Jester’s Trek: The dog that didn’t bark
I apologize in advance. This post is written slightly off-the-cuff. I’ve only had about a half day to think about it, but the topic is important enough that I want to get some initial thoughts out as quickly as possible. I might have more to say on this topic in the next few days that might amend, change, or destroy some of what follows. You have been warned.
In the Sherlock Holmes story “Silver Blaze”, a major plot point revolves around a dog that doesn’t bark when expected. Ever since then, thinking about the dogs that don’t bark has been an important element of being able to think outside the box. If something is missing from a business plan or proposal, why is it missing? As Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management puts it (it’s #4), “Look for what is missing. Many know how to improve what’s there, but few can see what isn’t there.”
Keep that in mind as you think about the EVE Online cash PvP tournament announced this week. Is this Alliance Tournament XI? No… because we’re told that CCP wants alliances to be less of a factor. CCP wants players to be able to participate regardless of alliance affiliation. What will the tournament be called, then? We don’t know that, either. The title of the dev-blog is “New Eden Open $10,000 Tournament“, but that’s kind of a mouthful. But we’re given some hints.
CCP Navigator, in the EVE Online forum thread about this tournament, provides a little gold mine of such hints and as such I quote the relevant forum post in full:
Steve is right to a large extent but I really want to spend some time talking about this as EVE tournaments and eSports are something that CCP Bro and I talk about at length.
In an ideal world we want to expand eSports to become a really big deal in EVE Online and allow players access to a host of tournaments of different sizes with a range of prizes. This is a long term goal and, if I am being completely honest, we have a lot of decision making and planning to do to make this a reality. We want to see tournaments involving everyone from small groups to huge alliances but this is will be much further down the road.
20 PLEX is not a bid every player can make and, as Steve pointed out, there needs to be a barrier of entry otherwise we would end up with a random drawing of hundreds of teams. We are aware that a tournament of this size will attract some of the best pilots from multiple corporations and alliances and we would expect that these teams will be sponsored by their respective corps and alliances.
This tournament is about celebrating individuals who can form a team, not necessarily from the same corps and alliances, and guide those teams to greatness.
There’s a lot there, but before I talk about it, let’s add one more hint. Back in May when the relationship between own3d.tv and CCP was announced, CCP said that they were going to shift the entrance fee to PLEXes — and in doing so, effectively substantially raise the entry fee — because they wanted to use the RL money those PLEXes represented to provide a much higher-quality tournament experience. Now in the end, AT10 turned out pretty well but I think we all know the most memorable thing about some of those tournament fights, and it wasn’t the fights. It was all of the problems actually broadcasting them.
This time, CCP Sreegs skips all that and flatly says:
What we do have is a cost of entry in order to ensure that those who are stating they wish to compete have enough skin in the game to take it seriously.
OK. With all of that in mind, let’s talk about what I think CCP’s goals are here, and what’s likely to happen that’s going to effectively subvert those goals.
Electronic sports, or “eSports” are an increasingly big deal in video games these days. Video gamers are rarely able to be rock stars or professional sports legends, so who can resist the appeal of being a rock star professional sports legend playing video games? To use one example, League of Legends, quite literally millions of dollars are involved per year and tens of thousands of dollars are paid in prizes. Compared to this, CCP’s dunking one toe into the eSports pool is pretty small beer, and League of Legends is far from the largest eSports venue in the world.
And of course, these kinds of tournaments are great advertising for the games themselves and go a long way toward attracting new players. When you get right down to it, for instance, LoL is a quite limited repetitive game. If it didn’t have the eSports cachet, would it have the player base that it does? I think a reasonable argument can be made that the answer is “no”. LoL directly benefits from its eSports reputation and I’m sure that CCP would like to get in on some of that action.
CCP Bro says:
During ATX we received positive feedback and were asked multiple times, why don’t you do more tournaments? We took that question to heart and are here to offer you, you guessed it, more tournaments. Any constructive criticism, pointers and observations are of course completely welcome and will help us better this service to you in the future.
And I’m all for that. But there’s a problem: so far it doesn’t look like this tournament has been thought through. At all.
EVE Online has the most competitive meta-game of any MMO on the planet, bar none. Even in the hyper-competitive world of eSports, you usually don’t hear about players going after other players in real life. But this sort of thing is part of EVE even before real-life money was thrown into the mix. Fortunately for this first test, the amount of RL money is extremely small. Split 16 ways, $6000 U.S. is $375, and I can tell you from experience that the players involved will have to put in at least a hundred hours of work if not much more to claim that $375. And that assumes that the prize money would be split evenly amongst the players.
You can quite literally make more money running a lemonade stand over the summer or working in a fast-food place than you can make from this tournament. So every person who is focusing on the RL money involved is missing the point. You’re listening to the barking dog. Instead, look for the dog that isn’t barking.
CCP Bro, CCP Navigator, and the other organizers are looking for concrete suggestions about this tournament. I have one: get busy writing some rules around meta-gaming this tournament. Because you’ve only written four tournament rules and only one of them is looking at EVE’s meta-game. That’s the dog that isn’t barking.
$6000 U.S.? That’s chump change. For an EVE player that wants to make some money on this tournament, I can imagine dozens of ways for them to meta-game this format, each one of them able to bring in dozens or even hundreds of PLEXes worth thousands of dollars for each method. Well-known EVE PvPers will have the ability to quite literally print money in the run-up to this tournament… and then still participate in the tournament with whatever teams they like. And right now, there’s no rules against any of it.
Say you’re Garmon, for instance, and you’re looking to make an absolute ton of ISK over this.
What’s to stop you from advertising yourself as the Captain of a neutral, noob-friendly team, charging four PLEXes per entrant, and privately signing up hundreds of entrants before walking away with all their PLEXes? Nothing.
What’s to stop you from advertising yourself and selling yourself as a free agent to a dozen teams, charging 20 PLEXes per team, and then not showing up for any of them? Nothing.
What’s to stop you from advertising yourself as a professional team coach and adviser, charging 25 PLEXes per team you’re coaching, and then not coaching any of the teams? Nothing.
What’s to stop you from advertising yourself as a team coach for a dozen teams at 25 PLEXes per team, coaching and advising them in good faith but also sharing everyone’s strategies with everyone else? Nothing.
What’s to stop you from acting as a practice partner for a couple of dozen teams? Nothing.
What’s to stop you from acting as a practice partner for a couple of dozen teams, and then taking notes and using their strategies against them with your own team come the actual tournament? Nothing.
What’s to stop you from advertising a dream team with a half-dozen or a dozen sponsors and asking for and getting 100 PLEXes from all of them, then not acknowledging any of them? Nothing.
What’s to stop you from getting all of these sponsors and then acknowledging them in good faith? Nothing.
What’s to stop you from running all of the scams above and then running a legitimate team too? Nothing. Nothing at all.
As far as I can see, none of these things are against the rules.
And all of these questions are ones you can ask before you ask the sillier questions like “what’s to stop someone from buying up and/or sponsoring every team so they can RMT PLEXes for $10000 U.S.?” That dog is barking and I’m ignoring it, thanks. I’m too busy listening to the dog that isn’t barking.
On these kinds of topics, CCP Soundwave had this to say:
Sure, but we’re going to be even harsher on colluding and foul play this year, so any sign that you’re even remotely doing that and you’re getting disqualified (and we’ll keep the plexes of course)
But right now, none of these things are against the rules because there are hardly any rules. So what’s legal and what’s illegal? We don’t know.
Like I said, running more frequent EVE tournaments is a great idea. But this one hasn’t been thought through very well yet.
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