A second player in the Overwatch League has been suspended for account boosting. OGE, signed to Dallas Fuel but yet to arrive in the US, will miss four games. The ban, which went into effect beginning with Fuel’s match on Thursday night, is significantly lighter than the one issued to Philadelphia Fusion’s Sado, for the same offense, before the beginning of the season.
This news comes only a few weeks after posts were made on the Korean esports forum Inven (as translated by Robin311for /r/CompetitiveOverwatch) alleging that four other unnamed players currently in the Overwatch League also have histories of boosting.
Right now, the accusations made on Inven haven’t been proven. What is clear, however, is that the issue of account boosting didn’t go away when Sado was banned for the League’s first three stages. If the accusations against the current Overwatch League players prove true, it would also raise the uncomfortable question “if those four did it, who else has, and just hasn’t been caught yet?”. It will be a massive scandal, and would shake confidence in the League.
And that’s because…
Account boosting is cheating
Whether an account owner is using software to help them aim, or is handing control of the account over to another person, the end result is the same: the account owner is exchanging money for an SR that is higher than they have personally earned.
There’s a reason why account boosting is so reviled. On the way up, the booster ruins the games of the players he’s up against. Once the original owner resumes using the account, they ruin the games of the players on their team as they plummet back down to the SR that they actually can play at.
That being said, there are some people willing to give boosters the benefit of the doubt. The Korean scene, despite producing a lot of the best talent in nearly every esport, is not known for paying high wages to its professional and semi-pro players. Many boosters do what they do so that they can afford to keep pursuing the dream of playing professionally. To be sure, this isn’t true of every booster, but at least in the West, many fans believe that boosters should have a path back to pro, and that’s a view that the League Office seems to share.
Inconsistent punishments undermine the League’s public standing
If it turns out that additional Overwatch League players have been boosting, though, Blizzard is going to have a problem on their hands. Any punishment, whether strict or lenient, is going to be seen as unfair. Sado was banned for 7.5 times as many matches as OGE, and the League hasn’t provided a clear explanation for the disparity in the punishments.
In fact, Blizzard’s handling of player discipline overall has been abysmal. There’s been no consistency in the time between when an infraction happens and when a punishment is announced, the descriptions of the infractions are vague, and they’ve yet to release the rulebook that players are held to itself.
Fans are already predisposed to side with players over the League when the two parties come into conflict. The League’s best chance of avoiding fan backlash is to be detailed in describing infractions and consistent in doling out punishments. By doing neither, they’ve opened the door for fans to question the legitimacy and fairness of the punishments. Team owners have also publicly questioned how Blizzard decides punishments; a bad look for the League.
The way forward is in a one-size-fits-all, transparent punishment structure
The best case for Blizzard – and probably also for the players – is if the all of the players with histories of boosting announce it themselves, at around the same time. If names come out in a slow trickle instead, with fans digging up evidence and making accusations against players one by one on Inven, it will make a bad situation vastly worse, stretching out the news and further shaking people’s faith in the League.
In order to convince boosters with professional aspirations that coming clean is their best option, Blizzard needs to lay out a set of terms that makes coming clean attractive, and keeping it secret especially unattractive. The policy also needs to be consistent – it needs to strip away any subjectivity, because Blizzard have shown themselves to be really, really either at making subjective decisions, or else describing those decisions once they’re made.
Here’s a list of terms that would do the job:
- Any player or coach that confesses to account boosting will be ineligible to play or coach Overwatch in one full season of Contenders (there are three seasons a year), or two full stages of the Overwatch League (there are four stages a year). If they confess while a season/stage is in progress, their period of ineligibility begins immediately.
- During the time that they are ineligible to play, they are still eligible to be signed to an organization, and can play or coach in scrims, but cannot be in the coaching dugout during their team’s games.
- Once the ineligibility period ends, the player’s slate is considered wiped clean.
- Any player or coach that does not come forward voluntarily and is caught boosting, or is identified as having boosted in the past, will instead be ineligible to play or coach for two calendar years.
- Any player or coach that is caught boosting during or after being given an initial suspension for boosting will be ineligible to play or coach for life.
These terms heavily incentivize people with histories of boosting to come forward, as they’ll have to sit out much longer if they’re caught without having volunteered the information themselves. The terms also make it clear that pursuing professional play and account boosting are mutually exclusive paths. Adopting these terms would result in Sado being able to play beginning at the start of Stage 3, and OGE being out for essentially the rest of the season, but unless Blizzard can come up with a very convincing reason for why their punishments are so different, adjusting both of their terms is perfectly fair.
Account boosting is a form of cheating, and it ruins games. Blizzard can, and should, issue steep punishments to people who have engaged in the practice and seek to play professionally. However, those punishments need to be consistent – something Blizzard have failed to do in their previous punishments. Therefore, a one-size-fits-all approach, which incentivizes boosters coming forward themselves, is the best path forward.