When you’re just another player on the field, you can shoot your mouth off without too many people taking notice. But when you’re the champ, all eyes are on you. Madden NFL 17‘s U.S. champ Chris “Dubby” McFarland found this out last week after his tweets cost him $3,000 of his $75,000 prize.
Madden NFL developer and publisher Electronic Arts announced the decision last week. Their competitive gaming commissioner Matt Marcou said in an official statement that “during and directly after the competition, Chris posted multiple messages on a personal social media account that referenced inappropriate content.” Marcou continued. “These posts violated our Code of Conduct and don’t represent the values of our organization. We immediately met with Chris to warn him that his posts were inappropriate and could not continue. Unfortunately, additional offensive messages were posted in subsequent days – Chris has since removed them.”
EA’s decision to punish McFarland came only after he continued to post inappropriate tweets after the warning. McFarland’s Madden Championship Series Points took a hit, too, though that’s not preventing him from participating in the Madden Championship on May 31.
Personality matters in eSports
Electronic Arts, for what it’s worth, had every right to punish him as they did. Participating in official competitions like these requires that the player sign off on behavioral requirements and things like that, the same way that an NFL player can find himself in hot water for cursing, celebrating a little too much after a touchdown, or even for supporting political causes. Fining their champs for bad behavior helps a company like EA’s competitions retain a family-friendly reputation, as I’d guess that younger viewers are a huge part of the eSports audience.
With that said, though, the practice seems somewhat at odds with eSports itself. While things like football and stock-car racing are part of the fabric of American culture at this point, eSports is still finding a place. It has an audience – that much is without question. But it’s a growing audience and it’s not part of the mainstream yet. Making money playing video games professionally is still a tough shot that only a few manage. The popularity of eSports comes as much from the players themselves as from the games and matches. Exciting personalities with cool names attract followers and eyeballs.
Following all of this, McFarland has said on Twitter that his account will be “dry as a desert from here on out,” and that that day was “the day the real Dubby dies.” He said in a statement to Polygon that the fine “shows how much this game is growing,” and that his audience isn’t just other Madden pro players anymore.
“We as players need to understand that we not only represent ourselves but the growth of the game,” he continued. EA holding players responsible is part of that growth, and that growth, he says, is “what we all want.”
The statement is a bit more polished than the tweets, and it shows that these players, probably like many professional athletes out there, have a private side they have to censor a bit and a more public one that is easier to market for the companies they play for.
EA has a right to protect their brand, and what they’re doing isn’t unusual, but it seems possible that too much interference could negatively impact viewership if the audience thinks they’re getting watered down versions of their favorite players.