eSports may be bigger than ever, but it can still be hard to take players seriously when their competitive names are things like Dr. Pee Pee, Balls, JesusStick, FruitDealer, and Rape. Yes, there's a Counter-Strike player called Rape.
There's a disconnect with eSports that doesn't exist with real-life athletics, the kinds of activities we traditionally think of as "sports." When watching a game of football, basketball, or hockey, the participants are physically represented on the playing field. When the football is caught by a wide receiver, it's easy to connect the dots. This guy threw it to that guy, who caught it.
In eSports, there's some distance, as players are represented by avatars. Any number of competitors could be playing as the same avatar, too. Of course, in football and other sports, athletes do have nicknames, but nicknames aren't screen names, and are nowhere near as ubiquitous. In eSports, every player chooses his or her own nickname, and it goes on to function as their everyday handle.
While it's difficult to humanize a half-dragon named Shyvana controlled by a player named named Balls, there really is a person behind the name and avatar. A person who, for whatever reason, decided he wanted to be called Balls, despite actively competing and winning on the biggest, most high-profile stages in the world.
How do players choose these names? Haven't they considered changing them? When I asked for suggestions about interesting eSports names on Twitter, there was an endless supply. Sometimes the stories behind the names were ridiculous, other times they were weirdly obvious, and often I couldn't quite understand just what the player in question had been thinking.
For now, I've picked five different players and tried to find some answers. From "JesusStick" to "Rape," here are the stories behind the screen names.
Image Credit: Kara Leung
eSports Name: Dr. Peepee/PPMD
Real Name: Kevin Nanney
Competitive Game: Super Smash Bros.
Kevin Nanney was the Melee victor at this year's Apex tournament, the scene's premiere Super Smash Bros. competition. This isn't new territory for Nanney, as he won Apex in 2014, too. When Nanney was first getting started in Smash Bros., he went by the name Dr Peepee.
As with all good nickname stories, we begin in the 7th grade. Nanney brought his lunch to school every day, which included a massive thermos of orange juice. As he was about to take a sip, his friend cracked a particularly good joke, prompting Nanney to burst into laughter and fumble his thermos. Orange juice went everywhere, including the very centre of his pants.
"It was bad enough to not want to stand out in middle school," he said. "But then my friend also made fun of me the rest of the day for looking like I peed myself. He gave me lots of names that day, but the one I remember most clearly is 'Dr Peepee.'"
A few years later, he's on his way to his first Smash Bros. tournament with his dad and little brother. Panic sets in, though. Upon signing up, it became clear he didn't have a nickname. Nanney came up with a plan involving two nicknames. The more popular name would win.
"I think hard and decide I need a name that will be funny so people will remember me since I would never be good at the game," he said.
Option one was Dr PeePee, in which he'd channel a once-humiliating story for glory.
Option two was Hot Fuzz, based on the Edgar Wright comedy. He had a good reason, too.
"The movie had just come out," he said.
It's tough to argue with that logic, you know?
"I introduced myself with both names to people to see what they liked better," he said. "Dr Peepee won by a mile because it was too ridiculous! Many people started getting upset losing to a guy with such a stupid name but that didn't really seem to stop me. Then I blew up as a player and everyone had to respect the goofy name I had saddled myself with."
Around this time, a friend suggested altering his name to add credibility. Dr Peepee could become PPMD, which would both honour his original name and add a degree of sophistication.
"I had no interest in changing my overall tag because I felt stuck with it," he said," but it felt cool to have earned a way to make it seem more respectable."
Over time, Nanney became one of the top-tier players in Super Smash Bros., attracting the attention of Evil Geniuses, one of professional gaming's more venerable organizations. They had a few discussions about Nanney's nickname and batted around the idea of adopting PPMD, but it was never formalised. When Evil Geniuses announced they was sponsoring Nanney, however, they only called him "EG | PPMD." Understandably, the community was confused.
"It confused me, too," he said, "but I ended up really liking how everything turned out. I think I have become a more respectable person and player since I decided Dr Peepee was a good name for myself. Being sponsored was a wonderful catalyst that pushed my new view of myself outward onto everyone else as I became more integrated into the esports world."
