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Episode 41: Imaginary Interview Edition ft. Steven Asarch

Imad Khan November 24, 2020 30

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SPEAKERS: Imad Khan, Steven Asarch

Imad Khan  00:02

What’s up everybody, this is FTW with Imad Khan. I’m your host Imad Khan. And joining me today on this imaginary interview edition is reporter Steven Asarch

Steven Asarch  00:10


Imad Khan  00:10

First KDA. Riot created a fake social media account for serafina, which is a champion in League of Legends, but she’s also a pop singer in a virtual group called KDA. It started off as a virtual pop group that went viral in 2018. And this year, Riot games brought KDA back for worlds 2020 InvenGlobal author Lara Lunardi, published a fake interview Seraphine. Of course, Seraphine doesn’t actually exist. So Steven, when we were talking about this earlier, you thought it might be an ad. I spoke to Jacob over at ESPN, and he didn’t believe so. Regardless of if it is an ad or not, what is the editorial value in publishing something like this?

Steven Asarch  00:45

There’s no editorial value. It’s just an attempt to milk the Seraphine parasocial relationship a bit more. like Seraophine is probably the most interesting release of a champion Riot Games has ever done. Because of how odd and unique it is. When it comes to League champions, they’re usually released the exact same way. There’s a teaser, maybe there’s some story or YouTube video put about it. And then we get to see the champion abilities. But Seraphine had a Instagram and a Twitter profile created in June, where she was posting like what she deemed to be selfies, but we’re just drawing pictures, trying to, you know, build a parasocial relationship with the fans. And then in August, League of Legends players started to make the connection and realize she was a a gonna be Leagues next champion. And then they started teasing she was gonna be part of KDA, and, and all this stuff. But I don’t believe it’s an ad. Like, I don’t think Riot paid for it. It’s just like, it’s PR. It’s an odd way to tell Seraphine’s story by just asking her questions. Like I did a story about Seraphine for PC Gamer where I got answers from the developers and talked about the controversy around her release. I don’t like the idea of interviewing fictional characters and framing them in a place. That is not a that doesn’t make it that makes it doesn’t make it clear that you’re not talking to an actual human being, like, there are people who are, you know, smart enough to realize that you can’t actually interview a League champion. But there are also people who, who don’t feel the same way. I think it’s it’s odd on a news website that they like, put this story out there in this interview. I don’t think it’s the end of the world. I think Riot tried something new. And I don’t think they’ll try it again. But you know, if some if Riot pitched me this story, I don’t think I would do it personally. Because it’s not a story. It’s it’s PR fluff. And I have, I’ve done dozens of stories about League and I don’t even know how many interviews I’ve done with League developers. I guess I just approach covering League of Legends differently, and can’t see asking Seraphine about her clothes and all the fun stuff she’s done as being you know, interesting or newsworthy. But that’s just me.

Imad Khan  03:18

Yeah if I were editor for InvenGlobal, and I wanted the story on Seraphine . I mean, I have it’s a little bizarre, because it’s not like this is unheard of, I mean, the band Gorillaz, which is also virtual or animated. I mean, they’re people. They’re actual singers behind those characters. And places like Pitchfork and Rolling Stone, have, you know, they haven’t interviewed the actual cartoon characters, they go to the band members and interview them and then talk to them about Gorillaz, I mean, so I think that’s how I would approach wanting to cover Seraphine like going to talking to the singers, the creators, and just trying to give the fans you know, some more of this background information.

Steven Asarch  03:58

Yeah, that’s that’s how I did it. I think interviewing fictional characters is always a prickly situation. Like, look how Borat is going around to all the places and people are interviewing Borat, even though you know, Borat isn’t real. Like, how do you? I think it’s fine. You know, I think Borat, you know, is satire and tries to break the mold a little bit and is saying something, rather than an interview with Seraphine . It was like, I am going to be the best pop star ever. Even though I’m not real. And I hope people build a parasocial relationship with me. Which gives a shit like it’s it’s our space. Like, there are people in the esports world who were like, this is kind of weird. But you know, outside that, you know, the 99.9% of people who play League of Legends don’t know this exists. It’s just it’s it’s not it made no impact. Maybe.

