On Wednesday, the German television channel ProSieben MAXX announced that it would not broadcast footage from ELEAGUE’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive finals, which are set to take place this weekend. In a statement on the channel’s Facebook page, ProSieben MAXX noted that their choice not to broadcast ELEAGUE was in response to the recent mass shooting in Munich, which killed nine people.
In response to the shooting, German Interior Minister Thomas de Maizière suggested that at least some of the blame belongs to violent videogames, and Counter-Strike in particular. Speaking at a press conference in Munich, de Maizière condemned videogames as detrimental to society—hardly a new stance for Germany, which has previously banned Mortal Kombat X (2015), among many other games, for excessive violence.
Different conceptions of “freedom of expression.”
To German gamers, this is business as usual. But for North American players, the decision to pull ELEAGUE from television is probably at least a little confusing. Understanding ProSieben MAXX’s choice requires understanding the different conceptions of “freedom of expression” in the European Union and the United States. As Flemming Rose, editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten (best known for the 2005-2006 Mohammed cartoon controversy), notes in a 2015 interview with The New Yorker, Europeans “have more legal limitations of speech but less social pressure.” In the United States, by contrast, “[Americans] have very few legal limits but far more social pressure [about their speech].”
In America, the first amendment—which protects, among other things, individuals’ “freedom of speech”—has its own special status. Speech, legally speaking, is treated as “content-neutral”; short of direct incitements to violence, all speech qualifies for first amendment protections. In Europe, by contrast, certain opinions are criminalized for being perceived as capable of generating hatred against particular groups. The logic for these laws is felt with particular acuity in Germany; in response to the legacy of the Third Reich, West Germany’s postwar government passed strict laws about what it was (and wasn’t) appropriate to say in public. And though some Americans may bristle at the thought of this, it hasn’t always been a bad thing. These laws have given the German government the legal means to decry the surge of racist, anti-immigrant speech directed against migrants that has been intensified by the country’s ongoing refugee crisis.
“Counter-Strike…is in a cultural grey area.”
All of which is to say that Germany’s recent and not-so-recent past place Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and its use of terrorism as a narrative veneer, in a cultural grey area. Should the game be understood as an expression of violence that is capable of inciting violence? De Maizière would argue exactly that. Many German media outlets have noted that the 18 year old perpetrator of the Munich shooting was an avid fan of Counter-Strike. Others, of course, suggest that the connection is entirely incidental, and draws attention away from more substantive discussions of mental health and access to unregulated firearms through the dark web.
ELEAGUE, for its part, isn’t blaming Germany and its censorship laws for canceling the broadcast of the tournament’s finals. And although ELEAGUE host Richard Lewis doesn’t agree with Germany’s tendency to censor sensitive videogames, he understands why the decision was made.
“[The Germans] have some of the most stringent censorship laws when it comes to videogames in the world,” Lewis told the Daily Dot. “This is a place that removes blood from games. That in and of itself should raise some questions that if one of the places that has the most censorship, and they are still looking to pin [the blame for violence] on videogames.”
Still, it’s a sensitive time for the nation. Munich, after all, was the site of the 1972 massacre by the Palestinian terrorist group Black September that killed 11 members of the Israeli Olympic team, a tragedy that still weighs heavily on many Germans. That Counter-Strike might rub salt in an open national wound isn’t exactly far-fetched. Esports, for better or worse, are at least as much a part of this world as they are an escape from it.