UPDATE: Bakhtanians has issued a statement in the wake of today's coverage. Read it here.
“This is a community that’s, you know, 15 or 20-years-old and the sexual harassment is part of a culture,” said competitive fighting game player Aris "Aris" Bakhtanians on a recent live stream for Capcom's Cross Assault show, “and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community.”
Capcom has since apologized for comments made during a conversation on sexual harassment in the fighting game community, which that quote was pulled from. It was a discussion focused on Bakhtanians, and took place during a recent episode of the company’s Cross Assault reality show. It’s part of a promotion for Street Fighter X Tekken.
Cross Assault started with 10 contestants divided into two teams, Team Tekken and Team Street Fighter. The final four contestants will be determined today, and the last matches begin March 3.
A reader initially pointed out the inflammatory commentary, which took place during day five.
Bakhtanians is the head of Team Tekken, and was engaged in a conversation that chiefly involved Twitch.tv community manager Jared Rea. Twitch.tv is hosting the daily streaming of the day-long Cross Assault episodes.
“The views and opinions expressed by cast members in the live internet program 'Cross Assault' do not reflect those of Capcom,” said a Capcom spokesperson in a statement issued to me last night. “As a company, Capcom believes that everyone should be treated with respect. This particular issue was brought to our attention and has been addressed. We sincerely apologize to anyone that was offended by any comments expressed during the show.”
You can listen to the conversation by fast forwarding to one hour and 45 minutes into the following video. A user on YouTube also collected a series of comments made by Bakhtanians on day one.
For example: "Miranda, I wanna know your bra size."
Tensions were immediately raised over Rea's suggestion the fighting game community, once insular and limited but now steadily growing year-over-year, was potentially alienating outsiders from becoming fans of fighting games or the competitive scene because of inappropriate sexual language. Bakhtanians took issue with Rea's criticism.
Here’s a lengthy transcript of their exchange:
Rea: You know what it is, to be honest with you? We’re getting older. Do you really want to keep hanging around with a bunch of [guys in their] early 20s who don’t know how to treat one another with respect? That’s what it is.
Bakhtanians: Alright, man. The thing is...if you don’t like the scene, how it is right now, it just seems like you’re trying to create...turn it into something that it’s not, and it’s never going to be. You know what I mean?
Rea: That’s really unfortunate [inaudible]...the way it is right now, they want to enjoy fighting games, but they’re so incredibly turned off by [the language].
Bakhtanians: This doesn’t involve me, Jared, I don’t know if you can hear me--this is Aris. This doesn’t really involve me, but if you don’t like onions, you get your sandwich without onions, man. I mean, this is the fighting game community.
Rea: Can I get my Street Fighter without sexual harassment?
Bakhtanians: You can’t. You can’t because they’re one and the same thing. This is a community that’s, you know, 15 or 20 years old, and the sexual harassment is part of a culture, and if you remove that from the fighting game community, it’s not the fighting game community--it’s StarCraft. There’s nothing wrong with StarCraft if you enjoy it, and there’s nothing wrong with anything about eSports, but why would you want just one flavor of ice cream, you know? There’s eSports for people who like eSports, and there’s fighting games for people who like spicy food and like to have fun. There’s no reason to turn them into the same thing, you know?
You can’t go to the NBA and say “hey, I like basketball, but I don’t want them to play with a basketball, I want them to play with a football.” It just doesn’t...it doesn’t make sense to have that attitude, you know? These things are established for years. That would be like someone from the fighting game community going over to StarCraft and trying to say “hey, StarCraft, you guys are too soft, let’s start making sexual harassment jokes to each other on StarCraft.” That’s not cool, people wouldn’t like that. StarCraft isn’t like that. People would get defensive, and that’s what you’re trying to do the fighting game community, and it’s not right. It’s ethically wrong.
I know that you’re thinking “what do you know about ethics? You say racial stuff and sexist stuff.” But those are jokes and if you were really a member of the fighting game community, you would know that. You would know that these are jokes.
Rea: So, ensuring that we alienate any and all female viewers...that’s the ethical thing to do?
Bakhtanians: Well, you know, there are layers here, if you think about this. There are layers of ethics. There are people who are racist and commit hate crimes, right? And then there are people who are racist but they have tons of friends of all colors and they have deep love for those friends. Do you think those people are one and the same? Absolutely not.
