Esports is a relatively new form of competition in which an individual or team will compete against others in the domain of video games as opposed to conventional in-person sports. There is much debate as to whether esports classify as a “sport” as to an unacquainted spectator, it appears as though individuals are just sitting down and playing a video game. A typical argument would be that conventional sport typically requires greater physical exertion as well as more coordination than just hand-eye. To quantify the physiological stress that an esports player might endure during a tournament, a study found that collegiate players experience significantly increased heart rate during competition with an average heart rate of 131 bpm. These same players experienced an average peak heart rate of 188 bpm during competition. In such a stressful environment, emotions fuel the competition vigorously. Knowing you made a mistake, only for the opponent to rub it in can add fuel to the emotional fire and lead to bad decisions while competing. The forms in which these bad manners are communicated vary from game to game, so the focus of this post will be on a new game VALORANT.
As a fairly new addition to the esports scene, VALORANT has seen a proliferation of attention from fans and unsportsmanlike behavior from its professionals. VALORANT is a tactical first-person shooter where you have two teams of 5 players competing to be the first team to win 13 rounds. One side starts attacking while the other defends two bombsites of which the attackers want to plant and detonate a bomb while the defenders want to prevent that. There is an internal economy to manage that determines what the best team wide purchases could be. The more expensive purchases typically give the biggest advantage. Exactly how bad manners can manifest in a game where you are limited in how to communicate with your opponent is especially interesting in VALORANT.
Interactions in person and online tend to differ, the anonymity of a computer screen tends to bring out the worst in people. The same seems to translate for the esports scene as examples of unsportsmanlike behavior occur with much more frequency in esports than in conventional sports. In many tactical first-person shooters (FPS), the character model is allowed to crouch to shot more accurately. Furthermore, when you die in many FPS games you get to spectate your dead corpse from a third person perspective for about a second. A unique behavior has evolved utilizing these two mechanics in which players will continuously crouch over their fallen opponent in an action that is commonly referred to as teabagging. Studies have been conducted on online multiplayer gamers on their feelings on the practice of teabagging, many confessing to an “immediate” characterization of their opponent with many negative affective descriptors. The simple action of being crouched upon after dying seems to be enough to trip up your focus and become frustrated.
A professional player that has embraced the potential advantage of throwing your opponent off their focus is Michael “dapr” Gulino. A member of the first international team to win a VALORANT sanctioned tournament, dapr utilized bad manners every step of the way. The psychological warfare of losing to a players secondary weapon, as opposed to the stronger primary weapon, is enough to get into the heads of even the best players. As dapr states “it is just a free advantage… shoot their body, teabag them, they get mad, they play worse” (theScore, 2021).
Opinions on the matter are varied. Some fans hate it, others love it. The most interesting part to me is the professionals that have to deal with it. These professionals are already having to manage extremely precise hand-eye coordination, with milliseconds to react, and they are experiencing extreme physiological stress while doing it all. The psychological war that is also being played when you have an opponent like dapr makes the game that much more fascinating to watch. Only those with the strongest mental fortitude will be able to look past these “immature” examples of bad manners, and truly excel in a rising esports scene such as VALORANT.
Irwin, S. V., & Naweed, A. (2020). BM’ing, throwing, bug exploiting, and other forms of (un)sportsmanlike behavior in CS:GO Esports. Games and Culture: A Journal of Interactive Media, 15(4), 411–433. https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412018804952
Myers, B. (2019). Friends with benefits: Plausible optimism and the practice of teabagging in video games. Games and Culture: A Journal of Interactive Media, 14(7–8), 763–780. https://doi.org/10.1177/1555412017732855
theScore esports. (2021, June 13). How Valorant’s Biggest Sh*tdisturber Teabagged His Way to a World Title [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nkt-rwjf7kk
Valladao, S., Andre, T., Walsh, S. M., Cox, D. (2019). Heart rate response during a collegiate esports tournament. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, 51(6S), 29–29. https://doi.org/10.1249/01.mss.0000560577.32391.44