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While esports players are not employees of the companies that develop the games they compete in, recently their role as ambassadors for what they play has been at the centre of a string of big news stories.
The clearest example is Hearthstone Grandmaster Chung 'Blitzchung' Ng Wai, who Blizzard banned from competing in official tournaments after he expressed support for the protests in Hong Kong on a stream. But there's also FaZe Jarvis, aka Jarvis Kaye, the Fortnite pro who was banned from the game for life after releasing videos showing him playing with an aimbot.
At the recent Rainbow Six Pro League Finals event in Japan, we spoke with Ubisoft's esports director, Francois-Xavier Deniele, about how Ubisoft would respond to similar incidents, and how it views the players who make a living through their games.
"It's not simple," Deniele says when I ask if Ubisoft would ban a player for making a political statement. "[Rainbow Six Siege] is an esports title first. I can understand that people want to share their personal thing, but it needs to stay an esports event. But we will not ban people [over] it."
But it must be a concern for the company, as Deniele tells me "the next big thing" for Rainbow Six Siege "will be the introduction to China". He's currently working with Chinese company Tencent to develop a version of Siege that can be released in the country, and that has "the DNA of the Chinese market".
It's important to Ubisoft to launch Siege there because, despite already being one of the biggest competitive shooters in the world, "if [Ubisoft] want to become a big esports title we need to be big in China," Deniele says.
This, of course, means Ubisoft could face a similar situation to Blizzard's in the future. Deniele hopes to avoid the issue, though, through communication with the professional players.
"We have a weekly and monthly discussion with the team about many subjects," he says. "For me it's like a wedding between [us and] teams - we need to trust each other. Esports needs these guys. Yes, a publisher owns the IP - the game - and publishes the ecosystem, but we need the teams."
"One of the examples of this is our pilot programme, the fact that we are sharing revenue with the team," he continues. "It's important that we have a healthy ecosystem in esports today because we are seeing a lot of investment in esports currently, and we need to show as a publisher that we are not taking the entire cake, but we are also helping. We have a responsibility for that."
Siege esports players have been banned recently, however. One of Na'vi's players, Jack 'Doki' Robertson, was recently banned for "severe toxicity", and Deniele stands by that ban as it sets an example for other players, professional and amateur.
"We have common responsibility," Deniele explains. "It's something very important, because now millions and millions of people are watching our competitions. If people are watching a competition for the first time and send a message to the community to support their team and they receive some bad messages from the community, it is not good for anyone. That's why I'm really impressed by the quality of our moderation coming directly from the community, it's not Ubisoft people doing our Twitch moderation and YouTube, it's our community."
"I think we're going in the right direction as an industry, [but] it's still a young industry," he adds. "We learn fast, [and] we are quite professional already, but this is just the beginning and we still have some areas of improvement for sure."
Flights and accommodation were provided by Ubisoft.
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