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.

55 Comments

  1. PikaBot says:

    I’d have fired him after day one. Rather, I wouldn’t have hired him in the first place, given that this is indeed the sort of thing he’s known for.

    I don’t know any job in the world where you can dance up to the line, get told by your boss to cut that shot out, and then THE VERY NEXT DAY dance all over the line again, and still expect to keep your job.

    • Irishjohn says:

      Yeah, exactly. I can see Philippa’s point here, but this guy isn’t “irreverent,” he’s obnoxious.

      His “humour” is the kind of sophomoric “Internet”-style rubbish that appeals to a certain slice of the audience who just assume they’re in the majority. I can’t agree that it’s simply a different approach.

      His self-justification is more of the same, basically arguing that being himself (as he describes his behaviour in front of the camera) is in some way an acceptable way to behave in public when it clearly isn’t. I’m tired of this childish crap, self-declared nerds participating in the same old thing that makes so many people miserable in secondary school. I think there should be a difference between an idiot streaming for an audience that wants to hear him swear and make stupid (and borderline homophobic) jokes and people presenting analysis on one of the bigger tournaments of the year.

      • Aldehyde says:

        Then don’t hire him in the first place. This is who he has been at every event since he started. This is who he was at previous valve events as well.

        Valve knew what they were getting when they hired him and then fire him for acting in the most predictable way possible.

        It makes them and their tournament look like a joke in combination with the production issues.

        • darkath says:

          To my understanding, and as gabe said, he was hired because he had friends at valve who wanted him to do it again. Gabe (so Valve ) acknowledged it was a mistake.

          • Aldehyde says:

            I know, and, if anything, that just makes it worse. It highlights that Valve have no idea what communication is. Whether it is to their community or internally.

      • azazazaza says:

        And in my opinion, you’re “pretentious”. We can both use big words eh?

        • Jito463 says:

          He may well be “pretentious”, it doesn’t mean he’s wrong.

    • Banyan says:

      To be as fair as possible, all the panelists were clearly jetlagged as hell and were being asked to fill an hour of extra time with chatter while production problems were being sorted. It’s the perfect environment for a guy whose main characteristic is obnoxiousness to go too far. Multiple times I saw Blitz say some variant of “what are you doing?” Tuning into the last day, where Sheever was overseeing an actual discussion was such a relief.

      Also, the actual Dota has been really good. Some clutch games. A looser meta than previously. Some teams picking against the meta and making it work. Good stuff.

    • Horg says:

      ”I’d have fired him after day one. Rather, I wouldn’t have hired him in the first place, given that this is indeed the sort of thing he’s known for.”

      And yet he is responsible for hosting what is generally regarded as the most successful DotA 2 event so far, the TI3 european qualifier community hub. That event, and the main event that followed, was for many the essence of what makes e-sports fun. Irreverent humor, relaxed atmosphere, freestyle casting from many of the most popular personalities in the game, and kitten cam :3.

      Watching the panel for this major (after 2GD was fired), it has become painfully obvious that dry, professional DotA 2 analysis is, frankly, dull as filling taxes. This ESPN style of broadcasting has no future in e-sports, no one wants it, no one asked for it, and it diverges so drastically from what made DotA (and e-sports in general) successful that you have to wonder what the hell Valve are thinking by terminating one of the most popular entertainers. The manner in which he was fired, in particular, was even more unforgivable than anything he might have done to justify disciplinary action.

      This is a ”sport” of sorts where teams of largely nerdy individuals bash an assortment of virtual wizards into each other for money. It’s ridiculous. It shouldn’t work as a spectator event. But it does, somehow, and that’s largely down to the enthusiasm of the player base and the casting talent who worked hard to make the events actually entertaining. Valve were better off sticking to their ethos from the early days of DotA, being a hands off investor that let the community build an e-sport ‘by nerds, for nerds’. As time passes and more money becomes involved with the events, Valve seem determined to take greater control over all aspects of the professional scene. Some of their input has been positive, but it also has potential to harm the game if they aren’t careful.

