T1 are now under heavy fire from the public due to an utterly disgraceful handling of their Korean fans’ reaction to a leak released back in November 2nd mentioning LS and Polt as their new coaching staff. Due to the nationalistic mindset of South Koreans and their care for legacy and results/trophies, LS was seen as a terrible choice for what is still the most decorated organisation in League of Legends. Negative reactions from the Korean community are not surprising, but what shocked most people is the absolutely unscrupulous response from the organisation to the targeted harassment that followed, mainly on the team’s official discord.
The Korean esports community is notorious for being very aggressive and unforgiving in their public responses. None of these claims involve the entirety or even the majority of fans, but examples dating back to SC Broodwar— like Savior’s match-fixing scandal— show that this is a community that sometimes forgets that players and staff are people and not just robots built to win trophies and please them, including South Korean ones.
In this most recent occurrence that is gaining a lot of international traction due to how famous LS is in the western LoL world, T1’s Discord was apparently flooded with hate speech and specifically homophobic slurs targeted at the LCK caster, who is openly homosexual. The screenshots that were publicly released contain one instance of this which includes someone calling LS a “freaking f*****”. These fans have also attempted to dox LS and even his grandmother.
A cultural problem
South Korea in general has always had considerable issues regarding LGBTQ+ matters in general. Queer festivals and similar events are frequently interrupted with anti-LGBTQ+ protestors with some ending with violent confrontations. Despite some efforts being made to update the country's legislations and public opinion, with some success, South Korea still has a long way to go. One of the major examples of this are the views expressed by President Moon Jae-in during his 2017 debate. The president, although claiming that he is against discrimination based on homosexuality, is openly said to be against same-sex marriage, mentioned that he was not going to legalise it and even agreed with conservative candidate Hong Joon-pyo when the latter expressed his view that “gay soldiers were weakening the country’s military.” Remember, Moon represents the liberal point of view on the matter.
This context unfortunately makes us understand that these comments are not a rarity in the South Korean community, with even more recent examples of this coming up during the COVID 19 outbreak. The government decided to publicly release personal information of people that were infected with the virus and this access has since been used to target LGBTQ+ individuals, threatening their safety. Although the people engaging in these attacks are a minority, this survey made by the World Values Survey shows how wide the descrimination specifically towards homosexuals goes. When asked the question: “On this list are various groups of people. Could you please mention any that you would not like to have as neighbors?” 79.6% out of 1245 people answered “homosexuals”. That is a ridiculously high number, especially when compared to countries like the USA (12.7% out of 2596) and Germany (6.4% out of 1528).
The other social issue that is still widely present in South Korean society that is present in this T1-LS situation is racism. According to the World Values Survey, 15.2 people answered the question already shown above with “People of a different race”. The survey only included 1245 people, but the percentage is still very high when comparing to countries like the USA (3% out of 2596) and Germany (4,4% in 2170).
There haven’t been screenshots released with racist remarks (at least for now) but even the T1 statement (that we will later analyze more closely) mentions specifically “T1 does not tolerate hate speech of any form, which includes racism or homophobia”. Another factor that has been echoed a lot in social media regarding racism around LS is the fact that he publicly supported former BBQ player (coached by LS) Malice after the public backlash regarding his behaviour in Korean solo queue. The specific occurrence that seems to have generated more discontent towards LS was how he tweeted (the tweet was deleted soon after) at ex-T1 top laner Untara claiming that the player was making a video and focusing so much on Malice because the BBQ jungler wasn’t South Korean.
We will most likely never know the true intent behind any of these actions, but what is certain is that LS hasn’t been racist towards any other ethnicity and is actually one of the most important connections between westerners and South Koreans in the League of Legends world. He has been involved in the country’s esports scene for 10+ years and has recently become what was previously associated with Montecristo and later Papasmithy, an analyst that brings deep insights from one of the strongest regions to the rest of the planet, whether you agree with him or not.
Now let’s get into the T1 announcement that preceded the temporary deactivation of their twitter account. I call it an announcement because it is by no means an apology, while also managing to miss the main points around this occurrence.
T1 decided to publish what they consider an apology regarding the hateful comments directed at LS, yet he isn't mentioned in the statement at all. The apology is towards the "community" and implies that the org actually did nothing wrong. It was the Discord mods' fault and they were fired. The staff has been “warned” and they are having internal discussions. No punishment, no responsibility.
As can be seen above, they list three different actions they are supposedly taking, and reiterate the same points in the following paragraph, after saying how much they obviously “admire and value” their fans. There is no mention of the screenshots that show mods being prohibited from deleting hateful comments. They word it very cleverly: “We apologize that some comments were left undeleted”. They weren’t just left undeleted, the people who were meant to take them down were strictly forbidden to do so, and those who tried to do it nonetheless were apparently stripped of their mod tools. In addition, the fact that someone going by the Discord username Stella, who is supposedly Stella Park, T1’s community manager, is screenshotted multiple times mentioning the pressure of the “Board members” shows how involved the company was with these decisions.
One of my main issues with this situation is the too frequent problem of hypocrisy. If you follow the work of Thorin and Richard Lewis, you'll know all too well how frequently orgs, TOs and developers are caught in incredibly hypocritical scenarios. This is just another one to put on top of the pile. An organisation that supposedly tries to connect with western audiences and pretend to care about the same issues has now massively failed to act on a matter that shows clear signs of discrimination based on sexual orientation and ethnicity.
There are legitimate reasons to not want to bring LS on board in a team so huge as T1— lack of coaching experience and achievements, for example— but the fact that there's a possibility that a huge backlash partially fueled by racism and homophobia played a part in preventing the LCK commentator from getting this opportunity is just repugnant to consider.
Cultural differences and corporate inabilities
Cultures vary quite considerably between regions, even in this mostly global era. Asian culture differs a lot from the western one in general, but even between Europe and the US there are differences, same between countries in Europe or states in the US. All of them have positives and negatives. It is basically common knowledge that the Asian culture and, more specifically, the South Korean one plays a big part in how excellent they consistently are at esports. They boast a work ethic basically unreachable by most westerners and seem to more naturally work in groups and, consequently, teams or organisations.
As we’ve shown with the statistics mentioned earlier in the article, it has its downsides regarding changes and acceptance of different people with different beliefs. Yet the country has been developing rapidly in those and many other fields. The fans that took part in this attack against LS are seriously messed up people, but we need to remember that they are a very small, albeit loud, minority. What is consistently disappointing is how unscrupulous and irresponsible these organizations are at handling these problems, and how incapable they are of utilising these terrible situations to actually do some good and fight for the causes that they claim to “support”.
T1 has a lot to learn from this, but I don’t think they will. The consistent mistakes they made around this are absolutely unacceptable and, as of today, they haven’t even addressed LS directly a single time. The LCK commentator has temporarily left social media, his career has been irreversibly scarred and the mental pressure caused by such a wide-spread hateful attack on him is unimaginable. T1 should be ashamed to have let this get to this point and should consider very carefully if they truly have the capability to be a global organisation that connects Eastern and Western fans.
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