One of my favorite songs of all time is “Distractions” by Zero 7. In that song, the singer describes her habit of doing something that I do all of the time: instead of expressing her deepest appreciation for someone she loves and cares about, she instead makes fun, actively goes out of her way to warn them that she is nothing but trouble through self-deprecation, and ultimately hides her strong feelings behind her humor. One particular line makes this explicitly clear:
“I only make jokes to distract myself from the truth.”
My past makes this way of thinking all too real for me. Everything I have done up until now has been nothing if not a way for me to just survive and to do so required me to suppress my emotions most of the time so I can endure another day. The problem is that after doing it for so long, it has become very difficult for me to thrive. The walls have been built so high and so thick, their impenetrability cannot be measured. My feelings are genuine and strong, but it can be so difficult for me to express them, so I end up internalizing: driving myself nuts until my friends finally get tired of my self-sabotaging ways and tell me to just DO SOMETHING ALREADY.
Expression Through Overwatch
Becoming a Super Fan in Overwatch League forced my hand. For the first time in my life, I am able to express myself in a much more constructive fashion, being on such a high while hanging with my friends and supporting the team I’ve grown to love. Seemingly overnight, my face was everywhere and while I understood the importance of this almost immediately in regards to representation, I still felt that tinge of anxiety, that lump in the back of my throat, and heard myself asking, “Is this too much? Should I take a step back?”
It was a surreal feeling because the fact is that I am just a fan. Not a player. I wasn’t the one on stage. I wasn’t the one scrimming hours upon hours a week, streaming for more hours on end to build a brand beyond OWL. I wasn’t the one doing meet and greets, wondering what to do if someone became to obsessed with me to the point where I had to question my safety. Experiencing the spotlight, even in a fractional sense, makes me appreciate what the players go through even more than I already did, yet before long, I found myself wanting to fade into the background.
What Makes A Super Fan?
Please do not misunderstand. I have not, do not, and will not care what most people think of me. I am too experienced to give anyone more than a passing glance when they try to interfere with my lifelong quest for a good time. But I also know there is a responsibility, a boundary that is not crossed that is standard within what should be considered basic human decency. The players don’t owe me their attention any more than they are owed mine. Any relationships I form either inside or outside the arena grow naturally and are never bargained for due to a deluded sense of entitlement simply because I dropped some money on tickets, Twitch subs, and merchandise.
But what do I know? I’ve only been on the scene for a minute. So I spoke to other super fans about the boundaries we constantly fear crossing, and they collectively agree that while they objectively have done nothing that could be considered obsessive, the recent talks about “stans” and it’s actual definition in terms of the growing esports scene have given them pause.
Entitlement And Labels
For those who don’t know, a “Stan” is considered by some to be an obsessive fan, named after the eponymous Eminem song where the character becomes so obsessed with the rapper that he ends up killing himself and his pregnant girlfriend after Eminem doesn’t respond promptly to his increasingly disturbing letters. It is also a portmanteau of “stalker” and “fan.”
The debate lies in the fact that it is also used these days as a less extreme, and ultimately harmless term for having a fondness or genuine respect for someone. Like so many other words in the English language, its usage varies amongst any sort of fandom, but it wasn’t until recently that its definition has been debated, especially since there are other terms available. One example is, such as the Korean word sasaeng that defines an extremely obsessed fan that stalks a Korean idol or another public figure to a level that can be considered threatening to the figure’s privacy–or life.
Having witnessed the art of entitlement so many times in my life while working with celebrities and the like, I know the first rule for me is that they are human and that I will treat them as such even if they make a bajillion dollars more than me. I am personally not very attracted to massive wealth and fame despite growing up relatively poor and unknown, and for me to be deluded enough to think that their good fortune means that they owe me access to their lives is beyond incomprehensible.
Accessibility and Safety
Yet the major difference between my interactions with celebrities in the past and the professional esports players I watch now is my worry about the latter’s accessibility and why fans feel as if they are entitled to their time and major presence in their lives. As this article states, celebrities can be guarded by bodyguards and security and usually live in communities that are not easily accessed. But with professional esports players, they and their fans alike consider security during events as nothing but a joke; for all intents and purposes, security is nonexistent. Anyone with common sense knows that this is an incredibly bad call.
There is a discussion that needs to be had when it comes to player safety and I am not going to sit here and deny that there are fans out there that need to cut it all the way out with the stalking, the obsession, and the threats. I just don’t want people to misunderstand what being a fan really is about and to know that it is not about feeling as if the player owes the fan anything–and for the fan to retaliate if they don’t get the attention they believe they deserve.
Super Fans Speak Out
To the original Super Fan, Josh “Squashmoen” Moen, the difference is quite clear. Having been the most visible fan in Overwatch League with his unwavering, passionate support for the champion London Spitfire, he senses there is more at play here other than the very important discussion about player safety.
“I never intended on becoming the first Overwatch League Super Fan,” he says. “I didn’t even know that was a possibility. I [just] wanted to help stoke the burning passion that was already present within the crowd; leading chants, hamming it up in the background of the casters, and fostering a fun environment.”