      There has been a lot of talk about e-sports needing to grow, become more professional and attract a more mainstream audience, but honestly that’s a fools mission. That change of tone would alienate the core fan base that already exists (and made the game successful) in favor of attracting a new audience that doesn’t seem to exist. No one outside gaming audiences wants e-sports in their lives, it’s niche enough within gamer culture as it is. The sacking of 2GD cast a pall over this major, combined with the technical problems it’s going to be an uphill battle to salvage the atmosphere. Valve need to learn from this that they are dealing with a product that, while bearing some similarities to traditional sports, doesn’t fit into the same mold and doesn’t attract the same audience. Attempting to force the same standards upon DotA as you would expect from traditional sports is going to hurt them in the long term. I’d like to see Valve more willing to work with the entertainment talent, provide the event staff with better, fairer contracts, and aside from doing due diligence that the technical staff are up to the task, be more hands off in general.

      • Skeletor68 says:

        While I agree with part of what you say I think there is a way to keep things funny without having more adult or controversial humour. I don’t think there is an age restriction on the streams (that I am aware of) so he should be a little more responsible.

        Guys like Bruno with the crazy costumes and crystal ball interludes were really funny and goofy without having to alienate anyone.

        I’m no esport expert however and don’t know the community the way others do.

      • PikaBot says:

        I’m not saying he’s bad at his job, I’m saying he’s a jackass and I wouldn’t hire him as the face of my product under any circumstances. Which I guess does mean he’s bad at his job, but not in the way you’re suggesting.

      • Premium User Badge

        Phasma Felis says:

        “This is a ”sport” of sorts where teams of largely nerdy individuals bash an assortment of virtual wizards into each other for money. It’s ridiculous.”

        Point of order: E-sports are indeed ridiculous, but they’re not really any more ridiculous than watching a bunch of men in funny outfits chase a ball around. People like to pretend that “real” sports have some sort of inherent dignity and grandeur to them, but really all they’ve got is a bunch more years for people to get used to the idea. Sports, e- or otherwise, are what happens when you have a fun group activity and then take it really, really seriously.

  2. Terragot says:

    The best part of all this is how appalled Reddit is that Gabe would call someone an ass, whilst defending 2GD as some sort of saint even though he calls someone a cunt less than a minute into the broadcast.

    I’m all for keeping the casual atmosphere of the DOTA 2 professional scene, and I do genuinely like 2GD as a host over the likes of say Redeye, but there’s a level of self restraint you need to exorcize, and I feel like 2GD – being away from the big tournaments for so long – felt like he needed to come back with a bang.

    Still hope to see him back in the future, the last two international panels have suffered with the loss of both him and Bruno.

    • fabronaut says:

      after learning of this whole controversy after it happened and perusing a few youtube videos of his past commentary, it’s pretty obvious to me that Mr. Harding had no problem “exorcizing” self-restraint, and was actually very much inclined to do so!

      now as for exercising restraint… ;)

    • mattevansc3 says:

      Looking at it impartially Gabe’s response seems needlessly unprofessional and an unwarranted personal attack.

      Other than criticise the technical elements of the stream did Harding launch any personal attacks against Valve employees? Post sacking he seemed the more professional and diplomatic.

      Also what justification did Gabe for calling Harding an ass? It’s a statement without context and loaded with personal bias. Imagine your boss fired you and the official reason was that you were a twat. That says nothing about your ability to do your job, your results or your effectiveness just that your boss has a low opinion of you. It doesn’t matter if you are a twat, it’s not a sackable offence.

    • knapkins says:

      He never called anyone a “cunt.” Unless you’d ever say “The cans and cunts” of something.

  3. El_MUERkO says:

    James Harding is the DOTA2 scenes Jeremy Clarkson, a lot of people who don’t watch esports think he’s an ass but the vast majority of those that do love him.

    He should have been scolded for his c-bomb but the rest is exactly what he does and what he was hired to do.

    Valve handled this badly, Gabe in particular should have dealt with it differently.

    • GWOP says:

      He was already warned once before.

      At any rate, the firing of both Clarkson and Harding were good decisions.

      • FleshPlusBlood says:

        “At any rate, the firing of Clarkson were a good decision”
        Yes, if you want to lose money lol!

        • subedii says:

          Seriously?

          Clarkson literally yelled at the dude for 20 minutes over not having hot food because the hotel restaurant had closed. During which he also punched Tymon and sent him to the hospital.

          I’d have fired his sorry arse too. There is LITERALLY no other choice, especially for a major corp like the BBC, Clarkson made sure of that (and goodness knows they’ve covered for him a lot over the years because TG was such a cash cow). To not do so is to basically allow yourself to get lawyered into the floor, the hit to your reputation alone would not be something that can be re-earned whilst he’s still hanging like a seagull around the show’s neck after something like that.

