few years, there are some Little League-style programs that are designed specifically to keep gamers safe from bullies.
Industry Advocacy Groups
Outside of specific leagues and event coordinators, the esports industry also has a growing number of organizations and advocacy groups dedicated to eliminating bullying and toxic behavior from the space. For instance, the Fair Play Alliance, a network of game developers, industry stakeholders, and social platforms, helps inform and educate participants about the importance of a healthy esports environment. There are also groups like the North American Scholastic Esports Federation (NASEF). They are dedicated to bringing gaming into a more structured, transparent space so participants can reap the benefits of online play.
It’s not just the gamers, leagues, and advertisers who need to take a stand against bullying. The technical systems in place that help the gaming leagues run need to be updated as well. Software companies are developing tools and systems that allow participants to safely monitor their play and report any instances of bullying that they experience. Healthy Player One is one such company, offering a platform where playtime, player health, and negative interactions are all monitored to promote better outcomes.
For more information on how the esports industry is evolving to combat the issues of cyberbullying and online harassment, ,contact the experts at Vanta Leagues today. As one of the only COPPA-Compliant leagues in the industry, our primary dedication is to the safety and well-being of the participants in our children’s esports leagues.