Tuesday, November 4, 2014

On Cheating, Honor, and Competition

Mike posted about me the other day.  It went something like this:

Seth.  Hey Seth.  Seth.  Seth, hey Seth.  Seth.  Write something.  Hey Seth, hey, write something.  Write something, Seth.  Write it.  Write something.  Seth.  Thanks. (write something).

Or at least that's what I got out of it.  Unfortunately, I didn't really know what to write about.  The tournament scene for miniature wargaming is winding down in this area, and most of you tune in for those pictures.  I'd covered most of the cons that went on, and the few that I had been to did not have large scale competitions.  None of you had any good ideas, so I was sitting around until my friend Dan tossed this little gem into my lap:

"Hey, did you hear about the Feast of Blades tournament in Denver?"

Google Search.  Read read read.  ooooooOOOOOOOoooooohhhh.

Apparently the champion of the tournament was accused of cheating, and immediately disqualified himself.  The allegation came from another person, who had found one of his dice under the table and saw that the die was not fair.  The champion made a public statement where he apologizes for the mistake.  He chose to disqualify himself and bow out of the tournament, declining his prize, trophy, and recognition.  Words like "honorable" and "do the right thing" and "honest mistake" were used to describe the situation.  Huh.  Ok, we'll come back to that later.

So the runner up gets it, right?  No?  Why not?

Well, it turns out that guy was also accused of cheating.  He had submitted an army list that was not legal under the rules for the tournament.  This list was initially permitted by the tournament staff, but then, much later, it was brought to his attention that it was not legal.  By "much later" we mean after he had already played 5 people and done quite well.  He claims that he was told by the judges to modify the list to bring it into compliance, and then continue.  After the tournament was finished, accusations were made and he offered to retro-actively bow out.  The tournament organizers replied with a statement about the importance of community, and how they do not support cheating.  Again, more on this later.

I should probably jump in with this disclaimer here: this is not a defense of the alleged cheaters.  I have no idea if these men intentionally broke the rules, or if they made mistakes, or if they were framed, or if there was a conspiracy, or if something else happened.  It was in Colorado, I wasn't there, I didn't talk to them, and honestly, I don't care.  Hopefully neither do you.

So I'm thinking about this, but it's not much of a story.  Then I remember something else that Dan brought me: Steve Sisk, a man I did interview, the winner of the Bay Area Open 2014, was also accused (informally) of cheating in one of his games.  There were no fallout from this that I know of, but a few posts went around the internet for a few weeks, and then it dropped.  I'm sure someone still talks about it, and that person should tell me how they feel in the comments because I care very deeply about their accusation of another player in a competition.

Ok, a little more to work with.  What else can I rope into this story?

I hear a few magic players talking about a cheating scandal running through the MTG pro circuit. Alex Bertoncini got his DCI number suspended for 3 years on October 24th, 2014.  The very same day, Wizards of the Coast published a statement addressing the community, reinforcing their commitment to integrity, expectation of sportsmanlike behavior, and general lip service to the action that they needed to take.  There are several allegations floating around regarding the ways in which Alex is accused of cheating.  You can believe them or not, again, not my concern.  In fact, the argument that comes later gets even juicier if you don't.

Now that WotC knows what to look for, they have started hunting.  Trevor Humphries picked up a 4 year ban from the DCI.  You can find videos online that explain how shuffling and deck manipulation work and put the pieces together.  He won a competition that earned him thousands of dollars, and then his winnings were placed into holding during the investigation.  There was talk about sending it to charity or the runner up.  Whatever.  There was the entire internet theatre that went along with this, the pack of dogs that jumped on the scraps and chewed them up.  A lot of name calling, a lot of grand standing, a lot of absolutist rhetoric, and pretty soon it will be over, a funny story that people bring up when the subject of cheating comes round.  "Oh, hey, remember when...."

Magic is not alone in this trend.  Two years ago in the World Championships of League of Legends, Azubu Frost was fined $30,000 USD for cheating in a match.

Holy crap!  That's a ton of money!  They got kicked out, right?  They got suspended and never came back to scene?

No.  No, Azubu Frost took home $120,000 in prize money after they received a ruling declaring them guilty for cheating.  That's right, after deciding that the team had indeed broken the rules of the tournament, violated the code of ethics they had agreed to, and conducted themselves in an unsportsmanlike manner, they walked home with a six figure check that started with a "120" instead of a "150."