          What disgusts me is the attitude since, as if it’s been Tymon’s fault for Clarkson getting canned. He’s been getting so much abuse for it that Clarkson has literally had to make public statements (TWICE) for people to stop harassing the guy for something that was not his frigging fault.

          • GWOP says:

            It’s only to a Top Gear fan you would need to explain that hitting people is a big no-no.

            Don’t even get me started on TG fans hurling abuse at Sue Perkins because of /rumors/ that she might host the new show, or crying political correctness when Sabine Schmitz got the job.

          • Zephro says:

            Quite.

            Not into eSports but hearing about all this and the fans is really not making me think it’s worth it. Sort of like premiership league football fans or Top Gear fans.

          • SomeDuder says:

            In any other case, I’d agree.

            But fuck that, Top Gear was great under the old hosts, Clarkson can act like a diva and I’ll still adore him and his fantastically political incorrect ways. Noone’s going to watch that new crap and Amazon have managed to reel in an act that will actually make people buy their shitty product.

        • subedii says:

          I didn’t want to believe it, but thank you regardless for proving GWOP’s point.

          @GWOP: I don’t get that, Sabine was actually a really logical choice. She’d been on the show several times, was a better driver than the rest of the cast, and was about as arrogant as you can get. Sounds like a match for a show like TG.

          Not to say the show isn’t going to suck regardless, but then that also depends on what your views on the show were beforehand.

    • PikaBot says:

      the vast majority of those that do

      Citation needed.

      • El_MUERkO says:

        The reddit and twitch breaking response to his sacking and the huge number of supportive messages from other talent and players.

        • Novotny says:

          What few hundred kids moaning? Wasn’t there millions watching?

        • aldo_14 says:

          I think if history has shown anything, it’s not to assume the loudest people are the most representative.

        • El_MUERkO says:

          Sorry guys, but the number of subscribers to the Reddit and posters in the related threads, as well as the numbers in twitch chat are not in the hundreds, they’re in the hundreds of thousands and a substantial % of those viewing the tournament, buying the hats and playing the game.

          If you want to assume that it’s a vocal minority you can, but you’d be wrong and a statistician with time on their hands could explain it to you I can’t be arsed.

          • zachdidit says:

            Just because something gets upvoted on reddit doesn’t mean it represents a majority opinion. On any given day you can see two completely differing opinions on the front page of of /r/dota. “I really love BTS’s casual stream” can be right under “Can we please make streams more professional.”

            As a long time dota player and viewer, I was never a fan of James. He always felt awkward and forced. I could bear him before, but he definitely felt out of line when viewing the majors. I enjoyed RedEye much more at Ti5 who was able to do everything James could do but more maturely.

          • Urthman says:

            A real statistician would definitely not assume that the few hundred people who whine on forums are representative of the huge majority who read forums but don’t post, much less the even huger majority who don’t pay attention to forums at all.

      • Bweahns says:

        Indeed. I’ve disliked his presenting since I started watching pro dota games all those years ago. The guy is a personality free zone and seems lost half the time. He clearly has no interest in dota either. He doesn’t appeal to me at all and would get muted at the end of every match. He is my least favourite of the panel members but certainly not the only one who I would be happy to see replaced.

    • Deano2099 says:

      He wasn’t hired to do that though, clearly. He was hired to be himself with the edges filed off. Which is a perfectly reasonable request. But one Valve never seemed to make directly.
      He wasn’t briefed properly, basically. Indeed, it sounds like he wasn’t briefed at all, which is just ridiculous. It doesn’t need much.

      • PikaBot says:

        It also doesn’t take much common sense to not start off the broadcast, in bloody China of all places, with a joke about his masturbation habits.

        • Deano2099 says:

          You would think that, and in an amateur world of volunteers doing something like this, you’d try and tailor yourself to the company you were working for to impress them…

          But the point it moves to paying a professional for their services, it changes. If you hire the guy that’s known for making off-colour jokes, and don’t given any specific brief, you expect those sort of jokes. Indeed, if you don’t get those sort of jokes, you’re perfectly within your rights to ask why the person is holding back and not giving what you hired them for.

