Rules Gone Wild!: a Critical Look at the 2017 Hearthstone Wild Open Official Competition Rules

On April 28, Blizzard announced that there would be an official Wild-format tournament taking place in the near future and that the top 64 finishers on the Wild ladder during the month of May will be invited to participate. Yesterday, Blizzard finally provided all the official rules for the Wild tournament. Curious, I gave them a look and, well, I was a bit surprised by what I saw.

Disclaimer: this post will include some legal analysis type things, so it gets my standard warning. That is, the statements written here are not and should not be construed as legal advice. Nothing herein creates an attorney-client relationship. If you have questions about the issues raised here, please see an attorney about it. 

As an initial point, these Official Rules are a contract. They’re not called a “contract,” and they may not look like what most people consider a contract, but there are very few legal requirements on the form of contracts, and section 10.5(a) makes it pretty clear what this is. That section reads, “We both agree these Official Rules constitute a written agreement signed by both you and Blizzard under applicable law.” <– That’s basically the legal definition of a contract, using layman’s terms.

There are a few things to consider when reviewing contracts. First, and despite President Trump’s apparent efforts, words have meaning. Usually, when courts interpret contracts, they go with what is written in them. Second, contracts should be interpreted with the bad actor in mind. We see tons of cases in which people make agreements when times are good, only to get bitten by them when times are bad. I don’t think Blizzard will make moves like some of those that I highlight below–it would be disastrous for the continued viability of the game and maybe the company as a whole–but that does not change what the contract appears to say they can do. Third, not all the things that I’m going to talk about are legal issues with these rules–some are just weird things that I thought should be pointed out. Not everything needs to involve a lawyer. 😛 Finally, believe it or not, this is the short version with just the highlights–there are other sections that are a bit off or interesting as well. If you see something you’d like to talk or read about that I have not mentioned here, please let me know.

Side note before jumping in: there are a lot of technical issues with this agreement, such as: typos, redundancies, sections that don’t apply, and poor wording. Do you think I should redline a copy and send it to the general counsel? Think that might get me a job or just get thrown away? Or worse yet, have me flagged as an a-hole? I actually want to know y’all’s thoughts on that.

Anyway, without further ado, let’s look at some points of interest in this thing:

1. Section 2.1(a): You agree to the Official Rules if you sign them, accept a Player Participation Form, or if you enter and participate in any game or match that is part of the Competition. You don’t have to sign the contract for it to apply to you.

2. Sections 3.1, 3.2, and 4.2(d): Players who get in the top 64 on the May Wild Ladder will be invited to the Competition. A player may only be invited once, and his/her invitation will be based on his/her highest region finish. However, in order to participate in the Competition, the player must be a legal resident of a country that is in the region to which his or her Battle.net Account is registered, as of May 7, 2017. Players are also required to play all tournament matches from the region listed on their respective Battle.net Accounts, and must let Blizzard know in advance if they leave their country of residence (unless they are going to the finals) during the “Competition Period” (from May 1 until on or about June 12, 2017).

This is interesting because it means that you cannot get high legend on multiple servers in order to hedge your bets–in fact, you actually have to make sure you “tank” your rank outside of the top 64 in the other regions or you technically can’t go (because your invite would go to your highest rank, but that account would be ineligible to participate because it does not match the player’s residence).

It also furthers confusion as to whether or not “Battle.net” is gone (see also, recent Destiny announcement, which was a “special exception” to the alleged name change a few months back). I liked Battle.net, so I thought it was dumb to change it anyway, but now it’s just getting ridiculous.

Most interestingly, at least to a lawyer’s eyes, is the retroactive applicability of this contract. Out of concerns for fairness, retroactivity is pretty suspect in the law. However, that mainly applies to statutes (what most people think of as the law on the books), especially criminal law. Private parties are (generally) allowed to be as unfair as they want with their private agreements, and there’s no right to participate in a Blizzard tournament. That said, this is a bit bizarre on Blizzard’s part. The rules aren’t posted until the end of May, yet the rules apply as far back as May 1? You’re going to make people live in a specific country, but not tell them until two weeks after they were supposed to have moved? Also, if you went on any family vacations in the three weeks before this announcement, you are technically in violation of the rules and could be banned from participating (or worse). It’s all just very odd and one professional player who I spoke to said that it will screw (he used a different word) over a lot of players.


Side note: the details are a little fuzzy, but the “Competition Period” definition seems to say that either the qualifying portion or the entire tournament will be completed by June 12th. Since it is based on May finishes, that means a really fast turnaround, and they actually still haven’t told players where or when the Qualifier Tournaments will be held. Players will be emailed this information no less than a week prior to the event but, based on the dates in question, no more than 11 days prior to the event. (Section 5.3(d)). This will likely hurt many players who need to make last second accommodations, just as the late Spring Playoffs announcement did.

3. Section 3.2(b): Blizzard has to approve your BattleTag. Sorry, “Sloppybutt.”

4. Sections 5.1 (b): Once the match begins, if a player “leaves the game client for any reason, it is considered a match forfeiture and the opposing player will win the match.” As this reads, there will be absolutely no replays in the event of a client crash or a disconnect (in the law “will” or “shall” are generally mandatory whereas “may” or “can” are generally permissive). That seems harsh. I have seen arguments in favor of this type of rule–that certain players seem to “disconnect” at opportune moments and that not all site admins appropriately monitor for cheating, so reliance on a subjective rule is harmful to honest players who go to honest locations–but it seems like the better fix is to hire admins we trust and/or create some in-game protections. Imagine being an honest guy whose computer crashes in the biggest tournament of his life, and being forced to go home because of this draconian rule.

