The Los Angeles Valiant of the professional esports Overwatch league became the esports organization to link with an LGBTQ group when it announced a partnership with the You Can Play Project to combat homophobia in the sport.
“For too long, the esports industry has been unfairly characterized as a toxic, unwelcoming environment,” LA Valiant CEO Noah Whinston said in a release. “This assumption runs counter to the core values of the Los Angeles Valiant organization and our partnership with the You Can Play Project further cements our dedication to making the LA Valiant an inclusive community. The message is simple: no matter who you are, who you love, or what gender you identify as — if you can play, you can play.”
Homophobia and transphobia has been an issue in esports, which is especially popular with young men. The anonymity of the internet helps fuels anti-LGBTQ bias during live matches and chatrooms. One Overwatch pro was suspended this year for homophobic remarks he made during a livestream of a match.
“Esports is one of the fastest growing segments in entertainment and sports. Organizations like ours are plucking kids out from behind their computers and bringing them to compete for the first time together, in person, as a team,” said Jen Neale, Valiant PR head. “The locker room culture still exists, it just manifests itself in a different way — through chats, message boards, live streams, etc. I am fortunate to have a group of young men (average age 19) who are pretty open minded when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community, but they do have slips where they don’t realize casual homophobia can have an impact on someone. This is where YCP comes in. ...
“Sadly, esports has seen rampant homophobia and transphobia. Much of this goes back to the anonymous nature of the internet. What we want to express to future members of the Valiant (and hopefully, esports as a whole) that if you’re the best at what you do — regardless of sexual orientation, gender identification, race, etc. — we want you here.
The Valiant’s partnership with You Can Play, which has been working with college and pro sports teams and leagues since 2012, recognizes that homophobia is something that needs to addressed in esports, which has gained mainstream credibility and coverage in recent years.
As part of the agreement with You Can Play, former pro lacrosse player Andrew Goldstein is the Valiant’s local ambassador to work with the team and organization. He will conduct sensitivity training with the team and staff. Other initiatives are being developed.
Here is the news release the Valiant released this morning:
The Los Angeles Valiant announced today the formation of a social change partnership with the You Can Play Project, a group dedicated to ensuring safety and inclusion for all who participate in all sports - including LGBTQ+ players, coaches, and fans. You Can Play has found prominence with support from the athletes and leaders within traditional sports organizations, such as the National Hockey League and Major League Soccer. The LA Valiant are the first esports organization, franchise, or team to join the social change movement.“For too long, the esports industry has been unfairly characterized as a toxic, unwelcoming environment,” said LA Valiant CEO Noah Whinston. “This assumption runs counter to the core values of the Los Angeles Valiant organization and our partnership with the You Can Play Project further cements our dedication to making the LA Valiant an inclusive community. The message is simple: no matter who you are, who you love, or what gender you identify as - if you can play, you can play.”
In 2012, You Can Play was launched by Patrick Burke of the NHL along with Brian Kitts, a sports and entertainment marketing executive, and Glenn Witman of GForce Sports. Brendan Burke, brother of Patrick Burke and son of Brian Burke, a longtime NHL executive, made international headlines when he came out as gay in 2009. A few months after coming out, Brendan died in a car accident and You Can Play was founded in his honor.“You Can Play is honored to have the LA Valiant as our first esports partner,” added Ryan Pettengill, Executive Director of You Can Play. “They are an organization committed to promoting diversity in and around esports; we are happy to be a part of that effort and so appreciative of their support.”
As part of the partnership, You Can Play will provide diversity and inclusion training to LA Valiant players, coaches, and organization staff. The team will film a PSA to promote awareness of the You Can Play initiative among the esports community. You Can Play will have a presence at select Valiant events for fans to interact with and learn more about the organization and their initiatives. When the LA Valiant move to their home arena in 2020, You Can Play will help facilitate “Pride Night” events.Additionally, the LA Valiant will sell pride-themed iron-on Valiant Pride Patches at store.lavaliant.com throughout the month of June. A portion of the proceeds will go to the You Can Play Project, a 501 c-3 non-profit. Through donations, the organization delivers educational and awareness resources to sports communities of all ages to promote LGBTQ+ inclusion. The Valiant Pride Patch will make its debut in competition on Saturday, June 2 when the LA Valiant play the New York Excelsior at 3pm PST.
Fans have two opportunities to receive the limited edition LA Valiant Pride Patches for free: Saturday, June 9 at Blizzard Arena and Sunday, June 10 at Gym Sportsbar in West Hollywood as a part of the Be Valiant: LA Valiant Pride Party.###