2021 League of Legends World Championshp are full of various emotions connected not only to sports competition. After the make or break match between American ‘Team Liquid’ and Korean ‘Gen.G’ serious accusations appeared against a Korean jungler – Clid of exploiting a ‘smite’ cooldown reduction bug. Advantage gained by reducing the jungler’s key ability cooldown is enormous on the highest level of competitive playing, despite being possibly irrelevant during games played purely for fun. What legal consequences exploitation of game bugs during esports match could cause?
What is a bug?
Bug is a word used by gamers to describe an abnormality or unintended, from developer’s point of view, mechanic mistake or event in game. It could take various forms, e.g. allow players to enter unavailable areas or alter crucial ability of playable characters. Bugs are common in all kinds of games. In older games bugs unveiled after the game release were very unlikely to be fixed. Recent bugs are way easier to correct since almost every game can be regularly patched if needed. However patches are also a threat for games as their modifications creates a risk for new bugs to appear. It concerns especially regularly patched games as League of Legends or Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.
Bugs in esports
Bugs regularly appear during official esports matches, which is nothing new. In games such as Call of Duty 4 or Counter-Strike 1.6 some bugs were considered as game mechanics allowed to be used by professional players – for example switching weapons for a quicker gun reload. Some of them were forbidden by tournament organizers. As an example of a forbidden bug we could use an error in CS:GO which granted players vision through walls or other opaque objects. A similar example was a notorious coach bug case in Counter-Strike: Global Offensive already described by us here. Professional teams’ coaches could peek at enemy players’ movement on a map due to a bug in so-called spectator mode. One could also hear about a case where a player called KQLY gained extra money in a match between ‘Virtus.pro’ and ‘Team LDLC’ in CS:GO in 2014 upon reconnecting to a server. The bug had been most likely caused by attacks on servers, thus the event organizer decided to replay affected rounds.
Could exploitation of bugs during esports matches be punished?
The problem of bugs exploitation during esports matches poses a question if such a behaviour could be punished? Obviously, in most cases possibility of prosecuting players by state law enforcement agencies is out of question. It is very unlikely that exploiting a bug could be classified as a crime. However it is possible if players or viewers interfering a particular game cause or use a bug on purpose. Having that in mind, most of penalties are imposed by the event organizer. Although this could only happen if such possibility is stated in the event’s regulations. In fact organizers sometimes take spontaneous decisions without appropriate regulations which is illegal and often cause a quarrel between the organizer and a punished party. Fortunately such disputes are frequently handed over to specialized entities that could be described as esports courts. An example of such an organization is ESIC (Esports Integrity Commission), which was greatly involved in the coach bug case. Tournaments organizers can apply ESIC’s (or other similar entity) rules by enclosing it in tournament regulations.
Compensation for exploiting bugs
Intentional bugs’ usage during a match may have a great influence on competition while the rivalry in top level esports is connected with money flow. Regarding that, exploiting a bug by an opponent could lead to a situation when one team suffers a money loss, especially if winning an esport match involves a serious prize or if sponsors granted that team additional remuneration for a specific tournament result. As a consequence a loss arises and a damage should be compensated by an entity that caused it, but only if its behaviour causing a loss was culpable. In other words, intentional bug usage could lead to an obligation to pay damages. Depending on the applicable law system a damage is redressed by a player or his organisation. Lawfully ambiguous is a situation when a bug is yet unknown and therefore its exploitation is not literally mentioned in regulations as a forbidden behaviour. Such situation has to be individually interpreted every time it occurs, until it’s lawfully regulated.
Can tournament organizers be forced to replay matches?
Mandatory law does not provide such tools, but an obligation to replay a match could be stated in event’s regulations. It is necessary to mention that behaviours contradictory to event regulations could result in organizers liability to pay damages. Sometimes decision to replay a match is a spontaneous reaction to unexpected events as it happened after a match between ‘Virtus.pro’ and ‘LDLC’ in 2014. However a decision taken unjustifiably or without appropriate regulations could cause organizer’s liability, whereas teams exploiting a bug could not be liable at all.
What could organizer do?
In the event of game bug appearance, organizers should provide specific code of conduct in tournament regulations. For example, a special body could be convened to asses whether a bug had been significant and had an impact on a final result, or even decide that bugs are part of a game that can be freely exploited by players. Precisely constructed regulations would be handful. It is particularly recommended to regulate events of bug appearance and exploitation, potential fines (financial or disciplinary) and situations enabling a match replay. It is also possible to stipulate in regulations that the organizer will be entitled to claim damages from a player or team for a malicious bug exploitation.
Neither teams nor players should be sanctioned for random bugs occurring during a game. Especially if bugs were not caused intentionally by a player or a team. It seems that the bug in an abovementioned match between ‘Team Liquid’ and ‘Gen.G’ was random and unintended by both sides. Random bugs should be treated similar to referee’s mistakes in football matches, even though they could have a great influence on match result.
What does that mean in terms of ‘TL’ vs ‘Gen.G’ match?
According to information disclosed to public, a bug that occurred during the make or break match between ‘TL’ and ‘Gen.G’ was random and should be treated as a referee’s mistake. Such situation happen on a regular basis, so unless bug usage was unintended, ‘Riot Games’ or ‘TL’ have no legal basis to replay a match or claim compensation. Moreover, ‘Riot’ is extremely well prepared for occurring bugs due to a well prepared tournament regulations. ‘Riot’ divides bugs into minor and critical depending on their influence on the game. The bug that happened in the ‘TL’ game would most likely be considered as a minor bug, though ‘Riot’ has not made an official statement yet. Bugs valuation is made arbitrarily by ‘Riot’s’ employees and so is the decision to replay (or not) the match.
Regulations is an obligatory element of each and every esports tournament and the more precisely it defines all possible situations and their consequences, the easier is for the organizers to handle any unforeseen events during the competition. It also allows to prevent negative effects on company’s image and to protect the organizer against undesirable legal consequences. Teams injured as a result of bug appearance should analyse regulations of the tournament in the first place before taking any further legal steps.
Author: Mateusz Witkowski