          That’s the key here for me – he didn’t come to Valve and ask if he could present in order to boost his profile. They came to him and offered to pay him to do what he does.

  4. bv728 says:

    You know how Valve likes to play up how flat their corporate structure is? This is the kind of problem that kind of structure makes you extra prone to (not that more hierarchical structures are resistant, but they’re only prone to them, not extra prone. prone is no longer a word. prone prone prone).

    I’m betting there was a bunch of internal discussion that never turned into actual directives, so you had one group of influential people who totally agree he needed to tone it down but should get another chance, and then it never got to him, because some members of that group didn’t actually believe he needed to tone it down.

  5. The Sombrero Kid says:

    For me the by far the biggest issue Harding highlights and it has gone completely ignored by the press, is how shitily valve have been treating their panellists. I’m sorry but pay isn’t optional, neither should the international be some sort of platform to beg from. Pay your staff.
    I genuinely believe militant libertarianism is a sickness at valve that threatens to bring down the whole thing.

    • Philippa Warr says:

      That’s a big thing from my point of view but wanted to see if I could find more info on it before I posted about it specifically as, for example, Purge has said on Twitter that he was always offered a basic rate of pay: link to twitter.com

      • PikaBot says:

        From the sounds of things, hosts from different parts of the world were given different contracts. Some had a base rate of pay baked in, some did not. It’s not clear exactly why this is, but it’s likely that differing tax codes and regulations in their different home countries were at least partly the reason.

        • Philippa Warr says:

          Yeah, that too. Basically the payment parts haven’t gone unnoticed but if I cover that I want to make sure I have the right info.

      • The Sombrero Kid says:

        I totally agree, I would love to have more information on this.

        I think all the other stuff belongs in private, personally. I don’t think Gabe should’ve called him an ass publicly. I think by doing that Gabe is exploiting his power over him and over everyone in Pro Dota 2. Whether he means to or not he’s reminding everyone that he makes and breaks careers on a whim.

  6. shaydeeadi says:

    The paragraph about the autographs at TI4 was shocking. Sing for your supper!

  7. Skeletor68 says:

    Wow, I know nothing. I only tend to watch the Ti events and associated his voice with being quite straight-laced if a little bit jocular O_O

    I actually liked his hosting as I didn’t hear, or don’t remember, anything so controversial. I must have missed all the other crazy stuff he is known for.

    I do miss Bruno though.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      I was the same, I’m still a bit confused about what it is, exactly, people have issue with. I did hear he quoted Mien Kampf on stream once and if he did that in itself would be enough for me to never watch him again (& never want Valve to hire him again) but the stuff at the Shanghai Major doesn’t seem to be anywhere near that bad.

      I get the sense there’s an American Cultural tolerance for free speech coupled with an aversion to swearing and sex that might help me understand but I’m not sure.

      • MasterDave says:

        It’s a little difficult to explain because there’s no solid “American” perspective, as you have a lot of people who claim Free Speech but really they only mean “if you’re saying what I agree with” and they’re the ones likely to get offended at things. These people are also typically people who run corporations who assume the general public are like them and are also uninterested in sexy/profane/stupid things, and therefore other corporations all act in collusion to decide there’s a strong moral background to everything, even if a very large amount of people have rather decided otherwise.

        It doesn’t make much sense to Americans either most of the time, I promise.

        That said, I have absolutely no idea why it’s considered amusing for someone to just spew things like the dude who got canned does and they could do a little better at finding someone with personality who is at least… humorous instead of just spewing mental diarrhea with no filter.

        The overwhelming problem here is that watching people play a video game where for frequent periods of time there is absolutely nothing happening, is inherently boring and in broadcasting you don’t have dead air. Since DOTA isn’t exactly a history rich sport for the non-diehards, it’s probably fairly difficult to come up with things to fill time with, unlike actual sports. Bummer.

    • Skeletor68 says:

      I should clarify that I didn’t hear anything like what is being cited in the reasons for him being fired, not that I heard them and didn’t get the reason for the anger.

  8. ssbowers says:

    I think I just took crazy pills. None of this makes any sense.