Imad Khan  04:52

I mean, what is the reaction been online to this InvenGlobal article? I mean, did it…

Steven Asarch  04:57

Well, I mean, what was the what was the the last time we saw By InvenGlobal, I forget that interview where they published 10,000 words, Q&A allowing a guy to defend all of his actions without any editing, they make really weird choices. I really don’t get it, I don’t get why they do these things, or why they publish these things, but more power to them. Like I prefer inventive creativity, trying to find new ways to break the mold rather than the, you know, the same Dexerto clickbait written 7000 times. At least at least, it’s trying to do something unique. This isn’t how I would have approached it. But I don’t see it, you know, being the end of the world and being a, you know, a disgusting affront to journalistic integrity. It was, you know, a weird thing that I wouldn’t have done. But I also have been playing League for a decade and have a different relationship with the video game after doing, you know, profiles of League of Legends champions for the past half decade. Like it’s just, I don’t know, it’s weird. I don’t, I don’t know how to feel about it. I don’t think it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen. There’s so much other horrible, horrible stuff going on in the world. And you know, if Seraphine interview brought joy to someone, then that’s totally alright. But at the same time, you’re you have to, you know, be more upfront that this is a fluff piece for an imaginary character and you’re trying to build parasocial relationship. I keep using that word, because like vtubers, like all these fake idols, that are created just to milk people’s personal opinions on a situation or feelings on a situation. There’s not much you can do except just accept it. And this is the world we live in.

Imad Khan  06:43

Maybe the goal was to try to get click traffic by interesting it didn’t like jump to the top of our league of legends, and it probably even hurt inven Global kind of their reputation in trying to be this like journalistic outlet when it is publishing things like this, you know, I do want to make a hard pivot to Nairobi “Nairo” Quezada, the former NRG Super Smash Brothers player. And really one of the top players in the world being essentially ejected from the community after allegations came out earlier this year that he was in a sexual relationship with with Zack “CaptainZack” Lauth, who was a minor at the time of their relationship. You know, once we we spoke about this earlier this year, quite a few episodes ago. But after this came out, essentially Nairo went completely silent, and he was just unheard of right, I believe. his Twitter account was deactivated for a little bit, or then just went completely silent and somebody on his Discord I think it was his brother I just said nyro is over then left. Apparently what was happening behind the scenes is that after NRG had dropped him was Dyer was consulting with multiple lawyers and essentially put out a statement earlier this week, saying that the allegations made against him by Captain Zack were completely false, and that Captain Zack had actually lied about all of them, that Nairo himself is straight. And that it wasn’t that he didn’t deny any sexual impropriety. But he said it was on the part of Captain Zack and that he’s the one who molested him and took advantage of him. It was a situation when they were at a tournament. And essentially, CaptainZack needed a place to stay, they couldn’t find a hotel room for him. So nyro essentially begrudgingly allowed him to according to his statement, and overnight, you know, things happened against his will. And he claimed that he froze up, which is a common, you know, refrain you hear from issues regarding sexual assault. And then the main contention from CaptainZack earlier this year was that, you know, he was sent money, and he showed PayPal receipts to try to keep him silent on the situation. But Nairo argues against his claim, saying that, in reality, Captain Zack said that he was in desperate need of money and really needed money. And Nairo begrudgingly sent him some via PayPal, and then that was used against him as a show of receipt. So Nairo isn’t pursuing legal action. I feel that his lawyers probably told him that, hey, you know, he’s probably like an 18 year old kid, he probably has no money and then to actually go through litigation, very expensive. But it seems that a lot of the players that essentially had, I wouldn’t say abandoned is the right word, but said that, you know, Nairo should be left in the community. Largest player said that they’ve read his full 32 page statement, and you know, that they believe nihr over CaptainZack. CaptainZack, you know, it was on the temporary ban from some tournaments, but now is probably on a permanent ban. And it’s somewhat likely that Nairo or maybe decently likely that he’ll he’ll be allowed back in to the community. Steven, you’ve covered a lot of these types of stories before in terms of kind of the weirdness of the craziness of all this, where does this stack up?

