Everything You Need To Know About Killer Instinct's Teabagging Controversy

Killer Instinct tournament organizers decide to make etiquette into hard rules, only to change course.

The Killer Instinct community found itself embroiled in a philosophical war earlier this week. The fight wasn't over a banned character, costume, or move from the game itself. It wasn't over a balance change or tweak put in place by developer Iron Galaxy. No, the Killer Instinct fight was over teabagging.

What Is Teabagging?

Oh, you sweet child. I love your innocence. Teabagging involves crouching on top of the downed opponent. The idea is that you are dipping your virtual scrotum, the "tea bag" in question, in their virtual face. It's a taunt in many online games.

Why Is This a Problem in Killer Instinct?

The issue is that Killer Instinct doesn't reset completely between rounds and it allows a player to continue to move before the next round starts. This means that after a win, the current victor can do whatever they want onscreen. The idea is that the winning player can re-position for strategic advantage. Some players have been using the time to teabag, which in and of itself, is another kind of strategic advantage. A good taunt can throw the other player out of their flow. Or it could just annoy them.

So What Started All of This?

The Killer Instinct World Cup, one of the larger tournaments devoted to the title, instituted a soft ban on teabagging last year. As eSports has become more organized and more like the National Football League or National Basketball Association, you're going to begin to see organizations start to sand off the rough edges and attempt to be more professional and sportsmanlike. Killer Instinct World Cup banning teabagging is like the NFL cracking down on end zone celebrations.

Things were tense, but the ban worked last year with little issue. The new controversy arose on private Facebook group dedicated to the game, one with members in the official Killer Instinct tournament scene. KI event facilitator Rotendo Camarena told PVP Live that the discussion went south and turned to threats of physical violence.

"It started about Shadow Jago and later talked about [a particular player] using his taunt," explained Camarena. "Then someone got salty about losing and expressed their opinion about taunts/tea bagging - then made a threat about physical violence towards someone if they were to see them in-person at a tournament."

The discussion thread was shut down after the threats, but later reopened by Killer Instinct World Cup adminstrator Brandon Alexander. Alexander announced that last year's ban on teabagging would be extended into the current tournament season. The player who made the threats was asked to apologize or be banned from future events completely.

After an outcry from the community, including a Killer Instinct developer, Alexander later told Yahoo eSports that the hard ban was a troll. He pointed to the fact that last year's ban wasn't strictly enforced and essentially said the statement was more to put the fear into the community.

"I made the decision to change the rule last year, actually, hence why I didn't enforce it," Alexander told Kotaku in a long statement. "I've been dealing with an amazing amount of people hitting me up about [top player] Kenneth 'Bass' Armas taunting and teabagging during matches. My announcement yesterday was more of a 'this is why we can't have nice things" statement. I was losing my mind watching the Facebook thread."

The move did see Killer Instinct World Cup draft up a zero tolerance policy for threats of physical violence and sexual harassment though.

What? Who Was Angry? Why Were People Angry?

Like I said before, some feel that taunting is a part of the strategic play of any fighting game. At high levels, most fighting games are about that strategic layer and psyching out your opponent. If you're going to zig, you want them to think you're going to zag instead. Taunting can also get your opponent to overcommit in a moment of anger, something you can capitalize on to win a match.

"It already has a gameplay purpose because it can inflict psychological damage," wrote Iron Galaxy designer Adam Heart on Twitter. "The line is drawn outside of the game, not inside of it. Fighting games are psychology. Disrespecting your opponent can be a psychological play. A ban for taunting removes important human aspect."

"Unless glitched or broken, do not ban things in an FGC. What happens in game is between just the players and nobody else," added past EVO Mortal Kombat, Injustice, and Skullgirls champion Dominique 'Sonic Fox' McLean on social media. "Do not potentially hinder players because of your 'professionalism'. I'd throw hands with a [tournament organizer] if they tried to ban me from events for [teabagging]."

"Don't know why anyone would ban taunting in a competitive environment," said Smash 4 player Larry Lurr. "Psychological/emotional damage is a viable tactic in competition."

"I don't teabag/taunt people virtually ever, but this makes even me want to try and find ways to show some disrespect during matches. The fact that you try and constrain a person's funny/slightly disrespectful behavior is going to open an entire floodgate of what should and shouldn't be allowed, as people try to challenge authority that doesn't make sense to them. And this is a battle you can never, ever win," wrote Killer Instinct guide writer Infilament on the KI forums.

Basically, many of the professional fighting game players find in-game taunts to simply be a part of the metagame. Many feel that verbal trash talk is also within bounds, but that has its limits. During the Street Fighter x Tekken reality show tournament Cross Assault in 2012, participant Aris Bakhtanians harassed fellow participant Miranda Pakozdi until she left the event.

"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," Bakhtanians said to Twitch community manager Jared Rea at the time. He later apologized for his conduct and statements.

Basically, the competitors and organizers can sometimes disagree on where the line is.

What Now?

As the fighting game community begins to get larger, these are the minefields it will have to navigate. What was fine in a smaller, tight-knit community isn't fine in a multi-million dollar enterprise shown on television networks like ESPN. Capcom Pro Tour participant Ryan 'Fubarduck' Harvey noted that ESPN forced Ai 'Fuudo' Keita to switch from R. Mika's default costume because it was too revealing for broadcast.

Wider viewership and advertising means a different level of standards and professionalism that may conflict with the current fighting game community. Despite that, teabagging is a relatively light in-game action that has a meaning for players, but may be lost on a larger audience. Teabagging is not equal to player harassment, and as Infilament pointed out above, it's not a battle tournament organizers will ever be able to win.

Tagged with Iron Galaxy Studios, Microsoft Studios, News.

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