How do you solve a problem like ghosting?

This weekend was an embarrassing moment for esports. The ESL Pro League Season 5 final was playing out as North and G2 Esports clash.

Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team North were facing a partisan crowd, G2 getting adoration as one of the most popular teams in the sport, and the situation made worse after Kristian ‘K0nfig’ Wienecke, North’s Rifler, trash-talked G2 on stage, while the rest of the team caught flak for what was perceived as a arrogant attitude.

Still, what happens next shows that the real villain is probably the fans: the crowd starts calling out the location of the bomb, and then the location of players, hoping that by their intervention they can help G2 Esports triumph in the final.

Ghosting is, usually, the act of a dead player relaying information to a live player. This is disallowed in some games, with CS:GO cutting off comms between live and dead players, as dead players are often given full access to spectator tools allowing them to gain perfect knowledge and relay it to their team,. In competitive gaming it’s a strict no-no, although with Teamspeak, Discord and several other voice servers still existing, it’s a common practice in public matches.

In this particularly usage, the definition is tweaked slightly. Here, the dead player giving information is the spectating crowd, who can see all of the action playing out on a gigantic screen in the room that’s invisible to the players.

That’s what happened at the match between G2 and North. G2 got the win,playing with over North who seemed somewhat rattled during the game, with Wienecke slamming his fist into the table so hard during a match that a technical pause was called. G2 looked like they deserved their win, however the crowd’s ‘ghosting’ raises at least some questions of impropriety.

Many people involved in esports weren’t happy.

Here’s Mathias Lauridsen, North’s in game leader:

This isn’t the first time spectators at a live event have ghosted the teams on stage, although often it’s by accident. The roar of the crowd can often tip players off to whether a climactic encounter is about to occur, and spectators at one Counter-Strike: Global Offensive event held up signs indicating which bombsite was planted.

The solution many are touting are soundproof booths, something Dota players at Majors will frequently find themselves tossed into for games.

Event organisers could be reticent to include soundproof booths in their stages in the near future, because they don’t look that exciting, are potentially expensive and require a bit more work to integrate into whatever plans they might have for the stage show. More importantly, it can make live games feel less intimate, with the connection between fans and players one of the key reasons that fans come to games.

Without that connection, would people still feel the urge to show up at live events, many requiring them to travel for several hours?

Manager and co-coach of Fnatic’s CS:GO outfit, Viktor ‘vuggo’ Jendeby, is pragmatic and mentions that although players, organisers, fans and sponsors want esports to be a big arena draw, there needs to be a balance struck between the spectacle and the competition.

“To take the matter to its extreme, one could go as far as to say that teams should play in total isolation for the absolute best preservation of the integrity of the game,” says Jendeby. “Now, both players, organisers, fans and sponsors want this to be a sport for arenas but we cannot compromise too much.”

“Soundproof booths are the best solution right now, but I’m sure more technology will be presented that could help the dilemma in the near future.”

However in a stream last night, Mike ‘shroud’ Grzesiek chatting about the issue, suggesting it might not be as simple as it first appears. The chat was reported on by Dot Esports.

“The whole audience on LAN really plays a factor when you’re in a one-versus-one, when one-versus-two, when you’re sneaking through a smoke, or when you aim at a wall,” said Grzesiek. “That’s when the audience helps you.”

Grzesiek has previously talked on his stream about how he can feel vibrations through soundproof booths, pointing out one issue with the system, however, the roar of the crowd rumbling through the booth probably has less of a negative impact on sportsmanship than the front row of the crowd chanting A at you. However, this goes the other way too, and the positive boost from a crowd chanting your name is gone too.

In the long-term, there doesn’t seem to be a perfect solution at this stage, but in the short term every event organiser putting on esports events should be considering soundproof booths. The booths might not be necessary for people battering each other in Street Fighter, but there’s a lot of games where the crowd can have an influence on the match, and it’s important to send a message that the crowds of fans are there just to watch, not to participate.

Esports has a problem where it’s reactive as it adapts to problems. However, as a $1b industry, it’s time that organisations and events look at how they can fix the problem. Many players will claim that the eager fans are a big part of the draw, and that they could feel empowered by the crowd yelling in support, but there’s definitely some struggles as people struggle to adapt.

It’s also a problem that’s unique to esports. Football players rarely try to hide the movement of the football from the other team, and basketball players rarely let off a smoke grenade to hide which basket they’ll be trying to slam dunk in. Esports will have to be the trailblazer here, and start working on a solution to a problem sports has never had before this.

There’s a chance that adding these extra measures into the scene could affect the energy of an event held in a big stadium and this is a valid concern, but if esports wants to be seen more as football than wrestling, the actual competition has to come before the spectacle.

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