Before we begin, we'd like to point out that this article discusses sexual coercion, sexual assault, rape, and sexual abuse of minors, and links to stories of these accounts. We appreciate this might be outside of our usual remit but we feel very strongly that this is a topic we simply could not ignore.
Imagine this: your favourite video game company releases a new, competitive game with all your favourite characters in it. You’re ecstatic. You buy it as soon as you can afford it. You invite all your friends over to your house to play it with you.
You end up winning a lot that day. “Hey, you’re really good at this,” they say. And they’re right. You wonder to yourself, “How good am I?” Curiosity gets the best of you and you search online for videos of other people playing this game. “Whoa,” you think to yourself while watching. Can people really get this good? You become enthralled.
You discover a group of people in your town who also play your favourite video game. They meet up once a week at a game store. You go, not knowing what to expect. You know nobody there, but you end up sitting down and playing with them. You get destroyed at your favourite video game.
They tell you that you’re good, but you need more practice. They tell you to come back next week. You do. Then you come back the following week, and the week after that. You start to get better. “Hey, you’re really good at this,” strangers begin telling you.
The best player in this group tells you there’s a big tournament coming up. They encourage you to come with them. You do. You get destroyed. “Whoa,” you think to yourself. "Can people really get this good?” You become enthralled.
You go to more tournaments. You get better. People start to notice you.
One day, the best player at the whole tournament comes up to you. “Hey, you’re really good at this. We should play together sometime.” You can’t believe it. The top player wants to play with you! You become friends. Then you become friends with all their friends.
You play your favourite video game with them wherever they take you.
EVO 2020, this year’s iteration of the popular national tournament for fighting video games, has been cancelled following allegations of inappropriate behaviour by CEO Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar involving minors. These alleged offences place at a local arcade and amusement park near Los Angeles, where young kids congregated en masse to play video games.
After the accusation proliferated on social media, many notable players announced they were dropping out of EVO. Announcers and organizers followed. Then, Capcom, Bandai Namco, and NetherRealm, companies whose games were featured in the tournament, announced they were pulling their titles and monetary support. EVO announced Culler’s removal as CEO and intentions of restructuring. Cuellar posted an apology.
Within the span of just a few hours, one of the biggest gaming events of the year was over.
The rapidness in which fans, participants, and corporations reacted can be explained in part, perhaps, to the recent global groundswell of social-issue awareness happening all around the world, especially in America. But unfortunately, that isn’t the sole reason people reacted so swiftly.
Some of the most prolific people the Smash world has ever known are named, including some who have been on stage as representatives for Nintendo at major events; people who have hundreds of thousands of online followers, and people who have been interviewed right here, on Nintendo Life
Because this week, a watershed moment is occurring within the competitive Smash Bros. community, a key EVO franchise. By both collective effort and individual bravery, dozens and dozens of individuals have come forth to publicly recount experiences of abuse within the competitive Smash scene.
The experiences range from sexual harassment to emotional abuse, rape, and sex with minors (statutory rape). A great many of these accounts name their abusers – although some don’t, presumably for fear of retaliation. This is not the first time an allegation has emerged within the Smash community, but it certainly is the most by volume and by public outrage.
(Over 60 of these accusations and growing have been catalogued in this Reddit thread, alongside statements from the accused, when applicable. These are being linked here despite often being graphic, unnerving, and violent, but we deem the acknowledgement of these stories to be essential. Please, exercise full discretion before reading.)
Some of the most prolific people the Smash world has ever known are named, including some who have been on stage as representatives for Nintendo at major events; people who have hundreds of thousands of online followers, and people who have been interviewed right here, on Nintendo Life.
Nairoby “Nairo” Quezadahas, a top player and online personality, has been accused by fellow pro Zack “CaptainZack” Lauth of maintaining a sexual relationship with him while he was a minor and paying money to keep it quiet for years. Quezadahas rescinded a previous public denial of this crime and issued an apology.
