Dota 2: Coaching rule change in EU/CIS DPC sparks controversy

LEIPZIG, GERMANY - JANUARY 25: Visitors watch a game of an e-sport tournament `Dota 2` during the digital festival DreamHack Leipzig on January 25, 2020 in Leipzig, Germany. DreamHack combines a variety of digital entertainment, including e-sport tournaments, LAN parties, Pokemon competitions and virtual reality presentations, as well as a cosplay contest. (Photo by Jens Schlueter/Getty Images)
Visitors watch a game Dota 2 during the digital festival DreamHack Leipzig on January 25, 2020 in Leipzig, (Photo by Jens Schlueter/Getty Images)

A change to a long-standing rule regarding coaches in competitive Dota 2 in the Dota Pro Circuit's (DPC) European and CIS regional leagues, has sparked controversy among both pro players and the game's community.

The primary role of coaches in competitive Dota 2 primarily is in the drafting phase, where they either assist the team's drafter — the person responsible for the picks and bans in every game — or take up the mantle of drafter themselves. As a result, Dota 2 tournaments have a long-standing, but often unspoken rule, that coaches are only ever allowed to be in communication with their teams during the drafting phase.

Prior to the start of Season 2 of this year's DPC, DreamLeague and ESL — the organisers of the DPC's European and CIS regional leagues, respectively — changed their league's rules to allow coaches to communicate with their teams during games, not just during the draft.

According to the organisers, they informed the teams competing in their leagues of the rule change through emails but did not fully inform Dota 2 developer Valve Software. In addition, the change was apparently only implemented in the European and CIS regional leagues.

The controversy surrounding this change started on Wednesday (12 May) when a post on the Dota 2 subreddit pointed out that Alliance, a team competing in the upper division of the European regional league, released a vlog which showed that the team's newly-acquired coach, Peter "ppd" Dager, was communicating with his team in-game during their match against Brame Esports on Tuesday (11 May).

As it turns out, Alliance were aware of the rule changes implemented by DreamLeague and ESL while most others teams were not.

This quickly drew the ire of other teams competing in the European regional league, most notably the captain of two-time The International (TI) champions OG, Johan "N0tail" Sundstein.

In a post on his personal Twitter account, N0tail said that he already mentioned the concept of letting coaches communicate with their teams to Valve during TI9 but was refused.

"Having a coach during a Dota game has never been allowed. [I have zero] respect for people that cheat, same thing when people [use] macros and claim it's 'not against the rules' or 'I still have to know when to use it'" said N0tail.

Alliance carry player Nikolay "Nikobaby" Nikolov responded to N0tail's accusation by pointing out that he was unaware of the rule change.

"You're calling us [...] cheaters even though you have no clue about the rules. You are one great example of how one of the "greatest" Dota players should act," said Nikobaby.

N0tail's teammate, OG offlaner Sébastien "Ceb" Debs, added in a post on Twitlonger that while he believes Alliance did nothing wrong, he has "very little respect" with how the team handled the situation.

"To my knowledge, Alliance is the only team to use that feature (if it is even meant to be one), because it has always been forbidden. So was that golden rule meant to be broken over a simple email sent by an ESL employee, maybe. But I have a hard time believing that even Alliance themselves buy that version of the story. To me it simply look like using everything usable to your advantage, and that is fair, even if I have very little respect for that way of handling things," said Ceb.

TI5 champion and broadcast talent for the North American regional league, Kurtis "Aui_2000" Ling, also weighed in on the issue by pointing out that the rule changes implemented by DreamLeague and ESL were "terrible in both concept and execution".

"Alliance following the rules and using coaches in game shouldn't cause them to take any flak, but said rule seems pretty terrible both in concept and execution. First of all, coaches being allowed in the game is a huge change that should be more than just a line on an email to teams. Having a sixth player who doesn't have any of the responsibilities of the players (having to control the hero) is a really big deal and should be treated as such. I don't know why the EU DPC [organisers] would allow this when it's not allowed [as far as I know] in other regions or at the Major," said Aui_2000.

Team Secret manager Matthew "Cyborgmatt" Bailey also aired his displeasure towards DreamLeague and ESL for implementing a dramatic rule change without informing Valve.

"Can we just take a minute to talk about the fact that a DPC TO decided to randomly take things into their own hands & introduce rule changes in 2 of the 6 DPC regions without even discussing it with Valve? What does "we did not fully inform" even mean in this context? Madness," said Cyborgmatt.

As a result of the controversy, both DreamLeague and ESL retracted the rule changes and released an apology to the teams competing in the European and CIS regional leagues.

"We'd like to apologize to the teams for a mid-season rule change and highlight that teams who made use of the rule change, such as Alliance, did absolutely nothing wrong and were simply following the rules. We hope the community will enjoy the remaining matches as we look ahead to what will surely be an exciting conclusion to this DPC season," DreamLeague and ESL said in a joint statement.

As of the time of writing, Valve has not yet issued a statement on the matter.

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