A teenager's lifetime ban from 'Fortnite' sheds light on a dark reality in the esports business

Business Insider US

Jarvis Khattri, better known as FaZe Jarvis.

  • Jarvis Khattri, 17, was banned from "Fortnite"for life after he uploaded a video of himself using software to cheat in the game.
  • Jarvis, a member of the esports organisation FaZe Clan, has earned thousands of dollars playing "Fortnite" and making videos about the game for his YouTube followers. Jarvis used the cheating software to demonstrate how unfair it makes the game for a YouTube video.
  • Jarvis offered an apology in a YouTube video, but "Fortnite" creator Epic Games has a zero tolerance policy for cheating, as outlined in the game's terms of service and community guidelines.
  • Epic has ignored appeals for Jarvis to be un-banned, and the situation shows how little control professional gamers have over the games that make their careers.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The esports industry has been celebrated for its ability to turn teenagers into international champions and millionaires through the popularity of video games. But a recent incident shows the relationship between professional gamers and video game publishers is still a delicate arrangement where publishers hold nearly all of the power.

Earlier this month, the creators of "Fortnite," the most popular game in the world, banned a teenager for life after he used software to cheat. Epic Games, the developer of the game, bans hundreds of players for cheating each week - but this was no ordinary teenager.

Meet Jarvis Khattri, a 17-year-old professional gamer who makes "Fortnite" videos for YouTube under the name FaZe Jarvis. As a member of the esports organization FaZe Clan, Jarvis has earned thousands of dollars playing "Fortnite."

The controversy stems from a recent YouTube video, where Jarvis used an automatic-aiming software to demonstrate how unfair it was. He repeatedly warned his two million YouTube subscribers that they could be banned for cheating in "Fortnite," and he started a new account to try and avoid punishment himself - which didn't work.

"Fortnite" creator Epic Games promptly banned Jarvis for life, citing a zero-tolerance policy for anybody using cheating software. Epic Games has repeatedly stated that cheating is one of the biggest problems driving players away from "Fortnite."

"When people use aimbots or other cheat technologies to gain an unfair advantage, they ruin games for people who are playing fairly," Epic Games said in a statement to Business Insider.

Given Jarvis' growing career as a professional gamer and content creator, some people in the esports industry felt the punishment was too harsh. They cited Jarvis's young age and claimed the repeated warnings he gave other players were proof that he didn't want to promote cheating or ruin the game for others.

Others sided with Epic, saying that Jarvis's decision to unfairly undermine other players and tip the competitive balance was worthy of a ban, regardless of his intentions.

Tyler "Ninja" Blevins, the world's most popular "Fortnite" player, defends Jarvis as a content creator.

Ninja, the world's most recognizable "Fortnite" player, said that Jarvis shouldn't have been banned from "Fortnite" because his career depends on the game. During a livestream on his own channel, Ninja brought up YouTuber Logan Paul, who was infamously suspended by YouTube after uploading a video with a dead body, but who was ultimately allowed to return after a few weeks.

"There's a difference between a content creator who has millions of subscribers, who then gets banned from what makes him money, and some kid who is just a piece of s*** who has zero followers, zero money from gaming and hacks," Ninja said. "You ban that kid and nothing happens to him. Nothing happens. Oh no! He can't cheat any more. You ban Jarvis - it's different."

Thousands of gamers disagreed on how video game companies should punish players for cheating.

"Mortal Kombat" co-creator Ed Boon shared a poll on Twitter asking his followers how video game publishers should deal with known cheaters. Out of more than 32,713 respondants, only 26 percent said an immediate lifetime ban was appropriate - 37 percent said bans should only be temporary, while another 37 percent said three instances of cheating should lead to a permanent ban. This poll is hardly scientific, but is still a good bellwether for the sentiment.

Epic Games and other publishers can enforce their rights and freeze pro players out at any time.

Others focused on Epic's immediate and apparently inarguable decision to levy a longterm ban. Jarvis was instantly cut off from a primary source of income, based on the company's decision on how to enforce its terms of service. To many, it illustrated how esports players, organizations, and event organizers alike are completely at the mercy of each game's developers and publishers, whether they like it or not.

Publishers can prevent pro gamers from earning money from their videos and claim ownership years later.

Most video game companies treat streaming and esports as an extension of their marketing, since high-profile competition can draw more attention to the game. However, if the publisher's priorities change, it can mean bad news for gamers who want to monetize their own play sessions.

Sometimes publishers may want to prevent spoilers or control the way their game is shown online. Other times, publishers can slap a copyright claim over videos with lots of traffic - even years after a game is released.

Boon's "Mortal Kombat" has served as a prime example of this. Multiple professional gamers have had videos containing "Mortal Kombat" footage flagged with copyright claims from the publisher on YouTube, preventing the creators from running ads and earning money. Another complication: YouTube's own algorithm occasionally blocks "Mortal Kombat" videos from monetization due to violent content, creating further problems for players who want to try and earn money from their hobby.

More support from publishers often comes with less control for the players.

Even when publishers are trying to provide more career structure for professional gamers, it can cause a ripple effect on a large community of players.

Activision Blizzard's decision to launch a big-ticket Call of Duty League impacted hundreds of players on sponsored esports squads and semi-professional teams, who were suddenly left on the outside.

While Activision's new league guarantees a minimum $50,000 salary for about 100 players, dozens of gamers who were competing in community organized events have been left with nowhere to play. Esports organizations that competed at the game at the highest level in the world were forced to disband their teams when they couldn't afford a $25 million franchise slot in the Call of Duty League.

Video game publishers are still trying to build and support their own esports communities, and the players will have to make the most of the ride.

Of course, Epic Games, Netherrealm Studios, Activision and other publishers have made major contributions to grow their respective esports communities, but the professional gamers who rely on these companies to build their careers are rarely rewarded with control or security as the industry grows.

That said, more gamers than ever are finding opportunities to make a living from a hobby they love, and esports still seems like one of the most interesting (or maybe, the most fun) ways to make a living. But Jarvis' ban should be a stern reminder to everyone in the business that no game is guaranteed.

Receive a daily email with all our latest news: click here.

Also from Business Insider South Africa: