This one time, I did something bad.
I’m at a Store Championship sometime in 2014. My opponent just wiped my last Decoder and Fracter with a well-timed Archer. I’m sitting here, pursing my lips, nodding solemnly to myself as I contemplate my inevitable demise, knowing my opponent is going to be able to score behind that rezzed Bastion all day long.
Playing a Criminal deck with no recursion, and at that point, no AI breaker, it was really just a matter of time. I’d have to wait for my opponent to draw their agendas, install and advance them. A mixture of Barriers and Code Gates (and that one Archer), were gonna keep me out of centrals.
So, at this point it was a no-brainer. We were twenty minutes into the match, and I was playing a Glacier Corp deck. I was gonna need all the time I could get to win game two, especially as going to time isn’t ever ideal for anyone.
I scooped up my cards and said ‘Go to game two!’ My opponent nodded, understanding how bad they’d crippled me with that pesky Archer. We packed up, shuffled our decks and I proceeded to try and do my best to win my Corp game with the time left on the clock.
The game went on, as did the tournament, and neither of us knew that what we had just done could have got us disqualified.
The rule I had broken (and by extension, the rule my opponent had broken), is squeezed into a paragraph of the Netrunner tournament rules that has not been changed since 2014.
The rule comes under ‘Unsportsmanlike Conduct’ on page 2 of the most recent rules document:
“Players are expected to behave in a mature and considerate manner, and to play within the rules and not abuse them. This prohibits maintaining an illegal game state, colluding with another player, behaving inappropriately, scouting decks, artificially manufacturing the results of a game, treating an opponent with a lack of courtesy or respect, etc. The TO, at his or her sole discretion, may remove players from the tournament for unsportsmanlike conduct.”
While this excerpt contains many straight-forward examples (ie; ‘maintaining an illegal game state’, ‘treating an opponent with a lack of courtesy or respect,’ and ‘scouting decks’), the rule which apparently prohibits concession is; ‘artificially manufacturing the results of a game.’
It’s obviously phrased as such to stop such misconduct as players reporting incorrect results on purpose -something I’ve thankfully never witnessed. However, it has been ruled that this phrase extends to ‘Intentional Draws’ or ‘ID’s’.
However, this means that concession is technically ‘player misconduct.’
Seeing as the tournament rules do not state explicitly that concession is ‘player misconduct’, people assumed you were allowed to concede and the world went on spinning.
Then Lukas Litzsinger, former lead designer, answered an email which was posted to a forum on Board Game Geek, reading as follows:
“A player is not allowed to concede a game to his or her opponent during a tournament. Both players should play at a speed wherein the game can be completed within the allotted time.”
The argument is that Intentional Draws are artificially manufactured results. Litzsinger doesn’t want players to be able to ‘fix’ their matches.
And I agree with him.
When you sign up for a Netrunner tournament, you’re there to play Netrunner. I’m sure Litzsinger believed that his ruling would encourage people to actually play games of Netrunner, rather than ‘splitting’ and each walking away with two points.
By extension, however, this means that players cannot concede. How could you allow concession, when you do not allow Intentional Draws?
For example, if I were to concede a game to my opponent, and then they concede the next game to me, then we have drawn intentionally.
While there is some concern as to why Litzsinger, designer of the game, was making rulings for what should technically be Organised Play (a different department), the community at large seems to have accepted his ruling, despite the fact it is not printed explicitly in the tournament rules.
On face-value, this rule would appear to be in place for the overall benefit of competitive Netrunner.
The only problem is that it’s impossible to police.
We unfortunately live in an age where despite the existence of Floor Rules, the enforcement of said rules still differs depending on where you play, and who is running the tournament. Thankfully, FFG is pushing to change this, and rightly so.
It is very important that if I play in a regional in Sydney, Australia, that my tournament experience should be identical to that of a regional I played in Tucson, Arizona.
By now, it’s safe to assume that most Tournament Organisers know that FFG considers ID’s to be unsportsmanlike conduct. It may not, however, be immediately obvious that concessions come under the same banner.
The only time the current Floor Rules mention Intentional Draws is under ‘Collusion.’ In this same section, the Floor Rules use ‘a player intentionally throwing a match’ as an example. At no point in the Floor Rules is it explicitly stated that players are unable to concede.
In fact, the only mention of concession in the Floor Rules is given under ‘Bribery and Gambling’, where it lists offering a player a bribe for them to concede the match as a DQ-able offence.
In situations like in the example I gave above, you have a player who is in a position where they are no longer able to win the game. It only makes sense here to offer a concession.
Because a concession in that situation would result in saving the tournament’s most finite resource: Time.
