Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Brawl League and the queer side of Brawlhalla Esports

The Brawl League is the biggest online community that’s focused around the game Brawlhalla, a free-to-play 2D platformer fighting game available on multiple platforms and full cross-play support. Brawl League doesn’t just boast of having huge numbers however, it’s also got a very active LGBT+ player base, and that includes a number of pro players, too.

Developed and published by Blue Mammoth Games, Brawhalla made a splash by including characters from popular games like Rayman and Tomb Raider, as well as crossover skins from TV shows like The Walking Dead and Adventure Time.

As for Brawl League, it was founded in 2015, with over twenty-five thousand members. They are one of the largest communities for the game and run regular tournaments and events. More importantly, they’ve been firm allies of LGBTQ+ Esports and players from the very beginning.

I got the chance to speak with Jack May (Expired), the Owner of Brawl League, and Lewis Gibbons (Lucaceon) a moderator and tournament manager for the same organisation. I got to talking about Brawlhalla, Brawl League, and the LGBT+ community within the community.

Could you tell our readers a little bit about yourselves? 

Expired: Sure – my name is Jack, also go by Expired when dealing with online things mainly, but I am one of the admins and the owner of Brawl League itself being an Esports community based around education in Brawlhalla. 

Lucaceon: Known as Luca, name’s actually Lewis, I do tournaments in the same place as Jack. 

Brawl League has twenty five thousand people involved in their Discord. Are you the biggest Esports-centric organisation associated with Brawhalla?

Expired: In terms of numbers, probably yes. I could not give a definitive yes or no depending on everything else going around. There’s possibly other orgs that are just as big that might not be doing as much. 

How was Brawl League originally envisioned and how was it created? 

Expired: That’s a while ago – Brawl League was originally created by a completely different set of people which I joined about four / five months after they started. Well, actually I joined their Discord within a month of them making it, but they were initially a Steam group based around education for Brawlhalla – focusing around teaching people how to get from Silver to Gold, Gold to Platinum. Over time they started running tournaments, and that’s where I came in and started helping out via moderation.

It’s very different to how it is now. We weren’t dealing with thousands of dollars a month. 

Brawlhalla Esports is more popular than you probably realize
And Luca, how did you get involved with Brawl League?

Lucaceon: Jack, pretty much. I started just doing tournaments with the official people, and then I ended up doing tournaments for them ever since.

What’s the biggest prize you’ve worked with? 

Expired: Biggest I’ve worked with would have been a hundred and fifty thousand, maybe two hundred thousand. US dollars. Which was one of the World Championships. And then Brawl League, the largest we’ve ever done was 10k.

Have you encountered any situations where an LGBT+ topic or person has been negatively or positively impacted by Esports or Brawl League specifically? 

Lucaceon: Not really, but I definitely know one person that has.

Expired: Yeah I agree. We’ve always been a safe place even before I was in the high-up position I am in to monitor and control the direction we go. We’ve always been a place open and safe towards everyone. However, the more out-reaching sections of the community, where you get to certain players and stuff, there has always been, at least in regions like Europe, an underlying level of phobia between some players.

How have you kept Brawl League a safe and open space, via your moderation and your work with the organisation?

Expired: I think the main way we’ve done it is purely just by keeping tough on it, and not faltering when someone is being phobic in any way. We’ve always made sure to look after our community and make sure everyone is doing OK.

We already have filters in place that ruins like, 80% of what bigoted people try to say, and they get removed because of our logs. However on that other 20% when they are able to say something racist or homophobic etc, they get removed almost instantly. While we have a 3 strike punishment system, some things bypass that into an instant ban. 

Lucaceon: We usually just haul people who are racist out.

Brawl League has been accepting of LGBTQIA+ players since the beginning
What have been the main things you’ve taken from running your own Esports community? 

Expired: I think one thing, and I feel like Luca can agree with this is, there’s always someone out there that is going to try and turn anything positive you do into a negative experience, which is something I’ve learned. Running a community of this size with the people I do has really helped show me that it’s always better to look at the bigger picture instead of focusing on the one or two voices that maybe try and speak a little bit louder to be negative. 

You mentioned the fact that we have the Pride flag up in our community still. You know, it’s almost the end of July. Every once in a while someone comes in and is like, “it’s not June anymore take it down” and it’s really interesting that people can still be that way, I guess. It’s opened my eyes a lot in the past couple of years about people in general, because I used to be a very different person, very right-wing, and overtime opened myself and learnt a lot of things and I see everything differently because of the community I’ve put myself in.

Do you think having an LGBT+ safe space has contributed to your community’s growth?

Lucaceon: Yeah yeah, people can be themselves and you know, make friends who like them for who they are instead of just what they can do in a game, which is more than what most places have.

Expired: Yeah I agree. If I go into a Discord like Dauntless, but I’m not good at that game then I’m probably going to get spoken to a little bit less, or looked at in a different way. If you come into a server like Brawl League, where games aren’t really the focus – improvement is – it allows us to put more emphasis on people themselves. So they can be themselves and act how they want to act, instead of hiding under this idea of being good or not being good at a video game. 

Do you have any nice stories you have from being in the community of positive things or things that have influenced you? 

Expired: I think there’s a few people both Lewis and I know that has come out as bi or gay and stuff, just through their time in the community, which is always nice. It’s more the Brawlhalla community in general and less Brawl League, however, I think at the same time we’ve seen a lot more positivity since we’ve been… I’ll say ‘extra open’ about being an LGBTQ+ supportive group.

Are there any other aspects that you’ve used to create that kind of community? 

Expired: So I think I’ve at least personally been a lot more open about being genderfluid in the community and so I think that also helps, as well as having a bunch of our other staff be trans. We used to have someone who was ace. I think having people just be comfortable enough to be open about themselves has always shown that, in the long run, more and more people have become more comfortable with themselves. 

I am always tentative when I come across a new online community. Stepping into an online gaming space can be daunting to a lot of people, especially when you come from a marginalized community that has experienced discrimination and difficulties in the past. I cannot count the times I have come across adversity, so to find a welcoming and open community like Brawl League is a wonderful sign for the future of gaming. It also goes to show that being welcoming and safe for LGBT+ folks is good for communities in general, something anyone wanting to set up something like Brawl League should keep in mind. 

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