Major media outlets in the fighting game community are threatening to boycott coverage of tournaments that don't establish rules to prevent collusion, following an incident last weekend in which two top fighting game players were accused of collaborating and splitting their winnings in the Marvel vs. Capcom 3 finals.
The accusations, which occurred during the Video X Games event in the Caribbean last weekend, revolved around two Marvel vs. Capcom 3 players, ChrisG and Flocker. Both had made it to the finals, and although VxG has not released payout details, the tournament's total prize pool was $14,000.
In Marvel vs. Capcom 3, players fight using teams of three characters from both companies' universes. Top competitors like Flocker and ChrisG, who are two of the best MvC3 players in the world, generally use the same lineups for every match. But instead of using his regular lineup during VxG, ChrisG took an unorthodox route, choosing unfamiliar characters like the infamous attorney Phoenix Wright (who is not considered a very good character). In response, Flocker did the same, according to tournament director Chris Hatala.
"Some people at first were like, 'Oh, [ChrisG] must have a secret team,'" Hatala told me on the phone today. "Some people were like, 'Chris completely doesn't care about the match.'"
Fans and observers criticized ChrisG and Flocker, accusing them of unsportsmanlike conduct through collusion, or working together to achieve premeditated results instead of competing. Mark Julio, who handles community management and sponsorship at the accessory company MadCatz, tore into the players on Twitter, saying that if any of the players that MadCatz sponsored "ever throw matches or not play their best," those players would be suspended.
"I wish I saw it in time to stop it/say something," Julio wrote. "It was a joke finals."
ChrisG and Flocker are denying the accusations. When asked by Kotaku's Luke Plunkett if he'd like to comment further, ChrisG said "I don't see a point."
Here's the match in action:
In an e-mail to Kotaku, Capcom community specialist Peter Rosas had similar comments to Julio. "I saw a clear under performance," he said. "It’s acts like these which not only hurt the integrity of the event, but hinder the growth of the fighting game community after all the hard work it has taken us to get where we are now."
Yesterday, the fighting game-focused websites Shoryuken and EventHubs announced that, in partnership with MadCatz, they would boycott any tournaments that did not establish specific anti-collusion rules. The following statement appeared on both sites:
Competitive spirit is the lifeblood of the fighting game community. Unfortunately, this year we have seen a few incidents where players intentionally underperformed, usually in the final matches of a tournament. This behavior is unacceptable, and it must end.
To guarantee the integrity of future tournaments, major tournament directors have come together to standardize Evo’s rule regarding player collusion:
"Collusion of any kind with your competitors is considered cheating. If the Tournament Director determines that any competitor is colluding to manipulate the results or intentionally underperforming, the collaborating players may be immediately disqualified. This determination is to be made at the sole discretion of the Tournament Director. Anyone disqualified in this manner forfeits all rights to any titles or prizes they might have otherwise earned for that tournament."
Fighting game-focused media outlets are in an interesting position because they are generally considered part of the community—Shoryuken, for example, is both a news site and the organizers behind EVO, the biggest fighting game tournament in the world. While an independent news website like Kotaku might not be see it as their role to boycott events they would otherwise cover, these organizations see the fighting game world a little bit differently.
"Well, the media blackout is a bit disconcerting," said Rod Breslau, a reporter who covers e-sports for GameSpot. "I think this rule is actually great, and should have been implemented a while ago. But if the media wants to stay neutral, I don't know how it can only take the sides of the tournament organizers, and not the players, too. Who's to say that a tournament organizer won't ever make a bad call on disqualifying someone, and then what?"
"This is an issue that we've never had official rules for in the fighting game community," Hatala told me. "So [Shoryuken] wanted to make it very clear that that kind of behavior—pot-splitting and collusion—is not acceptable at FGC events."
But Hatala, who has been organizing game-related events for several years through his company GDL Entertainment, admits that this whole situation is "a grey area." He told me he doesn't know whether ChrisG and Flocker colluded—Flocker denied it, Hatala said—and he doesn't know whether they split the prize money. (Flocker won the finals match.)
While neither Flocker nor ChrisG commented on the accusations to Kotaku, GameSpot's Breslau is reporting that both ChrisG and TriForce, Flocker's manager, denied colluding and sharing the prize.
(This afternoon, TriForce announced that he would be "no longer involved" with the fighting game community.")
ChrisG is known as one of the best fighting game players in the world, but this isn't the first time he's faced charges of collusion: fighting game fans have accused the top player of splitting pots and not trying very hard in finals matches at major tournaments. As a result of this week's accusations, one NYC-based tournament said they plan to ban him from their events.
But how does an organization control these things? How can outside observers really tell whether collusion is actually happening? If the fix is in? And how can anyone keep track of whether or not someone is sharing their earnings?
"You can't control what other people do with their money," Hatala said. "If a player wants to just give $2,000 to his friend after [winning] a tournament... at this point on it's his money to do that."