Steven R. April 11, 2019
A staffing change with Overwatch League’s Washington Justice has shined a fresh light on burn out and toxicity in esports.
Justice general manager Kate Mitchell has announced that she is planning to retire following the end of stage two of the season. In her announcement, she specifically cited the rigorous nature of esports and frequent hostility over social media, particularly Reddit.
“I’ve had irreplaceable experiences in this community...It’s impossible to ignore, though, that I’ve also been confronted with toxicity and cruelty from strangers that outpaced anything I saw in years in gaming and politics, especially from people on Reddit,” Mitchell told The Game Haus.
Mitchell spoke to a desire to "power through" the issues she faced and to set a positive example for LGBT women, but spoke to the increased difficulty of facing such challenges while also being away from her friends and family.
Esports has long had a problem with burnout. The rigorous schedules and results-oriented nature of sports is a brutal combination on its own. Add to that the traditionally aggressive video game community attitudes and it results in high turnover at both the competitive and administrative levels.
Overwatch League has felt this particularly strongly in recent weeks. The game has been hit hard by a number of sudden retirements including star players Hyeon “EFFECT” Hwang and Daniel “Dafran” Francesca. Both Dafran and EFFECT discussed burnout with Overwatch as a major factor for their retirement from pro competition. Dafran is moving on to streaming, though it is unclear what the future holds for EFFECT.
Despite being in a non-competitive role, Mitchell’s time in Overwatch League was rough from the start. She found quick success as the manager for Contenders team Last Night’s Leftovers and turned that into a position with the Washington Justice expansion team.
However, shortly after stepping into the Justice GM position, former pro player Michael "MykL" Padilla accused Mitchell of offering jobs with the team to players and coaches and then rescinding them, particularly to former San Francisco Shock analyst and current Vancouver Titans coach Harsha "Harsha" Bandi. Most of MykL’s claims were unconfirmed. Both the team and Mitchell herself denied the claims when asked for comment by Dot Esports, but the allegations from MykL made things difficult from the start.
Despite those troubles, Mitchell stated that she received support from many in the Overwatch League both inside and outside of Washington.
“The reason I made it as long as I did is simple: The people here at Justice are some of the best folks I’ve ever worked with,” Mitchell said. “I also wanted to thank the folks from other teams who have provided support and advice in difficult times.”
Stage 2 runs until May 5. Washington has not yet announced a replacement for Mitchell.