  9. yogibbear says:

    I watched it live. It was absolutely the BEST panel that we’ve had in the last 2 years and we got it for 1 day!!! One bloody day!!! I am so disappointed now. Yeah the c-bomb was maybe a bit too much, but the rest of it, the 2-hours of off-the-cuff live panel stuff was brilliant, and instead of you know a 10-min pre-match typical boring spiel about whatever the most played typical supports were going to be, we got actual justified predictions from each panelist and some interesting debates about each team and because of all the technical stuff ups (Thanks keyTV or no thanks!) there was ample time to then reflect on those prediction post-match while waiting for the next one. Honestly I think it’s more a case of the technical problems associated with keyTV rather than the talent causing James to be a scapegoat for that mess. When in any other circumstance you’d almost always just see an offscreen conversation/warning and move on with the rest of the 2 weeks.

  10. Bweahns says:

    I stopped playing Dota and following the pro scene a year ago after Dota burnout. However, I couldn’t be happier about this firing. That guy was the worst presenter, he acted like an empty human shell being controlled by an alien that didn’t know how to be human. He always seemed to have no real knowledge or interest in dota and was exceedingly dull to watch. This is a problem with the panels as a whole, the guy in the party guy shirts is very annoying, there is another European guy who appears to be an emotionless cyborg. There are only a couple of casters and panel guests that actually come across as humans and have much of interest to say. These faults are particularly grating after getting back into Counter Strike. For the most part the panelists and casters are excellent and all show a very good understanding and passion for the game.

    • oWn4g3 says:

      The host is usually not required to be an expert for the game (although James is very far from not knowing anything about Dota). A host has to drive the conversation, ask interesting questions and needs to know the strengths of all the panelists.

      Given the fact he has been working behind the scenes on Dota related things for years now it is not justified to say that he is not interested or passionate about the game.

      • Bweahns says:

        Coming across as a human with a personality would help in such a task.

  11. xCakex says:

    (I’ve read the whole 2GD document post that he did, just saying.. )
    I mean i know it’s 2GD, i know it’s his style like the one time where he flipped off around 80k viewers with his middle finger ( cant remember what lan tournament it was )

    I got nothing against 2GD but at the same time, comeone.. first time i’ve seen him he had his shoes off and sitting awkwardly, i’m like ” You’re in a suite, at a Major event but whatever lol” ( During the Panel Live )
    Then the non stop sexual jokes and all those words mentioned above..
    There’s limits for everything, you need to understand that not everyone’s watching is currently your fan, nor would accept to hear/see such things.. ( Coming from someone who likes 2GD )

    But honestly there’s been casters that are worst, they can be way more professional yet people don’t dislike them, take for example ODpixel, he has a lot of games where i’ve seen comments and youtube comments, n comments everywhere complaining about the Troll/not taking the game serious casting. ( Even LODA himself tweeted about this, so even the pro players are noticing this.) yet some people might like ODpixel more than they like Tobi/LD casting.. it’s all about opinions.

    I respect Valve for it’s decision and i think it was needed, this Tournament should be amazing and not ruined by 2GD’s actions.

    Point: ( SURE YOU GOT TOLD TO BE YOURSELF, BUT BE RESPECTFUL FFS.. there are underaged, females, people who gets annoyed watching Dota while you’re talking about a sexual part.. or being in a way disrespectful.. )

    I like Tobi/LD/Purge/Merlini ( Merlini n Purge can do Panel ) cause they got the dota 2 knowledge, they respect the game, and they’re fun..
    Sheever and them are just dota 2 “personalities” no problem seeing them there..

  12. SaltyWarrior says:

    If Gabe want fire any1, it should be person who design matchmaking. Also Id like to say my opinion as fan. I never had problem watching silly 2GD, still 100 times better than some Sheever or Synderen with their “I am virgin” sitting style. And I have rly nothing against those 2, its just the presentation of some people is so newbie, truly amazing…

  13. namad says:

    harding delivered EXACTLY what everyone knew he would. it sounds like he never promised to do any different. I blame VALVE 100% not only for the offensive jokes but also for wasting harding’s time. That is just not how business should be done. I think this is a clear example of the failure of the valve corporation structure of “no bosses”. Someone thinks harding is funny, hires him, he has no boss to consult to tell him “no”.

    Harding’s idiotic jokes are absolutely the stuff of twitch meme’s on much smaller channels where there are no sponsors and no big companies around. If valve wants to be professional they should hire someone else. Pinning this on harding is a huge mistake though. They should absolutely have taken the blame on themselves. You don’t hire a crass comedian to give an important serious political speech. If by some freak chance you do, you don’t go on to blame him.