A look into the HCS Code of Conduct, and it’s application to Sentinels
In case you were unaware, one of the best players in Halo on one of the best teams current competing in Infinite received a temporary suspension today. A lot of fans commenting on the issue are understandably frustrated, it doesn’t feel great to see your favorite player in hot water, and even if Sentinels isn’t your favorite org, I’m sure we can all agree we’d like to see everyone competing fairly in the first major event in Infinite’s life.
However, HCS has ruled that Royal2 was not playing fairly. This article is meant to help break down what led to this outcome. I would like to advise anyone reading this that I am not a lawyer, none of this is legal advice, and if HCS ever says anything contrary to what I am posting here, they are correct. This is an interpretation of events from someone who deals with policy contracts, regulation and laws in their day job. I would also like to put here that I’m a huge fan of Sentinels, their armor was my first purchase in the Infinite store. While I’m sad to see this situation emerge, I can’t help but approach it the same way I do my day job.
I’ll be linking to every resource I use for this at the bottom of this post.
Sentinels were accused of forcing a specific game server instead of allowing Halo Infinite to determine this automatically. Infinite will select a game server that is fair to all players (or do it’s best to) in custom games, which includes professional matches, such as the NA Kickoff Qualifier. In addition to this, HCS wanted to investigate a 4+ hour delay on Day 2 of the above event, looking to resolve both issues.
This leads us with two issues that HCS is obligated to resolve. Section I, Paragraph C “Cheating” Cites this:
“C. Cheating The Administration understands that it has an obligation to facilitate a level playing field for all competitors. Competing fairly and to the best of your ability is important towards fostering a healthy competitive environment, and the Administration is committed to ensuring the facilitation of fair competition throughout the duration of the Program and beyond. Any form of cheating, whether intentional or not, by any Participant is strictly prohibited. Participants are required and expected to maintain cognizance of these Official Rules and any form of cheating or violation of these rules, or the spirit of these rules, either intentionally or unintentionally, will result in penalties in accordance with the Code of Conduct. All Participants are prohibited from influencing or manipulating a Game or Match so that the outcome is determined by anything other than fair and reasonable play….
This isn’t HCS being polite regarding the rules, this it a formal acknowledgement that they must act if presented with anything that impacts fair competition.
- A delay was caused by network issues at an HCS event, lasting over four hours.
- A team has been accused of forcing Halo Infinite to select a specific server, which caused higher ping for other players.
This is plenty reason enough for HCS to investigate further. One issue observed themselves, the other presented by competing players. The delay itself is covered by the above statement within Paragraph C, they must investigate to ensure fair play and honest competition. The accusations bring two subsections into play:
...2. Hacking Using any cheats, hacks or other third-party "helper" applications, or the modification of game code or files beyond the intended use of standard game options while competing in any element of the Program for the purpose of gaining an unfair competitive advantage...
...4. Network Abuse Participants may not intentionally delay or slow gameplay, including but not limited to stalling, disconnecting network cables, interruption of network connectivity, or any other known or unknown manner of tampering with gameplay.”
While we typically think of hacking as things like aimbots or wallhacks, both of these subsections come together to frame the investigation, as well as define potential violation of the code of conduct. The important thing to remember here is that these investigations are not a judgement of character, morals, or anything else on a personal level. This investigation is meant to verify, within reason, whether or not the Code of Conduct was violated during the event.
HCS has the responsibility to investigate the situation, as well as apply any penalties that would apply in the event of wrongdoing. Per this Code of Conduct, it is not only their right, but their obligation to do this. Otherwise, the Code of Conduct would be worthless!
Contract investigations are far different from criminal investigations. The opinion of any third parties is largely irrelevant, and in some cases the only opinion that would matter is the one conducted by the party responsible for the investigation (per the contract) unless taken to a court of law. In those cases, it is considered a civil matter, as they reference a potential breach in contract, not a criminal act.
Continuing here, I would ask that you keep in mind that we do not know what contracts are in place between Sentinels and HCS. All we have to reference is the Code of Conduct, and I will not be making assumptions on any agreements between the two organizations.
HCS cites the following findings from their investigation:
- HCS was able to reproduce the accused behavior from Royal 2, and data from the network information obtained in this reproduction matched the network information from the matches Royal 2 participated in.
- HCS was able to confirm that there were no server issues, game outages, or any other issues that would have produced similar data, or impacted any of the matches.