Perennial competitor and Facebook streaming star Gonzalo “ZeRo” Barrios was accused by former housemate and player Jackie ”Josh” Choe of displaying adult material in front of her while she was a minor. After two denials and further accusations by others, Barrios later admitted to attempting to solicit pornography from minors online while he was 19, then dismantled his online presence.
Former Twitch employee and popular commentator D'Ron "D1" Maingrette was accused of rape in 2016 by community member Kaitlyn "KTDominate" Redeker, as well as sexual misconduct by another community member. In response to the allegation of rape, Maingrette does not outright deny it, saying he was too intoxicated to remember.
Smash commentator Richard “Keitaro” King Jr. was accused by his victim as having sex with a minor in 2018 (age 16 while he was 30 at the time of the incident). In a provocative statement, King Jr. confirmed this allegation of statutory rape.
Professional player Troy "Puppeh" Wells accused community member and commentator Cinnamon "Cinnpie" Dunson of maintaining a sexual relationship with him while he was 14 and she was 24. She has not responded to the allegation.
These are just a few of the stories. An utterly shocking amount of them involve statutory rape and sexual coercion. In a statement given to IGN on Thursday, Nintendo said this:
At Nintendo, we are deeply disturbed by the allegations raised against certain members of the competitive gaming community. They are absolutely impermissible. We want to make it clear that we condemn all acts of violence, harassment, and exploitation against anyone and that we stand with the victims.
At least one video hosted on Nintendo’s YouTube account profiling Quezadahas has been set to private.
How does the gaming community handle this type of overwhelming reckoning? How does the Smash Bros. community, specifically, deal with this level of unconscionable behaviour committed by even some of its most trusted members?
There are no easy answers. There are, however, tell-tale patterns that need discussing publicly.
How Are These Allegations Unique To The Smash Bros. Community?
Smash has been a competitive game for a very long time, relative to most, which means we have a lot of unpacking to do. Theoretically, you can trace tournaments back to the release of the first game in the series in 1999, though major, organized tournaments did not begin until roughly 2004. By any count, that’s around two decades spanning multiple social movements for a game played around the world. If there are uncomfortable secrets hiding, logically, there is a ton of time to account for.
Also, because of its history, the infrastructure of Smash Bros. has created more opportunity for things to remain hidden behind closed doors.
Smash is the most grassroots competitive fighting game of its stature (that is just a nice way of saying “unfunded”). But this also speaks to how for most of its existence, the game has not benefited from online infrastructures, officially sanctioned circuits, or any of the other luxuries most mainstream competitive games receive. That means to play this game at the highest level, you generally have to travel a lot. For years, the community has been crashing sofas, squishing into cars, sharing hotel rooms, and more or less sacrificing all semblance of personal space to create every single scene, local and national. Has abuse thrived under these conditions? Quite possibly.
And finally, this cannot be overstated enough: Smash Brothers is a game for everyone. That means it attracts everyone; older adults, 20-somethings, 30-somethings, and yes, lots of children and young people.
This is not to imply an attraction with a narrower, older demographic is excused from preventative intervention. Of course it isn’t. But rather, it is flat-out amoral to remove Smash Bros.-related gatherings from this context.
Why? Because anything that attracts people of all ages – especially children, young people, and vulnerable demographics – necessarily needs heightened societal expectations and preventative measures put in place by its organizers. This includes tournaments and, yes, social gatherings that are open to the public (a disturbing amount of abuse happened, by several accounts, in one house). This principle is absolutely no different than major sports gatherings, playgrounds, schools, fairs or all-age concerts.
For better and, in this case, far for the worse, the Smash scene has irreversibly hurt people by its extremely open-door culture.
What's Happening Elsewhere In The Fighting Game Community?
This is not to imply that many of these allegations describe evil perpetrators in some dark alley squirrelled away from the spotlight. This is far from the truth, because that is simply not how sexual harassment and sexual violence occurs, on average.
