Dota 2 Has a Severe Toxicity Problem
One of the prevailing questions around Dota 2 is how the game’s constantly in a state of decline with the North American scene seeing a lack of support from sponsors, organizations, and fans. Looking at Steamcharts, you can see how the game’s player base has declined significantly in the past six years. At one point, Dota 2 peaked with a total of 1.2 million players back in February of 2016, but can barely break out of the 600,000 peak players enjoying the game nowadays. While the game is far from dead, there has been a significant decline in players overall. A lot of people look at the professional scene in North America, once one of the most active and competitive regions during the early days of Dota 2, and arguably, during the days of Dota Allstars. The North American professional Dota 2 scene once had organizations like Complexity, Optic Gaming, Cloud9, and Immortals actively involved and invested in North American Dota 2, but departed when they realized it was difficult to market to the Dota 2 community and capture their interest outside of Dota 2 ventures. Nowadays, the North American Dota 2 community only has one professional organization active, Evil Geniuses, and many claim that there’s simply no means to rejuvenate the scene. While there may be several factors as to why things in North America, and arguably some other regions, may be this way, one thing does stand out as a notable issue that comes up again and again: Dota 2 has a toxicity problem, especially towards women. The reason why this issue has become more prominent now than it has been before is due to the #metoo movement that saw departures and allegations arise last year in the gaming industry, with mainstream outlets such as The New York Times covering the stories of sexism, harassment, and hatred towards women in the gaming industry. The Dota 2 scene also saw similar stories emerge that led to the ousting of prominent community members. However, the attitudes and behavior that led to such behavior becoming a norm still has yet to be dealt with appropriately.
TI10 Caster Moxxi Speaks Up
This year, the TI10 English-speaking talent included new faces such as esports host Frankie Ward, who has previously worked on CSGO events such as IEM and ESL Pro League, Dota 2 community streamer Mira “Ephey” Riad, former Games Done Quick host Kasumi “Sumichu” Yogi, and Spanish-language caster and host Alvaro “AvoPlus” Velasco. In typical fashion, the Dota 2 community, particularly on the Dota 2 subreddit and in Twitch chat, were vocally oppositional and critical of the new talent. However, posters on Reddit would end up warming up to Velasco, while many on the subreddit would tear down both Ward and Yogi. Threads such as these are too common on the Dota 2 subreddit. The fact that these threads were posted at all lead to a reactive, though warranted, response from Moxxi, a caster who has been dedicating herself to the Americas region and has also read her fair share of rude and hellish comments.
In a Twitlonger that was posted yesterday, TI10 caster Moxxi talked about the Dota 2 community’s response to the inclusion of more women to the talent cast of TI10. Moxxi spoke about the treatment that her fellow women were being subjected to by the Dota 2 community on Reddit, noting that the community was dead set to be oppositional to the inclusion of Frankie from the very beginning. “This was a chance to bring in new people with a very professional and talented host joining us,” Moxxi writes, “Instead, the community slammed the choice and proceeded to harass one of the kindest, most hard working ladies I have ever met. This is a lady who flew to a COVID infested country, in her 3rd trimester, mind you, because she had made a deal with Valve and was too honorable to cancel it.”
Moxxi’s letter to the community provides valuable insight into the level of care and attention to detail Frankie brought to TI10’s broadcast with the intent of making the event accessible to inexperienced viewers by allowing her to be their surrogate. It’s something that the Dota 2 community supposedly endorses as the hopes are that new viewers can be converted to new players due to the efforts of the newbie surrogate that’s engaging with more experienced analysts and commentators.
According to Moxxi, Frankie Ward went above and beyond to ensure that her segments were thorough, informed, and entertaining to an audience that was determined to dislike her: “Frankie learnt every state ileamare sent us and tried to figure out how to work it into her panels and interviews. But here’s the thing–– being on broadcast isn’t just spewing out facts. It’s talking to people while also having someone in your ear telling you how you only have 2 minutes left, wrap it up, we need to move onto the next segment while you’re trying to figure out the best way to ask your question through a translator and pray it all makes sense. To top that all off, it’s very cold, you’re very pregnant, and you’re exhausted from having to run from the tent to the stadium while growing a human inside you.”
The rest of the letter made sure to acknowledge the accomplishments of other female talent that were working TI10. But what Moxxi was clear to address was how gatekeeping and toxic behavior in the Dota 2 community contributes to the community’s lack of new players: “I would say one of the major reasons the NA scene is crumbling is because of the massive amounts of gatekeeping that used to occur. When you refuse to let people enter, your pool stagnates and eventually evaporates.” She also notes that when criticisms are made of female talent, it consistently exists in the context of other female talent, exposing an underlying attitude of sexist behavior that isn’t boldly confrontational but colors the opinions seen on the Dota 2 subreddit.
