This was meant to be the round-up of the South African qualifier for Call of Duty Championship and a celebration of the South African team representing an entire community. Except it’s not.
It might read a little like someone who is personally upset, but the reader needs to understand that there are many roleplayers in the South African competitive console scene that have contributed and sacrificed plenty for the goal that was the qualifiers on 22 February 2014. Those community members, players and roleplayers may have every right to feel aggrieved after they sat and watched years of hard work seemingly undone in a few hours.
To be fair, the day didn’t exactly get off on a positive footing. A number of the teams had been feuding on Twitter over a variety of issues, but one in particular had reached an ugly boiling point when ViNCO Gaming’s Swarley had taken an issue with some of the members of Clan Hi5 using MWEB’s Mcave as a base for operations on the day, and therefore having access to one of the best internet lines in the country. On the day, Hi5 was joined by some of the members from Team Adept at the Mcave, and even in the venue some tension could be felt. With an opportunity to go to Los Angeles and play for big time cash prizes, maybe that is completely understandable.
With only 12 teams geared up to play (out of the around 30 registered teams), it was also sad to note that the number was lower than last year’s qualifier. However, all of these issues would pale in comparison with what followed. The wrong team won.
Well, that’s how some would possibly see it, but it’s not that at all. It’s slightly more complicated than that, and yet surprisingly simple at the same time. The team that won is not a South African team. It’s not even a team that really existed until Saturday. RiZe Gaming may have won, but it’s how they won that has really got under the skin of an entire community.
The two South African players in RiZe, ParadoxX and Pupsky, were joined by two internationals, Dominate JB and Orbit Mance, for the qualifier which is (while a little saddening considering the attempts to grow South African gaming) actually completely acceptable and within the rules of the tournament, which states that “teams must include at least 2 Players who are residents of this tournament’s qualifying country/region”.
Things went awry when – in line with the rules of the tournament – the host was rotated after each map, and host was awarded to RiZe Gaming. The average person would have (rightly) assumed that RiZe’s host would have been one of the local players – especially considering this was the South African qualifier – and not a player sitting around 10000km away, and more than entitled to play in their own regional qualifier. Sadly for LosT Gaming, who faced them in Round 1 of the tournament, the issue became apparent too late, when they only discovered post match that the host had been based in the UK, so had failed to run a lag test, but had indeed experienced lag in their match.
GWZA faced RiZe next and suffered a similar fate (losing 3-0), but by then word had reached the leader and manager of Team Adept that an international host was in play. The semi-final between RiZe and Adept got underway with Adept securing host first due to their higher seeding, and while the Domination round was a close one, Adept went 1-0 up and prepared for Search and Destroy on Warhawk.
Visibly agitated, Adept refused to accept a UK host for the second map, and insisted on an MLG referee ruling, which proceeded to delay matters while the South African team lodged a ticket and attempted contact via the support system with the US-based organisation. When the referee (BaLLa GlRL) joined the lobby to discuss the matter, she insisted on a lag test (as per the rules) and the teams complied, but it was pretty clear to the players and the few spectators watching that Adept were experiencing game altering lag.
However, the US official did not agree and insisted that Adept “play or forfeit” the match. This was the single most crucial moment in the tournament. An official, sitting in the US, made the controversial decision to allow a UK player to host a South African qualifier where six players in the lobby were based in South Africa.
This decision left those who were part of the last year’s qualifier scratching their heads. In 2013, the SA qualifier was operated under the control of the ESL, who appointed MWEB Gamezone and their selected crew as referees of the qualifier. With that in place, it allowed MWEB to host the matches locally as a neutral host and stream the matches live (something that the MLG rules don’t allow). MWEB did offer the MLG the exact same arrangement, something that MLG – and possibly even Activision – turned down. Obviously, had this arrangement been in place, this whole debacle would have been a non-issue. In fact, MWEB had even requested permission to operate an online qualifier leading to a LAN event which would have removed internet issues completely.
