Jagex’s attempts to bring Old School RuneScape into the world of esports just suffered a huge setback. The Spring 2019 Deadman Mode Tournament concluded this weekend, although the focus wasn’t on the winner or his $20,000 prize. Instead, game-breaking bugs and questionable intervention by the game’s moderators are getting most of the attention. This event raises many questions about the viability of this game mode becoming an esport in any significant way.
How the mode works
Each “season” of the Deadman Mode Tournament spans over a three-month period. During this time, players train in worlds with increased experience and item drop rates. The goal is to rank within the top two thousand players on the server. At the end of this period, these top players will then be invited to fight in the week-long finale. After the two thousand players are selected, the server resets, and players have only one week to train their characters.
At the end of the week, players fight in a battle royale mode, where they are pushed to one of two final areas. In the final areas, players can both attack and be attacked by as many people as possible fighting to hold a shrinking area. Once there are only 128 players remaining in each zone, they secure their spot in the final 1v1 bracket. Once there, players fight individually for the chance at a piece of the $32,000 prize pool.
Clans ruling RuneScape
The game mode has several core problems, however. It is nearly impossible to play alone without any clan or alliance in the final battle royale. The tournament is dominated by clans who have live communication to call out when and where to attack. These players can identify who isn’t a member of the clan on their minimap, making any solo player an easy target. Clans also hold other unique influences over the game.
This year, the Future of Old Style clan, also known as Fools, organized a plan to defend one area of the map for the entire week. The location, Shilo Village, is utilized in getting piety and vengeance, two of the strongest prayers and spells in Old School RuneScape. Only members of Fools and individuals upon request were allowed to pass through the quest without being immediately killed. Setting players back is a core aspect of Deadman Mode, so this isn’t particularly abusive. But it certainly makes relying on clans that much more necessary for players to compete.
Update feels in the shilo caves pic.twitter.com/tiyLElXuUH
— EoMeri (@FoolsEoMeri) March 28, 2019
Half of the competitors, deleted
In Falador, the city where half of the players would either be killed or make it to the final bracket, a game-breaking bug occurred. This mode has a damaging fog that forces players to the final areas, hitting harder the farther from the center one is. When the final 128 players advanced to the 1v1 bracket, they were teleported to the new dueling area. It turned out that the fog was not disabled in this area, and nearly every player was immediately killed by it.
To make matters worse, in the final hour of play, accounts, stats, and items get deleted upon death. The game was paused for nearly 45 minutes before viewers were made aware of the bug. A few solutions seemed possible: roll back individual accounts or the entire game state, reinstate the affected accounts, or postpone the event until all players were accounted for. Jagex took a different approach.
The flawed solution
The solution players received was to be given new accounts, all with identical level 94 stats, base weapons, and armor. Every player that died to this bug and had above level 94 in combat skills lost their damage potential. Players who grinded for the best weapons and armor were given mediocre replacements. Many players were justifiably upset, losing a week’s worth of progress due to an issue that was out of their control. The official commentators for the event explained that this fix was the fairest for everyone involved. The 128 affected players would at least get an opportunity to fight for a piece of the prize pool. The commentators estimated twenty minutes for all players to be restored and the tournament to continue, making the delay one hour.
MY AGS.. ZURIELS STAFF.. FURY.. GUTHANS HELM.. DRAGONFIRE SHIELD.. AHRIMS..
— Sparc Mac (@SparcmacLive) March 30, 2019
Players denied participation
Fast forward two additional hours, and the tournament was at a standstill. Some players received new accounts to play on, including SkillSpecs, a popular streamer, content creator, and live guest participant. At least the long delay was taken to ensure everyone could still participate, right? Not exactly.
Sadly our recovery efforts were only capable of returning ~half of the affected players. We'll address the affected players at a later date.
We will resume play in approximately 5 minutes.
— OSRSPvP (@OSRSPvP) March 30, 2019
Many players who were streaming the event, such as Mika279, SparcMac, and AbdullahDaGod, were still waiting for any update on their accounts. They turned to Twitter to realize they were not getting that opportunity. Nearly half of the affected players, after three hours of delay, would be left without the chance to compete. Giving players underpowered accounts to play on seemed like a poor decision at the time, and this made it even worse.
The players who were waiting in the second final area were taking their time to strategize. They could still move their camera and interact with the game freely, although they could not attack or move. This gave clan members more than enough time to look through every character and identify enemies. Clans made hit lists of who they would be attacking once the game resumed. And then, out of nowhere, it happened. Players received no warning that the game would be started again, after waiting all that time with no update.
