The role of conceding in e-sports

The first rule of any game or sport is “any player may concede.” It has to be. You can’t keep a player in a game under duress. No one is going to hold a gun to a competitor’s head saying “DON’T YOU DARE GIVE UP!” This has to be the first rule because the biggest punishment you can force upon anyone in a game is a loss, and besides there would simply be no way to enforce a “you can’t give up” rule.

Now, this is all well and good for your family’s Monopoly night, but in e-sports it presents a serious problem. Spectators tune in to events to see the best of the best play at the highest level. If players start conceding, the audience starts getting upset – and they aren’t the only ones. Tournament organizers, team owners, teammates, and even opponents tend to be unhappy whenever a competitor decides to forfeit.

This isn’t a theoretical issue, but is currently a serious problem in multiple e-sports. In late October last year, SK Telecom’s Bae “Bang” Jun-sik quit out of a League of Legends World Championship match early, and it caused more than its fair share of scandal. He left his team in the lurch, quitting once his side’s base was stormed, but before the Nexus crumbled. He later apologized, but his actions got many e-sports followers talking about the role of concession in e-sports.

Concession or Collusion?

The general idea behind a concession is that an athlete with good sportsmanship will concede when all hope for victory is lost. Respectful concessions are actually fairly common in the sporting world, occurring in everything from chess to baseball to Mixed Martial Arts.

Problems arise when players concede before the point of no return. To the casual onlooker, it looks like throwing a match. This could get players in a lot of trouble, possibly even kicked from their team or suspended from play. Any sort of collusion is looked down upon in professional sports, electronic or otherwise.

But the point at which a game is unwinnable is kind of subjective. There’s always a chance that the opponent might massively screw up, or that his equipment might malfunction, or that rabid wolverines might escape from a local zoo and attack the stadium causing the match to be postponed.

So, do we force players to play their hardest until the bitter end? Well, no, because that wouldn’t make for very compelling matches, either. For example, Starcraft 2 matches very often come down to the decimated remains of one player’s base. Usually this player has no hope of coming back, and so they concede. If we forced players to stay in the game, this player would have to take one of his workers and run it around the map for as long as he possibly can, trying to set up some form of resistance against overwhelming odds. This is largely considered bad sportsmanship in casual matches, much less in international tournaments.

Then there’s the issue of people conceding without conceding, i.e., taking a dive. In the early days of Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Justin Wong was accused of throwing matches to his opponents. While he never conceded, and while it certainly didn’t look as if he threw matches, there were a few tournaments in which he went into final and semi-final matches using odd teams that he wasn’t known to play. At the time, these tournaments put him against teammates or friends, and he didn’t stand to win any further ranking points by placing first, so rumors spread that he was doing this to help his teammates out. No official action was ever taken against him.

To Punish Or Not To Punish?

I’m not here to accuse Justin Wong of anything, but let’s assume for a second that he, or another player like him, was trying to throw a match. None of the actions taken here were technically against the rules. Changing characters is legal, and there’s no punishment for playing a character you aren’t good at, besides losing. So, can he really be punished for anything he did?

And if we were to dole out punishments for athletes who concede too early, how would we issue them? How would we tell if they were conceding, throwing a match, or just having a bad day? How could we ensure that, if we forced players to play under duress, they would play to the best of their ability? Then, if they didn’t, how would we know they aren’t throwing the match because we wouldn’t let them concede?

It’s a sticky situation with no clear answer, and any possible punishment that we could conceivably come up with only leads to more questions. Eventually, we end up back at the starting point: How do we effectively punish somebody if they have to lose?

While the question may be unanswerable from a philosophical standpoint, pragmatically something has to happen. Conceding can throw off rankings, turn away sponsors, and generally harm the credibility of e-sports. Something has to be done to keep players playing at their best. On the other hand, perhaps the best plan of action is to do nothing. Maybe if we just leave players alone and accept that sometimes we will have these isolated scandals, players will naturally play to their best ability?

What do you think? How would you keep players at their best and how would you punish early concessions? Let us know in the comments.