If players in that situation are forced to play out the game, literally sitting there drawing cards or gaining credits while their opponent draws for their agendas and gains credits to score them, you might end up going to time. Especially if this is game one.
Going to time can slow the entire tournament, and go on to not just waste the time of the players in question, but the time of everyone in the event.
This brings us to the next issue: If players are not allowed to concede, why can’t they just throw the game?
If you walked past a table and saw one player scoring agendas while the other just sat there drawing four times and discarding turn after turn, it might look like that player is intentionally throwing the game. As pointed out above, FFG specifically states that this is player collusion.
However, while they might be forced to play out a game that is no longer winnable, it is impossible to call a player on ‘throwing the game’ without offering Outside Assistance.
For those of you unaware, Outside Assistance can range from checking notes between games of a match, to standing behind the Corp player and announcing that they are agenda flooded.
The FFG Floor Rules offer a hardline on players outside of the match giving assistance:
“If the player providing assistance is entered in the tournament, he or she is disqualified. Any person providing outside assistance that is not entered in the tournament should be asked to leave the premises.”
There is no known way that you can say to a player currently in a match that what they are doing isn’t a good way to go about winning a game of Netrunner. Doing so would be offering Outside Assistance.
This means that if a Judge were to intervene a match in progress, they had better be 100% certain (and be able to prove), that a player is intentionally throwing a match. This is difficult to the point of being impossible simply due to the intricacies of Netrunner itself.
Now, many people rebut this argument by saying that it’s fairly obvious when a player is not actively trying to win a game. While this is true (discounting when players might be in an unwinnable situation but are unable to concede), saying anything to that player would be Outside Assistance, and a DQ-able offence in itself.
The FFG Floor Rules outline this plainly:
“Tournaments challenge players to win using their own skill and their interpretation of the game state. As soon as outside assistance is provided, whether correct or not, a player can no longer win or lose solely of their own merit.”
There is no way of knowing, or proving, if a player is ‘intentionally throwing a game’ versus whether or not they were playing ‘using their own skill and interpretation of the game state.’
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen a new player do something that looks so intentionally bad, that they must be trying to lose. Running when their opponent only has a Project Junebug in hand, neglecting to trash it, and then running it next turn when their opponent has Installed, Advanced, Advanced a card, looks like the most glorious way to throw a game of Netrunner.
In actuality, these players often laugh, shake their head an announce their ignorance, but offer up a handshake all the same. Should these players be penalised for their inferior skill level? And more importantly, should that inferior skill level be highlighted by offering up a double-standard?
So how is a Tournament Organiser expected to monitor all games for signs of intentionally losing, while at the same time being basically unable to call players on it for fear of offering Outside Assistance and hurting the integrity of their event?
The answer is, they can’t.
The Bigger Problem
These examples are leading to a situation that is problematic for competitive Netrunner as a whole.
The Netrunner community is a fantastic one, and I’ve had far more positive interactions with players than I have had negative ones, but that doesn’t mean that people aren’t around who would be looking to exploit the rules.
Players who find themselves in a position where it would be beneficial for them to Intentionally Draw can simply throw their first game, and have their opponent throw their second. After all, nobody is going to be able to call them on making bad plays or poor decisions throughout, at least not without offering themselves up for a disqualification.
These type of people exist. And the current rules actually favour and support them.
How is that?
The good people like you and me, who know that concessions are against the rules are not going to throw our games or ‘concede’ through game play mechanics. When we find ourselves in a position where it would be beneficial to Intentionally Draw, we don’t, because we know it’s against the rules.
We’re respecting the rules, however easy it may be to circumvent them.
The people who don’t respect the rules, and know how easy it is to concede by throwing games, are benefiting.
It’s worth pointing out that with the current tournament structure, it’s just as easy for players to avoid any signs of collusion by playing their two games, and then just reporting any result the players might agree upon. There is no system put in place to protect the integrity of match outcomes.
While it is easy to say that that the majority of people don’t do this, the fact of the matter is that under the current rules the only people that benefit are the cheaters. That does not reflect well on the official FFG documents.
The only recommendation given to Judges and Tournament Organisers by FFG to prevent Intentional Draws is as follows:
“Judges should monitor the top tables during the beginning of the last round before elimination rounds to ensure collusion does not happen.”
All Judges are being told here, is to watch the beginning of the games to make sure player’s aren’t shaking hands and walking away. A Judge has a lot to do, they can’t possibly be expected to stand around and watch entire matches, on multiple tables, especially toward the end of the event.
