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Controversy over Vulcun vs Curse in the last match of the NA LCS eSports Central

eSports Author Jebus McAzn
Controversy over Vulcun vs Curse in the last match of the NA LCS

UPDATE: Riot has released their official statement on the issue here.

The final match of the North American League Championship Series concluded just hours ago with current 5th-place team Vulcun facing off against the 2nd-place Curse Gaming. The last day of LCS NA was crucial in determining final rankings and seeds for the playoffs in spring and summer - and was also filled with quite a bit of drama. The last time anything of this magnitude happened was during MLG Summer back in August 2012, with Team Dignitas and Curse Gaming accused of collusion after playing an ARAM in the finals match - interestingly enough, Curse Gaming seems to find themselves stuck in a hard place for the second time, as cries of poor sportsmanship and intentional throws surrounded the denouement of the tournament.

We first need to provide some background into how the LCS works and why the playoffs are so important; without fully understanding this, it will be difficult to reach a proper verdict surrounding the Curse vs. Vulcun game. The NA LCS is divided into two seasons - Spring and Summer - with the Spring Playoffs and the Summer Promotion round separating the two. The final standings for LCS NA are as follows:

1. Team SoloMid - 21-7
2. Curse Gaming - 19-9
3. Team Dignitas - 17-11
4. Counter Logic Gaming - 13-15
5. Team Vulcun - 12-16
6. Good Game University - 11-17
7. Team MRN - 10-18
8. compLexity Gaming - 9-19

The top two (TSM and Curse) automatically receive a bye and are guaranteed a spot in the Summer season. The next four teams (ranks 3 through 6) are placed in the Spring Playoffs, with the 3rd place and 6th place teams playing a match, and the 4th place and 5th place teams also playing.

Image taken from Leaguepedia

The two teams that win are then given spots in the Summer Season, and have job security for the next few months. The two teams that lose join the 7th and 8th place teams, and are relegated to the Summer Promotion round. Filled with fierce competition, the Summer Promotion round is where four teams from the current Spring Season are fighting for their jobs and a position in the upcoming LCS. They are joined by teams from the MLG Qualifier, the IPL Qualifier, and the Ranked 5s Qualifier, all of whom have a very real shot at knocking a current team out of the LCS.

A month ago, Cloud 9 (now Quantic Gaming) and Velocity eSports won the top two spots at the MLG Winter Championship, giving them a spot at the Summer Promotion round. Earlier this month, Team Summon and 1 Trick Ponies would do the same at the IPL Qualifier, securing another two spots. Finally, four Challenger Ranked 5s teams - Nydus is Diamond One, Hedgehog Brigade, No Team Name Necessary, and Azure Cats were grabbed from the top of the Ranked 5s ladder and given the last four spots at the Summer Promotion round.

The eight teams taken from the qualifier rounds all face each other in a series of best-of-three matches that will whittle down eight teams to four. The four teams that advance will face the four teams that were relegated from the NA LCS in a best-of-five match. Finally, the four teams that advance will join Team SoloMid, Curse Gaming, and the winners of the Spring Playoffs (picture above) in the LCS Summer Season.

Image taken from Leaguepedia

This is where the controversy comes in. In the last matchup, Team Vulcun faced Curse Gaming in a relatively inconsequential game. Curse Gaming were guaranteed 2nd place, unable to pass TSM in 1st but also unable to drop down to 3rd place. Team Vulcun were guaranteed a 5th/6th place finish - if they beat Curse, they would clinch 5th, but if they lost to Curse, they would tie for 5th with GGU.

Team Vulcun vs. Curse Gaming

Picks & Bans
Team Vulcun
Sycho Sid
Curse Gaming

Champion select saw some very strange things from both teams. Curse ran some extremely unorthodox picks, including Nyjacky on AD Tristana mid, Voyboy on Nunu top, and Saint on jungle Fizz. Vulcun decided to swap roles completely, putting their top laner in the jungle, their jungler in mid lane, their mid laner on AD carry, and their AD carry in top lane. Neither team was taking the game very seriously, and at first, it seemed as if it was because of the relative unimportance of the game.

Crs Saintvicious

V mandatorycloud

But is that really it? Were both teams just playing for fun because the game didn't matter much, or was there a deeper motive? If Vulcun wins, they're guaranteed 5th place and therefore have to face the 4th place team, CLG, in the playoffs. If Vulcun loses, they tie for 5th and GGU ends up playing CLG, while Vulcun faces Dignitas.

This is where things get tricky - Vulcun has a good chance to beat either CLG or Dignitas, so that's not the worrying part. If they face Dignitas and lose, they need to beat the winner of Team Summon vs. No Team Name Necessary in order to qualify for the LCS. NTNN is relatively unknown, and Team Summon are likely to defeat them - Team Summon itself, however, is currently relying on two substitute players, and are not a very strong team. This means that even if Vulcun loses against Dignitas, they have a very good shot at qualifying just because of their matchups.

