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Esports

NA Competitive Ruling

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  -  10 months ago

BACKGROUND

Following the NA Kickoff Qualifier 12-1 tournament on December 1-2, 2021, a number of players raised allegations that Sentinels had forced the game to select a server resulting in abnormally high ping for players in the game lobby. One of these accusations was directed towards Royal 2 from Sentinels. These allegations were accompanied by reviews of Sentinels players’ Twitch streams which categorized the perceived changes and abnormalities in player pings directly in the game client. There were also significant lobby connection issues during the tournament which led to the 4+ hour delay of the tournament. On December 3, 2021, HCS Administration made the decision to immediately undertake a formal investigation to better understand the causes of lobby connection issues experienced during the 4+ hour delay to the NA Kickoff Qualifier Day 2 and to more closely examine these allegations of server manipulation. 

Competitive integrity and fairness are paramount to the HCS, our partnered teams, players, and community. We take these matters very seriously and with HCS Raleigh approaching, HCS Administration moved quickly to undertake a thorough and accurate review. This included research and analysis done by multiple teams within Microsoft, as well as providing ample time for Sentinels to present any evidence they wished to be reviewed.

INVESTIGATION

In Halo Infinite a server is determined automatically by the game with no organic ability for players to control the outcome of this. The game measures the pings of all of the players in the lobby to all of the servers in the world, 7 of which are located in the United States, and then selects the server it determines best for everyone in the match to play on. To investigate, the development team extensively reviewed server logs from all matches, both matchmaking and custom games, that Royal 2 played in Halo Infinite since November 15, 2021. We found that from November 26, 2021, the day before NA Open Series 11-27 on November 27, 2021 through the last match of the NA Kickoff Qualifier 12-1 on December 3, 2021, all US servers but 1 server in the United States (westus2) were missing from the server ping list, thus forcing all of Royal 2’s matches onto that server and creating an abnormally high ping for players in the affected matches.

Our internal development team reproduced a publicly known and documented tactic to proactively remove servers from the list of eligible servers. Upon doing this, the resulting data signature matched the same data signature found in the matches that Royal 2 played in where only the westus2 server was available. Additionally, the team was able to confirm that there were no server or game outages that may have impacted those servers or any players in the same manner. Finally, upon review of all other top players we did not see any similar data anomalies. 

Sentinels have been given several opportunities to provide reliable support for an alternative explanation. The ISP data provided by Sentinels to support an alternative explanation is inconsistent with the timeline of data irregularities that occurred between November 26 and December 3. Further, the increase in latency that the ISP data details does not explain the irregularities in data observed.

RULING

We have determined that the only plausible explanation for Royal 2’s telemetry data pattern referred to above is that there was a direct modification of files giving Royal 2 an unfair competitive advantage during play. This violates the Official Rules, specifically Section VII.C(2) Hacking and Section VII.C(4) Network Abuse. 

HCS Official Handbook VII. Code of Conduct - C. Cheating (emphasis added):

“C. Cheating
 The Administration understands that it has an obligation to facilitate a level playing field for all competitors. Competing fairly and to the best of your ability is important towards fostering a healthy competitive environment, and the Administration is committed to ensuring the facilitation of fair competition throughout the duration of the Program and beyond. Any form of cheating, whether intentional or not, by any Participant is strictly prohibited. Participants are required and expected to maintain cognizance of these Official Rules and any form of cheating or violation of these rules, or the spirit of these rules, either intentionally or unintentionally, will result in penalties in accordance with the Code of Conduct. All Participants are prohibited from influencing or manipulating a Game or Match so that the outcome is determined by anything other than fair and reasonable play….

...2. Hacking

Using any cheats, hacks or other third-party "helper" applications, or the modification of game code or files beyond the intended use of standard game options while competing in any element of the Program for the purpose of gaining an unfair competitive advantage...

...4. Network Abuse

Participants may not intentionally delay or slow gameplay, including but not limited to stalling, disconnecting network cables, interruption of network connectivity, or any other known or unknown manner of tampering with gameplay.”

HCS Official Handbook IX. Heightened Conduct Expectations:

“Due to the elevated stature and reach associated with being partnered with the Program, Partnered Teams owners, staff, affiliates, and rosters are subject to heightened expectations of conduct and behavior. These heightened expectations may include but are not limited to the following:

  • Supplemental conduct standards within partnered team agreements;
  • A responsibility for Partnered Teams to avoid, actual or perceived, violation of the Official Rules; and,
  • The more stringent application of penalties in comparison to similar violations committed by Player(s) from non-partnered teams.”\

PENALTIES

The Official Rules provide guidelines on penalties for Hacking as follows:

  • “Typical Minimum Penalty: $2,000 Fine and Suspension
  • Typical Maximum Penalty: $2,000 Fine, Indefinite Suspension”

The NA Open Series & Kickoff Qualifier Event Rules provide the following on penalties (emphasis added): 

13.2. The Administration reserves the right to enforce any of the following penalties against Participants found to be in violation of any rules or stipulations set forth in these Official Rules, the Handbook, or the official code of conduct:

  • 13.2.1. Forfeiture of Game
  • 13.2.2. Forfeiture of Match
  • 13.2.3. Removal of Participant from Tournament (Disqualification)
  • 13.2.4. Forfeiture of prizing
  • 13.2.5. Forfeiture of HCS Points
  • 13.2.6. Partial or full removal of HCS Points
  • 13.2.7. Partial or full removal of travel coverage
  • 13.2.8. Enforcement of a fine
  • 13.2.9. A ban from participation in the HCS program
  • 13.2.10. Temporary or permanent suspension from: Xbox Live, Halo game platforms and services, and/or participation in a HCS, Halo, and/or Microsoft online or live tournament or event
  • 13.2.11. Pursue prosecution with the law or authoritative bodies for any illegal activities.

The following penalties have been applied accordingly:

  1. Nullification of Sentinels' placement for the NA Open Series 11-27 and NA Kickoff Qualifier 12-1 event. This includes:
    • Removal of HCS 4v4 Points (3,660 total) for all members of the Sentinels team.
    • Forfeiture of the 1st place Pool Play position for the HCS Kickoff Major Raleigh 2021 awarded in the NA Kickoff Qualifier 12-1.
  2. Effective immediately, suspension of Royal 2 from HCS Competition until January 28, 2022.
  3. As a result of Royal 2’s suspension, Sentinels will be unable to field the same, full roster for the HCS Kickoff Major Raleigh 2021 as was used in the NA Kickoff Qualifier event, and therefore will be ineligible for a Pool Play position at the Raleigh event
  4. The rest of the roster is eligible to compete in the Open Bracket. Sentinels will have until Roster Lock on Monday, December 13, 2021 to complete their roster.