Year by year, The Game Awards continues to grow, and cement itself as an important part of gaming’s yearly content cycle. Indeed, Geoff Keighley, the event’s showrunner, is doing what he can to put The Game Awards on the same levels as shows like the DICE Awards, the Golden Globes, and even the Academy Awards. Of course, gaming is still growing and maturing as a medium, and that includes all the challenges in running a show of such scale. Last year’s awards were peppered with commercials, brand deals, and trailer premieres, leaving many of the awards to be rattled off a list or awarded off-screen. The moments that did get proper airtime were impactful, genuine, and on-target for the intended vibe of the show. But one award in particular leaves a rotten taste in my mouth, and taints the show as a whole, often inevitably betraying the original goal. Yes, I’m talking about Trending Gamer.
To quote the Game Awards’ website, the Trending Gamer award is for “For a streamer, influencer or media member who has made an important impact on the industry this calendar year.” Since 2014, the winners have been TotalBiscuit, Greg Miller, Boogie, and Dr. Disrespect. You may notice a pattern here; all the winners have been YouTube or Twitch personalities. Or, you may notice that, with the arguable exception of Miller, all of these folks have gotten themselves into some trouble or another for their… questionable behavior, often through their own platforms that led to their nominations and awards.
I could go into the dirt on each winner individually, but that seems unnecessary. Although it’s worth pointing out that TotalBiscuit won the award in 2014, the year GamerGate happened, after spending most of that summer aggressively dismissing the whole ordeal. But fast-forward to now, and Dr. Disrespect has been in the news twice now for, well, living the gimmick. He ran a brief, bizarre stream in which he admitted to cheating on his wife, then disappeared for a few months not long after winning his Trending Gamer award (for basically, being an entertaining PUBG streamer). Then he reappeared again, only to cause a stir by acting like a racist jackass when a Chinese PUBG player took him out in-game.
A montage of this being a pattern with Dr. Disrespect quickly followed and spread, with many folks in the community calling him out. He posted the most “white dude accused of racism” video reaction known to mankind in response, mumbling word salad about having Asian and Hispanic friends and the ethnic history of his wife. It was embarrassing to say the least, and shows why this Trending Gamer award so far has only succeeded in boosting the egos of mediocre e-celebs who turn out to be racist or something later.
Part of the problem is that, while the other awards are voted on by a panel of generally respectable judges, the Trending Gamer award is voted on by the community. That means the personality with the largest, most aggressive in online polls audiences typically wins. And, well, the audiences of streamers and influencers often fit that bill exactly for all the wrong reasons. These are the people who are ride or die for their favorite entertainers, the people who swarm any dissenters with abuse and harassment the moment their video gamer of choice @'s them on Twitter. It’s why we’ve seen inevitable “milkshake ducks” win almost every single time, ahead of people who have done more to bring actual value to the industry.
So what’s the takeaway here? Well, it’s that the Game Awards, despite being on the path upwards, still has some big holes to patch up before it can reach the next step. There’s no prestige in celebrating the parts of the gaming community so many are struggling to leave behind. There’s even less prestige in ignoring a problem when it gets pointed out. While there’s no point in rescinding awards or anything like that, it would be nice to see the show course-correct and perhaps redefine what Trending Gamer says to the community, the outside world, and everyone in-between.