Beyond the Game: EVO Further Muddles Coaching Controversy

This article is part of our Beyond the Game series.

Coaching in traditional sports is an essential piece to the puzzle. The coach is there to provide strategy and foundation to what the players do in the game. That role has managed to make its way into team-based esports like League of Legends and Counter-Strike. But much like traditional sports, the role of an esports coach is often limited to an accessory to the action taking place in the actual match. In League, the coach is there during the pick-ban phase, but isn’t allowed to give help during the actual match. The same holds true for Counter-Strike matches. In the world of Super Smash Bros. Melee, things are a bit different.

While Melee is wholly a player-vs-player game, coaching is sometimes allowed mid-game. This is where the problem lies. At major tournaments such as Evolution, mid-set coaching is allowed sometimes and banned at other times. The rules for EVO 2017 stated that there was to be no coaching during any Top 8, meaning a coach could be allowed to help prior to that point. This rule didn’t stop controversy from brewing during the tournament, however.

In the winners quarterfinal between Team Liquid’s Juan “HungryBox” Debiedma and Counter Logic Gaming’s Zachary “SFAT” Cordoni, HungryBox’s coach came on stage in the middle of the match to provide some coaching. In response, SFAT’s coach jokingly came onstage to essentially mock HungryBox’s coach. After the game, EVO co-founder Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar tweeted that since SFAT’s coach had also come onstage, the match result stood. Had only HungryBox’s coach came onstage, he would have been disqualified. At this point, the community was up in arms over the issue. Players were calling for a coaching rule change or even a change to prevent non-players from getting up onstage. A few weeks later, Cuellar has responded.

Although it took a couple of tweets to get the rule out there, we got there in the end. Coaching is no longer allowed on the tournament stage. While this seems to simply outlaw coaching across the board, when you dig deeper into some more of Cuellar’s tweets, the issue gets murkier.

In a discussion about the rules, Cuellar stated that it’s possible for someone to decline playing on the stage up until the Top 8. Since the rule only seems to refer to the “tournament stage,” this means a person can simply decline to be on the tournament stage for most of the tournament and still receive coaching mid-set. While this is a distinct possibility, the EVO organizers seem to have thought of this, judging by a another new rule Cuellar announced. There will now only be 30 seconds in between rounds, which means that there won’t really be enough time to receive much coaching mid-set.

Another wrinkle in the rules stating that coaching simply isn’t allowed “on the tournament stage” is that it’s plausible that a coach could stand off to the side of the stage and shout tips to his player during the 30 seconds between rounds. Sure, it sounds a bit silly. But that would easily skirt around the rules that EVO has set in place.

EVO just needs to pick a stance one way or another. Either ban coaching completely or allow it every stage. Only placing restrictions to certain stages or portions of the event simply makes it more likely to have issues such as the one at EVO 2017. Not to mention that it sort of disrupts the playing field depending on where a given match is taking place.

EVO had the chance to close the book on this debate for good. Instead, they simply started a new chapter.

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