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As we prepare for Season 7 of the SMITE Pro League, our league operations team has been collecting feedback from our pro players regarding our rules about game pauses in the event of a technical issue. Based on this feedback and our own internal discussions, the league operations staff has decided that we need to amend our pause rules for the 2020 season, as well as a few additional rules related to technical issues and our administrative process for dealing with them.

In this post, we’ll go over all the rule changes that are being implemented and our reasoning behind each amendment.

 

Feedback Collection Process

 

At the end of Season 6, the league operations team held several discussions with our pro players in regards to our pause rules for Season 7. During these discussions, we presented our players with three different variations of a new pause rule:

  • Option 1: Free pause would be enabled at any time during a match, regardless of combat or non-combat.
  • Option 2: Free pause would be enabled, but players could only pause during non-god combat.
  • Option 3: Similar to Option 2, but with tighter restrictions about what constituted god combat and what a player could pause for.

Players were provided with a document outlining these proposed changes so they could review all options. Then we put out a poll to the entire league and allowed them to vote for which option they preferred. When the results came back, the majority of players who chose to vote elected that Option 1 was best for the league.

Out of the 48 players who will be participating in this season of SPL, 24 of them chose to vote in this poll. Of those 24 who responded, 17 players voted for Option 1: having free pause enabled at any time during the match.

Although not every player chose to submit a vote, there was a clear majority preference among the players who did provide feedback — and that group felt that enabling free pause would be the best fit.

We will explain the structure of this new free pause system in more detail below.

 

SPL Season 7 Rule Changes

 

Here is a brief overview of the major rule changes we’re implementing for Season 7 of the SPL.

 

Free Pause Will Be Enabled

 

While previous seasons had stringent rules against “combat pauses”, we are replacing that policy this season and enabling free pause for all pro league games. The free pause system allows a player to pause at any point during the game regardless of whether they are in or out of combat. However, there will still be very specific rulesets around combat pauses and what does or does not constitute a valid pause. We will outline all of these policies later on in this post.

 

New Remake Policy

 

We are updating our rules regarding remakes. In Season 6, our remake policy stated that remakes can only happen if a technical issue occurs prior to minions spawning and/or first blood taking place.

In Season 7, remakes will be allowed if a technical issue occurs at any point between the start of the game and the 0:30s mark on the in-game timer, regardless of whether first blood has been drawn. If an issue occurs after 0:30s on the in-game timer, the game will not be remade and will be played out as long as all players are still connected (or can reconnect) to the game. Issues that occur prior to the 0:30s mark but bleed over the 0:30s mark will still be eligible for a remake.

Please note that if any game-breaking issues occur after the 0:30s mark in game — such as a god no longer working properly in the middle of a match — the league operations team can still remake the game at their discretion.

 

Hardware & Due Diligence

 

After the hardware issues we experienced at last year’s SMITE World Championships, we want to make sure we do our due diligence in regards to the hardware being used for our league matches. Beginning this year, our league operations team will require a list of all peripheral gear being used by pro players for their games so that we can thoroughly test all hardware and research any potential compatibility issues. If we uncover any known issues with a player’s equipment, the player will be made aware prior to their next match.

We will also require that all players have an extra set of hardware (keyboard & mouse) on site for all SPL matches, and our league operations team will test/troubleshoot the backup hardware as well. These setups will be kept at the studio in a controlled environment to avoid tampering risks from other individuals. Should any issues arise with a player’s primary hardware and a pause is required for hardware issues, the player will immediately switch to their spare units. If the issue persists, the player’s full PC will be swapped with the assumption that there is a USB-related issue.

If a player is using a piece of equipment that is no longer produced — or is otherwise incredibly difficult to acquire through normal means — it will be the player’s responsibility to maintain that piece of gear and ensure its quality. If a player uses an older piece of gear and cannot provide a backup set of the same equipment, and that player experiences a hardware malfunction, they will either be expected to play on their original equipment regardless of the malfunction, or will be allowed to use a different piece of gear provided by the league operations team.

 

Free Pause Rules

 

In previous seasons, game pauses have been a hot topic with a lot of gray areas in our pause policies. The purpose of our new free pause ruleset is to help players and fans better understand what our league operations team considers to be a “combat pause”, and what types of pauses are allowed versus what types of pauses would be considered an abuse of the new pause system.

In Season 7, we will allow free pause to be used in the league. Amending our old combat pause rules will allow us to better implement pausing in league games and make administrative decisions without having to go through our dev team to uncover every instance of what is considered combat in our coding (ability toggles, emotes, minion damage, etc). This change targets a very specific issue that many pro players have experienced, which is that the opening gambit of each game is critical to the flow of the rest of the match. Being unable to pause as a result of minion combat inherently forces all five players to stop playing the game completely in order to pause, giving the opposing team an advantage and thus diminishing the competitive integrity of the match.

