Why esports needs to ditch online aliases Gaming handles may not be holding esports back now, but it can only harm the scene in the future.

Is it MadLife, Dendi, and HuK? Or is it Hong Min-gi, Danylo Ishutin, and Chris Loranger? Is the Team Solomid filled with Dyrus, TheOddOne, Bjergsen, WildTurtle, and Xpecial? Or do Marcus Hill, Brian Wyllie, Søren Bjerg, Jason Tran, and Alex Chu make up the squad?

It’s time we stopped clinging to our pro player’s online handles and embraced their real names.

Sure, a lot of these players have been using their nicknames for years as they’ve risen to prominence in their respective games. But as the scene continues to grow and become a massive and unstoppable force in the world of video games, the use of real names for professionals will only help it to grow.

Let’s talk about League of Legends. Yes, it’s the biggest esport – and arguably the biggest game – in the world right now. Yes, its competitive scene is more in the limelight than any other game in history. And yet, those who are not familiar with esports know next to nothing about it.

By comparison, take a look at American football, basketball, and baseball. Those of you who aren’t into the more professional sports, think for a second of how many players you can name from those three sports. I guarantee, if you think hard enough, you can probably come up with a dozen or so active players. More if you count more famous, retired players.

Now go ahead and ask a gamer who isn’t into esports how many professional League of Legends, Dota 2, and StarCraft 2 players they can name. I bet they mumble something about an article they read about Ocelote recently and then mention Fatal1ty.

You could write that difference of history. Obviously, esports is incredibly new to the competitive game scene in comparison to those sports. The community is still very much going through its adolescent growing pains stage, while traditional sports have had more or less the entirety of human history to develop.

Have you heard the phrase “Fake it until you make it”? By holding on so desperately to these nicknames, esports isn’t faking anything. It’s holding onto a practice previously necessitated by the need for anonymity on the internet. That need secrecy, for pro players, is obsolete. In fact, it’s detrimental.

Basically, we should be able to get to know our professional players. We know them by aliases, not by their real names. It may seem like a small distinction, but when we’re talking about a player’s personality broadcasting to millions of people, it makes a difference.

When most people are using their real name on social media, they act much more like you would in real life. The same concept applies here. By using gamertags as public names, we’re setting a standard that these names are much more important than real ones. As a result, it becomes culturally acceptable to hide behind these fake names. The message, albeit subtle, is that it’s okay to not take responsibility for your own actions, because it’s not you acting poorly, it’s your online avatar.

Thing of it like this: Much like professional wrestlers, pro esports players have personas. The first public image that people get of that persona is their name. Rather than allowing themselves to speak as a real person, they’re becoming characters. We only get overblown, simplified elements of who these people are. The cockiness of Doublelift. The cold blooded Flash. Scumbag Krepo.

These aren’t people, these are characters. And in order for esports to attain a greater longevity, we need to get to know these guys as human beings. We need to know our players.

17 thoughts on “<span class="entry-title-primary">Why esports needs to ditch online aliases</span> <span class="entry-subtitle">Gaming handles may not be holding esports back now, but it can only harm the scene in the future.</span>”

  1. I think this is the wrong path to take.

    While the nicknames and the characters they personally play may be fake, they are still a shield to their private life. I don’t think it’s wrong to display their full name or have interviews about their professional life, but E-sports should not go down the path of regular sports and media with that kind of idol worship.

    Nicknames are better and easier for several reasons, and does not exclude the usage a regular name. Really accomplished sports players often get nicknames or are referred to a short of their own name. In e-sport, that process has already been decided by the player himself/herself. I would say that anyone equally exposed to sports and e-sport could name more nicknames than real player names.

  2. i always try to remeber the real names for the pro players (like kurtis ling aka Aui_2000) but i don’t think they should call themselves that ingame. i mean, if they wanted they could have done just that (e.g. look at TC, his real name is tyler cook, and TC are his initials or ixmike88, his first name is mike).

    i think its okay if they are introduced like wrestlers or some special soccer players (Tyler ‘TC’ Cook, Jacky ‘EternalEnvy’ Mao, Clinton ‘Fear’ Loomis and so on) and i also think that whenever you interview someone, you should ask them whether they want to be adressed by their first name or their gamer-ID. and for the stream/tv thing you should include both the real names as well as the gamer-ID, but i think you never should only go by their real name. if you are just a casual gamer (maybe of late age as i have played with guys that are older than 60), you most likely dont want your next employer when he googles your name (which is standard) to see your winrate or how much time you spend on games in general in your spare time.

