Call of Duty League’s recent clampdowns on so-called profanities violate the very conventions of free speech.
Censorship within games is not unheard of. From time to time, both casual and professional gamers are banned from in-game chats for cursing excessively. But censorship that extends to and infringes on personal vocalisations are justifiably rare.
Therefore, it comes as a surprise to find out that Call of Duty League (CDL) has been imposing fines on players who spoke out harshly against Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
As a former Modern Warfare player myself, I am not convinced by these accusations. I first started playing the game on my Mac desktop in late 2011 when my father bought it as my birthday present. The online multiplayer community was thoroughly wholesome and generally innocuous during typed or voice chats. Even when there were vulgarities, they were few and far between the usual banter. Compared to games like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, Overwatch, and DotA 2, Call of Duty has a decently clean track record of swear words.
Maybe I’m just liberal. But terms like “trash” and “one of the worst CoDs ever made” barely constitute anything remotely vulgar. If Seth ‘Scump’ Abner, who has the second most major tournament wins in the history of Call of Duty and has competed professionally in other Call of Duty franchise installments (Ghosts, Advanced Warfare, etc.) wants to voice his opinions candidly in a livestream, it’s ultimately his right to do so. Why should CDL fine him for it? After all, it could have at least tried to be a little humbler by seriously considering his genuine (albeit extremely forthcoming) feedback.
Let’s backtrack to early October last year. Call of Duty: Mobile had just been released when Reddit users brought to light the game’s profanity filter. They reported “blocking of all words related to war”. Under this filter, words such as “boom”, “sniper”, “Jesus”, and “kill” were blocked from chat. Ironically, expletives were, at most, only partially censored.
Call of Duty’s mindset can be summed up in one word: hypocritical. Yes, the game’s developers are hypocrites who plan to water down a violent game into a Fortnite-esque one aimed at children aged around 12, while secretly using their conservative, kid-friendly stance to suppress dissent. Violence is violence and gore is gore. And where there is blood, there is bound to be blood-pumping rage and anger-fuelled vulgarities. This is the target audience of all Call of Duty games. Pretending that this hasn’t always been the case and penalising players for ‘profanities’ is akin to playing Silent Hill and bitterly suing its developers for its graphic scenes and immensely terrifying monsters: you should have known what you were getting into in the first place.
Besides, those accused of obscenities were actually giving relevant feedback on in-game issues like “confusing Modern Warfare spawns” and being “kicked out from the game” after changing class.
Call of Duty League’s inaugural season was only launched at the start of this year in late January and has, within the span of only five months, already gone on a fining spree of its top participants. But despite its widespread efforts to silence its dissenters, some of them have chosen to continue speaking out against it until the aforementioned issues are rectified. In a reply to Scump, Sam ‘Octane’ Larew, a fellow competitor from Seattle Surge, stubbornly affirmed that he would “pay to speak” his “mind” because CDL had robbed him of a year’s worth of money.
So far, neither the affected players nor CDL has disclosed the amounts of the imposed fines.
Free speech is an essential civil liberty that applies to the citizens of the esports world. As such, CDL was absolutely wrong to punish players for speaking out against it in secular settings (i.e., in non-competitive environments). The same couldn’t be said if such comments had been made during live matches, though. But whatever the case, I am strongly in favour of those who have been persecuted and silenced into oblivion (players like Octane and Skrapz have since deleted their offending tweets) and feel that CDL’s militant approach will only steer serious players away from participating in its future competitive seasons.