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Shanghai Major: Why Did Valve Fire Dota 2 Host James?

Where to start with the Shanghai Major right now? I’ve been trying to pull some thoughts together after the firings and the Reddit threads and the statement from Gabe Newell over the weekend but perhaps it’s better to just run through the basic timeline for the Major’s major Dota 2 [official site] drama and just explain what the heck is going on:

From the start the Major was showing signs of technical/production issues. I tuned in over the course of the group stages and saw huge waits between matches, sound issues and so on. That’s not to say the tournament play itself was bad – of particular note was underdog Korean side MVP Phoenix’s undefeated performance in their group against favourites EHOME – but all was definitely not well.

A day and a half into the group stages came the news that panel host James ‘2GD’ Harding had been removed.

As Reddit and Twitch chat responded to the news (more threads than a haberdashery and “つ ◕_◕ ༽つ GIFF 2GD” respectively) Harding himself confirmed that the decision to remove him was made by Valve:

I’d seen complaints about Harding on my Twitter feed pretty much from the start of the broadcast (I couldn’t sleep so I was considering getting up and watching the Major in the early hours of the morning that first day). To find out what had happened I went to the Twitch VOD and pretty much the second it starts there’s a C-bomb, jokes about masturbation, censorship, surveillance and so on. It’s just after the 55 minute mark here. The thing is, personal opinion aside, that’s the sort of thing Harding is known for so at the time I assumed it must have been what Valve/their partners at Perfect World, wanted for the event.

Harding was intending to issue a statement about the firing on Friday but ended up delaying, saying he was going to “sleep on it”. He later added that this was because Valve asked him to put the statement “on ice”.

When I woke up on Saturday head of Valve, Gabe Newell, had issued his own statement on Reddit calling Harding “an ass” and announcing that the production company they had been working with on the event was also fired.

Two things:
1) James. We’ve had issues with James at previous events. Some Valve people lobbied to bring him back for Shanghai, feeling that he deserved another chance. That was a mistake. James is an ass, and we won’t be working with him again.

2) As long as we’re firing people, we are also firing the production company that we’ve been working with on the Shanghai Major. They will be replaced, and we hope to get this turned around before the main event.

As always, I can be reached at gaben@valvesoftware.com.

Gabe

And then Harding’s own statement landed in the form of a Google doc. It’s a long ‘un as it not only covers the events at the Shanghai Major but it also picks into Harding’s previous experiences with Valve and relationships with people at that company.

I’m just going to pick out a couple of details here:

One is that after that opening segment on day 1 Harding says he was explicitly told “no more porn jokes” so yeah, that was definitely a problem.

Another is that he posts an image of a Skype conversation showing himself and Dota 2 developer Icefrog discussing the event which appears to show Icefrog telling Harding to “totally just be yourself”. That takes me back to that earlier point about seeing the complaints on my timeline and assuming this tone (which you could describe, at best, as irreverent, at worst offensive/unprofessional) was what Valve/Perfect World were happy with in employing Harding.

Lastly, when he talks specifically about the firing Harding says being disrespectful towards pro players was cited as a reason along with a specific reference to a remark about two pro players (Harding defends that one, saying the players in question are personal friends but watching that part of the stream you don’t get any context, it just sounds like a casually offensive remark).

Without more information I don’t want to go any further into the hows and whys. The one thing I will say is that, as a viewer of these tournaments, I don’t want this incident to make people feel panel hosting has to be a choice between 2GD’s style and a completely straight-faced sports style. I think there’s room for irreverence and humour and flip charts and I like when esports acknowledges some of the weirdness and silliness and ridiculousness you can get in gaming. Those are positives and I don’t want that to get lost in this mess.

With regard to the rest of the event, as Newell said, the technical/production side of things is being worked on. The group stage hosting was picked up by Jorien ‘Sheever’ van der Heijden and Dakota ‘KotlGuy’ Cox but I’m not sure what the main event will bring on that front.

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Philippa Warr

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