On the other hand, if Vulcun faces CLG and loses, they need to beat the winner of 1 Trick Ponies and Azure Cats. 1TP comes from the IPL qualifier and holds names like nubbypoohbear on AP and Unstoppable playing support. Azure Cats, the current #1 Ranked 5s team, is bigfatlp's team, and features players like Cruzerthebruzer and Demunlul. Both teams are very strong, and can very possibly take a game off of Vulcun, knocking them out of the LCS. This means that Vulcun would prefer to lose against Curse, allowing them to face Dignitas (and either Team Summon or NTNN if they lose against Dig) so they have a better chance of qualifying for the LCS.

So now we have an incentive for Vulcun to lose. What about Curse? They can't possibly change rankings from this one game, right? That's absolutely right, but their motives may also hide in the Spring Playoffs. Vulcun is considered to be a stronger team than Good Game University. The former is older, and has a good track record against CLG - the latter is inconsistent, showing fluctuating performances and going from winning streaks to losing streaks. This means that Curse would prefer that Vulcun faces CLG, so there's a higher chance of CLG getting knocked out in the Playoffs stage. With Curse's horrendous scrimmage record against CLG (roughly 0-16), it is not absurd to reason that they would take any chance they can get to increase the odds of CLG not qualifying. In order to guarantee Vulcun facing CLG, Curse wants to lose against Vulcun, securing the latter team a 5th-place finish.

And now we have an issue in the behavior of both teams and their actions during champion select. It can easily be argued that neither team was trying their hardest because neither team actually wanted to win, which is a very big problem. The rules of LoL eSports clearly state that "Players must not engage, knowingly or otherwise, in any activity that could be construed as unsportsmanlike or violating the competitive integrity of the sport", and that "deliberately failing to play at one's best in a game, in any manner inconsistent with the principles of good sportsmanship, honesty, or fair play."

Viewers have cited interesting behavior from both teams as "evidence" of a violation of these rules - Curse apparently giving up free objectives, strange team comps from both sides, or Curse looking pleased when Vulcun was destroying their base. On the other side of the spectrum are the people who argue that both teams were simply playing for fun, or were legitimately trying new strategies. Curse's poor performance this entire week has been suggested as a reason for the loss, with others questioning why Vulcun would two-man Baron successfully if they wanted to lose.

Curse's Liquid112 has released a statement regarding the matches, saying that:

liquid112 wrote:
I want to take a moment to speak to the community regarding comments made about our final game of the first split in the LCS. There have been some negative comments and innuendo regarding our decision to run a non traditional composition of champions and I feel it best to comment on this for the sake of setting the record straight.

Curse plays to win. Our number one goal was to finish in the top two teams in order to achieve a first round bye in the LCS first season split. From our perspective, nothing is more important that preparing for the playoffs, winning North America and going on to Worlds. If you have ever watched our team interact, you would know that we are an intense group, sometimes to a fault, with a reputation for working and preparing for games exceptionally hard.

In this particular case, we had a game in the LCS that was not significant in the sense that winning or losing would not improve our standing in the league. As such, we took this opportunity to try an unusual team comp in the hopes that we would learn a thing or two about what would work at the highest levels of competition. This is no different than in other sports. In football, for example, teams who have secured their spot in the playoffs will often rest starters, try different plays and compositions in order to better prepare for the upcoming playoffs. For us, nothing is more important than winning when it counts.

Despite the unusual team composition, at NO TIME did any of our players ever not give 100% toward winning the game. There is nothing to gain for our team to produce a “troll” team and not trying our hardest. The stakes are too high and the opportunities are too great to waste a game against top talent to goof around. Curse is a professional organization and so are our players. We owe it to our sponsors, our fans and to Riot to work as hard as we can in advance of our cause; to be the top team NA.

As for the few voices we have heard that has accused Curse of not giving it our best shot, we take the high road. They are welcome to say whatever they like. We will continue to do what we do best; take down teams in North America and do our very best to win the first split playoff.
To shift our players focus from this goal to respond to cheap allegations is a waste of their time and counterproductive.

To our fans, thank you for standing with us. We hope to make you proud in the playoffs.
Curse or Die.

At the same time, users have noted an influx of tweets from Curse players that may be an attempt to show that they were taking the game seriously.

With very real consequences, a simple show-match may have left the NA LCS ending on a sour note. Whether Riot will allow Vulcun and Curse to continue without any issues or whether they will bring the hammer down on both teams will only be determined with time.

UPDATE: Riot's official response to the controversy:


It has been brought to our attention that there have been allegations of play that violates the LCS rules surrounding competitive integrity. The rule in question is Section

Collusion includes, but is not limited to, acts such as….deliberately failing to play at one’s best in a game, in any manner inconsistent with the principles of good sportsmanship, honesty, or fair play.

In the judgment of the LCS, this rule was not violated during the final day of the regular season. Given the evolution of the “meta” within League of Legends, and the constant balancing changes made to champions, the LCS cannot deem an intentionally chosen lineup “unviable” before a team takes the field, which means that competitive integrity cannot be sacrificed based on picks and bans alone.