Faced with no choice but to play the second map – and later the fourth map – on a UK host, Adept did so, but clearly found the going tough. Watching some of the gunplay, it was even clear that shots to the naked eye on screen were not registering hitmarkers and that there was a clear latency issue. Losing Search and Destroy, Adept bounced back for Blitz, only to see things squared up at 2-2 in Domination. From a spectator’s perspective, it seems clear that Adept had taken a beating on the fourth map, and they were starting to lose heart. Now, there will be some that claim that a “winning” team will win against all odds, but to be fair, not many saying that have ever played for the kind of prize these players were playing for. Some will even point out that Adept hosted for the final round. But lag is not limited to when the host is based internationally. If the game was streamed, perhaps others would’ve seen the issue with their own eyes. Either way, Adept toppled out of the qualifier, losing 3-2 to RiZe who had booked their place in the final.
The other semi-final saw Hi5 and ViNCO Yellow face down in a now familiar match-up. The match proved to be a scintillating affair which really was a testament to the quality of competitive console gaming in the country. ViNCO eased to a 2-0 lead after Domination and Search and Destroy, and seemed ready to stroll into the final, however, Hi5 (SA’s longest running console clan) were not about to give up that easily. In some of the most exciting matches I’ve watched in a long time, Hi5 staged the comeback of all comebacks to move on to the final 3-2. Sadly, this will probably be forgotten about in all the controversy, but to both teams, you have my respect for the way you both played the game.
By the time the final rolled around, Twitter was in an explosive mood. RiZe and MLG were being attacked from all sides. It wasn’t just the local community either, and while some members from the local community saw their Twitter handles trending on Saturday, a number of international players and shoutcasters waded in to voice their opinions on the developments.
UMG_Chris said that he had “just looked into SA the other day. Very small but its growing. Robbing their best team only hurts the community.” Shoutcaster, Benson_EU was pretty flabbergasted: “a ref said the South African qualifier had to be played on a UK host?! If that’s true, I have no words”
Strangely, MLG‘s silence on the matter appeared to speak volumes. The organiser did appear to spend the day covering and mentioning all the other tournaments they were in charge of, but never once covered the SA qualifier, which a suspicious sort could interpret as a lack of interest in what was going on (good and bad) in SA.
So what was the final outcome of the tournament? South Africa will be represented by a team not made up of South Africans, as RiZe beat Hi5 3-1 in a final that saw Hi5 struggle with the same issues as all the teams that had to suffer with a UK host. On top of the obvious lag issue, I heard more than one player present at the Mcave suggest that ParadoxX may not be the player playing. Suggestions that the playing style and voice did not match the player in the lobby may be slightly unfounded, but with all the other issues, you can appreciate that tensions were running high.
What is this death and rebirth malarkey?
Well, on the day, the heart of many players, roleplayers and community members was ripped out, leaving many to question their future in competitive gaming, as well as the future for the scene in South Africa. A few players have since announced their retirement from the competitive scene as players, including ViNCO’s Swarley, while it also seems that getting the players to want to participate in tournaments again may take a while.
What was refreshing was that, after the tension in the run-up to the tournament, the controversy saw the community pull together in a manner not seen before, and while the mob may call for heads, a level of sense and maturity has prevailed. Community leaders like Clint1977, Bosbvok and dastrix550, along with the clans themselves have called for calm. Bosbvok (also known as Des Kurz from MWEB Gamezone) has made email contact with MLG and Activision and a response is expected.
LosT Gaming, Team Adept and Clan Hi5 have all submitted tickets complaining about the hosting decision, and in a surprising twist, Pupsky has even suggested that they (RiZe) may forfeit the matches now. Of course, it’s now all a waiting game, but considering Activision and MLG wanted all online qualifiers complete by 22 February, any decision made in the coming days may very well have more of an impact on 2015’s SA qualifier (should we be awarded one) than change the outcome of this one.
The community may still come out of this stronger than ever, but one suspects that should RiZe still go to Los Angeles, they will be going on a very lonely trip.
26 February 2014: The MLG has made their decision final, and have said the matches on Saturday 22 February will stand, and RiZe will be going to Los Angeles.
In an email sent to the affected parties they said: “We have determined the outcome of the Qualifier will stand. I’m sorry if you do not agree with our ruling on this matter.”
For those wondering – I was part of the team behind-the-scenes last year, and was asked by the MWEB Gamezone team to be on standby at the Mcave this year in case a last minute change allowed them to host and stream the SA qualifier. I was on hand with Adept and Hi5 while this all went on around them.