E-Sports vs. EVE-Sports

It is of course not news anymore that Wardlords of the Deep and Camel Empire were accused of collusion during the Alliance Tournament XIII. CCP stepped up declaring that they will investigate the evidence to establish whether this indictment by DHB-Wildcat matches with their data, and the verdict came last week. This outcome satisfied many who felt very strongly about people cheating in the tournament, but I couldn’t help but ponder the different perspectives and it didn’t add up for me. Of course we do not know how exactly CCP got to their conclusions, but with all the information we do have available, there appears to be a very complex issue which can not simply be dismissed by pointing fingers and calling for bans.

The Charge

What Warlords and Camel were accused of was making an in-game agreement for the quarter finals best-of-three. The first match was still supposed to be “legit”, but any match after that would be covertly forfeited by the losing party so both teams could immediately progress and the loser would have a comparatively longer downtime between the matches in the loser’s bracket for the semifinals. To understand that charge we have to know that it is allowed for teams to practice together, share setups and even share the prizes. What they are not allowed to do is set rules for matches between each other, and that is exactly what they were charged with.

Sportsmanship and Repeat Offense

DHB-Wildcat appeared to have a general issue with the underhanded nature of the preparations both teams made in his view. He does note that those were essentially legal according to the Alliance Tournament rules but still not his cup of tea. When he says in his accusation “I have still not won an AT legitly and cannot call myself an AT champion.” it appears that he personally feels that any form of collusion diminishes his personal achievements under an idealistic view of genuine sportsmanship: one should win because of better strategy, tactics and execution, not through metagaming shenanigans.
On the recent JEFFRAIDER show the PL player Gobbins is quoted as having looked through all AT matches where Warlords of the Deep – and previously Hydra Reloaded – have competed, and it turns out that they only won the finals on occasions where they had a team that was working together with them. The most glaring example was AT IX where Hydra Reloaded and Outbreak where technically the same team split into two groups. They famously made a complete mockery of the final match that they both ended up in. As a result many people were offended by the ridiculous display, and that’s understandable. When we watch Alliance Tournament, we want to see the best teams of small-gang players in EVE pit their skills against each other with spectacular fits and tactics. After Hydra Reloaded got banned from participation in AT X  it appears that the message has been received by the leadership. In a strongly worded response to the current ban, Warlords leader Kadesh Princess does acknowledge this: “through experience we learned that CCP hates […] when matches look staged”. Of course CCP are not alone with this, the spectators hate it too, and potentially even more so.
“…the reaction by both players and CCP becomes that much more vindictive.”
Now that people who are formerly from Hydra Reloaded are again found to have pushed the envelope and engaged in matchfixing, the reaction by both players and CCP becomes that much more vindictive. What we have to understand is, that the people who work for CCP on AT execution are doing so on long days and weekends where they would otherwise be off duty. The whole position of the Alliance Tournament as a yearly event appears to be precarious and it is fair to say that the main reason CCP have not cancelled it yet is the enthusiasm of the playerbase for the championship. Considering that CCP is going the extra mile and how invested the AT fans are, it becomes understandable that people are up in arms if teams act in an “unsportsmanlike manner” and at the same time it follows that CCP is listening to the “public opinion” on this issue. There is more at play than that though. bump

The Case of the Defense

Kadesh Princess and Bob Shaftoes have both talked at length about the constraints that they face in the context of the Alliance Tournament. Pandemic Legion are sufficiently large and committed as an alliance to train only among themselves, Warlords and Camel individually can not match this. If they want to prepare for the event, they can’t help but try and find a sparring partner. Of course that opponent for the training ideally has to be equally proficient. At the same time they have to be able to trust their training partner. The contenders for the top spots in AT are extremely protective of their setups and tactics. Even during the tournament itself they will do their best to keep some aces up their sleeve until the final rounds, lest an opponent sees what they could field and how they would fly it. During the tournament it becomes painfully obvious that some teams simply can’t manage to develop enough setups that all their pilots can fly, and eventually they have to field something that has been used before, to which a crafty opponent might already have a hard counter prepared.
“…PL is simply very hard to beat for any smaller alliance that doesn’t have the numbers of high-skilled small-gang PvPers which enable them to practice alone.”
When we come back to Gobbins’s observation that Hydra never managed to throw PL out of the finals without having a second team on the tournament roster, one could also interpret this as the result of the fact that PL is simply very hard to beat for any smaller alliance that doesn’t have the numbers of high-skilled small-gang PvPers which enable them to practice alone. Verge of Collapse is the only other team that ever managed to take the finals since PL managed to become a dominant AT contender. Now that results in an interesting piece of added information which could enter into our considerations.

