On “Bugs and Exploits” … (now) a Thought Experiment

Earlier today there was some drama in a game on FACEIT Matchmaking which was mistakenly thought to be in the Open Qualifiers for the upcoming Kiev Major. A lot of interesting discussion was had under the pretense of it being an Open Qualifier game, which raises some cool hypotheticals despite it being moot to the game at hand.

What Happened?

A player used an unintended mechanic in the game to their advantage. An Alchemist transferred his Radiance to an allied Naga Siren’s inventory. The Naga Siren used Mirror Image, creating 3 illusions — each of which had the Radiance Aura allowing him to farm more efficiently.

Video of the exploit in action

As per the game mechanics on Item Sharing neatly summarised here, Radiance is not an item which is able to be shared (it should be muted) — so it’s a bug/exploit (we’ll just call it ‘bug’ for simplicity from here on out) of some kind. This bug provides an advantage for one team.

If this would be part of the Open Qualifier, then the FACEIT Open Qualifier rules would apply, this is forbidden by the rules as per 5.1 below. 5.2 allows the administration to disqualify and/or ban teams cheating — and this is just an upper bound on the sanctions they may enforce. 5.3 puts the onus on both teams to contact an admin if a game-breaking bug happens (and they are aware of it), but “game-breaking” bug isn’t defined so may or may not be applicable in this case (like, “game-breaking” might refer to something where a player is unable to control their hero after buying some weird combination of items, or their lvl 25 Shadow Fiend turns into a level 4 Timbersaw due to some unintended behaviour), but this obviously falls away if one team is unaware that the enemy team is reaping an advantage from a bug. 5.4 reinforces this idea, and suggests that if both teams are aware of a bug — they must report it to the admin and pause the game, or the result stands. Once again, it might be possible that this falls away because the team who is disadvantaged by the bug might not be aware of the bug during, or even directly after the game.

Open Qualifier Rules

Issues with the FACEIT Rules

There are minor issues with FACEIT’s rules in my eyes: the onus is on the disadvantaged team to inform FACEIT about the bug abuse. This is problematic for two reasons:

  • A team might have literally no idea the enemy has abused a bug to gain an advantage.
  • If FACEIT are aware of bug abuse (like in this case), why should the disadvantaged team have to create a ticket, which would make them seem to be rulebook-wielding losers? Why can’t the admins scrutinize the games without being poked to.

Historical References

Anyone who’s been around the Dota 2 scene for long enough will remember the drama of TI3 where Natus Vincere made a comeback against TongFu using a mechanic of Dota 2 that many considered to be an bug.

Dendi hook summary
A Dota 2 ‘International Archives’ of the incident.

People who are comparing the two are making a relatively poor assumption — that both events have the same rules, however there are some further glaring differences:

  • There is a clear and definitive downside to attempting that play (the Pudge Hook): your solo mid player is being teleported out the fight to start. As PPD, Notail and others say — it’s a very risky play, and one that can backfire if you don’t execute perfectly.
  • At the time of TI3, there were actually multiple very obvious bugs: almost every interaction of Visage Birds was inconsistent with how they should mechanically work.
  • No Valve event has ever had rules specifically targeting “exploit abuse”. I’m unsure what Loda’s complaints regarding “exploit abuse” specifically refers to something they were told within the TI3 context — like if found and used a bug to crash the game server; or give yourself 10000 gold. At no TI’s since that I’ve worked at, or anyone I’ve spoken to (TI2 onwards) has been at has there been any instruction given to the players relevant to this incident beyond “not cheating”.

Inactivity from Valve

People are interpreting a lack of action to fix a bug as an indicator that the bug is ‘okay to abuse’. This doesn’t make any sense however. Valve’s Dota 2 team, like any game development company, has limited resources and prioritises these resources based on their goals.

  • Sometimes Valve patch bugs they’re aware about almost immediately (like when Puck’s autocast ability for Phase Shift was removed after drama in joinDota’s The Brawl tournament finals).
  • Sometimes Valve takes a long time to patch a bug, for example Lone Druid’s Armlet of Mordiggian bug when it was on the Spirit Bear (it didn’t drain life and gave the maximum hero benefits) took ~6–7 weeks for Valve to fix, to the point where Chinese tournaments were considering specifically declaring it a bug and banning it.
  • In some cases, the unintended behaviour has *become* the intended behaviour however the changelog has reflected this (this is how Zeus’s Pillar began to give True Sight, and how camp pulling/stacking began).

In all such cases, the line between acceptable and unacceptable always rested firstly in the eyes of Valve, and then secondly in the eyes of the administration of the event in which the game is being played. If an event wants to have rules preventing “bug abuse” then they need to define and enforce them, since there is now an expectation of enforcement by all teams playing in the event. In the past, even up until like late-2012/early-2013 (??) tournament lobbies could be hosted on “Tournament” mode or “Latest” mode, so that early bugs in a patch could be fixed before they impacted tournaments. This feature, like other useful features (being able to load a gamestate after a crash; or ‘replay takeover’) have been removed without explanation and never replaced.

In traditional sports, when a team is unsure about the legality or implication of a rule/mechanic (or are sure but feel it needs to be conveyed to the administration), it’s recommended that they tell the referee / umpire before they do it in a game. Below is an example from Rugby Union:

In another cross-over to traditional sports, there are often cases where a completely legal action might be wrongly misinterpreted by one team. Here’s an example of a ‘trick play’ employed by The Patriots in (American) Football: http://www.sbnation.com/nfl/2015/1/10/7526841/the-patriots-trick-play-that-got-john-harbaugh-mad-ravens (tx to /u/Decency for it). The Patriots used the strategy so effectively, that the rules were later changed to prevent it from happening in as quite an effective way.

Dota 2 is definitely a game where experience and understanding of mechanics should (and do) play a significant aspect of the game — but for this to work out fairly, players in professional tournaments need to be reasonable as well. In no way is this illusion bug “an intended mechanic” in the eyes of a reasonable player. This issue has been patched before actually (not specifically for Naga Siren, but for multiple Illusion based heroes), and has re-arisen and been patched at least once since (I believe post-Reborn as well as 7.01). There’s even recent videos subtitled “CRAZY DOTA 2 BUG 7.01!”.

Part of the problem is a lack of an accredited and updated reference guide on mechanics and interactions in the game. There are likely many reasons for this including the gargantuan effort required to maintain this with patches — and although Dota2Wiki does a very excellent job at keeping mechanics updated, they are not an ‘official’ resource. Valve’s own Heropedia is based on a pretty limited API endpoint — and doesn’t show any complex interactions, hiring someone to keep this absolutely up to date is what most companies would do, but probably isn’t something Valve would consider. Another solution is a better way to deal with hero mechanic bugs in the gamebreaking section (some sort of reliability or karma system for dev.dota2.com which rewards accurate bug reporting and allows the very reliable & accurate reporters and moderators to prioritze classification of reported bugs as “BUG” or “INTENDED” (and unclear intended bugs get added to the Dota2Wiki for clarification and future updates).

When it comes to tournament administration, I’d recommend that teams intending to use any spell interaction which they would consider “unintended” first get clarity from the tournament organiser. No reasonable admin is going to punish a team which somehow unintentionally do 101 damage when casting a spell instead of 100, or do something perfectly legit just new in pro games — but I don’t think it’s even debatable that being able to give a significant benefit of a 5150 gold item to an ally (an action which has been patched over and over) is definitely abusing a broken mechanic and shouldn’t be used by any team in a professional setting. At some point you have to admit that Valve cannot fix every bug and also make substantial progress on Dota 2, or 3, or 7, or whatever number we’re really on right now.