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Communication and Rulebooks: The ESL Premiership Controversy

by Michael MoriartyMarch 7, 2019

Once again, the UK Scene has had a small fire. This time, the ESL Premiership has been the touchpaper to ignite this drama. On Sunday night, Team Endpoint player Max “MiGHTYMAX” Heath released a Twitlonger listing off a number of controversies that he has seen. Yesterday, ESL UK responded with a statement of their own clarifying a number of the issues, and promising to be better.

Before we start, I won’t be posting large parts of either documents, please feel free to click on them and read them in their entirety to understand where this has developed from.


The Twitlonger

MiGHTYMAX Tweet. Click to open.

Here’s where it all kicked off, on a calm Sunday night. If you haven’t read it yet, the main crux of the argument is down to a lack of communication, rescheduled matches and Endpoint not being allowed to add another substitute to their roster due to one of their new additions being in attendance at the upcoming WESG 2018 Finals in China, which would overlap with the online playoffs. From reading, I agreed with the principles ESL UK had taken with Endpoint and not allowing them a substitute addition to the playoffs, with them having completed all transactions and having a substitute on the roster but a bit of leniency on ESL UK’s part may not have gone amiss. However, having read further down and from (what looked like) inconsistency on ESL UK’s part in how they used the rules.

His main concerns boil down to the consistency of how rules are applied, and how they’re communicated, as provided in his final paragraph on the matter:

Would just like to make it clear in that this is no way a rant about us trying to bend rules, but consistency across the season is what I would like to see. A new stricter rule book is probably welcomed by all the teams involved, but when the admin team can change rules based on their own opinion of the rule and other rules being “not in the same ball park” or not having to be carried out “word for word” then it just becomes a joke. Hopefully I can get a response from ESLUK regarding the points they have not yet addressed!

This Twitlonger did, unfortunately, net Max 14 Penalty Points. However, a later tweet from ESL UK has stated that they are “internally addressing” the issuance of said points.


ESL UK’s Response

ESL UK Tweet. Click to open.

ESL UK posted a long and measured response to Max’s Twitlonger. I won’t post it in it’s entirety here (it’s over 1,700 words) so do go ahead and read the full statement as linked above. From a thorough reading, they take a lot of the valid criticism on the chin and promise to look into making changes. For the delay in responses, they put it down to staff members working on additional projects (read: IEM Katowice) or holiday, with changes coming from further communication and a new “online form” for serious and major issues.

They also explain why games were rescheduled, which was in order “to facilitate a new broadcast segment referred to as ‘Hot Match of the week’, which was aimed to highlight an impactful game for the week.” They, again, express fault in how they communicated the rulebook changes and making improvements on how player transfers are notified through Discord.

I’ll draw your attention to one of the final sections of ESL UK’s statement under the heading “Rule 1.2 Participants” and just keep it in your mind for later in this article:

The intention of rule ‘1.2 Participants’ is to protect the Premiership, its teams and players from higher level participants joining the league when they are active members of other tournaments. This is done to protect the integrity of the tournament and allow us to continue to provide a stepping stone for UK and Irish players to realise their own potential and to function in an environment where they’re not trumped by those with significantly larger resource pools within CS:GO.

The rule ‘1.2 Participants’ does state that players who are currently ‘benched’ as non active player but still contracted to a team that is participating in events such as IEM should not be allowed to participate in the Premiership.

That said we are aware that allowing Smooya to play in the Premiership this season was a major oversight by ourselves. We know we must do better in order to not have double standards in enforcing our ruleset for the Premiership and all tournaments we operate.

We would like to invite teams to provide us with feedback on this rule, as to whether 1) Benched players should be able to play in the Premiership temporarily 2) Benched players should NOT be able to play as in accordance with the rest of rule 1.2.

We have reviewed our system for background checks on player eligibility, and believe that we have not had a robust procedure in place here. We are looking into how we can make this better moving forward and will implement a change to this for the Summer Season, with an announcement to be made prior to the season starting.

In order to allow the ESL Premiership Spring Season 2019 to continue without major disruption, it has been decided that Smooya will be allowed to continue to play for the remainder of this season. However, unless there is a change in his contractual situation he will be removed from the competition for the Summer Season.


