If you were to just watch a video game tournament in which Team YP was playing, you probably wouldn't think anything of them. Their uniforms might be a bit more pink than those of most other eSports organizations, and there's at least a slight chance that you'll wonder what the "YP" stands for, but all told they operate like any other team. They send players to compete in major tournaments for games like StarCraft II, Street Fighter IV and Mortal Kombat X. And they seem to be getting good at it, too.
But the "YP" in Team YP stands for YouPorn, a streaming video site for, well, porn. And that doesn't sit well with at least one major eSports league.
VentureBeat reports that the Electronic Sports League (ESL) is banning Team YP from future competitions they host. As its reasoning, the ESL cites a rule saying that no sponsors can be "widely known for pornographic … or other adult/mature themes and products."
When asked for comment, the ESL told VentureBeat, "Advertising pornography is not legal in the markets we operate in, and the vast majority of partners we’re working with have strict ‘no drugs, no alcohol, no pornography’ rules that we’ve contractually taken on board. These aren’t new rules but ones that have been in our rulebooks for a long time."
Team YP has gone to great lengths to be a "safe for work" team despite their sponsor, hence going by "YP" instead of "Team YouPorn." But that's not enough to satisfy the powers that be. According to VentureBeat, even a plea from Team YP to change their branding further wasn't enough to sway the ESL's decision.
This is, to be perfectly honest, not surprising.
Esports isn't just a big deal right now -- it's growing. Some analysts say that eSports revenue will be close to $2 billion per year by 2018. ESPN now has an eSports section of website. So does Yahoo. Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban has talked about his desire to own a League of Legends team. Competitive video games are drawing huge audiences, and people are noticing.
But in order to keep that train running at the speed it is (if not faster), the track needs to be clear of obstacles. And to many networks, game publishers and audiences, porn sponsorships represent a pretty big obstacle, especially when it comes to appealing to younger demographics. A YouPorn sponsorship might not seem like a huge deal when you're talking about Counter-Strike, a first-person shooter rated M for Mature by the ESRB, marking it for players age 17 and older. But it's a much different scenario when you're talking about the T for Teen rated Street Fighter V, much less the even more family friendly card game Hearthstone or Nintendo's Super Smash Bros. (though those games, too, bear the T for Teen rating).
"Yes, my eight-year-old daughter, that Mario player is sponsored by Red Bull. They make energy drinks. Oh, the one playing as Kirby? He, uh... I'll explain that one when you're older."
And yes, sponsors do matter in cases like this. If they didn't, there wouldn't have been a NASCAR car plastered with an ad for Skylanders.
(Which does beg the question, though: Why is YouPorn willing to sponsor a team that's got a tenuous connection to them at best?)
This isn't the first time Team YP has brushed up against controversy. They were almost banned from the Capcom Pro Cup last year, but in a rather cheeky move, they censored their uniforms for the competition.
Claire Fisher, Team YP's manager, told VentureBeat, “While for some, our participation in eSports has been controversial, stopping our players from competing because they are sponsored by us, in spite of Team YP operating as a completely [safe for work] brand, clearly separated from any adult content, seems unfair to say the least.”
I feel for Team YP in one sense: While eSports is getting bigger, sponsorship money doesn't grow on trees. It sucks to find money to do what you love, start getting recognized for your skills, then be told, "Sorry, you can't play with us."
But it doesn't matter how much Team YP hides the YouPorn connection. It's there. The NFL doesn't shine a light on its more problematic players, but off-field antics still cause controversy that the league would rather avoid when possible.
The ESL isn't the NFL. They don't have a war chest of funds to run to when controversies rear their head, and they haven't yet established that they have an audience that will stick with them through thick and thin. Esports have enough hurdles to jump over before they're taken seriously by a mainstream audience. Leagues and teams can't afford to make things harder on themselves by getting in bed with porn sites.