    i understand your idea, but i don’t think it’s viable for e-sports in general. its good to know the real names of the professionals, but there is no way that its good to know every single gamers real names (privacy much?).

    to adress your comparision to real sports, i am from germany and thus i don’t relate to baseball, basketball and american football as much (i know alot about hockey and soccer though) and thus i can say that i know as much baseball pros as i know league of legends pros. this should render your argument invalid. yes, i know alot more soccer pros by name than dota pros, but that is not that hard if you compare the amount of publicity and the bare amount of players. i mean, if you consider every steam account that has played dota 2 before, you also need to consider every single human being that has kicked a ball before (even if it’s just as a kid in school, which happens in PE or as an old man if your grandkids want to play ball with you) and thus soccer has a really huge playerbase compared to dota 2, has higher exposure (word championships, champions league, TV in general as i can watch games of around the whole world whenever i want). and even in soccer you have the number on your back that might even get blocked after you stop playing (this is a more common thing in hockey, like wayne gretzky will always be known for wearing jersey number 99, which can’t be used by any player in the whole NHL, so i think the 99 is kind of his gamer-ID.

  3. While I agree with what you say, I wouldn’t say that what this article says is stupid and pointless. There is a point to be made that as E-sports grows there are certain things that must be addressed: how it is represented to the non-competitive gaming communities and how it is represented in society as a whole.

    Hockey, soccer, football and sports in general are all examples of sports that garner the most attention by society. And while E-sports shouldn’t necessarily follow the paths these sports created, there is something to be said about how society approaches and views E-sports as it grows. People will naturally create comparisons to “real sports” as E-sports develops and as a result there are certain paradigms within “real sports” that would help the growth of E-sports. Society as a whole will be more naturally inclined to accept the up-and-coming “sport” if they can easily find comparisons that they already know.

    However, I personally believe that E-sports shouldn’t just blindly follow what “real sports” do. They should do their own thing, and gaming tags are something iconic about video games in general. But as we as a community go forth into becoming accepted by modern-day society, we should consider what will help society understand E-sports, gaming tags, being one of them.

  4. I’d say this is almost completely backwards.

    You use the example of ‘real sports’ using actual names, and transcending their sport. Think about those athletes and what we call them, is it just their name? LeBron ‘King’ James, Earvin ‘Magic’ Johnson, ‘Air’ Jordan? In most of the cases the athletes that are truely memorable gain a moniker that we remember. Ask any hockey fan who “the great one” is. Most of these names are adapted by commentators, or news people, so why not allow us to select our own moniker?

    Keep in mind, most of the world is slowly moving to a ‘screen name’ system anyhow; twitter names, email addresses, etc. It is easier to find a Trick2G on almost all social platforms than track down the right up and coming John Smith player.

    I’d also like to point out, a players legally change their names and that is what we remember them by, Muhamad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. And of course Meta World Peace.

  5. Using a nickname didn’t stop Terry Bollea, Randy Poffo, Roderick Toombs or Dwayne Johnson from achieving success in mainstream pop culture. In fact as Hulk Hogan, “Macho Man” Randy Savage, “Rowdy” Roddy Piper and The Rock they all went on to become movie stars and pop culture icons. Why would a nickname stop pro gamers from joining them and becoming celebrities in their own right?

    Using an alias also didn’t stop Richard Fliehr, Mark Calaway, Sean Hickenbottom and Paul Levesque from reaching the pinnacle of their profession. Ric Flair, The Undertaker, Shawn Michaels and Triple H may not have achieved the same mainstream success as some others, but they’re among the most recognisable and successful professional wrestlers of all time and everyone with even a cursory interest in the sport knows of them.

    James Janos, better known as Jesse “The Body” Ventura, even went into politics after a successful career in wrestling. Current wrestler Glenn Jacobs looks like he’ll try the same thing after his career as Kane is over.

    I think it’s really interesting that the author mentioned professional wrestling, because along with music (Snoop Dogg, Lady GaGa, Eminem, P!nk) I think it’s an excellent example of why nicknames aren’t going to hold back professional gaming.

  6. Having online alias’s is part of gaming culture, history and allows players to create their own brands. I would agree that a team or league should force a player with an unsuitable name (as mentioned above – FuckingMad) to switch to one that can be shown on stream to children. But otherwise, using your actual name is neither here nor there. I do not think it negatively impacts anything, if anything I feel it adds to the allure of eSports because of the culture, history, branding, etc.

