On Monday, the preliminary findings of ESIC’s landmark spectator bug investigation were made public, implicating 37 coaches for a slate of offenses across the last five years. With more to come (supposedly about issues involving stream-sniping, not to mention the match-fixing investigation), it feels like a purge is overdue. The real question is whether Valve will step in, and if so, will they keep with the brutal precedents they set almost half a decade ago.
The slow-motion fallout of the spectator bug controversy continued on Monday with ESIC’s preliminary report on the matter, leading to the ban of 37 different coaches based on 20% of the available 99 650 demos examined. Notably, they have indicated that they expect this to cover a substantial majority of the total cases (hence the release of this report) and that “only 0.1% of the total demos […] returned a positive indication” of the abuse.
It’s not the only iron ESIC have in the fire, as commissioner Ian Smith has confirmed on HLTV’s podcast that they’re also looking into stream-sniping matters. It’s quite a lot to have on their plate: the commission is also knee deep in the murky waters of MDL, with fifteen different ongoing investigations(!) which they “consider to be of significant concern to the industry”. If we do get some sort of purge in the CS:GO scene, their work will be on the forefront of it all, and the goodwill they’ve generated is quite notable compared with actors like the CSPPA. It goes to show that the developers will only go so far in policing matters like these in esports, and independent watchdogs are invaluable for the health of the competition. As Ian Smith pointed out, Valve are a business first and foremost, meaning they understandably have very different incentives than everyone else in the scene – and it’s worth pointing out how ESIC members have indeed lifted the ban on the players involved in the iBUYPOWER scandal, allowing them to compete in the third-party circuit even as the devs maintained their indefinite sanction (and could never be bothered to confirm whether it’s indeed a lifetime ban or not).
Predictably, many of the coaches implicated in the matter opted to respond on that famous blue-and-white platform well known for its focus on eloquence, depth and context in discussions: Twitter. (For what it’s worth, some of them did choose its more flowery cousin, Twitlonger). Their reactions range from contrite to completely stupid. While people like FURIA’s guerri, OG’s ruggah and Heroic’s HUNDEN (perhaps the most tragic story out of the three) have rightfully earned a reduction on their ban, not to mention the support of their respective organizations, for both the limited nature of their infractions and their willingness to confess, starix decided to play dumb to spectacularly good effect with the equivalent of a shrug in the form of a tweet.
It’s the petty nature of the crimes contrasted with the long conspiracy of silence that is the saddest about this affair. Individual rounds at the beginning of matches which were of mixed importance at most, a pocket strat for pointless occasions in online cups that apparently everyone involved decided to sit on for years. As nasty as Reijin’s antics were (and may have caused the disbandment of pro100), at least he was remorseless and short-termist, just as you’d expect from a cheater. Good riddance. (Incidentally, Hard Legion seems to have a thing for a certain type of coach, don’t they?)
The problem is, it’s likely that the ESIC decisions were just the beginning, with the hammer blow to come later. You see, the developers of this game are not the kind to offer percentage-based ban reductions.
There have been quite a few people who erroneously conflated the coaching bans by ESIC with Valve’s own decision to ban members of the old iBUYPOWER squad for life after they threw an irrelevant online match for a bunch of skins. Not only are these two completely different organizations (even if ESIC’s bans are upheld by most TOs), there were extenuating circumstances in the latter case as the players essentially tried to lie their way out of the investigation.
Still, the question of Valve’s own precedents remain, and they are draconian to say the least. Jamppi may or may not have got a VAC ban at an age where you can’t even buy an ice cream without some pocket money from your parents? Guess you can never play at a Major, sorry. Got caught up in the iBUYPOWER thing? Guess you can never play at a Major, sorry. You cheated at a Regional Major Ranking event as a coach? It would only make sense to fill the blank the same way. Valve have already indicated they may act further after the ESIC report’s publication, and if they will, it likely won’t be pretty and many may be caught in the crossfire. If they choose to highlight the fact that many more coaches seem to have encountered the bug, and even though they didn’t abuse it, they also haven’t publicized the matter, it seems like they have a pretty good argument at this time.
Though in an ideal world many of us would prefer to see an expansion on the coaching role and the deeper strategies it enables (as DeKay passionately argued in a recent column, matching the perspective of many a fan) and less draconian rulings on player bans, that simply isn’t who Valve are. I’d also like a fluffy unicorn and a revamped matchmaking experience alongside the previous two points, but none of them are likely to come to fruition. Developers will always have different incentives and esports will ultimately remain nothing more than a marketing arm for them, and this perspective explains the sort of decisions Valve likes to take with matters like these. Anything problematic has to go and it has to go for good. Small issues simply don’t register on their radar, which at least partly explains their brutal punishments. As ESIC’s commissioner rightfully said, .
Coaches and their trickeries are unfortunately no longer a small issue – and if the careers of people like zonic are going to be interfered with because some people couldn’t help but go for a marginal advantage during a pistol round of Noname Cup Played From Home 4, that would be an incalculable loss for everyone involved with CS. Then again, we’ve now got hard evidence that the people involved with the controversy didn’t do a good job with their calculations of expected value.
Photo credit: HLTV