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Dote Night: The Problem With YouPorn Sponsorship

Dota? I 'ardly knew 'er

Featured post Team YP

Part of a miscellany of serious thoughts, animal gifs, and anecdotage from the realm of MOBAs/hero brawlers/lane-pushers/ARTS/tactical wizard-em-ups. One day Pip might even tell you the story of how she bumped into Na’Vi’s Dendi at a dessert buffet cart.

Last week YouPorn finally announced the name of the Dota 2 team they’re sponsoring. It’s Team YP now but was formerly known as Play2Win. I had never heard of them.

YouPorn have been snuffling about the Dota 2 scene for a while now and there has been a whole bunch of speculation as to who might add the YP logo to their branded jerseys. I want to run through why I think this is a bad move for pro-gaming, regardless of who ended up with the deal.

Team Secret, were front-runners (front-sails, perhaps?) when it came to the YouPorn signing rumour mill and would have been a high profile set of names for the porn video site. Team Secret, in case you don’t know, is composed of Puppey and Kuroky (formerly of Na’Vi), S4 (formerly of Alliance) and BigDaddy and Simbaaa (who used to play for Fnatic). It’s the definition of a top tier team.

I’m taking the fact that YouPorn have gone for a far lower profile team as a sign that sponsorship by a porn company was going to prove problematic, at least on a practical level for the team if not a personal or moral one.

Earlier this year YouPorn put a tweet [potetnially NSFW] out saying

“Do we have any competitive LoL, DOTA2, or HeartStone [sic] players following us? What do you think about YouPorn sponsoring a team?”

League was automatically out because there’s a rule in the League Championship Series [PDF] which states that LCS has the right to ban apparel advertising any pornographic website or pornographic products. It’s point 10.1.7.5 in case you were interested. Obviously the smattering of press coverage for a big League team could have been useful in signal boosting the site but if the team was unlikely to be able to wear any of the site’s branding for the duration of the sponsorship what would be the point?

Nope

To be honest I think Riot would have been stricter about the sponsorship than just forbidding logos too, so any top tier team from LoL would have unlikely to bite when YouPorn put out the sponsorship tweet.

Other competition rulesets for eSports I’ve been looking through online don’t appear to go as far as stipulating branded clothing in the way that Riot does but it seems reasonable to assume that developers like Valve and Blizzard would be similarly unenthused when it came to advertising a porn site, particularly since players themselves and fans can be under 18.

The point here is not one of demonising people over a desire to get off. It’s partly about playing into tropes which are problematic for the industry and for the people it involves and partly about making eSports a welcoming and inclusive space.

The caricature image of a gamer tends to be a young man who doesn’t leave his room much and has an unhealthy relationship with his computer. There’s a social isolation aspect to the trope which also plays into particular conceptions of young men and their relationship with porn. It can occupy this shameful comedy movie-esque “couldn’t get a real person, eh?” niche. Simply bringing a porn brand name to gaming doesn’t seem to do anything to subvert either social stigma. They just co-exist and potentially exacerbate one another.

In terms of how it could affect women, I don’t feel that’s positive either. eSports struggles with gender representation. There’s a lot which could be said on the subject – whole books and articles-worth of things to be said – but to put it in brief and general terms: eSports can superficially look like a meritocracy but there are a lot of subtle ways in which female access to gaming and the pro-scene is gated or at least made harder before that specific game or pro-scene gets involved (access to technology, finding people to practice with, attitudes fed down by marketing efforts, social mores and so on). The result is a heavily male-dominated atmosphere, although one where you’ll obviously still find switched-on and hugely knowledgable and capable women.

But attending those events you run into problematic attitudes. At the most recent eSports event I attended a handful of pro players got into a taxi with several journalists including myself. I’d never met these particular pro players before and one of them seemed curious as to why I was even there. He turned and indicated the male journalist next to me, saying “Are you his girlfriend?”

I’ve thankfully not encountered too much of that kind of thing but the attitude that women are there for reasons other than an interest in eSports is a common undercurrent even if it doesn’t always reach the surface.

YouPorn, meanwhile, has a homepage which is peppered with references to female performers as sluts, horny teens. Others are presented as dupes tricked into sex by their interest in fame or wealth. There are men sitting back, basking in the attentions of multiple girls. At the time of writing there’s “Two whores share one dick”, “Butt-fucking is another way to make him cum”, “Blonde facial wanting sluts cum covered*”, “Awesome sex with hot teeny”… The majority of the front page is dominated by what women are prepared to do for men or for the camera. The emphasis for them is on showing off or giving pleasure, the emphasis for men is on cumming all over or inside a woman.

YouPorn wouldn’t be doing this if it didn’t work in terms of getting clickthroughs and finding its target audience. I’d also say that what people want when they want to get off is, in my mind, not a representation of who they are as people or what they do or believe in**. What is problematic here is that the sponsorship deal seeks to connect an environment which can be difficult, hostile and negatively stereotyping for women to a site which frequently positions those qualities as desirable and common – submissiveness, willingness to please, sexual availability, acting as groupies towards a guy or able to be tricked into bed with the promise of money and fame.

eSports is a growing industry, and one which has started to court a more mainstream audience and make efforts towards inclusivity. Sponsorship from YouPorn feels like taking a step backwards for everyone except YouPorn.

*Apparently compound adjective hyphens are not deemed sexy
**Although I do believe in being aware of what you consume and the circumstances in which it was created.

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Philippa Warr

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