The Hearthstone community is not the Magic: the Gathering community but there are plenty of parallels. Last week there was some drama with respect to two players on Team Germany for the Hearthstone Global Games. You can think of the HGG as Blizzard’s equivalent of the Magic World Cup. Each team featured the top-ranked player from their country as the “anchor” and three additional community-voted team members.

The drama originated with two members of the German team, one of whom has a reputation for drama in the community. I don’t want to use this space to provide more details on the actual drama so please read about it for yourself in these articles from PC Gamer and Kotaku, or, if you prefer, the Reddit thread from /r/hearthstone.

So, to sum things up, one player said some homophobic things on a private chat channel about another player. The other player retaliated by saying some offensive things about mentally handicapped people, suggesting that they should be killed. Not the finest moment for either player and after some community outrage Blizzard took action and banned both players from HGG. The question is, should the players be banned from tournaments for this behavior and where is the line drawn?

Magic: the Gathering has not been without its controversy over players being banned from tournaments. The two most high-profile examples are Sidney Blair, better known for his involvement in Crackgate, and Zach Jesse. However, there have been plenty of players who have said offensive things on their streaming platforms including references to orgies, support for Nazis, and threats to other streamers. None of those players has been banned.

So where is the line? Why is there so much inconsistency? Should there be more transparency?

These are difficult questions and ones for which answers don’t come easily. Ultimately it comes down to two things: brand identity and alienating parts of your consumer base. In essence you trade one for the other, deciding which end of the spectrum your brand identity is on and then accepting that you might alienate customers who don’t agree. But what does that really mean in practical terms?

There are two ends to this spectrum: ban everyone who creates offensive content and ban no one who creates offensive content. So where should a company’s brand identity lie? Neither extreme is an appealing option. Ban everyone and you’ll build a reputation for being too harsh. Ban no one and you’ll lose people who are the victims of offensive behavior. The answer lies somewhere in the middle, but where is the line?

As a social justice warrior myself (though often dual-classing as a social justice bard) I want to see companies like Blizzard and Wizards of the Coast treat offensive members of the community as potential problems for their brand. It’s one thing to have a nihilistic or sarcastic sense of humor. Even dark humor is perfectly fine. Be mean. Be aggressive. Be charismatic. There’s an audience for that. But don’t do it at the expense of marginalized people. That’s a line you can draw.

What does that line look like? Louis Scott Vargas is known for his sharp wit, constantly throwing shade on his friends like Paul Cheon. That’s fun and Paul is a great sport about it. But other members of the community use their sharp wit to attack minority segments of the community. You can be funny without being offensive. You can be entertaining without being offensive. These aren’t mythical, unattainable ideas.

The ultimate concern for a company like Blizzard or Wizards of the Coast is the risk they are running when community members with a history of bullying, speaking offensively, or otherwise creating a negative atmosphere are featured at the highest levels of the game at events like the Global Games for Hearthstone or the World Championship for Magic: the Gathering. Can you be completely confident they won’t say something damaging to your brand on air while you have thousands of viewers watching your premier event?

Maybe this is why Blizzard did what they did. Should Wizards follow suit in the future? Will Blizzard take the same action again? It’s understandable why they might not. There is a large segment of the community that will cry out that their freedom of speech is being censored. They will cry foul that the rest of the community is clinging to political correctness. They could be passing around this very article right now, laughing about how I’m a triggered snowflake. Although their voices are loud they do not represent a majority of the community.

What’s most important for Blizzard, Wizards of the Coast, or any tournament organizer is to refuse to be bullied. Find your brand identity and stick with it. Decide that you don’t want to create a platform for people you find offensive, that your consumers find offensive, and show them the door. You’re not censoring them. They’re free to start their own tournament series where they can make fun of poor people, spout homophobic rhetoric, and suggest that Hitler had good ideas.

No one’s stopping them; they’re just not welcome here.

What We Learned is a weekly feature here at Hipsters of the Coast written by former amateur Magic Player Rich Stein, who came really close to making day two of a Grand Prix on several occasions. Each week we will take a look at the past seven days of major events, big news items, and community happenings so that you can keep up-to-date on all the latest and greatest Magic: the Gathering community news.

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