Will Riot Learn from eSports History? An Analysis of S2 Playoffs
by Hardy 'SQSing' Pace October 7, 2012 @ 08:10pm
Disconnects? Where are your solutions?
There is obviously an issue with the current connection method applied at League of Legends tournaments, no one can now deny it after the third day of the Season 2 Playoffs, not even Riot. It used to be shrugged off as online tournaments being poorly organized and hosted. Then it was also live events with teams having to pause constantly or even play out full games with a player down. Now Riot themselves cannot handle the issues. Why is that?
Perhaps it would be beneficial to start off with a direct comparison to another developer in the exact same position, who has received much more hatred from their fan base for the exact same issue. The history of eSports as well as the mistakes and solutions provided from other games is an invaluable resource that must never be ignored.
Blizzard and the tournaments that host their games, most notably StarCraft 2, have been under fire from day one for their lack of LAN support. Every disconnect, every lag spike, and every re-game is a horrendous reminder for their community that the competition is only as good as the ability for players to compete on equal ground, which can not be accomplished with such issues plaguing them. So why doesn't Blizzard, such a successful company, not fix such an obvious issue?
Blizzard dodges the issue in their responses, which are far too scarce to begin with, but the accepted reasoning is that they are afraid of individuals playing their game offline, without an account, and thus for free. Pirating. An issue we can sympathize with, but cannot excuse if they wish their games to be taken seriously in a professional light.
Riot, on the other hand, does not have the same excuse. The beauty of League of Legends is that it is free and accessible, they do not make money from simply allowing individuals to play their game. Not to mention the long term monetary benefits of well run tournaments. The long term is what must be in Riot's sights if they want to go from being 'just a game' to a recognized competition. So why hinder themselves in such a fashion? My guess is the state of their client. It is no secret that League of Legends is considered a very bloated and inefficient client in comparison to the current industry standards. Many of the improvements they make seem to be seriously delayed simply because of the nature of the client, and LAN support is likely no exception to this rule. We enter a similar predicament that we do with Blizzard. We may sympathize with the difficulty, but that is no excuse. We can only speculate as to what Riot's priorities are but, what we do know is that Redbeard has stated something is in the works. Every resource must be expended on Riot's part to remedy this issue if they want to expand their presence as the dominating eSports title. If that means a complete client rebuild, then so be it.
Sundance sympathizes, as he has encountered the same situations.
October 6th was an eSports tragedy, but it can also be the greatest thing that ever happened to the quality of League of Legends competition. To elaborate allow me to draw from another example. MLG Dallas 2010 experienced some of the exact same issues that Riot experienced this weekend. The problems consisted of dysfunctional hardware (which is the current scapegoat for this weekend's issues) and multiple time delays and re-games as a result of poor management. The event would go down in history as a warning for MLG to never allow that to happen again. The result? It hasn't, never to that degree. MLG took the disastrous event and rectified the issues as early as their following event a few months later. MLG has arguably only gotten better since then, expanding and listening to their fan base. An obvious silver lining to an otherwise poor experience.
There is no reason to assume Riot's experience won't be similar or even more positive. I have a, perhaps misguided, optimism that Riot will do the right thing. They have a fairly clean record when it comes to listening to their fans, which is what fuels my optimism. The primary difference between Riot's situation and MLG Dallas is that Riot has full control of their client as well as tournament production. It could be said that Riot has it much easier as they do not have the issue of working around a developer, as MLG does. You might take that fact as a reason to get even angrier about the event as it is entirely their fault, and I might be inclined to agree with you to a certain extent.
Slasher makes a similar comparison.
Potentially disappointing the viewers is not the only issue here unfortunately. It is only the tip of the iceberg. Such issues can blacklist not only a company but a whole industry when it comes to potential sponsors. All it could take to break down the fragile state of eSports is for one big sponsor to be let down in this exact fashion. It is not only reckless for themselves as a company, but their actions reverberate throughout the entire eSports community. They are representing an infant of an industry, and must do so with that in mind.
Riot's Role on Rule Violations
The nature of cheating, especially in a game where the rules are not applied at a consistent rate from all tournament organizers, makes everything I say on the topic speculation. I will make no effort to condemn nor absolve any parties of any accusations. I will stay focused on Riot's role in the issue instead.
I feel the best way to look at this case is to first look at Riot's previous reaction, and the subsequent feedback they received, to an account of cheating in tournaments. The most recent instance has been at MLG Providence where the teams Curse and Dignitas were accused and punished for collusion. We can see that Riot reacted to an account of cheating, and even more so an account of cheating that the community did not pressure Riot to react to. Quite the opposite actually, the community furiously questioned their decision and was fairly split on the issue. To be clear, I believe Riot is in the position of power in the MLG-Riot relationship and at the end of the day they had the ultimate call. This is, admittedly, speculation.
What can we draw from this example? Riot is not afraid of condemning players and teams if they see it fit. We also saw that Riot took the time, along with MLG, to assess the situation fully, and although we may find issue with their current ruling it is safe to assume that they are being as fair as possible. Riot documented and detailed incidents of cheating, the community might feel it needs to be looked into further, and at the moment that is a fair stance. Their decision however is not of importance, beyond being as fair and impartial as possible.
So what is important? The simple fact that Riot did not have the foresight to make it far more difficult for cheating to occur. What is unacceptable is the layout that they employed at the event. Many community members are asking the same question: "Where are the player booths?" Booths have become the desired standard at live events and when they were provided there were a few hiccups but overall it significantly decreased the chances of cheating - be it from hearing the commentators to being able to look at the main screen. If booths are for some reason unavailable the appropriate layout precautions must be taken instead. Riot made the claim in their response that employees were tasked with watching for cheating and I have no reason to doubt that. But why, if you are aware of the ease of cheating not do everything in your power to make it impossible? Riot simply did not make use of a valuable resource. Why? Riot's stance is that booths create a barrier from the audience. It comes down to what is more important, the interaction or the security of the rules. What can safely be said is that Riot had a serious lack of foresight when it came to cheating prevention. Their hard work in every other aspect was undermined by a problem that could have been so easily solved.
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