While there’s always a bit of drama and intrigue in the world of eSports, this week’s column locked itself in when the League of Legends divisions for Team Dignitas and Curse NA delivered the journalist’s equivalent of a grubber outside off-stump with their stunning performance in Raleigh.
Why is this important? Major League Gaming awarded the pair the dubious honour of being the first winners and runners-up in competitive gaming to be disqualified for collusion.
The scandal began to unfold when both teams played out the first match of the grand finals using ARAM settings (where all heroes are randomized and ten players battle it out in a single lane for the entirety of the match). This wasn’t illegal, but many players and spectators took it as an affront to the integrity of the competition.
After Curse won the grand finals 3-2 and the event came to a close, MLG released an announcement saying that neither team would be awarded any seeding points or money after both teams were found to have colluded. Reports quickly hit the internet that the teams agreed to split the prize money, with Adam Apicella from MLG tweeting that the matter was “discussed in a public, crowded setting” and confirmed by both teams.
The official reaction
Naturally, the proverbial hit the fan and scattered everywhere. Curse quickly responded by saying that they had agreed to play ARAM – a strange clarification given that you couldn’t really force those settings in the grand finals of an international tournament without the approval of the other team – but all other speculation, including the splitting of the prize money, was false. Dignitas only admitted that some of the claims were true, but didn’t specify which ones.
Riot Games backed up MLG’s decision, although one imagines they can’t have been too pleased with the decision to ARAM and a negative response that was compounded by fans unhappy with a string of technical issues that plagued the event from start to finish.
The long term impact
MLG has rebounded from less than stellar events before, but the sour taste left in many mouths and the obvious divide between fans may never be repaired. League of Legends is at an interesting crossroads, caught between the dreams of the hardcore vying for a salary and trips around the world, and the casuals concerned about competition draining all the fun out of the game.
It’s interesting to see MLG’s take on splitting prize money, since it correlates with the world of poker (which so many former professionals compare eSports to). 50/50 or even 60/40 splits are common in small poker games and tournaments, and anyone who’s been around competitive LANs for a long while will have seen a bit of prize splitting once or twice just to save time.
But there are some poker tournaments where chopping the pot is forbidden, and it’s typically frowned upon in eSports because it ruins the matches as a competitive spectacle. The games might be more interesting when all the chains and shackles of competition are thrown off, but it’s besides the point – organisations, players and tournament bodies are putting up millions of dollars to sort out the best from the best and no sane administrator would allow the proceedings to be undermined by any back-alley agreement.
The (im)perfect crime
This has been known locally for a long time, and the few occasions where collusion happens is often done privately to avoid exactly this kind of publicity. The fact that the teams were stupid enough to collude in a restaurant where witnesses, including SirScoots from Evil Geniuses), could hear is nothing short of baffling.
Did they truly believe there would be no consequences, or that nobody would rat them out? Furthermore, what guarantee did they have of a proper split? MLG would have never allowed them to draw the series even if the collusion was kept secret – one team would have been declared the victor, awarded the trophy and received the lion share of the winnings via bank transfer or other means. What would have stopped them from keeping first prize and then denying the talks ever occurred if the other team went public?
It’s this kind of naivete that damages the entire industry, but it’s also the kind of lesson it needs. Gamers have spent the last few years learning how to cope with the demands of crafting a professional image, a necessity in a world where games are played not in basements and bedrooms but on the international stage. But money brings responsibility too. It’s time for some common sense.