One of my favorite roles in any medium is a well-crafted villain. They are the driving force of the story, the instigator of conflict, a character unsatisfied with waiting on fate to give them what they want. When it comes to esports, villains are both integral and emblematic of the esports experience as a whole.
Think about it. Esports is a minority scene within a minority scene. You only need to go back one or two decades ago to find mainstream media calling video gamers murderers, psychopaths, deviants. Hell, you don’t even have to go that far back to see that some journalists still blame video games for school shootings. The most common criticism thrown toward video game players was that they were wasting their time enjoying themselves when they could be improving themselves. The irony is palpable considering how much television people watched at the time.
If video games were a subculture, then competitively playing video games was the subculture of a subculture. Esports players and fans were painted with the same brush as the rest of the video game players, but they were even more insidious in mainstream eyes. Not only did they flaunt the rules by choosing a hobby outside accepted culture, they were now making a living from it. Mainstream (as compared to esports) video game culture itself was aghast and disgusted. You need only look at GameSpot’s comments to see the amount of vitriol thrown at the esports community from casual players.
In this story, esports started out as the villains. Contrary to Harvey Dent’s famous assertion, we lived long enough to see ourselves become the heroes. In spite of the hatred, esports has slowly grown and thrived. Now the mainstream is seeking our favor rather than the other way around. But in the end, we are still very much the same culture we originally were: People on the outskirts, a subculture of a subculture. Only through force of will and perseverance have we forced the world to see through our eyes, to behold the glory of esports from our perspective.
And that is why the role of villain is special in esports. They are the emblems of rage and determination that characterize our own struggle and growth of the scene.
Jeong “Apdo” Sang-gil is the ultimate bandit of the League of Legends scene. He was known for ELO boosting accounts to make his money. Eventually he was smoked out and banned for 1,000 years for his scumbaggery, but he continued to do it anyway as he made huge amounts of money. He created multiple alternate accounts to continue his streaming life; his most famous triumph came when he won $80,000 by reaching Rank 1 on the Chinese server. Apdo’s career and philosophy is one that flies in the face of Riot’s intransigence and Korean culture. He is an individual who found his own success by being exceptional at what he did, social norms be damned.
Another polarizing League of Legends player was Konstantinos “FORG1VEN” Tzortziou. Where other players in the LCS had come to be friendly, FORG1VEN stood apart with his abrasiveness. He was a player obsessed with winning and doing it by taking over the game for himself. At the end of 2015, FORG1VEN had multiple opportunities to chase lucrative offers outside of Europe, but his success with H2K at IEM Cologne convinced him to go there. While money was a huge consideration for others, FORG1VEN was a force of pure competitive drive who wanted to win no matter what. So he left money on the table to gamble on potential success. That drive forced him into conflict with multiple teams and players, but no one can doubt his will and determination to succeed.
In the FGC, the most infamous villain of all was Ryan “Filipino Champ” Ramirez. Apdo was an outlaw and FORG1VEN was an anti-hero, but Filipino Champ was an out-and-out villain. He went out of his way to trash talk as many of his competitors as possible. Where others shied away from mass public outrage, he sought it out and exulted in the mass boos he got at every EVO each time he won a match.
In Counter-Strike, the most polarizing player of recent years has been Oleksandr “s1mple” Kostyliev. Much like FORG1VEN, he was utterly obsessed with winning and believed that the best way to do it was to take over the game himself. That led to him being kicked from every team he joined as his sheer competitive will translated into massive amounts of rage and unsolvable internal issues. If it wasn’t for Spencer “Hiko“ Martin and Liquid gambling on his potential superstardom, s1mple could still be languishing on Tier 2 teams in the CIS region.
Starcraft 2 may be the best scene to talk about villains. The two biggest in the scene were driven out early by mass community outrage and then subsequently missed when they were gone. They were Greg “IdrA” Fields and Johan “NaNiwa” Lucchesi. IdrA was infamous for being a mild-mannered man around people and an intense rager in front of the computer. He famously said the lines, “This is a fucking joke. Fuck you,” to another pro in an online game and in another said, “Apologize for playing that race.” His antics were tolerated thanks to his incredible game skill — that is, until he made the fatal mistake of badmouthing his fans. That was the incident that got him fired from Evil Geniuses. He quit being a pro player altogether and eventually moved on with his life. To this day, there are still fans who pray for IdrA’s return. NaNiwa’s story is similar except amped up to an even higher level. He wanted to be the best so badly that he let nothing get in his way, including etiquette and common sense on occasion. At his peak, there was no one more hated or beloved as Naniwa. The combination of awkward social interaction and Korean-slaying prowess made him enthralling as a foreign figure. He eventually left the scene in a barrage of boos as he forfeited his match at IEM Katowice 2014. He would try a few more times after that, but continually lost in his worst matchup of P-v-P and was unable to make a run of it.
Villains add extra spice to esports competition. They create a special kind of drama no one else can create. This is especially important when the villain has exceptional in-game skills to back up his trash talk. Although perhaps no one should go out of their way to be a villain, when those special few do come around, they add something special that makes them all the more memorable for it.
Cover photo by Adela Sznajder/DreamHack