essays and pithy thoughts


in down is the new up

The problem with esports’ reddit is the illusion of democracy and impartiality.

Reddit as a whole rests on the philosophy that there’s wisdom in crowds, and that the crowd is ultimately in control. Content is created outside reddit, reddit users then find and share the content, reddit users sometimes write their own content directly onto the site for discussion, and the best stuff naturally floats to the top as the crowd recognizes it and reinforces it through a democratic process. Most importantly, this process runs its course outside the sphere of influence of the particular people or organizations that are the subject matter of the content being shared and discussed.

This philosophy is meant to imbue the site with an aura of authority and impartiality, making an argument in relief that small curation cabals can have damaging effects on the narrative being painted. The site’s ethos is a rejection of gatekeepers and incumbents as useful arbiters of taste or discourse.

So it’s funny then that reddit, at the level of organization immediately below the site as a whole, installs the very same curation cabals and permanent incumbents the site supposedly rejects by its nature. The moderators of any given subreddit are often whomever had the forethought and quick fingers to register a suitably succinct subreddit path first, and any additional help the creator handpicks.

The mechanics of a subreddit are identical to every other, but moderators can institute most any policy they wish through executive action, as it were. It takes a massive and sustained popular uprising to get the attention of reddit corporate management, often in the form of yelling and flailing about on every channel available, to depose any given moderator for even wildly obvious abuses.

So in practice, through vaguely worded policies, moderators can and do provide themselves ample grey area, between the site’s espoused democratic ideals and their own absolute power over their subreddit fiefdoms, to quash whatever content and discussion might be detrimental to their popularity as moderators. They provide themselves ample gray area to put themselves in additional privileged positions that, by any serious consideration, clearly impair a moderator’s ability to moderate impartially.

But as I said at the top, this is not actually the problem. In practice, it is no different than any other moderated community before it, simply because the moderators exist; and how can they not? With any site, at some point, a human is in control.

No, the problem with reddit is that it presents itself as a democratically-run content utopia when in reality it’s a despotism. It pretends to be free from gatekeepers and the influence of individual actors — most of those who populate its communities are convinced that’s the truth — and in doing so has created the habitat for the most powerful gatekeepers any of these communities have yet seen. Because of this doublespeak, moderators are able to wrap themselves in the reddit flag, using policies they wrote themselves as evidence of their impartiality, while they exert great amounts of control over the discourse of communities that use a subreddit as their de facto home.

The magnitude of this problem just gets amplified by the nature of esports communities to crank the contrast on any given matter until nothing remains save for black and white. Anything that isn’t directly announced by a team becomes baseless speculation or click-baiting. Anything that directly calls someone out is a witch hunt. Anything that may illuminate the hypocrisy of the reddit ethos is tabloid dreck. And the scene is worse off for it.

There isn’t a solution. Sorry. I just think a clear diagnosis of the problem is most important right now, as it’s quite clear that one developer in particular seems to think they have providence over every last fact and discussion that has anything to do with their game. They’re wrong. And while it hasn’t become a crisis yet, it sure as hell will.