The winner of the most high-profile Madden NFL esports competition to date was hit with a significant fine and a rankings penalty this week, the result of tweets that “referenced inappropriate content,” according to publisher Electronic Arts.
Chris “Dubby” McFarland defeated Eric “Problem” Wright, 24-17, in the Madden Bowl 2017 finals, which were held in Houston on the night of Feb. 3. McFarland’s first-place share of the tournament’s $250,000 prize pool was $75,000.
As McFarland, 29, was making his way through the eight-person bracket, people began to search through his past tweets. It turns out that McFarland, who is white, has a history of using racial slurs on Twitter to describe black people, including “coon” and the N-word (warning: link contains NSFW language).
It wasn’t those years-old tweets that got McFarland in trouble with EA, though. In a statement posted on the Madden Ultimate Team Twitter account on Feb. 8, the company pointed to objectionable tweets that McFarland posted “during and directly after” the Madden Bowl.
“These posts violated our Code of Conduct and don’t represent the values of our organization,” said Matt Marcou, the competitive gaming commissioner for Madden at EA. Marcou went on to say that EA “immediately met with” McFarland to “warn him that his posts were inappropriate and could not continue.”
When McFarland posted “additional offensive messages” in the days after the tournament, EA took action. McFarland has since deleted the tweets in question, although he did leave up one aggrieved, antagonistic missive in which he crowed about his victory:
Yall searching thru 75 thousand tweets, ima search thru 75 thousand dollars...tell me how my ass taste #neeeeedit— Chris McFarland (@DubDotDUBBY) February 4, 2017
In light of tweets like that, EA deducted $3,000 from McFarland’s winnings — a 4 percent cut — and erased 100 Madden NFL Championship Series Points from his record. That’s a decent hit, if the December standings are anything to go by: The top-ranked competitor at the time had 1,000 points to his name.
“It’s important that we clearly set conduct boundaries to guide our competitors and ensure that promotional and financial opportunities for all parties continue to grow,” said Marcou. As for the $3,000 that EA took away from McFarland, Marcou said the company will invest those funds into “programs to help our players prepare for the exposure that comes with being a top-level gaming competitor.”
Following EA’s announcement of his punishment, McFarland acknowledged the responsibilities that came with his newfound esports fame, saying that he now had a better understanding that his tweets are “no longer just for the Culture.”
When I won the Madden bowl my tweets were no longer just for the Culture they were for everyone. I understand that better now.— Chris McFarland (@DubDotDUBBY) February 9, 2017
That phrase points to one of the long-standing issues with competitive gaming: the culture of trash talk surrounding it. McFarland’s tweets paint a picture of a brash braggart, and there’s nothing wrong with exhibiting confidence in your abilities. But the back-and-forth jawing that’s inherent in competitive gaming has a history of crossing the line into abusive and offensive language.
It’s a dilemma for the field of esports, which is quickly becoming a big business. Nobody, especially a publicly traded company like EA, wants their brand tarnished by association with controversial figures. It’s unrealistic for organizers of gaming competitions to screen every player, poring over their social media history. But incidents like this could affect the trajectory of esports in its infancy.
McFarland, for his part, seems more annoyed about having to censor himself on Twitter than he is sorry for what he said.
“Today is the day the real Dubby dies,” he said just before retweeting Marcou’s letter to the Madden community. In a later tweet quoting a follower who asked if McFarland’s tweets would be “only pg 13 now?” he wrote that they would be “dry as a desert from here on out.” He also retweeted a few messages of support in which fans said they liked him as much for his off-color tweets as for his Madden skills.
Punishment aside, McFarland has secured a spot in the Madden Championship, the fourth and final tournament of this season’s EA Major Series, which is scheduled for May 31. An EA representative told Polygon that the company has no comment beyond Marcou’s letter. We’ve also reached out to McFarland for comment, and will update this article with any information we receive.
Update: In a statement emailed to Polygon, McFarland said he now knows why his tweets were problematic and why EA levied the punishment it did.
“[A lot] of what I said was outta passion and emotion at the time,” he said. “I understand everything that I did wrong and accept responsibility for my words.”
McFarland added, “Honestly the fine just shows how much this game is growing. It’s not just for the small group of pro Madden players, it’s for the entire country. We as players need to understand that we not only represent ourselves but the growth of the game. [...] EA holding us more responsible for our actions is a reflection on how big they want Madden to grow, at the end of the day that’s what we all want.
“I have accepted the consequences and plan on representing both myself and the game of Madden positively.”