The response to Moxxi’s letter by the Dota 2 subreddit, arguably the target of the letter’s irritation and disappointment, didn’t favorably respond to what she had to say. Continued criticism of Frankie, although far more restrained than what’s been seen in the past week, and other new talent are prevailing opinions present in the thread. Many of the responses disagree with Moxxi’s initial accusations of gatekeeping and toxic behavior, noting that the community and the Dota 2 subreddit’s concerns have been with how Valve continually put uninitiated, untested talent at the forefront of their biggest event knowing that the community are unlikely to respond positively. This thought process seems to do a lot to place the responsibility of a community’s attitude on Valve and the organizers of The International than on the community themselves.
Many seem to be caught up in whether Frankie’s treatment by the Dota 2 community is influenced by gender-based discrimination with many posters quick to say that their criticism is mostly based on Frankie’s inexperience and unfamiliarity. Many also seem to resent Moxxi’s acknowledgement that the treatment of women in the Dota 2 community is poor and accuse her of pushing an agenda based on gender.
Other prominent personalities in the Dota 2 community were quick to respond to Moxxi’s letter, including David “LD” Gorman, one of the founders of Beyond the Summit. His response to Moxxi reveals how the toxicity of the Dota 2 community ultimately led to him stepping down from casting and commentary desk roles at Dota 2 events. Many of the replies to Moxxi’s tweet are of people sharing their experiences simply playing the game for the first time and being discouraged and flamed by their teammates.
Esports Host Reinessa Continues the Discourse
As the conversation on Reddit continued to veer back and forth between whether or not sexism contributed to the treatment of women in the Dota 2 community, esports host Reinessa also shared her personal experience and what noticed as being conscious, toxic behavior and sexist attitudes.
”The gatekeeping is out of control,” Reinessa says, “It is laughable that the people commenting, saying that Frankie, Sumichu, and Moxxie get the equal amount of hate as people like Day9 or Machine or anybody else, is kind of hilarious. Because when you look at those talents, and you look at Avo who had a thread criticizing him, that’s different than five, ten, dozens, hundreds of negative threads, tons that have to be removed by the Reddit moderation team, DMs, tweets, overwhelming comments to say ‘I hate this person.’ Just blind, general hate. That’s not constructive criticism. It doesn’t help your point that it’s not about your gender.”
Reinessa makes a good point in describing the history of sexism in the Dota 2 commentary, making note of how the vocal minority of the Dota 2 community were outspoken about Sheever and their dislike of her, or making statements about her appearance, despite praising her and recognizing her as a core member of the Dota 2 community in recent years. She makes an excellent point in how the community myopically obsesses about MMR, and how it’s typically used as a defense to justify criticism, even though the same critiques women are exposed to in the Dota 2 community are seldom applied to their male counterparts.
The video Reinessa put out sincerely addresses what she believes to be the core of the toxicity issue in Dota 2 and the breakdown that the community’s been struggling with for years. While I feel like many aren’t familiar with her work and may feel that her lack of prominence doesn’t necessitate much attention, she does a good job of taking a complex issue like sexism and toxicity in the Dota 2 community and speaking about it bluntly and plainly, addressing the core of the problem: “If constructive criticism is the goal, that criticism has to come from the place of wanting to see this person more, not see this person less. When you want to see this person less, it’s no longer constructive criticism for that person.”
Can Dota 2 Overcome Its Toxicity?
I can remember back in the early days of Dota when women’s teams like VirtusPro.Womens, NAVI Ladies, and PMS Asterisk were active teams with female rosters looking to improve conditions for female competitors. The culture at the time reinforced this idea that women playing Dota 2 professional couldn’t match their male counterparts, making the idea of ‘true’ female professionals or mixed gender teams unlikely or an uninteresting proposition. Even women’s events that featured female competitors typically were treated with less consideration.
This doesn’t mean that people were being forwardly sexist or discriminatory, but the severity in which the grand final between two women’s teams was treated in comparison to a professional Dota game between all-male teams differed. Over time, the Dota 2 scene saw less and less women’s competition. Many of the players who played on these teams transitioned to other roles in the Dota 2 ecosystem if they didn’t depart from esports entirely. Even at its most benign, sexism in Dota 2 has been present enough to kill the motivation of many women from continuing their interest in the game.
The toxicity of Dota 2 isn’t limited to women, but it’s definitely at its most visible when women are involved. Tammy “Furryfish” Tang, once the face of women’s Dota in the SEA region transitioned to other prospects when Dota simply became too tiresome a task. Tang now operates the FSL, a female-only esports league based out of Singapore that’s currently responsible for organizing Riot’s VCT: Game Changers in the SEA region.
If Dota 2’s biggest concern is that the game lacks players and that the numbers of advocates for the game is dwindling, perhaps it should be kinder to the women who want to be included and work hard to be those advocates to those who may pay attention to them because they relate to who they are, or relate to their status as being new to the game. Consistently treating those who express interest and don’t have over 3,000 hours of experience in the game poorly does not help the community. It’s even worse when that treatment and toxicity becomes the exclusive way that the Dota 2 community treats women.