Ethics and sportsmanship in eSports

As with every sport played competitively or for fun, eSports and professional gaming have a set of unwritten rules of which players are expected to follow. They follow more than just your standard procedural elements of a match or game lobby, and breakout into standard etiquette. Think about how opponents shake hands before and after a match of football, and how it is considered unsportsmanlike in a lopsided game of basketball to run a fast break with time winding down. Gaming is really no different to the expectations and standards we expect from professional athletes in other sports.

Ethical expectations of eSports stars

eSports is certainly in the midst of somewhat of a growth period, a consistent evolution of the sport in which celebrities, sports stars and corporations are all looking to get involved. While on the outside, eSports presents a very clean and organised look, it is actually had quite a number of growing pains in trying to establish itself as a legitimate and respect professional sport.

While there have certainly been improvements in this area, the generally unregulated nature of the virtual sports field means there is the occasional unethical act which compromises the competitive nature of eSports tournaments. These acts generally refer to the taking of illicit drugs, generally in the form of speed and other ADHD medications.

In the world of eSports, these drugs are equivalent to performance enhancing substances in other pro sports, due to the effect they have on the brain and the enhanced sense of awareness and responsiveness they produce for the player. This has generally been stamped out on a large scale, although it is difficult to truly gauge whether it is still an issue. It may take a big scandal to break before the issue is really brought to the forefront.

Professional Halo player Tyler Mozingo revealed in early 2016 that performance enhancing drugs were rife in eSports, and that Adderall was being used by players to boost their awareness and responsiveness. In response to the report, the Electronic Sports League (ESL) started drug testing players before tournaments.

“Our main goal is and always will be to maintain the fair play spirit and the integrity of our competitions and we’re confident that the anti-doping policy is important improvements that will help us advance as a sport,” the Electronic Sports League said in a statement at the time.

PUBGOther ethical issues relate to sponsorship and match fixing. Many eSports stars started their careers out as streamers on Twitch and other streaming platforms, and as such they enter their pro gaming careers with established sponsorship deals. While these relationships are generally genuine and completely legitimate – and ethical – there are concerns that they could compromise the nature of the sport by determining the outcome of matches. Further, some eSports stars have been caught out promoting and celebrating certain products without disclosure, which in the world of gaming is considered bad form. There are also issues related to match fixing and item betting, with lucrative in-game items often used to bet on eSports matches on illegal gambling sites. Governments are trying to reign in these unlicensed sites, but they continue to pop up and compromise the sport.

Curse NA and Team Dignitas, two teams that used to compete in MLG’s League of Legends Summer Championship, were disqualified after being found to have colluded in the final match of a tournament. The intention was to draw the final match, and then split the prize money. There were disagreements as to the nature of the disqualification, but both teams apologised and accepted the penalty. Another well-known issue involved a Russian player named Aleksey “Solo” Berezin bet against his own Dota 2 team back in 2013, and won 2013 out of the scandal. He was found out and banned, and “322” has now become synonymous with bad players, and is a nickname given to players found to have match fixed.

In an effort to stamp out match fixing, Valve has been aggressive alongside governments in shutting down illegal websites that invite the use of and betting off in-game items and money on eSports. Further, players found to have fixed a match are automatically disqualified and banned from competing at future events.

Thankfully, these issues are not widespread. If eSports has only one thing going for it, it is just the general nature of sportsmanship expected of competing players. This keeps the matches grounded in respect, as the unwritten rules of gaming are considered sacrosanct in gaming circles.

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Good sportsmanship and etiquette in gaming

Regardless of the game being played, whether it is in an eSports tournament or on a private server at home, gamers are expected to behave a certain way. The most obvious thing to avoid is cheating. Unlike in other pro sports when cheating may not be found out until much later, it is rather obvious in video games because the player tends to stand out. They might be using special equipment to give their mouse cursor extra sensitivity, or they may be using a device that allows them to automatically aim and target enemies with little to no effort. The reality is that no one is ever that good, and playing against an obvious cheater doesn’t make for a very enjoyable experience. They ruin the competitiveness of the game, and players generally won’t hesitate to report the player, even if they’re on their team. It’s bad etiquette to cheat, and it’s good etiquette to report them, regardless of the side they’re playing on.

There are many other behavioural norms that eSports stars and gamers employ. It is important all team members follow either the directions of the team captain, or the recommendations of the game. In a game like Overwatch, for example, there are team recommendations that help players select certain characters. Joining a team late and selecting a character that does not abide by the recommendations or the leader’s requests is considered bad etiquette. It is also bad form to either ignore, or purposefully drain out communication from teammates. When playing at home, having loud background noise is a big no-no, while eSports stars are expected to communicate clearly and respectfully to teammates (and opponents if need be).

Subtle things like typing in game chats in all CAPS, which is considered shouting, and not writing “gg” (good game) after a match (regardless of the outcome) are considered rude and unsportsmanlike, respectively. If a player leaves a lobby or gets up after a loss without acknowledging the opponent, this is widely referred to as a “rage quit” do to the prompt nature of the player’s exit.

Exiting a match before it’s offer – which simply wouldn’t happen in eSports but there’s a first for everything – is considered bad manners, as it can cause a latency spike in other connections, and also severely unbalance the team structure. Interestingly, some StarCraft II circles consider the opposite to be good etiquette, as one-sided matches generally demand that the loser depart the game early, rather than force the winning player to destroy all bases to claim the victory. Some eSports players swear by the tactic, but “camping” in first-person shooters – the act of sticking to one spot of the map and forcing enemies into a chokepoint – is considered unsporting by the wider gaming public. That said, it is not uncommon to see it used in eSports, especially in Call Of Duty and Halo.

It may have a long way to go yet to garner true mainstream attention, but the good news is that eSports already has a strong and ethical standard of sportsmanship in place, one that demands good manners and respect of all players involved in a match.