Steven Asarch  09:36

False allegations are always terrible. The way I approach stories is to believe the victims and when victims put out fake statements that try to you know, muddy the waters of you know, potential harm. It does a disservice to those who put their lives out there to you know, really tell stories of I’m actually experiencing harm. So I, if this is as you know, clear cut as Nairo’s statement makes it seem, then this is entirely unfortunate and very sad. Um, I think there’s, I don’t think you can really rank these sort of situations. It’s, you know, all terrible and all bad, but I’m not entirely sure. Why did why did CaptainZack make the allegations to begin with? Is there, I don’t I it’s hard to keep up with with all of these. But you know, maybe maybe he did feel that way. But at the same time, like, you wasn’t one of them was 15 at the time. Yeah, it was like, You can’t like with minor, it’s irrelevant. Regardless of the details of the situation. Yeah, that’s it’s just a really unfortunate and nasty. I’m going to use Trump’s words on that. But what what is happening. I, I don’t understand the the Smash community in general has dealt with a reckoning. And it is interesting that that’s, you know, one of the few smash stories that the the accused actually managed to speak up and, and change the dialogue in a more favorable way for them, compared to all the other, you know, Smash accusation stories, when the people post their sides, it just makes them look worse.

Imad Khan  11:31

You know, I wonder to what extent so I know, Jacob and I, at least Jacob did. He tried reaching out to Nairo at the time, the allegations breaking out, and it wasn’t able to really speak with him. And I wondered to what extent like we, as reporters maybe failed in reporting this story, because, you know, when when CaptainZack, you know, published his findings, and there was this kind of this whole wrecking a reckoning, I mean, should, maybe I are, we as as reporters really started, like, questioning and pursuing these things. And it’s like one of the, it’s like the hairiness of trying to run after the stories, because it could be really difficult to essentially start berating potential victims, and…

Steven Asarch  12:13

Well, you don’t rape victims, you allow them the opportunity to tell their story. And if they don’t want to tell their story, you don’t fucking push, you let things happen. It’s not our responsibility to tell these stories if the victims don’t want their stories told, you know, especially now considering the whole situation and how muddy it was, you know, it’s people would rather. Our job is to give people voices when they feel that they are powerless. With social media that becomes less and less apparent. Now our on top of, you know, being able to tell their stories, it’s that we can tell them in a more concise, digestible way, that people who don’t want to read a 30 page Google Doc can decipher and figure out for themselves. I think covering all of these stories and doing what what needs to be done to do the research and properly spend the time you realize that you are not the one who’s going to solve the whole situation. You know, I mean, that’s in and especially esports reporters, because there are none. Like the esports reporting as a thing doesn’t really exist. Look at back at InvenGlobal, like the same website doesn’t really do investigative work. And where else are you putting it? ESPN, you got to make the mouse happy. So you can only do so much. I got canned so I’m not doing my esports stories anymore. And there really aren’t a lot of esports writers that are properly there aren’t any esports writers period. You know, the investigative reporters in the space are all more controversial than the stories they cover if they are quote unquote, investigative. So when it when it comes to like esports reporting, we need more esports reporters who grew up and didn’t just become hobbyist turned to LCS aficionados. So I mean I I did my Skye Williams smash story and that took me like weeks of research and you know, a dozen interviews and putting all the work in and even then it didn’t really make a splash and now Skye Williams is doing Among Us streams like it is this it’s just that there’s no one really covering the the harms and faults in these esports spaces.

Imad Khan  14:39

Well with that somber tone, thank you so much for jumping on Steven.

Steven Asarch  14:42

Thank you.

Imad Khan  14:44

And that was FTW with Imad Khan. If you like the show, please rate subscribe and share. For full transcripts head on over to ftwimad.com. to follow Steven and all the work he’s doing. You can find him at Twitter @iamasarch. To follow me in my writing over at the New York Times The Washington Post and elsewhere, find me @imad on Twitter. With that, we’ll catch you guys next week.

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