Still, he doesn't regret the original name. It's a badge of honour.
"I am very fond of the history of my name and how it has grown with me as a person and player," he said. "I wear my new tag proudly and if people at tournaments address me as Dr Peepee I often tell them 'that person is gone.' Perhaps more than anything else, I am glad I can prove there is much more to people than what seems immediately goofy or not worth paying attention to through my tag. If nothing else, my story is worth a laugh, which is good enough for me."
eSports Name: Balls
Real Name: An Lee
Competitive Game: League of Legends
If I've learned anything while researching eSports names the last few weeks, it's how often the male-dominated landscape of players loves naming themselves after sexual body parts.
Here's a small sample:
There are plenty more where that came from, including An "Balls" Le. It's impossible to look up anything about Le without cracking up, since everyone pretends his name isn't ridiculous.
Le is currently a prolific player for Cloud9, a North American League of Legends team.
As with so many things on the Internet, Le came up with his name while messing with people.
"I chose the name 'Balls' trolling with my friend when I was creating the name," he told Riot Games in an interview. "We wanted something similar, so we went with two variants of Balls because we could make it look similar using 'i's and 'l's. It looked like we had the same name. That way, when we go in-game people see two "Balls" and are confused why there are two Balls in the same game. What, you've never seen two Balls before?"
As Le became one of the more popular League of Legends players, he doubled down.
"I picked it because of all kinds of inappropriate things that could happen," he said.
He's even considered how his nickname might manifest itself in the game itself, as revealed during a question-and-answer session on Cloud9's YouTube channel:
"Cloud9: If Riot made a champion after you, what would its ultimate ability be?
Le: I would probably call it ballsack. The ultimate ability would probably drop balls on people."
eSports Name: JesusStick
Real Name: Yoon-Soo Park
Competitive Game: DOTA 2
Both Dr Peepee and and Balls developed their competitive personas through the magic of adolescent humour. It wouldn't be a surprise to learn Yoon-Soo Park pulled a similar stunt with JesusStick. When it comes to screen names, it's common for Christian (and Jesus) to turn up.
There aren't many interviews with Park, but he briefly spoke with old school DOTA 2 site Neutral Creeps, and revealed how he ended up charging lanes with the name JesusStick:
"Neutral Creeps: How did you come up with the gamer tag, JesusStick?
Park: I'm Christian and I love Jesus."
The commentary around Park's name choice has been interesting, too. It's definitely unique.
JesusStick is already a compelling name, but consider how it sounds with his DOTA 2 name attached, too: JesusStick of team KellogTigerPower. Fantastic.
Real Name: Daniel Börzsönyi
eSports Name: Rape
Competitive Game: Counter-Strike
Some eSports names have made me chuckle, others prompted an eye-roll. Only one caused me to nearly choke on an energy bar. When someone pointed out a current Counter-Strike player was, in this day and age, going by the online name "Rape," I suspected they were lying.
They were not.
Daniel "Rape" Börzsönyi has floated in and out of the Counter-Strike competitive scene over the years. He was part of the Absolute Legends team, which made its mark in Counter-Strike version 1.6. (In Counter-Strike, players have version preferences, and 1.6 was considered the "best" version. This began to change when Valve introduced Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.)
For players with shocking nicknames, it's common for anything written about them to ignore this fact. Check out this statement from Absolute Legends in 2012, announcing the switch to Global Offensive:
"If you are familiar with the Counter Strike scene, you will completely recognise the newest pick-up for the Global Offensive team. The members include; André "BARBARR" Möller, Daniel "rape" Börzsönyi, Dennie "dennis" Edman, Danniel "dalito" Morales, and Joel "emilio" Mako. All of the members of the recently formed Global Offensive team are also based out of Sweden."
One of those names is not like the others.
Unsurprisingly, Börzsönyi's handle has caused discussion. He once provided an interview to Swedish publication Rakaka, where he talked about his choice of name. I've provided an English version of the interview below. Thanks to reader Fredric Furstenbach for the translation.
