Five competitive Smite players have received professional suspensions of up to one year for account sharing, Hi-Rez Studios announced yesterday.
The bans have affected players from four organisations in the Smite Pro League circuit, including two top-tier North American teams, Cognitive Gaming and Enemy eSports, and one European (Trig eSports). All five players were found to be sharing the same two accounts, named "AntiJungler" and "BarackObongo", which Hi-Rez found to be in direct contravention of their Terms of Service.
"Account sharing is against the Terms of Service that all players digitally sign before installing Smite," Bart Koenigsberg, Director of eSports at Hi-Rez, told eSports Pro. "The competition rules also point to infractions of the terms as against the secondary ruleset."
For one player,Suharab "Mask" Askarzada of Cognitive Gaming, this infraction happened to be his fifth offense, resulting in a one year ban from competitive play, along with the suspension of his account. A year is a significant length of time for any professional in any field, but for eSports – a rapidly evolving industry – that period is directly harmful to a player's career.
As a result, many fans – and fellow players – have seen the lengthier bans as an injustice, especially when the account was seemingly only being used as an unofficial throwaway in a lower skill bracket for players to blow off steam (a practice known as "smurfing"). The implications around many detractors have been that focusing support efforts on cracking down on something that doesn't even affect pro play is a waste of resources when there are "bigger fish to fry".
But, as commentator and Smite caster for Hi-Rez Thom "F." Badinger explained in a weekly Q&A session last night: "It's not an 'instead' decision. It's not about the fact that BM [Bad Mannerisms and communications abuse in public matches] is more important or anything, and to be honest this didn't even come from eSports." He went on to describe how the banning decision came down through traditional support ticket routes and that no-one internally had even realised the suspected players were professionals until it reached him.
His co-host, James "Krett" Horgan, also reiterated why the terms of service exist in the first place. "Let's talk about the sort of things that make this a rule that's good to have if you're a game company," he said. "Like, you can't play Weak3n [a pro player for Team AFK] to get your account to Master." The rule also works in a competitive setting to prevent teams from fielding a "ringer" to give the appearance of a higher skilled player.
The decision to ban players for infractions should go by the letter of the law, regardless of their prominence within a game's competitive environment. Preferable treatment is a far more bitter medicine to take, and the expectation of professionalism from players begins with adherence to the rules that every other player abides by. The fact that the decision has drawn such a high profile may have been accidental given the organic origin of the ruling, but Hi-Rez's stoic approach to standing by their own rules is one that should be held in high regard.
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