Reckful, one of the top PVP Arena players in the World of Warcraft, was permabanned for “account sharing” on Christmas. A lot of people had sympathized for him and it seems like there won’t be any question in terms of revoking the ban (at least from the conversation over on Twitter). Was the permaban too harsh or did Reckful deserve it at the end of the day?
In Blizzard’s Terms of Service, one of the policies disallows players from account sharing. Supposedly, you receive a warning from Blizzard if you violate these policies. Byron (Reckful’s real name) claims that he did not receive any warnings from Blizzard, despite most likely knowing full well the consequences of his actions. Furthermore, apparently Byron streamed himself doing the account sharing, which provides more evidence of his violation. Byron claims that he was doing this for fun just to try things out, not performing any malicious activity nor helping the person gain some unfair advantage. Yet from a strict legal point of view, Blizzard is correct with imposing the ban, since after all it is their rules and there’s clear video evidence to demonstrate this.
I’m not sure if the other person was banned who shared his account in this situation. And I don’t know exactly how Blizzard made the connection to be able to Byron outside of Reckful being one of the consistently top viewed streamers on Twitch (and that Blizzard does monitor the activities of streamers). In this situation, I think Blizzard was acting a bit creepy in a very Big Brother, 1984-ish manner. The permaban does sound harsh from Reckful’s viewpoint because, at the end of the day, he helped contribute to Blizzard and the World of Warcraft community through his videos, streaming and participation at events.
Yet in this particular situation I think Blizzard needs to take a stand. What I’m about to write might sound harsh and controversial (hence the blog’s name) but it’s a huge problem in the industry of gaming and streaming. The problem is what I call the “privileged gamer syndrome.”
There is no denying that Reckful earned his popularity through very high end game play and that he put in his hours and dedicated himself to becoming what he is today. However, the thing is that he has done some pretty shady things on his stream. I’ve seen him gamble for gold (large sums), get power leveled using easy methods (which eventually led to nerfs), get carried in the game for non-PVP activities, etc. A lot of what goes on is due to his popularity and people wanting to get close to him by providing him favors. Sure, it’s all for entertainment to help support him and his channel. But it really isn’t a good message to other streamers in being able to use their popularity to gain an unfair advantage to people who do not share that level of popularity.
That’s the core of the message behind the ban.
Popular streamers will always have a clear advantage over many other players as viewers want to somehow gain their trust and get close to them. You have a somewhat perverse trickle down capitalistic effect of how things work in that manner. It creates an unhealthy chain effect that might help a very few people but in truth just keeps those on top strong. And I’m not entirely against the idea of the bonding between streamers and their community. That’s a healthy thing. What I’m personally against is when someone takes advantage of that community and tries to bend the rules.
While Byron wasn’t intentionally causing any malicious harm, the thing is that if he really wanted to play a paladin here he should’ve just leveled one on his own. Reckful is known to hate leveling, hence finding any means necessary to avoid the leveling process. But it is part of the game and a very core feature that everyone has to do. It’s a rite of passage just like getting a high arena rating. If he really hated the leveling process so badly, he should’ve just boosted a paladin. He’s got the viewers and I’m certain that some viewer could help him out by donating enough money just so he could get a level 90 boosted toon.
It was a really stupid and arrogant move in my opinion. If he was going to do something like that, he clearly should’ve done it off stream. I suppose that part of the issue is that these days popular streamers feel compelled to broadcast all their activities. While not streaming can and probably does impact the monetary aspect of a streamer’s life, streamers still have to realize that there are clear limits what people should and shouldn’t broadcast. It’s like that time when someone streamed a bug in the Auction House that allowed him to make a ton of real money in Diablo 3. A sensible person would have kept that bug private and possibly even report it to Blizzard directly to avoid legal consequences. Another streamer kept going and even showed enthusiasm for the exploit.
If Blizzard unpermabans his account, it will tell other popular streamers that they get a ticket out by using their community to vocalize their support against certain bans (and this has happened on numerous occasions) Now, imagine someone who was innocent in the same predicament but without the community to back them. Who is going to go to bat for that person? Is it fair for the person who chooses just to play without streaming or doing anything to gain popularity not to have a vocal community backing them? This really should not be an issue of popularity but on fairness.
Now, a bigger issue is whether or not the permaban thing is too harsh of a policy in general. I think the overall way things were handled does seem very draconian. First, if someone at Blizzard was monitoring streams on Twitch and eying Reckful in particular, it’s just way too Orwellian (and again this is known as Blizzard has publicly admitted in one of their videos in showing their data center security how they DO in fact monitor streamers). Second, in all fairness to Reckful, he should have received at least one warning from Blizzard. The whole account sharing policy goes really far in general. What if your friend comes over and wants to just try the game out? Obviously, Blizzard wants to infect that person with their AIDS in getting him to just install the trial/free version. But if the experience is just to PVP at a high end to show what the game can be, the trial/free version is virtually meaningless.
And the leveling experience thing obviously ties into Blizzard’s business model. I can see Reckful’s point of view in just wanting to try a different class out. If you’re an experienced player and want to give things a shot, outside of PTR you really have no outlet. Instead, you’re either forced to level a toon up (which takes time that eventually translates into money for Blizzard) or boost a toon. Both are tied into making Blizzard more money and I really detest how the legal department enters into the picture here. Sometimes I feel that Blizzard’s whole permaonline crap goes too far in giving them too much control over the work that players put into developing their characters. And for Reckful’s case, he has given his heart and soul into the game for 10 years. So that’s 10 years of work pretty much wasted for at the end of the day a trivial matter (if you take away the “privileged streamer advantage” argument).
What would my advice for Reckful be? Personally, I think the message can be translated into a positive one. One, it’s obviously a learning experience not just for him but for everyone involved in the streaming community in terms of what you should and should not broadcast (doesn’t even have to just be from Twitch but from any social media outlet). Two, maybe it’s a hint that it’s time to move on from a game he invested 10 years of his life into and find something new.
One of the biggest weaknesses in streaming is connecting one’s identity to a single thing. In Reckful’s case, it’s either with Rogues or with World of Warcraft, Blizzard and gaming. What happens when your body starts to degenerate from age and you can’t play at a high level anymore? What do you do then? What’s your backup plan once a game, the community or your life no longer can support this lifestyle? E-sports is like any sport in that you have to maintain yourself to perform at a high level. And there’s not as much money at this time for people to retire off of.
Perhaps, Reckful should either find a new game or company or look into a career outside of streaming. As much as I like Blizzard and have an affinity for their games (including World of Warcraft), I can’t see them around forever. I think decisions like this while legally correct and mostly correct still has a very adverse affect on the industry and company’s image on a whole. There’s just a lot of implicit ramifications that will come out that simply are not positive no matter what for Blizzard and it’s something that they have to deal with.
And I can’t see how someone can make a living just streaming their games. It works when you’re young and have low risk. Eventually, there just comes a time when you either need to evolve and not depend on the community for support. This especially comes true once you have a family. If anything that should be a general message to streamers in general who view that lifestyle as ideal where all you have to do is just turn on a webcam and play games all day. It’s far more complicated than that and people should understand the risk before trying to get involved.