"EXCLUSIVE: Rakaka talks with rape about nicknames
This week there's been a tough debate on the internet about the nickname rape as the Counterstrike player Daniel Börzsönyi, 23 years old from Malmö, has used for the past 6 years. rape has over the last few weeks been in the news for playing in among others ESPORTSM [E-sport-SM, SM being short for Sverigemästerskapen being short for Swedish championship) and Sweden's Role- And Conflict-games Association's competitions which have been shown in [national tabloid] Aftonbladet and on TV4Play.
In connection with the media attention around the competitions, Daniel's nickname has been getting more space than his accomplishments in-game, Rakaka called Daniel who before our conversation was completely unaware of his CS-nickname on the internet.
Q: Your nickname means rape in swedish, what was your thought process when you picked that name?
A: To be honest I went by Rawper to start with, until I played against someone who used the name Fister who suggested I change it because I was raping opponents in-game, then I became famous with the name rape and so it has continued.
Q: Voices on the internet say you could just as well call yourself The Rapist and that your choice of nickname contributes to an acceptance of violence and rape. What do you think about that?
A: I disagree, of course I feel bad for victims, it's just a name in a game. I do not support violence or rape.
Q: Sverok is conducting an investigation over possibly banning nicknames that may cause offence. What do you think about that?
A: Don't know what to say about it, it's a shame and a pity and pretty fucked up, it's just a word.
A: I've gotten attention because of the name, I am semi-elite, not a f0rest or getright, exactly, but I like my name in CS and it supports [strengthens/enforces] my role in-game. If it becomes banned to be called rape then I'll have to.
Q: What are you going to change it to?
A: Not something I think about, happily accepting suggestions.
According to Börzsönyi's Twitch, he's not playing for a team right now. These days, he seems to mostly engage in casual Counter-Strike matches with friends, which he regularly streams out.
To this day, though, he's still going by "rape."
eSports Name: FruitDealer
Real Name: Kim Won Gi
Competitive Game: StarCraft II
Let's end on something a little more heartwarming, shall we? As it happens, the story behind Kim "FruitDealer" Won Gi comes from a story Kotaku's own Brian Ashcraft wrote back in 2011.
Won Gi is a rare breed: a retired player. He's still in the scene, though, acting as a League of Legends coach for the group StarTale in South Korea. But Won Gi made his name as a dominant StarCraft player, where he effortlessly moved from StarCraft: Brood War to StarCraft II.
I'll let Ashcraft take it from here:
"Twenty-five year-old StarCraft II player Kim Won Gi took the South Korean gaming world by storm last year. Some might know him by his pro-gaming handle "Cool", but to many, he's "FruitDealer", one of the best StarCraft II players there is.
Kim earned the "FruitDealer" moniker because he helps his mother run a food stall. "I prefer to keep the details private, but my mother started her fruit stall recently," Kim tells Kotaku, "and it's been about 2 years since I started to help her."
The story goes that Kim, a former pro StarCraft: Brood Wars player, left pro-gaming because his father became ill and he needed to help run his mother's fruit stall. But FruitDealer tells Kotaku that when he left pro-gaming, she wasn't running the fruit stall.
"My mother is always on my side, whatever my decision is," Kim says, adding that his mother always advises him to do his best. Kim left home at age twenty and has been living alone ever since. His mother never visited him to show her belief in her son, Kim says."Oh wait, she visited me once when I was in the hospital for an operation, but she paid 3-hour long visit at that time," he adds with a laugh.
Helping his mother on the weekends, Kim buckled down at home during the week to train for the GOMTV Global Starcraft II League or GSL for short, a large StarCraft II tournament held in South Korea with hefty prize purse (over $85,000). As the tournament approached, he spent less time at the fruit stall and more time at home, practising and improving his game. "StarCraft II is always running in my computer, but that doesn't mean I play 15 hours per day," he says. "My average play-time would be 3-4 hours per day." That might be ridiculously short compared to other players, he says, but he spends those 3 to 4 hours deep in concentration, making the best use of his time. According to Kim, "Practice always makes me very hungry... No kidding."
The players in this article represent a terribly small sample of nicknames, but we have to start somewhere. That's five interesting origin stories down, thousands to go.
Illustration by Jim Cooke