Hearthstone stream sniping has been an issue for as long as the game has been streamed. The controversy was heavily ignited by the recent disqualification of Chinese Taipei from the Global Games for stream sniping their opponent, Singapore. The players admitted to it, but this sniping of opponents is happening constantly and can’t really be monitored.
Why it Happens and the Effect
It’s extremely easy to stream snipe someone in a competitive format. There are a fair amount of online qualifiers that get streamed, and players don’t have to share anything about themselves. The broadcast is simply using the spectator mode and players could do anything while playing the game.
Players can consult other professionals while playing, use third part add-ons to track cards in the game, and pull up their stream and directly view their opponents’ hand or listen to the casters advice. Blizzard has no way of monitoring player activity during online play currently, and as such players do all of these things.
We are currently unsure of the number of players who use this to their advantage. Some players are kind enough to share a webcam feed of themselves, but there is no audio so there is no proof of anything that could be considered cheating.
Players having knowledge that they shouldn’t undoubtedly changes the course of games that we have watched online before. The broadcast delays for Blizzard are usually 15 minutes, however that is short enough for information to be useful to players.
Then of course when players stream from their own perspective, the delay is typically even shorter. They know they are putting themselves at risk. Some players have figured if their opponent is willing to go to such lengths to cheat, that they are above caring about it.
Chinese Taipei and Policing
The only reason for the disqualification of the Taiwanese team is that they uploaded their perspective of the games to YouTube. Should they have not uploaded it, they would still be on their way to BlizzCon. This really emphasizes how flawed the system for catching cheating is.
Blizzard does in fact have rules against competitive Hearthstone stream sniping or spectating your own games in order to gain an advantage. However, this is really the only time a ruling has come down on players. Not only that, but the players had to go out of their way to expose themselves.
Almost assuredly at least one of those other teams in the top eight have had at least one player take a peek at the stream to gain information. We would hope that the honest nature of players would mean that they didn’t, but it’s impossible to tell.
Blizzard seem to have no interest in increasing their enforcement of anti-cheat policies either. Players aren’t required to provide their own audio or video feeds. A player can play through entire online tournaments with all sorts of assistance and Blizzard simply doesn’t care.
Possible Solutions and Drawbacks
One way to make Hearthstone stream sniping irrelevant is put a delay of an hour or more. However, this removes the special feeling that spectators can gain from watching. Those on the inside can spoil the result for everyone too. Spectators enjoy live events more than any type of rebroadcast.
Another way is to require players to show video and audio to tournament organizers to ensure no cheating is occurring. The issue with this is that not all players have webcams, and it would be near impossible to verify what a player is seeing on their monitor. Just because one can’t hear the stream, doesn’t mean they don’t just have it muted and are using the video to cheat.
Simply put, Blizzard need to come down harder on outside assistance during play for Hearthstone competitive events. A lot of players want to respect the fact that the game is a one-on-one battle, and think it unfair that players can consult others. Some people want to take every advantage they can get to beat the opponent, resulting in an uphill battle for the opponent playing straight up.
Blizzard’s handling of the Taiwan incident is a positive step forward. Hopefully they funnel more attention overall to their competitive Hearthstone scene to get it up into higher popularity. Hearthstone Esports could certainly use the help.
Images courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment via the PlayHearthstone twitch channel.