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Dota 2 pro won’t play unless Valve confronts hate speech

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“I am proud to be Russian and your words leave me speechless.”

The International tournament in 2018 Valve Corporation

The Epicenter Major for Dota 2 will be a major event on the road to The International, but one player says he won’t be there unless Valve addresses a string of remarks made by a world champion. Alexei “Solo” Berezin, a player on Virtus Pro, spoke out about comments made by Sébastien “7ckngMad” Debs, who also goes by the name of Ceb.

A user on Reddit posted screenshots of a match, in which Debs made several comments, including ones where he called the user a “cuck”, referred to Russians as “fucking animals”, and said that “russian whores” would “sell their mother for mmr [matchmaking rating].”

Debs posted an apology on the Dota 2 subreddit, saying that he had been antagonized throughout the match, but that his conduct was inexcusable and not motivated by hatred for Russians. “My reaction to his toxic and game ruining behaviour was to lose my temper. I was trying to play his game and get him to react. Which was, in hindsight, completely counter-productive and unacceptable,” he wrote.

Debs claimed the grand prize with team OG at The International in 2018. His status as a veteran player has put him, and his comments, under a spotlight. Berezin has been one of the most prominent voices speaking out against Debs, writing “You simply can’t say these things no matter what caused them. I am proud to be Russian and your words leave me speechless.”

In the wake of Debs behavior, Berezin is calling for Valve to condemn Debs’ actions. “I won’t be participating at the upcoming Epicenter Major that will be played in my home country unless Valve openly speaks about this case and ensures consistency and transparency when it comes to treating racism in our game,” Berezin said.

Figures in the community, such as Paul “Redeye” Chaloner, have defended Debs. “Just so we are clear, [Debs] isn’t a racist,” he wrote on Twitter. “Despite sometimes appearing outwardly harsh through his career, he is one of the nicest guys in the scene, helps plenty of people and it goes unnoticed. One mistake (and it is a mistake) doesn’t suddenly make him a terrible person.”

“Yes he should be punished,” Chaloner continued later in his Twitter thread. “I don’t know what that punishment looks like, but hopefully Valve/his team will find something suitable for the infraction.”

This wouldn’t be the first time that Valve takes action against a player for comments made before a Major. Carlo “Kuku” Palad wrote “ching chong” in a pub match of Dota 2. After a storm of controversy, including Valve urging Palad’s team to punish their player appropriately on their own. Ultimately, Valve not only banned Palad from the Chongqing Major, but fined his team 20 percent of TNC’s current pro circuits points, which determine whether a team is eligible to attend The International.

The situation with Palad and Debs are not equivalent. Palad’s team, TNC, repeatedly evaded scrutiny and accountability. “Our view on the situation is that responsibility resides with teams to handle these types of issues professionally,” Valve wrote in the blog stating Palad’s ban and TNC’s points docking. “When they fail to do so, we will step in. While it is one thing to make a mistake and apologize, it is quite another thing for the team to lie about it or try to create cover for an individual player. TNC has mishandled the situation on multiple occasions, making the situation much worse than it needed to be.”

Other esports leagues have created infrastructure to deal with competitive rulings and codes of conduct, with varying degrees of success. Riot Games, the publisher of League of Legends, has published competitive rulings against players for everything from negative behavior in solo queue to pros issuing death threats to teammates.

The Overwatch League has issued competitive rulings through a similar moderation process, but the league’s full code of conduct has not been made available to the public. In March 2018, esports reporter Richard Lewis leaked the full rulebook. In a statement to Heroes Never Die, Polygon’s Overwatch hub, Blizzard wrote:

The league rules, which include the code of conduct, is a living document created with input from teams and players. [...] Being a living doc, it’s evolved over time based on active and extensive private discussions with the teams.

Valve does not have the same moderation process, and so it remains unclear what will happen with Debs’ status heading into the Epicenter Major.