Play to Win. Or Else...

By Paul LaCen

August 29, 2012

Sunday I posted an article about MLG disqualifying Curse NA and Dignitas from their League of Legends tournament in Raleigh for collusion (splitting the combined first and second place pot money and taking the championship game lightly because the pressure of money was removed from the equation). According to the MLG rules, “competitors may not intentionally Forfeit a Game or conspire to manipulate Rankings or Brackets.” MLG went on to clarify that they did not disqualify the players for taking the final game easy, but for the pot-splitting that caused it to happen.

There is some precedent to MLG’s decision. MLG disqualified Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman and Wyatt “ADHD” Beekman from attending the Super Smash Bros. Brawl finals at MLG Dallas in 2010 for splitting the first and second place prize money at MLG DC.  In both instances, none of the competitors were doing it for the sake of bracket or ranking manipulation, but splitting the pot is generally treated the same as rigging a game when professional leagues are involved.

This is a stark contrast to the way splitting is treated in community-run events, where the subject brings up much debate. As a very common occurrence in video game tournaments, there’s a well-defined divide between gamers who don’t see splitting as a problem, those who feel that it undermines the spirit of competition, and those who don’t see why the line gets drawn where it does — players often forfeit after defeating notable potential winners but before the finals of a tournament, only for it to be overlooked.

In a way, this may not be the fault of the players. A decision that adjusts how a game is actually played will always be regarded with severe scrutiny once prize money is involved. The inclusion of cash prizes inherently makes the decision to adjust the competitive nature of a match something that is associated with money, even if not the direct motivation for the decision. I’m actually a bit conflicted with regards to how the players were penalized. Ultimately, disqualifying players who had the skill to make it to the finals of an event because they didn’t want to take the last match seriously (and in the case of the Smash players, banning them from following events) strikes me as heavy handed, considering the intent was not to manipulate the bracket or rankings.

Moreover, where does this type of enforcement begin? There are players who specifically go to events and qualifiers not because they want to win, but because they want other people to specifically lose. They have no intent on taking the prize if they do get to the finals; some players knowing full well that they have to leave an event before it finishes. Notable Smash player Jason “ANTi” Bates is actually well known for doing that sort of thing, making it to the semifinals of tournaments before having to leave, taking away a high-level match from the end of a tournament. Should his actions result in him being banned from future tournaments?

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I understand the other side of the argument though. MLG is, after all, a professional league. Once contracts get involved, it’s probably a documented understanding that one should not engage in activity that makes a mockery of the competitive nature of a game. If two professional teams made it to the championship game and then decided “Screw it! Let’s throw the third stringers in, it doesn’t matter anyway.”, not only would rigging be suspected, their host cities would have to pay S.W.A.T. severe overtime to handle all the riots that would occur. Professional leagues may take their games seriously, but spectators are prone to set a city ablaze if they are unhappy with how a game plays out.

It makes sense that those watching a sport want to know that their favorite teams are giving it their all. The strive to win, to be the best, should  be the main goal of a competition. In Japan, it is rare that tournaments will feature cash prizes, so a tournament is typically just for the recognition of being a top competitor.  A decision to adjust one’s play can be for any number of reasons; players that regularly find themselves playing against the same top-level opponents may choose to play other characters for the sake of experimentation or to learn a matchup in a high-pressure situation.

Adding money as a factor to the competitive nature of a game can have some bad results. The NCAA has a strict set of rules prohibiting players from accepting money or gifts, and even the slightest offense can cause someone to lose their professional sports career before it even begins. Also, the accusation of malicious or opportunistic game rigging is not a light one. Most popular sports have very severe — and even criminal, in some cases — charges associated with undermining the natural result of a competition, even at non-professional levels.

Recently, three badminton teams were ejected from the Olympics for playing poorly in an attempt to get an easier competitive path, giving up their placement and taking an initial loss to attempt to win at the end. The coaches of the Korean team were originally expelled from the Badminton Korea Association, but their penalty has since been lowered to being barred from working with the national team for four years. made a post arguing that if you view the actions with the context of the end goal, those players were being as competitive as possible — doing whatever they could within their power to ultimately be crowned the world’s best.

I leave the discussion to you. Does a rule of this nature and enforcement based on the “spirit of the law” lead to a vague, open-ended set of situations that could result in people having their time, effort, and income invalidated? Do you think the players splitting the pot is the same as rigging the finals of a competition? Should players be disqualified and banned from events for essentially forfeiting? At what stage of the competition should the line be drawn?

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Paul LaCen

I'm a twenty-seven year old video game design student from Sunset Park, Brooklyn. If I'm not working or doing schoolwork, I can typically be found on Xbox Live under the name "Red Ring Ryko". I am thoroughly enamored with video games as a means of interactive expression, and am fully dedicated to bolstering the legitimacy of the medium and its culture.

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