- HCS was able to confirm no other players had similar data anomalies.
- Royal 2’s game was only able to connect to a single server: “westus2”.
These findings create reasonable suspicion that Sentinels could not only be involved, but responsible for the server issues as well as participating in a Code of Conduct violation. I have seen a lot of people confused by this, so I will break down the logical conclusion:
The HCS investigation:
- narrowed the issues down to one server: westus2.
- narrowed the issues down to a specific set of matches, all involving Sentinels.
- narrowed the behavior down to a specific player: Royal 2.
- All of the above was not only verified, but able to be reproduced by HCS.
Of course, Sentinels is not only a team of fantastic players, but is very reputable and a valued partner of HCS. In response to these findings, HCS (in good faith) reached out to Sentinels for an explanation, or evidence that they were in line with the rules found within the Code of Conduct.
Per the press release from HCS, Sentinels were given “several” opportunities to provide reliable evidence to show they were not involved in the any sort of wrongdoing between the dates of 11/23/21 to 12/3/21. They were not able to do so, per the same press release.
While not cited within the press release, I did find it interesting that Sentinels were giving “several” opportunities, especially given that compliance with requests from HCS is mandatory.
S. Non-Compliance Participants are required to comply with the reasonable instructions given to them by the
Administration, including Referees, representatives of the Administration and all auxiliary associates or affiliates of the Administration.
In addition to this, Partnered Teams are subject to “heightened expectations”, meaning they must follow the rules exactly.
HCS Official Handbook IX. Heightened Conduct Expectations:
“Due to the elevated stature and reach associated with being partnered with the Program, Partnered Teams owners, staff, affiliates, and rosters are subject to heightened expectations of conduct and behavior. These heightened expectations may include but are not limited to the following: Supplemental conduct standards within partnered team agreements; A responsibility for Partnered Teams to avoid, actual or perceived, violation of the Official Rules; and, The more stringent application of penalties in comparison to similar violations committed by Player(s) from non-partnered teams.”\
The HCS investigation concluded with the following findings:
- Royal 2, a member of Sentinels, was participating in Cheating, Hacking, and Network abuse per the investigation performed internally by HCS. When presented with these findings, Sentinels was not able to provide reasonable evidence that Royal 2, or the team, was not involved or responsible for the behavior of the game server issues.
Again, this is not a personal accusation, moral judgement, or anything negative towards Royal 2 on a personal level (while it may seem that way). HCS is simply ruling in a violation of the Code of Conduct, and has applied penalties based on this.
Per HCS, the following penalties have been applied accordingly:
- Removal of HCS 4v4 Points (3,660 total) for all members of the Sentinels team.
- Forfeiture of the 1st place Pool Play position for the HCS Kickoff Major Raleigh 2021 awarded in the NA Kickoff Qualifier 12-1.
- Suspension of Royal 2 from HCS Competition until January 28, 2022.
Sentinels has been given until December 13, 2021 to find a replacement. Unfortunately, this leaves less than a day to find a replacement. This sounds unfair to the team, though I have identified numerous ways Sentinels could have been punished for this, per II. Disciplinary Actions & Penalties
- Cheating or Foul Play
- Exploiting or Abuse of In-Game Mechanics
- Network Abuse
Instead, they have only cited Hacking as the only penalty being applied. Each of these possible penalties have a suite of responses afforded to HCS by their Code of Conduct. While the situation is frustrating, it could certainly be worse.
Many players are suggesting that Sentinels have a lesser punishment, such as only losing seed placement. While I don’t see many reasons as to why, I can only infer that they like the team and it’s players. Honestly, I do, too. Though I also recognize that the penalty must not only serve as a deterrent, but actually has to penalize the team.
Cheating comes with a risk, and if the gamble pays off regardless of penalty, then it quickly becomes the norm. A temporary suspension, while unfortunately timed, does serve as a strong deterrent for any other team that would consider cheating, as well. In addition, it creates a stronger Code of Conduct, as everyone now knows that it will be enforced.
I would like to see 343i provide us with some information on the server quality, hit registration, crossplay balance and desync issues that many players are reporting in Halo Infinite. Just as the Code of Conduct holds players accountable, it is up to us to hold 343i and HCS accountable as well. I have no fears or concerns of these fixes coming, though after seeing the response to this incident, I believe it would go a long way. Thanks for reading.