UK Scene’s Response

For once, the majority of the responses were calm and measured. One of the longest responses came from the coach of London Esports, Ash “break1n” Battye. Due to how Twitter threading works (which can be viewed on Twitter here), below are his thoughts copied out:

‘the rulebook is a live document’ I mean that sounds like the most corrupt way I’ve ever heard of making up rules. Not only that but the rules in there are contradicting eachother in how the pensioners have played at any point. This isn’t like adding pixel boosting to the rules

We’ve come 3rd to the pensioners because of a ‘mini tiebreak’ rule that was added as far as we can tell AFTER we played them. So despite having a better round difference we come behind them as we won 16-4 and then lost 16-3 after they add Smooya who you even admit isn’t allowed?

Because of this weird rule being added it meant that the CeX game versus Fierce the other night was entirely irrelevant also as they had more rounds won against ex fierce in the 2 games they played. Round difference tiebreakers just don’t work in CS as it is, yet alone h2h ones.

The whole season has looked like you have just done whatever is possible to help out the pensioners. Our game gets moved without being asked v the pensioners, then endpoint need permission from them to move our game? Having admins that aren’t replying ontop of all this…

And to top it all off allowing them to carry on playing after admitting they broke the rules is daft. Especially when it means that an actual team misses out for 5 players that aren’t going to stick together. Please just make rules at the start of the season and stick to them, ty

Ash’s thoughts make sense in certain aspects. The “live document” comment is a small concern, but one that I don’t think is a major issue and I’ll address it later, and regarding the “mini tiebreak” rule that is strange if you don’t understand it. The phrase isn’t defined anywhere in the rulebook, but from speaking to admins who’ve worked with rules like these before it effectively only counts the results between teams who have tied results. With how the way the league has finished up, it effectively operates in the same vein as the original head-to-head system from the first ruleset. The rescheduling comments are (partially) clarified by ESL UK’s statement (as above), but don’t necessarily cover the allegation that The Pensioners had it rescheduled themselves.

The Pensioner’s Shane “shaney” Smith, quite naturally, had a rather different take to the proceedings.

Shaney Tweet. Click to open.

He later clarified this by, quite understanding, being rather annoyed by a lot of the backlash stating his team followed the rules laid down by ESL UK. They only made two changes from the start of the season, and added his annoyance at the fact ESL UK hadn’t clarified to the competing teams about the circumstances and situation with how The Pensioners competed in the league.


Duck’s Take

In my opinion, this mess never had to happen. Just two simple things could’ve solved this before it happened:

  1. Open, frank, simply communication
  2. Publish (within reason) every decision made

It took until yesterday for the latest rulebook to be uploaded to the website. For something that was updated at the end of January, that’s pretty slow going and incredibly annoying when you’re trying to make a post like this, or looking from the outside and trying to evaluate certain league decisions. I’m glad ESL UK have acknowledged this and have promised to make changes to this and inform all players and observers of changes through the Discord platform and the website.

I’ve got nothing against league admins breaking / moulding / playing / pushing the boundaries with the ruleset during the season in order to keep the league flowing smoothly – it’s fine and makes sense as long as it’s within reason and consistent. A strict rulebook doesn’t really help anyone and isn’t realistic for our level of competition. Things like The Pensioners being allowed in with a smaller roster compared to the previous season makes sense, as ESL UK needed another team and with them being the highest ranked team in the relegation tournament, their invitation made sense. Outside of how The Pensioners entered the tournament, the team has (more or less) followed the rules required of them, and in my opinion no action should be taken against them.

Rule 1.2 Participants and New Rulebook

Here’s the crucially annoying thing, and what I referred to earlier. Under the latest rulebook, smooya’s addition to The Pensioners was not in contravention of any rule. Let’s start this from the beginning. Thanks to being provided of a screenshot from a anonymous source connected to the league, the rulebook was updated on January 30th to it’s current version, as proved below.

ESL Premiership Discord - CS:GO Channel. This image has only been edited to conceal the identity of the source.

From the ESL Premiership Discord. This image has only been edited to protect the identity of the source.

Now with that in mind, smooya only played in The Pensioners’ final three games, and therefore (presumedly) joined at some point between February 11th and February 17th – long after the rulebook change. “Why is this significant?” I hear you ask. Well, here’s Rule 1.2 compared with each other in the two rulebooks.