In America where these accusations occurred, the vast majority of all sexual assault victims are under 30 years of age. 8 out of 10 rapes are committed by someone known by the victim. Almost a whopping 80% of sexual assaults go unreported, a stat explained by the US Department of Justice as due to “...fear of reprisal or getting the offender in trouble, believing that police would not or could not do anything to help, and believing the crime to be a personal issue or too trivial to report.”
All of these widely-reported numbers uncannily depict the majority of the victims’ stories here: young people, especially women (but certainly not excluding men), being hurt by close friends or role-models inside their lives, then internalizing the repercussions for, in many cases, years.
Too much power was given and taken by individuals, and not enough oversight occurred. And it so happens that the qualities of this particular community – close-knit, attractive to young people, and a disproportionate gender ratio – all exacerbate these hotbed conditions where abuse thrives.
This could have been a warning to organizers and community members. It wasn’t. But it can change.
What Needs To Be Done, Now
The story at the beginning of this article is hypothetical, but it’s also one of the most common ways these tragedies repeatedly begin. How that set-up (and ones like it) end in real-life will depend on how we as a society, as an organized fanbase, and as individuals choose to react to this mess.
First and foremost, we, as a culture, need to believe victims. Coupled with statistics of underreporting, the National Sexual Violence Resource Center places false rape reports at a single-digit probability and as low as 2%. And yet predictably, Reddit threads with thousands of fans of the abusers and people on social media are accosting the victims (be warned: verbal abuse features heavily).
Is this really who we are?
Yes, nuance can exist within a wide range of complicated, messy, and difficult situations. Restorative justice practices could be a great model for the community over punitive justice. But when a person on the other side of the screen reveals to the entire world personal sexual trauma, we should take that as an opportunity to listen. It is a remarkably vulnerable act.
Tournament organizers need to do a better job of providing adequate safety to its participants. This includes but is not limited to: clearly communicated values, avenues for anonymous reporting, zero-tolerance policies for abuse, swift reaction times to issues, training volunteers to spot abuse, and much more. Sounds like a lot of work? Well, bringing together a bunch of people to one place is a big responsibility. Smash events that already do some of these things, both big and small, quite clearly are in need of improvement.
Professional esports, in general, exist within the greater context of a world that breeds abuse, not outlier villains. Thus, all communities will always be at risk of abuse. Working on and investing in these issues just can never stop
Moreover, some within the Smash community have scrutinized the common practice of after-parties and alcohol at events. Perhaps the community has proven it cannot be safe with these things after all.
Finally, this problem neither began nor ends with these individuals. Possibly the most misquoted platitude of all-time – “a few bad apples” – needs to be reunited with the rest of its saying: “...spoils the bunch”. In other words, professional esports, in general, exist within the greater context of a world that breeds abuse, not outlier villains. Thus, all communities will always be at risk of abuse. Working on and investing in these issues just can never stop.
Outing criminals is only part of what needs to happen here. Understanding what counts as sexual abuse, not waffling over what needs to happen, and helping these and future victims is how we create a culture of accountability for organizers and community leaders, as well as a safe scene for everyone in and around it.
It's also worth noting that these lessons can – and indeed should – be extended to all games which have representation within the world of esports, not just Smash.
It’s not yet clear if charges will be pressed on all or any of these abusers, even in cases where they, perhaps unwittingly, confessed to serious crimes over social media (all instances of accused players with sponsors have resulted in the severances of their sponsorships). Nor is there a uniform answer for how to handle this all. It’s also not clear if this tornado of abuse will act as PR poison, swaying Nintendo even further away from a large community they already stay distanced from (economic support does reduce violence).
Honestly, that should be the furthest thing from the minds of most community members. If there’s any hope for Smash Bros. to continue growing in the way it has, we need to start fixing these things, and we need to do it now.
What can EVO do to address the issues relating to its events, and does it have a future after this? What does the future of the competitive Smash Bros. scene look like if scandals like this cause Nintendo to distance itself even further from the community? How can the competitive gaming scene as a whole change to make sure this kind of abuse never happens again in the future?
As this is quite a sensitive topic, as always, we ask that all comments follow our community rules.