  7. Not sure why this concept is so ridiculous for so many. This has been the common practice in Korea for the Starcraft scene for years.

    Try to be more open-minded before automatically refusing someone’s ideas.

    In my opinion, I think in the Western scene, it might be more feasible and beneficial to keep the traditional Player Tags as well as using their legal names.

  8. While I think this article makes weak arguments for the points it’s trying to make, and it’s not necessarily trying to make the right points, I think many of the preceding comments are a bit harsh.

    E-sports is still in it’s infancy. Nobody knows where it’s going to go, but if you have to speculate, it makes complete sense to compare it to it’s closest relative (in this case organized sports). Where I think this article fails is that it is trying to make two completely different points, and it doesn’t even realize it… The author is trying to say 1) pro gamers should not use handles, and 2) we need to get to know our players. These are two completely different statements.

    The first mistake is that name recognition is the result of, not the cause of, traditional sport’s greater popularity. The author tries to write that little fact off. “Sure sports have been around a long time”, but that little fact blows up your whole argument if you pay any attention to it. Using it’s own failed analogy to Pro Wrestling, I’d argue Hulk Hogan or the Undertaker, are equally recognizable (at least here in the US) as many professional athletes. A name is a name and a person is a person.

    What the author is trying to say, but doesn’t actually say, is that a professionals real name might be more attractive to a larger audience because it’s more familiar. This may be true, but if Esports were being covered by a number of major media outlets that people were already watching like TV and radio, then many more people would be able to name pro gamers whether or not they went by their handles.

    There are far more obstacles in the way of Esports becoming mainstream than what we call our professionals. Howabout the massive amount of knowledge it takes to understand what’s going on in a Dota match? The most popular sports boil down pretty easily into “put ball into space”. Obviously there are incredible intricacies in every sport that make it much deeper than that, but it is easy for the uninitiated to understand. It doesn’t hurt that in most sports the players all have the same abilities and have to follow the same rules, which lowers the learning curve. There’s also the fact that despite great strides, most of the general public things computer games are for kids…

    Now I agree that using real names might make Esports seem more mature, and you can argue whether it needs to be or not, but nobody is going to give a shit what a players name is if they don’t understand the game that they play, or think that it’s a silly hobby for children…

    The “getting to know your pros” argument is also flawed, as anybody who watches player interviews knows, that these players aren’t hiding who they are. There personality on camera is not a persona, it is just them being them, which is usually an awkward introvert. Again not every player is like this, but only a few have a charisma that would engage people beyond the current community. The question is not how to make new people engage with these professionals, but why these new people should care in the first place.

    I think the point of the article, is that “if pro gamers become more relatable to the general public, more people will support Esports”, but that is unclear, and though it invites the analogy to real sports, doesn’t provide the facts to prove it’s validity…

    Good try and an issue that should be discussed ,but poorly executed.

  9. I’m sorry but this is just ridiculous, these usernames are exactly what the esports community needs. The multicultural nature of gaming and its ability to reach a global audience is not only assisted by the use of usernames it is boosted! As a Caucasian English person I have almost no hope of being able to pronounce Wehsing Yuen in a way that is exceptable to anyone. But having a username to use completely breaks down language barriers and allows the entire community to feel much closer. To try and abolish usernames would both disable the unity of gamers worldwide and destroy our heritage.

    I don’t mean to sound too negative, I just full heartily disagree with your entire concept and sincerely hope your suggestion never gets any traction as I would see it as the downfall of esports.

  10. Not only is this a poor and pointless suggestion, it’s also completely unfeasible. Every single pro player emerges from the community and gains a standing there before entering the pro scene. To ask every player who has aspirations of becoming a professional to use their full name would be irresponsible, never mind the fact that there are many people with the same name. These are normal people, often nerdy and introverted, who have suddenly found an unexpected source of fame. As evidenced by the gigantic backlash when Blizzard attempted to force implementation of RealID, people do not want their online personas dragged into real life affairs or vice versa. There is a healthy divide between the online and the real and it needs to be respected. In a world where privacy is more at risk than ever before, we cannot afford to jeopardize it even further for no benefit whatsoever.

    Also how the hell is how many players you can name relevant to anything? I can barely name any football, basketball, or baseball players because I couldn’t give less of a crap about those sports. Why would it be any different with games and why should anyone care in the first place?