Like me, Squash was incredibly surprised at the positive reaction from the community due to his dedication to the team. “There were people drawing fan art of me. I signed autographs at the arena. But the thing that stuck with me the most was that fans who lived in London would send me messages saying that they were experiencing the league vicariously through me. It was extremely humbling to know that just my presence at the game was having such an impact on the league’s fans.”
Yet despite this, he saw that things were becoming a little out of hand, and that those with clear heads were being grouped, intentionally or not, with those who did not have them.
“Generalization can be a dangerous thing,” Squash continues. “A term I would like to relate it to is template matching. Just because a fan is extremely vocal, follows the league, and has a connection to the team/team members, this does not necessarily make them a threat. It’s important to remember that so much of our community is built off of the backs of passionate fans. I do, however, agree that the ‘extreme’ fans that take it too far should be dealt with one way or another. That is where the ‘healthy’ super fans come into play. It’s important to set a good influence in the community in order to avoid the negative extreme.”
Shock Super Fan
Another Super Fan, Daniel Grey, agrees. He is a diehard San Francisco Shock fan, especially of DPS player Jay “Sinatraa” Won. His attendance at the games is definitely noticed and while he shows the same passion as Squash, he does feel that there is a big generalization problem here.
“I feel it’s unfair to group crazy fans and Super Fans all in one group,” Daniel says. “When our group [of fans] goes, we’re there to have a good time. To support our favorite teams and favorite players. We aren’t there hoping to push ourselves onto players with the hope that it’ll force a friendship. We go in with an understanding that they are to be respected as players and people and not something to gawk at and force ourselves onto.”
“There’s a line and the fact that everyone was grouped up as one made it seem like everyone’s crossed the line. Made us question if we’ve crossed the line. I understand that there are people out there that take things to extremes and will do everything they can to force interactions with players rather than let them happen naturally. My friends and I shouldn’t have to wonder if we’ve crossed lines. With the rapid growth of esports and the route that Blizzard is taking in terms of player accessibility, I can understand why it would be easy for someone to head down the road of ‘obsessive, inappropriate fan.’”
And no matter how you slice it, gender will always be a factor. The attention in this case is brought upon the female fans in Overwatch and for Squash, this has not gone unnoticed. When I asked him if he believed gender is in play here, he answered with a single phrase:
“‘A fan girl.’ Even though our society has become much more progressive in recent years, we still live in an inherently sexist society. The only negative comments I have ever received as a man is that I am obsessive, obnoxious, or that I am just a cringe lord. Those comments are often different for a woman in my position. People will often jump to conclusions that they have alternative motives for being a fan. Getting attention from the players. Attempting to befriend them. Looking for ‘something more’ than just being a fan. It’s very disheartening. Being passionate for something you love is not gender specific.”
Daniel agrees. “I think a large perception, or rather misperception in society is that only female fans go to these extreme lengths. When anyone can be a crazy fan that crosses boundaries regardless of gender.”
Boy, do I know it. I have watched and played sports since I was seven. I remember my mother would scream at me to be quiet every time I yelled at my TV whenever the Philadelphia Eagles would get their umpteenth penalty. I have a competitive nature that is nearly unmatched and I am easily the loudest one-woman cheerleading squad this side of the continent. I know my stuff. But while men are being cheered on for powerbombing through a table that’s lit on fire for the team, or getting drunk and vomiting on themselves for the team, or physically fighting with the opponent’s fans FOR THE TEAM, this is considered normal. Even something to be celebrated. As they are super fans.
What Super Fans Stand For
I show up to a game and I’m being accused of hogging the spotlight. Of seeking fame. Of being a groupie. Because that’s all I’m there for. Right?
No. The answer is no.
I’m there because I support my friends. I support those I care about. Nothing else brings me more joy than to see players pick themselves up after a loss and fight harder than before. Nothing else warms my heart more than to see my friends smile and cheer as their teams claim victory, and the confetti surrounds them as they hug each other with glee and cry tears of pure joy. I am the embodiment of undiluted human emotion and I refuse to be shamed, criticized, or teased for supporting. For caring. For loving.
At the end of the day, passion is borne from emotion. Emotions are pure. They cannot be manufactured or changed, no matter what you do. This is why people, like myself, who feel so strongly about things that matter to them, have become experts in controlling how we respond to these emotions, in determining the most productive actions to take instead of letting them consume us and cause us to make irresponsible decisions.
For us Super Fans, we know that the players are human. They have lives and families. They are complex like everyone else and we need to treat them like people, not gods and certainly not servants. We want the world to know that as Super Fans, we are here to bring life to the game, to let people know that we don’t believe there is any shame in showing support, whether it be going to games, or sending gifts to players with their blessing, or politely letting them know how important they are to the scene and that they will always have someone to cheer them on, win or lose. We don’t need anything else. We don’t want anything else.
I mean, we wouldn’t want to be unreasonable, now would we?