The Electronic Sports League (ESL) has banned a team from its competitions because it is sponsored by pornography website YouPorn.

Team YP, as they are know, have been competing in tournaments for games such
as Street Fighter, Counter-Strike and Starcraft 2, and have been sponsored by YouPorn, since 2014.

The idea behind the partnership has always been to present Team YP as a ‘safe-for-work’ spin-off of the adult-entertainment brand. Thus separating the team, its blog and promotion from any adult content.

They even went as far as wearing a ‘censored’ version of its black and pink jersey for a Street Fighter tounament in 2015 because Capcom wouldn’t allow the team to wear their usual kit.

It seems, though, that the ESL had more peoblems than just the shirt. They have said that Team YP contravenes its advertising rules and has banned the team outright from competing at its events, which includes international competitions for games such as Call of Duty, Dota 2 and Counter-Strike

“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…”

In a comment to VentureBeat, which got its hands on email correspondence between the league and Team YP, an ESL spokesperson said “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. 

We have spoken to Team YP manager earlier this year, and in that conversation we’ve explained the situation and rules in detail and offered to look for potential alternatives in a bigger group. At the same time, we’re consulting with our legal teams about this. We will inform the team and the management as soon as we have any updates.”

According to the VentureBeat report, Team YP offered to completely rebrand and remove references to ‘YP’ altogether in an effort to convince the ESL to allow their players to compete. “If the division had to go through a rebranding and remove the YP for something else,” Team YP said in the email. “If the sponsor is still technically ‘YouPorn’ but the YP is not actively present in the branding, would you be allowed to let my teams play?”

The appeal fell on deaf ears, however, with the ESL responding that their rules prohibit teams even accepting sponsorship from pornography brands, regardless of their promotion.

TEAM YP_3SPRTTeam YP manager Claire Fisher has said that she is “disappointed that Team YP’s growth is being stunted by this decision, not to mention the effect that this will have on our roster of players. 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 SFW brand, clearly separated from any adult content, seems unfair to say the least.”

However, is it a bad thing? eSports continues to grow massively around the globe, with competitions in games such as Dota 2 offering multi-million-pound prize pools.

Sponsorship, as in other sports,  is often the main source of income for players and teams alike. ESL’s decision on Team YP could have widespread ramifications on e-sports players’ ability to compete and the types of sponsors that are allowed to be involved in the industry.

But I am fine with that. I think that there would be serious uproar if, say, YouPorn (or any other site that specialises in pornography), tried to sponsor any other sport like, say, football, or athletics. And if the world of eSports is to grow like other sports and be taken seriously, it needs to think like them.

The world of gaming still has an incredibly sexist image, even though more women are starting to be involved, and the ESL’s decision is one that strikes a blow to that image.

Inclusivity should always be encouraged, and by refusing sponsorship from the likes of YouPorn, the ESL is helping to foster a gaming world and create an enviroment where it doesn’t matter about your gender. It only matters about your gaming skills.