What is the solution to Dota 2's abusive trolling problem?

The open qualifiers for Dota 2’s Kiev Major were an opportunity for teams and players throughout the world to earn a shot at one of the biggest prize pools in esports. According to tournament organizer FACEIT it drew the most teams of any open qualifier for a Valve event yet, with over six thousand teams across the globe entering the various regional qualifiers. Unfortunately, even in an esteemed tournament, large crowds can draw troublemakers.

Case in point: a team called ‘Holocaust N****rs’ was able to progress through the first five rounds of the European open qualifiers. When a Reddit user drew attention to the team's name in a thread that has since disappeared, outrage and debate followed as the team continued through the event. The matter even drew ire from OG player Fly.

Many on Reddit and Twitter found themselves wondering where the FACEIT admins were during this period. When reached out for comment, a representative for the site explained that the team had worked around the administrators by using the offensive name in match lobbies. When used as a lobby team name, the FACEIT tournament system wouldn’t display the name to human FACEIT admins.

Had the team been caught before their loss, this means they would have been barred from playing for the duration of the tournament

“Their name while on the FACEIT platform was absolutely normal and contained no offensive language” FACEIT told us. “While on the FACEIT platform all team names are visible to our admins and can therefore be controlled.” “However, once the tournament has started and in-game lobbies have been formed, teams can then use a different in-game name from their FACEIT team account name. So in this instance once they joined the Dota 2 in-game lobby what they do within the new server client is outside of our control as it cannot be seen by our team and it’s no longer part of our platform. By the time the issue was raised the team had already lost the tournament so we were unable to take any action.” 

They point to their policies, which state that an inappropriate name or avatar is cause for a one-week matchmaking ban. Had the team been caught before their loss, this means they would have been barred from playing for the duration of the tournament. This also raises the question of whether opposing teams or spectators in earlier rounds were willing to bring up the issue with the admins, or were aware of the anti-obscenity policies in place (or cared at all). 

Dotabuff co-founder ’Lawliepop’ also responded to the controversy, sharing the site’s official stance:

“This is a cut and dry situation. Names including hate speech are completely unacceptable,” she says. She explains that they already have anti-obscenity and anti-hate policies in place, including censoring avatars and team or player names. However, there’s only so much the site could do, given that they merely scrape data from the Valve API. 

“I think with this particular name, it's an egregious situation due to the fact that it is in a Valve qualifier,” she says. “Ultimately, this is a place where Valve has the opportunity to improve the standards they have for names in Dota. Anything Dotabuff does is just a band-aid on the problem and not a real solution.”

While the Dotabuff staff often comes together to figure out how to implement anti-hate policies, even the moral question of doing so as a data aggregator is tough to answer.

“I want to remove the names, but at the same time I feel conflicted. This is a part of the community, and often Dotabuff will be the only record of it. I don't want erasing the existence of hate to convince the community that these things don't happen. I don't think that part of playing a game should include subjecting yourself to hate speech to participate.”

“I really hope that 5 years from now we can look back on this as part of Dota's ugly past and something we have moved on from.” 

It’s already become a tricky situation. In the brief time between the statement and the time of writing, a Reddit user claimed that the word ‘negro’ got filtered out on the Dota 2 results site. This drew claims of anglocentrism: while the word is a slur in many countries, specifically both American continents (especially in the USA) and Europe, it’s the direct translation of ‘black’ in Spanish. 

Controversy surrounding racism and other “-isms” isn’t new to the Dota 2 community by any means. The most pertinent example of a race-related meme is 'three Merlinis,' referring to the respected Asian analyst, player and caster. The joke is meant to imply that three Asians on a stream look similar, even if they’re far from it.

The community has the ability and responsibility to discuss and inform about harmful actions that could hurt both those within the game and onlookers

Most recently, caster TobiWan became upset when a similar 'fat, normal, skinny Tobi' joke rose to the front page of the Dota 2 subreddit, featuring three white, blond men of different sizes, including Tobi in the middle. While the community came to support him when he expressed his discomfort, many pointed out that when woman personalities faced similar harassment, Tobi himself told them to deal with it or grow a thicker skin, highlighting a double standard in the community for different personalities.

Veteran player Singsing was also recently brought into the spotlight when his channel submitted and had approved racist emoticons, featuring blatantly crude black stereotypes, as well as mods with crude commands for ASCII art, including one that spelled out the n-word in a fancy font. It was also noted that Sing had some of the ASCII commands and modded bots for at least a few months, if not years. While Singsing himself was put under blast for the emoticons themselves, it brought Twitch’s credibility into question given they approved the emoticons. Plus, there was the issue of how Twitch staff would let the streamer use these tools when many staff would spectate and often participate in the stream and its chat.

The community and developers in the Dota 2 community have had mixed experiences with, and reactions to, the various offensive and crude happenings that come with such a vast and diverse international community. While the developers of the game and its peripheral sites hold a degree of power over what makes it into the public, the community has the ability and responsibility to discuss and inform about harmful actions that could hurt both those within the game and onlookers, especially given how user-centric the Dota 2 scene is. A politically turbulent age brings those looking to escape from everyday life into Dota 2, and the scene will have to learn how to confront hostile and exclusionary viewpoints so everyone can play fairly and safely.