Image of the two ESL Premiership Rulebooks - Rule 1.2 Participants

Now as you can see, the clarification that “No Team or Player can be part of more than one organisation taking part in seasons of […] ESL Pro League” has disappeared from the second rulebook and only talks about players in matches for the ESL Premiership. There is only one other place that mentions the Pro League in this rulebook, and it’s as follows:

ESL Premiership Rulebook v 1.0.2 Rule 2.10.10

Under the current rulebook, smooya has free reign and all rights to take part in the ESL Premiership. In fact, if any other player from a Pro League team felt like it, and the team had enough transfers, they could easily decide to come down and enjoy a few matches in the ESL Premiership. The fact ESL UK have apologised for following their own rulebook is, quite frankly, bizarre and calls into question what rulebook they were following when writing the statement. Having found that, I felt like looking for some further issues with the rulebook and, well, I found an absolute clanger.

ESL Premiership Rulebook (v.1.0.2) - Rule 2.8 Conditions of Participation in the ESL Premiership

If I’m reading it right (and having checked with colleagues and sources) this rule opens competition to the ESL Premiership to any  team in Europe. There is no requirement for a team to have 3/5 players resident in the UK or Ireland to compete. This rule only requires players to be from Europe, and play from the country they are currently resident in and/or where they hold nationality. When this rulebook was updated, it’d appear no-one thought to properly check and change certain **very important** parts of the rulebook. Theoretically, this could be easily covered through Rule 2.1 and close the case there, but for the fact that they left such a huge, glaring issue in the body of the text is hugely insulting to the players competing in the league and shows a lack of effort when updating the ruleset.

This section of the new rulebook directly contravenes ESL UK’s promise to “protect the integrity of the tournament and allow us to continue to provide a stepping stone for UK and Irish players to realise their own potential.” I have looked through the entire rulebook to find something that’d contravene this. I searched for “UK”, “United Kingdom” (0 results), “England”, “Scotland”, “Ireland”, “Wales”, “Northern Ireland”, “resident” (0 results) and “three” to find this. I couldn’t find it. The only places where the above countries are listed is in the section below. UK is only found in respect to “Turtle Entertainment UK Ltd.”, timezones or website links.

ESL Premiership Rulebook (v1.0.2) - Rule 1.5 Region

This current rulebook appears to be a direct copy from the previous ESL Pro League rulebook with minor changes. It is not fit for purpose in the ESL Premiership and should not be being used. It is drastically different to the original rulebook.

Final comment

I honestly believe that ESL UK is currently the best tournament organiser in the UK at their level. I genuinely hope they look back at this and properly learn and work through it so we don’t have this kind of issue again. I want the UK scene to thrive, and having these stupid, small mistakes that bring the entire season into disrepute is infuriating. The fact they’ve released a statement that included the comment regarding Rule 1.2 either showed they didn’t check the rulebook before publishing it, or didn’t know about the changes. The additional fact that the new rulebook also has a number of other errors that go against the fabric of the league is also concerning.

I don’t want this to be seen as another person just railing on ESL UK because they can. I love what they do for the game and the scene, and I want them to be better and help us grow effectively. Constant spats that come up due to avoidable errors, from both sides of the community, and not utilising effective oversight really, really grind my gears. We can all do better.


Closing Statements

After all that, here are the final words. Having reached out to both ESL UK and MiGHTYMAX, here are the closing statements from both parties.

Max “MiGHTYMAX” Heath:

Rule 2.1

ESL UK:

ESL UK are totally committed to improving esports in the UK, we endeavour to do this in everything we do. However we understand that sometimes we’re not going to get things right, what is important is that we look to address issues and continue to improve what we do in order to grow and nurture this industry. We hope that with the above statement and introductions of process that we’re able to address and allay some of the concerns that the community have raised over the recent communication breakdown.

ESL UK will not provide any further comments outside this statement.


The ESL Premiership continues next Monday with the online playoffs. The ESL Premiership Spring 2019 Finals are scheduled for March 31st and will be held at the Bowlers Exhibition Centre in Manchester. Tickets are currently on sale.

Links:

ESL Premiership website
Original Rulebook
Current / Latest Rulebook (v 1.0.2)

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About The Author
Michael Moriarty
UK Esports Awards Reporter of the Year 2018.

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