ESIC won't take action on past stream-sniping cases despite "widespread" use
The esports watchdog says that it will enforce a zero-tolerance stance from now on.
The Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) has opted not to take action against teams, players and coaches who have been caught stream-sniping opponents during this online era caused by the coronavirus pandemic. In a statement issued on Wednesday, the esports watchdog said there were a number of reasons for this decision, including the fact that a new wave ban would have a devastating impact on the Counter-Strike esports landscape. It added that, while it believes that the practice was "widespread in online matches", some of the cases "were simply impossible to prove" or would demand considerable resources to be examined in full, at a time when the organisation is still investigating the historical use of the spectator bug.
ESIC said that between May and June, it received "numerous allegations" of coaches and teams stream-sniping. This means that they had the broadcast stream visible during the progress of the match, this way obtaining valuable information and gaining an unfair advantage.
ESIC added that, since the initial notification, it has gathered "compelling evidence" showing that this behavior "has been taking place on an alarmingly regular basis and at all levels of competition." In line with its previous decisions and sanctions, the commission faced "the very real prospect of banning a significant number of players, coaches and, in a few cases, entire teams", causing "an extremely adverse effect on CS:GO esports, particularly in the top tier".
"Such an action would have been, in ESIC Commissioner Ian Smith’s view, a disproportionate outcome to the actual harm done by the practice," ESIC's statement read. "In addition, due to the domino effect of such an action, ESIC and our members would have been faced with weeks or even months of further investigations into these alleged offences, involving many hours of video footage (where available) and hundreds of hours of in-game team communications, all over the period of our investigation into the coach bugs, which already threatened to overwhelm our limited resources."
The esports watchdog explained that, in some cases, it could not determine "with sufficient certainty" whether teams were stream-sniping simply due to the fact that they were playing in their own environments. This meant that some potential offenders would "get away with it by luck", while others "faced prosecution and sanctions simply because they were unfortunate enough to be in environments or circumstances where proof is or was available to ESIC."
"ESIC has therefore concluded that the only sensible solution for the CS:GO community was to draw a line in the sand as of the date of this statement by indicating that we are closing all current investigations without prosecution and reiterating that any violation of this rule from today onwards will be prosecuted vigorously and the maximum available sanction sought if the player, coach or team is found guilty," ESIC said.
The esports commission has also put together a series of recommendations for CS:GO tournament organisers that it hopes will tackle the issue of stream-sniping. These include:
- Rules prohibiting the viewing of a CS:GO broadcast should be reviewed and, if necessary, strengthened, republished and notified to all participants.
- The stream broadcast delay should be set to a minimum of three minutes.
- During technical pauses, broadcast streams should not display current round information or include commentary on current round.
- In tier-one tournaments, "every effort should be made" to include live video feeds from the rooms in which the teams are playing, "with as much of the room and the participants covered by video as logistics and practicality allows". Even if the live feed isn't shown, it must be recorded and stored for a minimum of 90 days.
- To prevent the exploitation of a broadcast delay for the purposes of betting fraud by teams, tournament organisers are encouraged to reach "official data" agreements to provide real-time data via a data partner or directly to the esports betting industry.
ESIC Commissioner Ian Smith admitted to being "disappointed" with the level of stream-sniping in Counter-Strike esports, but reiterated the need for a lenient ruling to preserve a scene that has already been rocked by a spectator bug scandal that has already led to the banning of over 30 coaches.
"Our decision not to proceed with prosecutions and our recommendations are born out of pragmatism and the desire for a holistic approach that actually works and has the minimum adverse impact on this important esports community," Mr. Smith said.
"ESIC has fulfilled its purpose to protect esports integrity by acting as we have, but those coaches, players and teams we have given a pass to by this decision have been warned and we are watching them closely. They will not be so fortunate a second time.”