Is this justice?  Is this fair?  Should we be declaring the end of gaming, and then new age of cut throat competitions where anything goes?  No.  Spoiler warning: It never was fair.  Let's look at the idea of "Chivalry" and "Honor" in a historical context.  To quote Frank Trollman (a man with a rather unfortunate name and a very..... strong.... reputation) from his "Tome of Battle:"

"In olden days, the powerful had superior nutrition, superior training, superior equipment and came in really small numbers. So naturally of course, the rule was that you didn’t gang up on people or use poison. In modern days, bullets go through pretty much anything, but powerful people have more troops and helicopters, so the rule is that you don’t assassinate people in honorable combat."

Why not?  You have a bunch of people with power who want to stay in power, so they develop rules to reach their goals and punish people who cross them.  This isn't new.  There have been cheaters forever.  As long as there have been people who put rules into place to control others and further their ends, there have been people who didn't buy into their bullshit.  Take a look at the examples above:

Feast of Blades puts on a tournament in a convention style setting.  They charge admission.  I'm not going to pretend that I know what the goal of the organization, I'm not a mind reader.  But I will stake the validity of my article on the fact that it starts with a "P" and ends with a "rofit maximization."  Cheaters get in the way of this.  If players find that cheaters are showing up and getting in their way, they stop showing up to tournaments.  Attendance drops, and the primary goal of the organization is not met.  They put anti-cheating rules into effect.  They ban (or suspend) people who are found to cheat.  But profit for the organizers is not the goal of the "cheater" at the tournament.  Her goal is to win.  She wants to get the prize, get the glory, the recognition, whatever.  In this context, why follow the rules?  You have a 1 in 100 shot to win.  Cheat, and you get a better margin, hedged against the chance that you get caught and DQ'd.

Hasbro (the company that owns Magic) is the same.  What do you think the goal of a multinational, for-profit corporation is?  What do you think the owners of this publicly traded company are interested in?  Exactly how committed to "fair play," "sportsmanship," and "integrity," do you think this company is?  Enough to get as many players as possible in the door to hand over their cash as often as possible.  And that's exactly the response that you saw.  An attempt at a quiet, pay no attention to the man behind the curtain, sweeping under the rug of widespread cheating caught on camera.  This sort of scandal in the tournament circuit has the potential to drive an exodus of players from the game faster than you can say "Blackmetal Giant."

Riot has some honesty about it (which, by the way, they didn't have to be honest about this) when they say, "You're going to be fined if you cheat."  They know what the goal is here.  They want to keep attendance up, they want to make sure that the next World Championship is even bigger than the last one.  Viewers don't really want to watch people cheat, not because they don't think that they will do it, but because they don't need to tune in for that.  I can go down to my local game store and watch people cheat at games.  It's not worth watching the ads.  So Riot looks in the same direction as the players and tells them that they will have a harder time meeting their goals if they cheat.

Look at football, basketball, soccer, hockey, pretty much any sport that tells people to be extremely physical and then penalizes them when they are too physical.  Soccer has the added bonus of being one of the few sports where it is strategic to pretend like someone else cheated.

But at least Azubu Frost has some integrity about it, right?  It's good that they took their penalty honorably and didn't contest it, right?

Have you been fucking listening?  No, that's the opposite of true.  That's what we call wrong.  The guys with the big $120,000 check told them, "Hey apologize for trying to get this money from us and we will give this money to you."  What the fuck do you think they would do?  If Riot thought that a video of them bad mouthing their opponent and complaining that they got off because they were white would bring in the crowds, that's exactly what you would have seen the next day.  They know who pays the bills around here.

Alex Bertoncini didn't need to apologize for what he did.  Apart for not doing anything wrong, Hasbro didn't need him to publicly show up and make a show of "integrity" and "sportsmanship."  They quietly pushed him out of the scene and went back to business as usual.  In the case of the Feast of Blades guys, they needed to make a show of how integrity-ridden their show is.  So they did the whole song and dance so everyone can clap themselves on the backs and say, "Wow, I feel like I'm playing in an integrity infested joint here."  Plus, a witch hunt feels kinda good every now and then.

Don't tell me that you wouldn't do it.  Don't tell me that you have never cut corners, skimped, bent a rule, misinterpreted it, or down right cheated to get what you want.  Everyone does.  You have your goals, someone else has their own goals, sometimes they conflict.  "If you aren't cheating, you aren't trying," is the message here, but I mean it literally.  If you are not cheating to win, then winning isn't your primary goal.  And that's OK!  If you would rather have fun then win, that's great.  Just don't tell me that you aren't bending the rules for that goal either.  Cuz then you are just lying to save face.

Which is kinda like cheating.

Seth Oakley is an educator and Returned Peace Corps Volunteer who lives in Daly City, CA. He loves costuming, analog gaming and role playing games. He got this job in a bar after making poor life choices and has to work through 90 more articles before Mike will give him his soul back. If you want Seth to cover an event in particular, leave a comment to let him know.

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