The spectre of growing anti-Asian racism is threatening to overshadow the shining success of esports in the USA.
Esports is dominated by players from Japan, China and South Korea. Experts predict the industry will be worth at least US$1.5 billion (£1.09bn/€1.26bn) within the next two years.
But now top players are beginning to reveal “unspeakable” racism and harassment, fuelled by anti-China rhetoric and Covid-19 finger-pointing.
“They call us Chinese, then harass us. The racism here is unspeakable,” professional South Korean esports player Lee “Fearless” Eui-seok said in a video that went viral this week, with 500,000 hits and counting.
Lee is a member of the Overwatch League’s Dallas Fuel team in Texas.
“Being Asian here is terrifying, seriously,” he said. “People keep trying to pick fights with us. Every time they see me, it’s like Americans will come up to us and there’s even people who cough on us.
Another young professional South Korean gamer, Ha “Sayaplayer” Jung Woo, recalled a nasty incident from last year when he was flying across the country as part of the Florida Mayhem team of the Overwatch League.
A White passenger kept taking mobile phone pictures of the team during the flight and was later seen texting: Kill them all”.
Lee said he keeps his team jersey on for protection.
“If I have my jersey on, I think they realize we’re part of some kind of team, so they don’t bother us as much. But if I have my everyday clothes on, they run up to us, harass us, then run away,” he explained.
Harrison “Psalm” Chang, 26, a professional “Valorant” player, who placed second in the Fortnite World Championship in 2019, said: “It hurts but I’m not surprised to hear this.
“People have left me racist comments about having small eyes, eating dogs and called me “Ching-Chong,” said Chang.
Esports Activision Blizzard, which operates the Overwatch League, hit out at the racist trolls.
“We condemn racism in the strongest possible terms. We stand with the Asian community, our employees, and our players and are working across our organization, including esports, to do our part to combat hate and ignorance.”