Under this new policy, combat pauses are permitted; however, we are instating stringent rules on what constitutes a valid combat pause. For administrative purposes, “combat” will be defined as an intentional use of abilities or actives to aggress on an opposing player. Our league operations team will carefully assess each set of circumstances around a game pause — but we also believe that not all instances of player damage can actually be considered “combat”, and that updating our policies around what qualifies as combat can help us avoid both abuse and confusion around combat pauses.

Our administrators will consider a pause to have occurred during combat if:

  • A movement ability (jump/dash/teleport) has been used to close the distance between a player and an enemy target
  • An active is used to either begin an engagement or retreat from an engagement
  • There is a clear indication that a player intended to attack another player, whether indicated through vision, movement, or player comms.
    • In regards to player communications determining combat intent, our league operations team will be looking specifically for calls that are of immediate consequence. For example, “You’re about to be ganked/blinked on” would indicate potential combat, whereas “They’re on your side of the jungle at X buff” would not necessarily indicate an intent to engage in combat.

While these guidelines specify that combat has begun, it does not mean that players will be penalized for using a combat pause. It simply means that the pause must be reviewed in these instances so our admins can determine if it was indeed a valid combat pause and look for any potential abuse.

Our administrators will consider a pause to have occurred out-of-combat if:

  • Damage dealt to a player is the result of clearing waves or trying to clear waves
  • Buffs are stolen but no significant player damage has occurred
    • “Significant” in this case is defined as using abilities to prevent the invade, but it seems unrealistic to expect that a player wouldn’t at least auto-attack or body-block to some degree to prevent the invade.
  • Players are engaging in simple auto-attack trades (ie. no abilities have been used, and/or it’s the beginning of an AA trade)
    • If a player utilizes a steroid/buff of any kind before the AA trade occurs, it will be considered combat.
  • Toggle abilities are being activated or deactivated

 

Player Conduct During a Pause

 

Regardless of the reason for a pause or the game state when a pause happens, our league operations team must also take steps to protect the competitive integrity of the match when pauses occur. We understand that the introduction of a free pause system offers some potential for players to use this feature to damage the competitive integrity of a league match, so we will not allow players to use “tactical” pauses for any reason. We want to ensure that we can allow pauses for any issues involving hardware or server connectivity — but we want to do so without providing the unaffected team a competitive advantage while the affected team receives help from our administrators.

As such, players will not be allowed to discuss the game state in any capacity while there is a pause. This includes discussing actives, ability cooldowns, buff timers, or map movement while the pause is active. Coaches are also not permitted to enter the room or come on stage during a pause. Instead, our administrators will stay in contact with coaches via our remote comms system to keep them informed about why the pause is occurring and how it’s being resolved.

 

Edge Cases

 

In the world of esports, anything can happen — and we’re aware that there may be some instances in which technical issues occur at the exact moment combat is initiated. The nature of edge cases like these makes administrative solutions a little less clear cut in terms of whether to continue or remake a game. At the time of writing, the current stance of our league operations team on these edge cases is as follows:

  • If the issue is a hardware malfunction, the keyboard and mouse will be replaced with the backup equipment mentioned earlier in this update, and the game will continue once the replacement hardware is confirmed functional. A remake may still be called for if the hardware issue occurs within the 0:30s window at the start of the game.
  • If the issue is a server malfunction, game malfunction, or other Hi-Rez related issue, the pause will result in a remake with the same picks and bans. Redrafts will only be permitted in specific scenarios where a god who was previously drafted has been banned in light of technical issues related to that character.

 

Contested Cases & Appeals

 

We realize that there may be instances where players or coaches would like to contest an administrative decision, so we are putting together a council to review any contested cases. This council will include members of our league operations staff, our esports analysts, and our production crew.

For any administrative ruling, players will have the opportunity to contest an administrative decision and escalate it to this council. However, in order to be eligible for a contested case appeal, players must do the following:

  • Conduct themselves in a professional, cooperative, and respectful manner while the administration team is working through whatever issue led to the pause
  • Abide by all rules disallowing game state discussion during pauses
  • Explicitly request a ruling appeal from the league operations manager as soon as the match has ended. Any player who takes their appeal to social media before formally contesting their case with our league operations team will surrender all opportunities to have a ruling overturned.

 

Final Thoughts

 

We firmly believe that the introduction of the free pause system and the other amendments to our combat pause policy will help alleviate some of the confusion around league pauses and better standardize our administrative process. In the event that we find any team abusing our revamped free pause system in a league game, that team will be subject to fines, forfeiture of games, or even suspensions depending on the severity of the offense.

As always, we will be closely monitoring this new process to ensure that it achieves the intended effect and helps uphold the competitive integrity of our pro league games. We will also be collecting feedback from our pro players on the free pause system as we get deeper into the 2020 season.