  11. While I don’t think it’s a bad idea to introduce players with their given birth names, just encapsulate the nickname within their given name. Most organizations are doing this anyway when they spotlight a player. If you let it grow organically then it’ll get there, don’t force it and try to make it something that it’s not. The fighting game community started off with nicknames and most people know that someone like Gootecks is actually Ryan Gutierrez, it’ll happen but no one should force it.

    I do feel like having open discussions on this though will only make people stop and think and create a thread where it will become a natural shift. If you would have crafted your argument from that perspective it may have been more effective. Additionally I feel like this highlights that this site is in need of a way to clearly differentiate between news and op-ed articles.

  12. I am not sure I understand the message of this article. The games give you free rights of assigning a name as you want. I think people would have chosen their real names, if they wanted to or felt that it would represent them better. Also the commentators at eSport events knows all the real names, but switch over to the aliases as soon as the game starts.

    Regarding insight into who the players are, I felt that the dota 2 internationals, did a great job of introducing the teams and players.

  13. I agree in one aspect, players like “FuckingMad” make a great case for the weakness in professionalism that esports has trouble with.

    But I also think that the names they create are almost their own individual brands that carry on for all the fans. I got my pc case signed by Dendi recently, I know his names danil ishtun but Dendi is like his superhero name, or his name makes my case feel like a pair of Jordan’s now. Names like Puppey and Singsing, Arteezy, Bulba, FluffnStuff, all of those are great names, and if you look at physical sports names some of their names are ridiculous, and honestly, you tell me how to pronounce Kuroky’s real name, BECAUSE I CAN’T.

  14. The Counter-Strike pro scene tried using real names many years ago, and to be honest- It never really caught on, and eventually fizzled out.

    They also tried making everything more mainstream in the CGS. Teams w/ club-like names, i.e. Los Angeles Complexity, Birmingham Salvo etc. It was all geared for television and felt forced and unnatural. After the CGS went away that structure was more or less left in the dust.

    I can agree that it’s helpful to get to know the players on a more of a personal level- For instance I’m really looking forward to the Dota documentary Valve is working on
    , but I don’t think that switching from handles to full names will achieve anything whatsoever.

    It completely goes against gaming tradition, it feels awkward, and it takes an element of fun out of the scene.

    The notion of handles simply making players caricatures is what I find to the contrary- You’re not watching a person, you’re watching a game and the talents of that person within it. A handle gives someone a unique identity; for starters it separates them from the other million people that have their same 1st name, and it can even say something descriptive about who they are etc, and it can gain that aura of clout that spreads much more easily then a real name.

    You can bet if Johnathan Wendall never went by Fatal1ty he would never have been a fraction as popular as he was, and certainly there wouldn’t be a line of Sound Cards called the Johnathan Wendall series… It just loses that mystic.

    I like the passionate article, and I believe you were almost on the right track, but I think where you went wrong was blaming handles as a hindrance instead of just focusing that it would be helpful to get to know the people behind the handles on a more personal level somehow, which would certainly be adventitious for professional gaming.

  15. In an (occasionally) fast paced game like dota 2 , you need names that distinguish people and are able to be said quickly. Singsing runs off the tongue much easier than Wehsing Yuen will ever do. I also agree with people here about the culture side. Video games have a long way to go to be mainstream yet, and E-sports aren’t even mainstream to standard video game audiences.

  16. I have to agree with the previous comments. I disagree with your thoughts in this article, Taylor. While I understand where you are coming from, it is more or less the culture of online gaming in general that we use usernames. Social media is not the same thing as video games and eSports, and as Ressa said, we do not want to emulate a physical sport. Also, you should note that, while you post this here, which I am starting to wonder if this is a good source of eSports information, many of your fellow staff members have their usernames in their author names. To be fair, I understand that this article is a matter of your personal opinion, but that leads me to wonder if this is supposed to be a “news” site or if this is a “blog” type of site, where opinions come out. Let’s be honest, if you are looking to emulate Giant Bomb, that is a difficult task to hold on to. They are able to pull off a site which does not have a certain set style, but I do not believe this site has that. Lo, I digress. In summary, I disagree and feel that having “usernames” is a story in of itself of how to follow a player.

  17. How incredibly ridiculous and asinine.

    The last thing Esports needs to do to succeed is to emulate Football. I don’t know where this notion that Esports needs to become “real sports” to succeed came from. Esports are their own thing, they should DO their own thing, not idiotically go and cling to the ancient and outdated conventions and traditions of soccer and hockey because hockey makes more money than dota does right now.


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