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Playful sprites OP, Blizz pls nerf.

5. Sections 5.2-5.4: This isn’t legal issues, just some info on how the tournament will IMG_4258work. The top 64 in each region (Americas, EU, Asia/Pacific, and China a.k.a. “special Asia”), including any players tied for 64th place, will participate in the Hearthstone Wild Open Online Qualifier Tournaments, a double-elimination tournament. The top 2 from each region will advance so that there are 8 players in the Hearthstone Wild Open Tournament (the “finals”). The finals will be single-elimination, best of five, Conquest, with one ban.

The total prize pool is $25,000: $8k for first, $5k for second, $3k each for third and fourth, and $1.5k each for fifth through eighth. It seemed a little low to me, as the title of this tournament implies this will be the only Wild Open of the year, but I’m getting mixed messages from pros. In addition to the mixed messages shown on the right. One of the pros I spoke to privately said the prizes were just a little below average while another pro told me the prizes were good enough that he wished he had tried to get in this month, but not good enough that he will start trying now.

6. Section 6.2(a) and 6.3(b): These sections are meant to ban bad behavior, but accidentally ban misplays (as misplays are not the player playing “to the best of their ability” and may subject the player to ridicule). Mistakes were made.

7. Section 6.6(b): Players cannot use drugs or alcohol, or be under the influence of either (save prescription medicine, used as prescribed), during “Competition Events” or on premises owned or leased by Blizzard or a tournament organizer. “Competition Events” include “all games, matches, media events, autograph signings, photo sessions, sponsor events[,] and other gatherings or events occurring with or as part of the Competition.”

300px-One_Night_in_Karazhan_trailer11
Photographic evidence of Hearthstone debauchery.

This section seems to disallow players from participating in after-parties or grabbing a drink with developers. I know that such events have happened in the past, including a good old time in the Bahamas, and will likely continue to happen. Hell, if the apparent Buffalo Wild Wings partnership continues to grow, these events may well be taking place in a sports bar. It would be pretty sketchy if any player were punished for participating in these types of events if they are either sponsored or encouraged by Blizzard or its employees.

8. Section 6.7: A non-disparagement clause is to be expected and is probably pretty normal. That said, this one is written very broadly. It actually says that “[p]layers may not at any time make… any… disparaging remarks… concerning Blizzard[.]” (emphasis added).  Has anybody ever made a disparaging remark about Blizzard or its games? Wow, okay, so pretty much every pro who has ever been on Twitter, Reddit, Twitch, etc., etc. is ineligible? Sorry guys.

9. Section 6.11(b): This is that bad-actor section that I was talking about and the reason why these little “but Blizzard would never do that” issues matter. This section says that if a player violates any of the Official Rules, Blizzard can: disqualify that player from any future Hearthstone events; revoke any or all prizes previously awarded to the player; terminate the player’s Battle.net Account(s); and/or revoke all licenses the player has for all Blizzard titles. I spoke with a few pros who told me that it usually takes 1-3 months to get winnings, so there is plenty of time for the “revocation” of prizes to really have teeth. As stated above, there are lots of practical reasons why Blizzard would not abuse these portions of the agreement, including the fact that it seems to be run by nice people who love the community, but still, they could if they wanted to, and that’s exactly the type of situation that eventually creates a lot of the issues lawyers see every day.

Side note: this is a reminder that you only have a license to play Blizzard games, you did not buy the games. Even the games you bought in the store, you actually just bought a license. That means you have no property right to our games or your account. As they state in section 7.3(a), they can modify or delete your account for any reason, at any time. There are good reasons for this, including the fact that nobody would make online games if it meant they had to maintain its servers forever (as they might be forced to if players had “rights” to their accounts). This is another subject that could very well be an entire post of its own.

10. Section 8: By participating, you let Blizzard use your face, likeness, voice, etc. for the event, for advertising, for products, forever. This probably isn’t surprising or even upsetting for most players, but it is a big license you are giving them, so some people might be interested in reading more about that. (Don’t worry, it’s a non-exclusive license, so players can still advertise for their teams or otherwise use their own likenesses to make money.)

11. Section 10.2(b) and 10.3(a) and (b): Blizzard can change the Official Rules at anymaxresdefault time. Remember, players agree to them just by participating in the event, so Blizzard could, in theory, change the prize amounts or conditions upon which players are disqualified from receiving prizes a minute before the finals begin! Such a switcheroo might be run afoul of a number of legal principles that I can’t really get into now, and it is more likely that changes would only be made to dates of the event or cards in the card pool (nerfs), but as stated above, it is worth noting what the contract says is allowed.

Well, that’s a lot of words and I’m now way behind on billable hours, so I’m going to get out of here. As stated above, this is nowhere near an exhaustive list at everything in the Official Rules, so make sure you read them if you plan on going. Let me know what you think of the rules and if you think I should re-write this thing for them and send it in! I’m really considering doing that.

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