A Bit of Game Theory

Let us assume for a moment that Camel and Warlords did not engage in explicit collusion but rather had a tacit collusion going on which had the goal of preventing PL from making the finals because they are potentially the most difficult final opponent. In that case, the loser of the first match in the quarterfinal would still have an incentive to throw the match even if they were not agreeing with the other party on doing so. To understand why, we have to look at game theory. Here we have two very evenly matched teams. They both are confident that their best setups can beat any other contenders left, with the possible exception of Pandemic Legion. With Pandemic Legion likely to come out as winners from their quarterfinals, both Warlords and Camel are likely to face them in a fight for elimination in either the the loser’s bracket or the winner’s bracket for the semifinals. In that case there are two things they need to do:
  1. Make sure they minimise their losses
  2. Make sure they minimise the exposure of superior setups
I will not supply the math for the Nash equilibrium of a multi-stage game here because I simply have no idea how to do it properly in this medium and it involves such complex math that it wouldn’t mean much to the uninitiated, but bear with me when I say that under those conditions none of the two teams would want to field their best setup for the first match. If they lose, they would not want to increase the pressure either by trying to bring a better setup for the next game. In fact, after a loss, the best a losing team can do is to bring the exact same setup again because they know it lost in the first round and they know it is outed. Likewise, the winning team would also have an incentive to bring the same setup again because it won and is already outed too. Playing the game with the two parameters above they optimise the outcome. However, this was not what we saw happen. What we did see was a known setup by Warlords and an effective counter by Camel in the form of a tinker setup that they were very unlikely to use against PL.


Arriving at a Verdict

At this point pure mathematics fail me and there is no way I could prove that this behaviour was not a result of explicit as opposed to tacit collusion, but here we enter the territory of human judgement. In the light of DHB-Wildcat’s published Skype logs it does seem like this match was fixed because the setups each one would bring appeared to have been agreed upon in advance. Furthermore, Kadesh Princess even implied in the response piece that they would not risk a match looking fixed. That is the second piece of the quote that I have used above. The whole of that sentence reads: “through experience we learned that CCP hates more when matches look staged, rather than when they are actually staged.”  Kadesh Princess then goes on to explain how they did the best to put up a good show. When put like this, the response almost comes across like an implicit confession that collusion did happen and in the light of all this, the verdict appears justified. What about the sentence though?

A Personal Conclusion

The tournament did look great. I watched it live throughout and rewatched several matches a few times since. The commentators got drawn into the action too and for all intents and purposes we saw exciting fights with good maneuvers. There is a hint though though that DHB-Wildcat might have been called back after bumping a target out of the tinker setup during match 117b. I can see how a pilot could become angry after risking their ship in a move like that and then being slapped on the wrist. I can understand that fans of the Alliance Tournament became angry after former Hydra Reloaded players again appeared to have engaged in matchfixing, and I comprehend how CCP are not amused that people are messing around during an event that they take extra effort to run albeit they don’t have much to gain from it in a broader sense apart from making a part of the playerbase happy.
“I still don’t see a reason to ban a person from AT forever.”
I still don’t see a reason to ban a person from AT forever. We are talking about two teams who have both done their best and brought great fights to the tournament. Many of them only exist as EVE players to compete in the AT. They may have messed up one match through collusion, but as I pointed out above, even if they had not explicitly colluded, they would have ended up doing the exact same in terms of meta strategy if they had acted according to pure game theory. I know that it is an unpopular opinion to say so, but I find the effects of Warlord’s collusion with Camel are negligible. The alliance tournament was exciting despite it, the people who won did win their bout against PL and against Exodus under completely genuine conditions. The advantages that they had under the rules may be “unsportsmanlike” in the view of someone like DHB-Wildcat, but they are also a result of real difficulties that smaller teams face during the preparation phase. Personally I would have found it sufficient to just freeze the first and second place prizes in the hands of the people who won them. Make those ships unsellable either by contract or trade to prevent Warlords and Camel from sharing them and let them get off with that as a warning.
…an EVE tournament will include a level of metagaming and no winner of past or present has purely played according to the ideal of sportsmanship that DHB-Wildcat would love to see.”
On the JEFFRAIDER show there was a comment made that people shouldn’t bring the argument that “this is EVE, and underhanded tactics are part of it” but I would maintain that this is a valid argument. The Alliance Tournament has no chance of ever becoming an E-Sport beyond the EVE player community. The mechanics and tactics of EVE combat are just too complex for anybody outside the game to even begin to understand it. Even commentators and analysts often do not completely get what is going on, so how would external parties even stand a chance to enjoy it in the same way we EVE players can? With that being said, an EVE tournament will include a level of metagaming and no winner of past or present has purely played according to the ideal of sportsmanship that DHB-Wildcat would love to see. What we deserve to see is the best any EVE player alliance can do in terms of tactics and execution, both on the field and in the sphere of metagaming. If the matches look spectacular, then any revelation that they have been accompanied by cunning shenanigans behind the scenes is not a detriment in my opinion. Quite the contrary, that adds a unique aspect to the tournament.  
Tags: alliance tournament, Camel Empire, collusion, Hydra, tarek, Warlords of the Deep

About the author

Tarek Raimo

Former nullsec spy (no not under that name of course) and current failure at lowsec solo PVP, Tarek spends his time not logging in to the game as much as he keeps thinking about its social and metagame nature and sharing some of those thoughts with the CZ readers.