StarCraft was brought up several times during the discussion of fighting games role in the larger eSports movement, specifically in regards to what lessons the community should and should not learn from its popularity.
I reached out to Bakhtanians to discuss his comments on Cross Assault, but he didn't respond.
When I contacted Capcom, I included a transcript of the relevant conversation. The company told me the cast and crew had been informed that “any inappropriate or disrespectful comments will not be tolerated during filming.”
Upon receiving the statement from Capcom, I forwarded it in full to Bakhtanians. No response.
And there is one very important fact about this whole story: Cross Assault is not a male-only event. There are two females: Team Street Fighter’s Sherry “Sherryjenix” Nhan and Team Tekken’s Miranda “Super_Yan” Pakozdi.
During the exchange, as matches raged in the background, Pakozdi chimed in about Bakhtanians’ explanation for the pervasiveness of inappropriate sexual language within fighting game culture.
“It hurts the community,” she said.
Everyone in the stream made reference to Keystone events at the San Jose Bar & Grill in San Jose, California, a spot that’s reportedly known for its more crass comments about during play. Pakozdi acknowledged it was an issue during Keystone events, but that it never went, from her perspective, over the line.
“You don’t know where the line is,” she declared.
“My point is is where I’m from, in our arcade, our line may be different than yours,” responded Bakhtanians, “but the point is that fighting games are never gonna be the same as StarCraft, it’s never gonna be the same. You can’t turn basketball into baseball, no matter what you do.”
Rea said sexual harassment was less of an issue in the StarCraft community, a point that others, including Bakhtanians, pushed back on. He conceded. Regardless, he argued, private matches can’t be controlled, but the actions of the participants and audience members raised the real concern.
Again, here’s a snippet:
Rea: When I go to MSL or MLG and someone blows up a ghost [Starcraft], does someone go “Yeah, rape that bitch!”?
Bakhtanians: But, you know, Jared, you’re right. But if there was that much money being spent on Street Fighter, it wouldn’t be happening here, either, you know. There would be more rules, there would be security here, it’s not the same thing. It’s not the same thing.
Rea: When I go to SoCal regionals and I see a Phoenix [from Marvel vs. Capcom 3] on main stage getting blown up and there’s some dude in the audience just yelling “Bitch! Bitch!” every time she gets hit and then she killed and goes “Yeah, rape that bitch!” Yeah, that’s totally acceptable! Really? Really? You’re going to tell me that’s acceptable?
Bakhtanians: Look, man. What is unacceptable about that? There’s nothing unacceptable about that. These are people, we’re in America, man, this isn’t North Korea. We can say what we want. People get emotional.
There was some light discussion after this, but it mostly trailed off.
Pakozdi, who was assigned to work with Bakhtanians as part of Team Tekken, did not simply blow things off. Like many people, she signed onto Twitter and expressed disappointment over the day’s events. She eventually deleted much of her commentary, but it was captured by the same reader who tipped me off to this in the first place.
“I hope my mom isn’t disappointed with all of this shit,” reads one tweet.
“Capcom and the stream teams know and they don’t care. I just gotta wait 2 more days,” reads another.
“I’m not leaving because by contract I have to stay here 2 more days. If it were up to me I would have left long ago," she said.
I reached out to Pakozdi, but she did not respond.
Day six of Cross Assault took place yesterday. Pakozdi played, but if you start watching around eight hours and 32 minutes into the stream, where she's playing as Balrog, she doesn't even attack. She just pushes forward on the stick. This continues in the next matches, where she plays as Ken using the same "strategy."
Essentially, she's given up.
Per the rules of the show, she would then have to face off against John "Dr. Sub-Zero" Rockafeller, who was already eliminated. If he beat her in three out of five matches, he would be "revived."
Instead, she forfeited. Moments after she bowed out, Rockafeller looked over and handed his prizes over to her.
“I would like to donate everything to Super_Yan for being an angel,” he said.
Bakhtanians also contributes the website Avoiding the Puddle and the site’s associated Twitter account.
“esports,” he wrote last night.
Previously, however, he did have his own personal Twitter account. What’s listed in his bio?