Decisions must then center on whether teams can be judged to have been competing fully in the match. LCS officials are present in each team’s competition room for every match, and are listening to each team’s audio at all times. If an official determined that a team referenced a strategy designed around losing, suggested unnecessarily and inexplicably conservative play, or performed any action that was deemed “uncompetitive,” the game would not be allowed to continue. After conferring with multiple LCS officials, including all on-site referees, no violations of competitive integrity were deemed to have occurred, and no rulings need to be made.

We encourage all Summoners to tune into the LCS Spring Split Playoffs, starting next Friday at 3pm PST.

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Sort Comments By
Sensei Lyfur (2) | May 6, 2013 10:54am
These were some pretty good games, I personally enjoyed watching them, but I must confess the EU LCS is far superior to the NA.
mkDILLY | April 25, 2013 11:55am
This is so ridiculous. First off, you don't think Vulcan wanted to win? Would you rather play Dignitas or CLG right now in the first round? You don't think their hope is to win the first round and not even have to play in the promotional tournament? Don't forget that the reason these guys play professionally is to make money, and every round deeper in the tournament you go, the more money you make! If you don't think Vulcan wants to maximize their chances to go deeper in this tournament, you're crazy.

And even MORE crazy is the Curse thing. It would have been much better for them had Vulcan lost! Who wins between CLG and Vulcan now is irrelevant, because they have to go through TSM. TSM will most likely be in the finals, and Curse knows it. Instead, Vulcan losing would have created a better chance of not having to face Dignitas in the first round and facing an easier Vulcan in that round. Dignitas is going to be a hard matchup for Curse. They have a lot of history. They would much rather see Dig go out first round than CLG, who they will most likely never see in the tournament!
McAteer | April 23, 2013 9:56pm
PsiGuard wrote:


^also bias

You can take a stance if you like, but I really don't think this article was very impartial.

"Bias entails a value-directed departure from accuracy, objectivity, and balance—not just a distorted presentation of facts. For a story to be biased, the distorted information it contains must be causally connected to the writer's or editor's values." -Stephen Klaidman.

I, for one, see no bias in anything that was written in this article. It's simply documents the game from an outside perspective. It states the obvious of what happened and details the reasoning behind the controversy.

You quoted two small sections from the article and called them both bias, yet in neither quote does the writer of this article claim these are his own opinions, they are simply stating mere observations that you, I and everyone else could observe.
corporal courage (7) | April 22, 2013 2:48pm
If teams have to lose games to gain a strategic advantage, why should they try to win that game?
Jebus McAzn (457) | April 20, 2013 8:44pm
Sorry for what may seem like bias - I wrote this article at four in the morning and I started paraphrasing more and more from Reddit toward the end, which may explain some of the syntax issues. I've since reworded a few things.
Embracing (352) | April 20, 2013 6:46pm
all i saw = azure cats

jhoijhoi (1982) | April 20, 2013 5:31pm
Bias would be:

"At the same time, I noted an influx of tweets from Curse players that were a desperate attempt to show that they were taking the game seriously."

Jebus removed himself from the accusation and simply stated it how it was. The addition of "desperate" can be debated.

The second one I somewhat agree. He could have written,

"It can be argued that neither team was trying their hardest because neither team want to win. In eSports, this is an on-going problem."

If one removed all the modality (such as "easily") and affect (such as "desperate"), it'd be nuetral. However, who'd want to read that? My point was, Jebus didn't say, "It was clear that Curse was trying throw the game; I saw xxx player smirking/laughing when an allied tower fell." He wrote a great article with hardly any bias, which was great utilisation of reader positioning.
PsiGuard (1097) | April 20, 2013 5:15pm
At the same time, users have noted an influx of tweets from Curse players that seem like a desperate attempt to show that they were taking the game seriously.

It can easily be argued that neither team was trying their hardest because neither team actually wanted to win, which is a very big problem.

^also bias

You can take a stance if you like, but I really don't think this article was very impartial.
jhoijhoi (1982) | April 20, 2013 5:14pm
Great article, Jebus. Really informative and almost no bias/stance shown, which was a highly professional approach.
Satella (177) | April 20, 2013 5:04pm
I watched the game live; Nyjacky seemed to be the only one who was legitimately trying hard to win. Other Crs members were doing YOLO suicides and trying to make plays in high-risk low-reward situations. I don't think Crs was focused so much on winning as much as just having fun and trying to put on a show for spectators to end the LCS season (and putting on a show they certainly did; that was one of the most fun games I've seen being casted). Reading deeper than that really isn't a wise idea.
Jebus McAzn (457) | April 20, 2013 3:59pm
Note that much of the drama is caused not just because Vulcun role swapped and Curse picked strange champions, but because both teams were suspected of underperforming in an attempt to intentionally throw the game.

Regardless, any accusation is a stretch (in my opinion) and I'm glad that Riot decided to let both teams slide.
UnhallowedGeralf (4) | April 20, 2013 3:19pm
TSM in first :D
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