Gears 5, an M-rated game, won’t feature any depictions of smoking after outreach efforts from an anti-smoking organization to ELeague, which owns broadcast rights to the game’s esports competitions.
Variety first reported the shift on Friday, though it isn’t clear if Gears 5 characters would have been shown smoking before Truth Initiative contacted Turner, the ELeague’s owner. Rod Fergusson, the director of Gears 5 studio The Coalition, tweeted Friday evening, after the story first appeared, that he’s had a longstanding opposition to smoking in light of the fact his father, a smoker, died at age 38 when Fergusson was four years old. Concept art for 2008’s Gears of War 2 may have shown a character smoking, but “I stopped it,” from appearing in the game, Fergusson said.
To be fair, this isn't entirely accurate. I've been against smoking from the beginning and have worked hard to not make it a part of our franchise. Ever notice that the Dizzy concept art for Gears 2 has a cigarette but the actual character in the game doesn't? I stopped it. https://t.co/KahohpMH3A— Rod Fergusson (@GearsViking) July 12, 2019
My dad smoked. He died of a heart attack at age 38. I was 4.— Rod Fergusson (@GearsViking) July 13, 2019
Gears 5 is right now amidst the ELeague Gears Summer Series Invitational, broadcast on Twitch. The tournament is sponsored by Truth Initiative. It’s the first time fans can see Gears 5, due Sept. 10 for Windows PC and Xbox One. Gears 5 will begin a technical test on Friday, July 19, and it will run for that weekend and the next one (July 26 to July 29).
To Variety, a Turner executive defended the focus on stripping out tobacco from a game that will still feature plenty of bloodshed and violence. “As you remove these images, it does have an impact,” Seth Ladetsky, the head of Turner Sports Digital, told Variety. Ladetsky said research showed a correlation between rates of smoking among young viewers and its depiction in popular culture they consume. Truth Initiative has of late gone after video games to deplatform tobacco there, considering how young its demographics skew regardless of a game’s rating.
There have been seven ESRB-rated Gears of War titles going back to the series’ beginning in 2006. All are rated M, none have any content descriptors for tobacco or any other substance (alcohol or drugs).