A discussion of ethics in For Honor e-sports

To celebrate For Honor’s recently launched third content season, developer Ubisoft hosted a tournament in which some of the game’s top players battled it out for a $10,000 prize and no small amount of recognition. However, as the tournament went on, social media was flooded with a barrage of negativity and scorn, all of it directed at the players participating in the tournament. The reason? Most of the tournament’s participants weren’t winning due to skilled play alone, they were also utilizing unpopular exploits to give themselves an unfair advantage.

Whatever It Takes

More specifically, several tournament participants abused a known exploit called “unlock tech.” To explain it briefly, For Honor uses a system where players can execute attacks both when they’re “unlocked” (and thus roaming around the arena) and when they’re locked onto an opponent.

Normally, unlocked attacks are only used when dealing with an enemy team’s AI grunts since they tend to deal nominal damage to enemy players, but each of For Honor’s playable heroes usually has at least one or two moves that serve as a excellent opening attack against a human player but which can only be executed when you’re unlocked.

Once both opponents are locked onto each other, that usually remains the case until one player has defeated the other, but in the PC version of For Honor in particular, some fancy manipulation of the controls can allow a player to quickly unlock and perform an attack. This is a big deal since, unlike attacks that are performed while you’re locked on, unlocked attacks can’t be blocked or parried, essentially granting the unlocked player a free hit while the locked player is left defenseless and unable to retaliate.

During the tournament’s PC finals, a player named Jakub “SB.Alernakin” Palen used the Nobushi character (a spear-wielding combatant who is known for having strong unlock tech capabilities) and the unlock tech exploit so much that he wound up winning the entire tournament without ever losing a set, remarking after he won that he didn’t think it would be so easy. Palen went home with $10,000 and a trophy while the rest of the For Honor community was understandably livid.

Everything on the line

There were a variety of reasons why the For Honor community was so upset over how the tournament went, some of which I have listed below:

  • Fans expected a tournament full of highly skilled play and were instead treated to a bunch of exploit abuse and glitch spam
  • Ubisoft apparently didn’t outright ban the use of exploits, leaving commentators and casters with the unsavory task of pretending like it was just a part of normal play
  • Unlock tech abuse has been a known exploit for quite some time and yet Ubisoft has apparently been dragging its feet when it comes to fixing the issue
  • New players who otherwise might have been enticed into giving For Honor a try (the tournament was held during a free weekend event) were likely put off by the fact that, judging by what was shown, Ubisoft considered exploit abuse to be “high level play”

All of the above points are certainly valid, but putting the shoe on the other foot for a second, these players weren’t just playing for bragging rights, there was $10,000 on the line. If you entered a contest for $10,000 and the people running the contest said that an unpopular strategy which drastically increased your chances of winning was fair game, wouldn’t you be at least somewhat tempted to use it?

Heck, I’m willing to bet that some of the tournament’s participants started off wanting to fight cleanly, but when they saw several other people using unlock tech, they figured their best chance of winning was to follow suit. It may not have been what viewers wanted to see, but I doubt someone who went home $10,000 richer than when they left cares too much about what the fans think of them.

It’s an interesting debate, whether one should retain the “spirit of integrity” just to appease a game’s community even if it means losing out on a large sum of money because other players refuse to fight fair. It’s also important to note that not all of the tournament’s players utilized unlock tech (though there was a lot of “turtling,” i.e. using a hero like the Warlord and just staying in a full guard for most of the match), and the most exciting parts of the tournament were no doubt the “just for fun” segments where the players tried out season three’s new heroes and maps since there was no money on the line for those segments.

Personally, as much as I enjoy the thought of a community that adheres to an unwritten code of honor and good sportsmanship, I totally understand why some tournament players did what they did. A cash prize of $10,000 is a hard temptation to ignore, and Ubisoft made it clear that it wasn’t going to penalize players for using exploits that are technically part of For Honor’s gameplay (at least for the time being). It’s yet another case of having to face the ugly truth of the world: if you immidiatly expect everyone you meet to fight fair, you’re in for a world of disappointment and frustration.