ESPN has been airing eSports matches for a long time now. And that includes EVO 2017's Street Fighter V finals. Except there was one problem during Ryota "Kazunoko" Inoue's finals match: the broadcasting network reportedly forced Kazunoko to change his character's skin, because it was too revealing for a primetime audience.
Kazunoko began his first starting round with Cammy in her regular costume, a one-piece leotard with a rather revealing thong. Cammy has always been a bit of a sex symbol, but after one round, ESPN told EVO staffers to request Kazunoko to change from Cammy's default skin to another, less revealing model. According to Kotaku's Compete, Kazunoko was pretty confused by the request.
"He says he was asked to change costume by tournament organizer and he’s not sure why they asked," his agent explained. ESPN later confirmed with Compete that they had requested Kazunoko to make the change.
"The request was made per broadcast standards," the ESPN representative said.
This isn't the first time that ESPN has forced competitive Street Fighter players to change up their characters' appearance. Last year, ESPN made Keita "Fuudo" Ai choose a different skin for R. Mika because ESPN found the outfit "too revealing" for a live TV audience.
For some fans, the requests by ESPN are pretty shocking. But others find them somewhat expected. As one commenter wrote on Maddy Myers's piece, "Shockingly, when you try for mainstream coverage, you need to deal with mainstream standards. Who would have guessed?"
ESports And ESPN Have Some Growing Pains To Go Through
Gaming is sexy. But sometimes, it's just a little too much. Ask any feminist gamer, and they'll tell you right away that gaming has problems with objectifying women. And while some situations (such as Street Fighter V's costumes) are less harmful than others, the mainstream broadcasting world has some relatively strict standards about sports.
For one, there's an expectation that young families and children will be watching ESPN. Sports, after all, are national pastimes in the United States; many people leave sports on #TV to enjoy with their kids. When people watch ESPN, there's an expectation for "family-friendly" content. Good or bad, those are the standards set forward by ESPN and many of its fellow sports broadcasters, like FOX Sports.
If eSports wants to enter the world of TV sports broadcasting, then those games have to play by the mainstream sports world's rules.
That said, many eSports fans are wondering why the field has to go through ESPN to develop a sense of legitimacy in the first place. Sponsors around the world have been pouring money into eSports, and cities like Boston and New York are about to receive their own Overwatch teams. Most competitive players rely on YouTube, Twitch and other streaming sites to communicate with their audience. TV is out of the picture for the most part. Most fans don't even watch ESPN.
That's not to say that players should totally ignore the world of TV eSports, and just pick the smuttiest and most revealing character costumes in-game to spite ESPN. Let's be frank, the objectification of women in a lot of fighting games is pretty gross. No one wants to see male developers program Chun-Li's breasts for super fluid, 300 frame-per-second bouncing animations. Players and leagues should be aware of their viewers, as should developers keep their audience in mind. To some extent, ESPN gets that.
But looking at the larger picture here, eSports shouldn't have to rely on ESPN's broadcasting standards to feel legitimate. Players, leagues and teams should be able to play the game however they would like. By all means, if the game's skins are changed for professional play, that should come from inside first: not because of broadcasters' standards.
Change needs to come from players, fans and sponsors. Not broadcasters. Otherwise, eSports will never grow as a field, and it will always be reliant on networks like ESPN for guidance.
Did ESPN make the right call by asking Kazunoko to change Cammy's outfit? Share your thoughts in the comments below.