Competition is competition. It brings out the best in all participants. But what happens when those same participants try to find loopholes in the system in order to find success?
That’s apparently the case for a number of participants in the NHL Gaming World Championship.
According to screenshots posted by Twitter user GreaseFactory16, members of the “Top Players” server on Discord came to an agreement to avoid playing each other in order to stay highly ranked during qualifying. This involved players backing out of games after seeing who the opponent was in the pregame lobby.
One of the users, NugeTV, even stated that there was “no reason” to give each other losses to which others in the discussion agreed.
When reached out for comment on the matter, EA declined. However, two sources with direct involvement with the tournament stated to SGO that both the NHL and EA Sports were said to be “livid” behind the scenes when the conversations were made public.
One source even added that the NHL has “lost some trust” in EA’s ability to handle the league’s future hopes for its esports division which includes a league similar to that of the NBA 2K League.
But why are the top NHL players doing this in the first place? Wouldn’t they care about this information getting out to others?
The reason: it was happening to them on a daily basis. When lower-level players would see that they were going up against some of the best in the world, they would immediately quit. The only games these players were getting in were against other highly ranked players, possibly opening the door for less-skilled players to find themselves higher on the leaderboards.
Though it gives an understandable excuse for the dodging, it doesn’t make it right. It just exposes the broken system that was put in place for the event.
To combat the “gentleman’s agreement” among the game’s top players, EA Sports released a patch that disabled in-game voice chat — which then hides usernames — during HUT Competitive Seasons and HUT Champions. This includes the GWC.
This patch will disable in-game voice chat in HUT Competitive Seasons games to prevent players from seeing the opponent's Online IDs before the puck is dropped.
— Tyler Horsfall (@TheFlopFish) March 20, 2019
Since then, various people involved have told SGO that it’s been a much nicer experience going into a game blind regarding their opponents. That said, players still have the expected ability to back out of a game if the connection is detected to be poor before loading into the contest.
Speaking of connections, the NHL GWC has been plagued by server issues since the start of the event on March 13. In addition to the gaming of the system, players trying to legitimately move up the rankings have found themselves being kicked out of games during normal play and receiving a loss for their troubles.
Even when on the winning side, some found themselves being given losses due to the game viewing the disconnects as quitting.
GWC player Lightsout0021 is one of those competitors who has experienced disconnects multiple times.
“Towards the end of a game, I lost connection and got the loss,” he said.
He added that even after reaching out multiple times to EA about the incident, he received no response from anyone involved.
And just when you think that’s everything wrong with the event, there are EA GameChangers involved in the tournament. Now, the issue isn’t the fact they are eligible because everyone should be able to participate. Where the potential problem sits is how they built up their teams.
A handful of these participants have received free HUT Packs, thus getting free players. With no restrictions on how the rosters were built or what players could be used, the HUT-based GWC has been a free-for-all of rosters. While packs from EA stopped around December when the decision was made to go with HUT for the format of the GWC, there was nothing in place to stop players who received free players from using any of those players in the tournament.
“Even if they didn’t receive a lot of great players, it’s still unfair to us who spent our own money to build our rosters,” a player who wished to remain anonymous said.
EA has also declined to comment on the matter of players using promotional players for their roster.
With any sporting event, the results mean nothing if they aren’t achieved in an ethical and legitimate way. The same goes for esports.
For EA Sports and the NHL, there’s clearly work to be done if this esports partnership is going to continue and grow in the coming years.
The NHL GWC qualifying runs through April 7.