More bugs, more delays
Players who did receive new accounts were given their new items in a chest that spawns in the 1v1 areas. When the duels were about to begin, some players realized that they were missing items promised to them. The game was delayed while the chests were placed back into the world with the missing items. A bug arose that placed more than two players in the same dueling area, and had to be manually moved. Now the duels were ready to begin. But then the chests weren’t disappearing before the fights, so another delay was taken to remove them. Players dropped supplies to pick up later in the fight. Finally, after three hours of waiting, the fights began.
can something be done about this? first fights gonna last 2 weeks pic.twitter.com/pOY0pa9YhM
— Devin (@DevinOSRS) March 30, 2019
The camera observing the 1v1 tournament focused on several fights between players fighting on these new accounts. These fights became extremely stale very quickly, as they were forced into one play style that was identical to their opponent’s. It is curious why these fights were selected to be broadcasted and given commentary, rather than fights between players who weren’t reset. Some fights didn’t even happen, due to another bug. Players realized they could teleport out of the dueling area and be safe from the deadly fog, bypassing the duels. One of these players survived until the top 17.
Broadcasted scripts and, you guessed it, more bugs
Scripts and bots are a part of RuneScape that every player knows about. Unfortunately, these scripts were displayed on stream during the 1v1 stage. Several players were shown to be switching armor and weaponry instantly, which clearly shows use of macros rather than human reactions. One of the live participants, Manked, played against an opponent who was using these scripts and managed to win the fight. Still, blatant use of scripts in a tournament this size is something that should be on Jagex’s radar for competitive integrity.
It wasn’t the end for game-changing bugs to affect the tournament, however. Nearing the end of the bracket, Manked was going against a member of the Fools clan in the semifinal fight. This time, Manked was on the verge of a large comeback, and both players had no food remaining to heal. Suddenly, Manked was teleported out of the arena, on to the final 1v1 area, while his opponent was still alive. While Manked had the health advantage, it wasn’t clear whether he had secured the victory before being teleported.
In a game like RuneScape, all it takes is one big hit to turn a fight around. After a short delay, the players had to redo the fight, which ended in Manked’s victory. In the end, the leader of the Finnish clan Fools, EoMeri, took first place and the $20,000 grand prize. What should have been the highlight of the entire tournament ended up being overshadowed by the way the tournament was handled after numerous bugs.
Concerns with Jagex
The fact that all this occurred at the end of Deadman Mode’s thirteenth season is cause for concern. There are serious questions regarding Jagex’s QA process that missed something as blatant as fog not being disabled in the 1v1 areas. Small changes were made, like item drop rebalancing and items being disabled. Images of a Discord message are floating around that suggest Jagex believed the changes didn’t warrant a test run.
On top of the bugs, there were serious issues with how Jagex handled the situation after half of the participants died to something out of their control. A three-hour delay is unacceptable for any spectator sport. If the game cannot continue as normal at the end of three hours, rescheduling the event should be a highly considered option.
I’ll be clear here: there was no easy solution for Jagex once the bug occurred. If you reschedule the event, you risk losing participants who have already altered their schedule to attend the finale. With live participants and commentators, this problem becomes a greater risk. If you continue on and act like nothing large happened, you face the scrutiny of the outside looking in.
Jagex apologized and said they would address the affected players “at a later date” in their tweets. This does very little to reconcile with the players that used vacation time to compete in the tournament or who put countless hours in RuneScape to set themselves up for success. The fact that many players never received any communication while waiting for replacement accounts is unacceptable. They had to wait on Twitter for updates on a general scale, hoping that they might be one of the lucky ones to be given a chance.
I took off work for a week are they going to pay my weekly salary? this is so fucked up they need to roll it back
— SuperXero (@SuperXeroGaming) March 30, 2019
Concerns with Deadman Mode
The Deadman Mode Tournament itself has its issues. Clans dominate the game, and solo players are forced to take their chances at survival or try to join one. There is little incentive to play in the seasonal mode other than to place in the top two thousand accounts in order to qualify. RuneScape already deals with the fact that PvP is half skill in switching gear and protection prayers, and half luck on the damage table.
Bugs will happen in any game, even with extensive testing. In an esports setting, any company needs to be prepared to address bugs when and where they happen. Perhaps the Deadman Mode Tournament isn’t the best place for Jagex to put their attention. There are other PvP minigames in the game, such as Clan Wars, that may be viable for esports going forward. The Old School RuneScape player base is there. The viewer base on streams is there. All that is missing now is a well-structured game format and a well-prepared team to handle any hiccups that may arise.
The future for the Deadman Mode Tournament is unclear. Several content creators did not participate in this year’s tournament, including B0aty, who was a guest participant in the past. There will likely be clans with enough members to fill the server. The real question is whether content creators and personalities like Mika, SkillSpecs, and SparcMac will want to participate in the RuneScape tournament again given the way they were left out to dry. Without content creators and streamers advertising the tournament, the prize pool very well may not be viable for Jagex to continue on with the Deadman Mode Tournament.
At the end of the tournament, the six live guest participants were asked for their reaction to their performance. Two of them died due to the glitch at Falador, and while SkillSpecs was given a new account to play on during the 1v1 stage, SoloMission was not. SkillSpecs made it clear he was upset by the tournament. He had an account that was stronger than any of his accounts before, and was confident he could make a run for the grand prize. When asked what happened, he summed it up as such: “I got Jagex’d.”
If you’re still interested in participating in RuneScape‘s next Deadman Mode Tournament, the 2019 Summer season has just opened. The rules of play are very different than in other RuneScape worlds, so you can read about them on Jagex’s official website.