Consistency and Transparency: The Competitive Ruling of Deficio and Dentist
Today Riot went a step too far in their crusade to be the white knights of esports, dishing out a heavy handed and unnecessary set of punishments to two prominent figures in the scene: Copenhagen Wolves coach Dentist and Riot LCS caster Deficio. By punishing Dentist, they have made it clear they are willing to become involved with the internal affairs of organizations independent of Riot. With Deficio they have shown an overly meddling attitude towards competitive integrity and the autonomy of people within the competitive League of Legends scene. By understanding the terms Riot use to define the crimes of the two individuals (“competitive integrity” and “conflict of interests”), discussing the severity of their actions and the extent to which Riot has a right to punish them, we can reasonably begin to question the policy Riot enacts with regards to esports and the tight control it exerts.
To provide some context, I will first and foremost summarise the situation and the punishments that have been handed out (although to fully understand and be able to pass judgement on events I suggest you read Riots post in full). From what Riot have said, the timeline seems to have begun with Dentist claiming to his players that Deficio had given him information regarding SK’s in game strategy prior to their LCS game. This claim, upon investigation from Riot, was found to be false. Due to their investigation into this matter, they uncovered evidence suggesting that Deficio had been offered a management position with Copenhagen Wolves, and had discussed this with players within the scene.
In order to be able to correctly assess the whole fiasco, we have to first understand some of the terms Riot itself uses to contextualise and justify the punishments handed out. Riot repeatedly point to the phrase “competitive integrity” over and over whenever they are dealing with punishments within the LCS, but what does this phrase actually mean? Riot themselves define competitive integrity as follows: “Teams are expected to play at their best at all times within any LCS game, and to avoid any behavior in-consistent with the principles of good sportsmanship, honesty, or fair play. For the purpose of clarification, team composition and the pick/ban phase will not be considered when determining whether this rule has been violated.” The problem with this definition is its pliability; the language leaves it incredibly open to interpretation, as terms like “sportsmanship” and “fair play” are subjective and fluid. Essentially Riot can take and use this rule they have created and apply it to any number of circumstances, or choose not to apply it depending on what they define as “sportsmanship” or “fair play” in a specific situation. Regardless of the apparent flexibility of this rule we should look for a consistent application of it from Riot, as consistency in its application can make up for the apparent vagueness of its definition.
Firstly, we will discuss Dentist’s misdemeanour. Quite why Riot feel the need to punish Dentist I cannot understand; if his claims were entirely false, then the situation boils down to a simple white lie told to his team in order to boost their morale before a big game. Of course investigating Dentist’s claim is entirely correct; the passing on of SK’s in game strategy is a serious breach, and one that should be taken seriously in order to preserve the competitive integrity of the game; I think we can all agree that leaking of strategy is most definitely inconsistent with “sportsmanship”. However, once this claim is deemed to be false, there is no issue here for Riot to take action upon; what Dentist says to his team is entirely his business, and if he wishes to lie to his team in this manner then so be it. Whilst his behaviour breaches the Riot mantra of “honesty”, this dishonesty was confined within his team; at no point has it affected the environment of competition or the “fair play” Riot also seek to uphold. I believe that it is entirely inappropriate of Riot to apply their own LCS ruleset to the internal operations of an organization entirely separate from Riot. At most, Riot should have advised him that this kind of behaviour is unprofessional and potentially damaging to the reputation of Deficio, and encouraged not to engage in this kind of lie in the future.
Riot then go on to conclude that Dentist’s actions are equivalent to “tampering”, yet his actions do not fall under the tampering rule present in their own rule set: “No Poaching or Tampering. No Team Member or Affiliate of a team may solicit, lure, or make an offer of employment to any Team Member who is signed to any LCS team, nor encourage any such Team Member to breach or otherwise terminate a contract with said LCS team.”. Despite this, Dentist is punished under this rule and subject to penalties similar to that of CLG’s Scarra as a result of the poaching incident of December 2014. Riot at no point make any reference to Dentist being complicit in Deficio and Copenhagen Wolves soliciting other players, so why is he being punished under tampering rules? Was he involved or is this an excuse to punish him for his apparent dishonesty? What we see is Riot stretching the application of their rules as they see fit; at no point does the tampering rule make any mention of those “complicit” in the tampering, and Riot make no attempt to clarify how complicit Dentist was, if he was involved in talking to contracted players, or aware of it happening but not directly involved, or is simply complicit by being part of the Copenhagen Wolves organisation. The lack of clarity and consistency on Riot’s part is troubling, and their application of their own rule set should be questioned in this instance.