I know that’s not what FFG are suggesting they do, but even if Judges did so, they would be unable to intervene a match without things can become very messy due to the inability to prove poor play, and Outside Assistance.
My concern is for the overall longevity of competitive Netrunner.
Slow play, going to time, and people abusing loopholes in the established tournament rules are all things which negatively effect the competitive scene.
Concessions aren’t always used to create an Intentional Draw. More often, they are used to save time of the players, the Tournament Organiser, and the event as a whole.
There is nothing inherently wrong with conceding a match. While people make arguments attacking the ‘morality’ of concessions, it has no real effect on the outcome. People will concede when they wish, or they will ‘play it out’ if they wish.
What FFG want, is for players not to be able to Intentionally Draw.
So let’s look at that a little closer.
The desire to Intentionally Draw arises from wanting to make the Top Cut of a tournament. The Top Cut (usually 8 or 16), is essentially an artificial device employed by the current tournament structure. It’s artificial, in the sense that it is an arbitrarily chosen number that means the prize people are playing for in the Swiss is a spot in that Top Cut, and not anything else. By it’s very nature, this encourages players not to ‘do their best’, but rather to ‘do well enough to make the Top Cut.’ After all, the prize for coming 1st and coming 7th in the Swiss are essentially the same.
It is contrary, then, that the tournament rules would both employ the use of an artificial device such as a Top Cut, at the same time as condemning players for using artificial devices of their own; in this case an Intentional Draw.
The other phenomenon that occurs in Swiss tournaments with a Top Cut, is that going into the last round, players in the first and second positions are basically always guaranteed a spot in the Cut. This often means that in the final match of Swiss, these competitors are essentially playing for no reason. Traditionally, these players would shake hands, and go relax and wind down before the finals.
Remove the Top Cut, and you’ll remove any and all desire to Intentionally Draw. You can’t ID yourself into first place.
Regardless of how you personally feel about Intentional Draws, the reality is that the current tournament structure for Netrunner makes the option viable to the dishonest players who want it, while depriving the option to the honest players who respect the rules.
In 1996, Wizards of the Coast had to make a choice; either allow Intentional Draws or change their tournament structure. At the time, players in Magic events realised they could Intentionally Draw the match by simply not playing their games and riding out the clock.
Wizards opted to allow Intentional Draws.
FFG could realistically allow concessions for Netrunner, and the effects would be only marginally felt. Seeing as many members of the community have made their overall negative feelings about Intentional Draws known, we might not even see much of an influx of games ending with a handshake.
In the short time that Netrunner has been around, we’ve seen many major changes to the tournament structure. As such, the other option FFG has is to change the structure to make natural draws impossible.
An example of this would be to run the Swiss rounds of a tournament similar to double elimination, where you only play one game with one deck before moving on to the next match.
This would mean that each match will only ever result in a single win, thus rendering draws impossible. In this same example, rounds could be shortened to 25-35 minutes, with the penalty for going to time being zero points for each player.
This would put a lot of pressure on the Slow Play rules to be enforced, but realistically, completing a single game of Netrunner in 25 minutes isn’t that hard.
This structure would also remove any need for Intentional Draws, and would result in players actually playing games of Netrunner, just as the designers intended.
Netrunner is a brilliant game, and I truly believe that it comes to life in the tournament scene.
Getting together to play games against people you haven’t met, striving to be the best you can be, offering and receiving advice, sharing bad beats stories, the thrill of doing well and the drive you feel to do better when you’re losing, are all fantastic elements.
It only makes sense then, that the designers intentions for a Netrunner tournament is for players to play games of Netrunner. Personally, I’m glad Intentional Draws are not allowed, as I agree with the philosophy outlined by FFG on the topic:
“Android: Netrunner matches should be decided by the skills, minds, and luck of the two players involved in a match. Artificially altering the results of a match circumvents this and prevents players from succeeding based on skill alone.”
Concessions being banned by extension stifle the tournament experience not just for those who’d rather scoop up their cards and try to win game two, but for those of us who respect the rules and don’t try to abuse them.
I think those in charge of Organised Play for Netrunner should take a look at their overall goals. While it is commendable to encourage players to actually play games, both the enforcement of these rules, and the non-specific way they are addressed in the official documents hinder the tournament experience for new and veteran players alike.
A new player shouldn’t be penalised for conceding a game, especially when they would have had to dredge up a forum post made by the former lead designer to find out which rule they were unknowingly breaking.
Brian Holland, (affectionately known as The Big Bad Wolf), is the host of The Winning Agenda Podcast. He may one day be a published author, but until then, he’ll wallow around, complaining about card rulings. You can check out more of his inane ramblings on twitter @bwholland