What is an important distinguishing factor in this case is that the claims were made entirely in an environment that had no effect on any other team in the LCS or the fairness of the game in question. If Dentist decides to come out in the public domain and lie about an LCS caster to the general public, then Riot have a right to punish Dentist on the grounds of damaging the LCS’ reputation and quite possibly affecting viewing figures and income negatively. Precedents for such behaviour in real sports are apparent, often in England Premier League football managers will be fined for outspoken criticisms of referees, and this is a similar situation; the reputation of an employee of the league being damaged by false claims. What Riot have done, and indeed this is the case with Deficio’s treatment as well, have externalised what should remain an internal issue. Dentist behaviour in this instance falls entirely within the remit of the Copenhagen Wolves organisation, and Riot should have allowed the organisation to deal with this behaviour internally; instead we see Riot’s desire to micromanage and maintain control over every tiny aspect of the esport, whether it is their right or not. Essentially what Riot are doing is managing an independent coach, deciding what he can or cannot say in the private domain to his own team, an action that in its own right damages the competitive integrity of the league. If Dentist wishes to lead his team to believe he cheated, that is entirely his decision. Unless he actually cheats, Riot have no right to punish him. Dentist “creating the expectation that cheating was an acceptable part of team play” is a large jump from him saying that he had personally cheated. Riot have spun the situation in such a way as to justify their punishment, which in my eyes in unacceptable and unnecessary.
The more extreme of the two punishments was handed down to Deficio, who has been essentially banned from the competitive scene until 2017. What is essentially a two year ban has some precedent in mainstream sports; many athletes have received two year bans for doping, such as Dwain Chambers of the United Kingdom. But should Deficio’s actions be considered this serious? And did his actions really constitute a conflict of interests?
Again, we must define a particular term before we go forward with the discussion; what is a “conflict of interests”? The legal definition is this: “A conflict of interest (COI) is a situation in which a person or organization is involved in multiple interests (financial, emotional, or otherwise), one of which could possibly corrupt the motivation of the individual or organization.” When discussing Deficio’s situation then, we must keep several questions at the forefront of our minds: what motivations does Deficio have as a caster, and are these motivations corrupted by his involvement with Copenhagen Wolves? It is also important to remember that Riot have not defined “conflict of interest” within the LCS ruleset, and as such their definition of it is entirely arbitrary and it questionable whether Deficio should be punished for this in relation to the LCS.
Firstly, I disagree fundamentally that Deficio should be punished for failing to inform Riot of his offer from the Copenhagen Wolves because I do not believe that it constitutes a conflict of interests, at least not in a legal sense. His motivations as an LCS caster is to provide impartial analysis and commentary, which it would be a stretch to suggest could be affected by a potential job with Copenhagen Wolves; whilst there is a suggestion that Deficio may wish to avoid negative criticism of the Wolves in order to preserve a relationship with the organisation, I highly doubt the Wolves would withdraw their offer in light of negative analysis of their team. It seems ridiculous that an organisation would turn away from a highly talented and respected professional within the scene on the basis of objective analysis of their in game play, particularly as the position was management as opposed to coaching. Riot themselves have attempted to clarify the situation by asserting they expect “total neutrality” from their employees, but again for the reasons listed above I see no reason for his neutrality to come into question. Rather than repeatedly point to this undefined buzz term of “conflict of interest”, Riot need to come out and define exactly what they mean by this for the sake of the clarity and “transparency” they claim to value.
Secondly, the severity of him talking to current players about the future needs to be considered within its context. Deficio has directly “contravened…league rules” as Riot suggest, and as such should be punished in line with the poaching fines and suspensions levied against CLG. Instead, Riot have chosen to punish Deficio more severely due to his position as a member of Riot and the fact he has also breached “internal policies”. There are two sides to this argument; it is reasonable to suggest that Deficio should face a sterner punishment due to his elevated position as a member of Riot, and the definite effect this has on the legitimacy of Riot as administrators of the LCS. Essentially, we are toeing the lines of corruption, and admittedly severe term for the circumstances as there was not any benefit to Riot or Deficio personally through his actions, but this must be considered. On the other hand, Riot appear to be punishing Deficio’s ability to compete in the LCS for contravening internal policies specific to Riot, which should not be the case. His LCS punishment should be proportional to his crimes relating to the tampering rules in the LCS ruleset and their contest, and his breaching of Riot rules dealt with separately and internally. A more suspicious and conspiratorial punter might suggest Riot are looking to limit Deficio’s options as he seems to be an in demand person within the scene, and as a popular and talented caster it would be prudent for Riot to keep hold of him.
Riot have shown an inconsistent application of very vague definitions within their rules, avoiding clarifying terms like “sportsmanship”, “fair play” and “conflict of interests”, yet citing them liberally in their justification of the latest set of competitive rulings. Above all we see an intense desire from Riot to act as the white knight of esports, micromanaging every aspect of the competitive scene to a degree that I personally find distasteful and troublesome.