A Trumpet Blast Against the Monstrous Regiment of Submarines

Recently there has been some discussion in the community about the practice of “Submarine-ing”.

This is the strategy of intentionally scoring fewer points in a game with an eye towards avoiding certain match-ups in a tournament. This issue has come up a few times before and I thought it might be helpful to discuss some of the ethical implications of this practice

As defined earlier Submarine-ing is useful for players who want to avoid being paired against the most successful opponents in a tournament. Most tournaments use a battle-points pairing system whereby they pit the players with the most amount of wins, and the closest number of battle-points against each other. The purpose of such a system is to encourage fairness, and that players will be increasingly facing off against opponents who are of a similar skill level (ideally). Thus a Submarine-ing player can work the system to eek out wins while also guaranteeing themselves the weakest opponents in the next match. It’s not a fool-proof tactic and only works in mid-size tournaments.

Recently a well-known competitive player was caught submarine-ing and admitted to it. The individual argued they weren’t trying to avoid facing top players, they just wanted to face them later in the event. Regardless, this individual was punished with a round loss and the tournament continued. Since then there have been a number of people who have argued that Submarine-ing is a perfectly legitimate strategy. After all they are just taking advantage of the set up, and anyone else can do the same. As we said earlier it’s not foolproof so why the fuss? Winners are still playing winners.

Warhammer 40k isn’t the only game facing these issues. When I first heard of this situation it immediately made me think of the Badminton scandal in the 2012 Olympics. I am sure most of us remember this, but for the unenlightened: in 2012 8 players were disqualified from the group stage of the Team Badminton event for intentionally trying to manipulate the knockout round. Several teams were seeking to avoid playing against another team from their own country, and were deliberately losing their events. I think this event shows how serious such allegations are and that attempts to manipulate pairings are regarded as unethical.

Diving further into the matter one of the big issues I have with Submarine-ing is that, in essence, it cheats your future opponents. Since we know the battle-points system is designed to encourage fairness by manipulating that system, you are cheating your future opponent out of a game against another player closer to his or her skill level. Furthermore, one can innocently claim that you are fine playing the better players in later rounds, but we all know it’s a desperate gamble for time as you hope they suffer an unlucky loss. I have witnessed a well known player admit to submarine-ing so as to avoid the two top ranked opponents in a major in the hope they would knock each other out.

Fixing It:
This is the hardest part of the issue. Unfortunately, it is almost impossible to prove if a player is Submarine-ing unless they admit to it. Thus I think the bulk of the discussion should revolve around ways to make it a less appealing strategy. Firstly I think tournament apps shouldn’t show individual battle-point scores for a player until the end of the event. Another option would be to pair players against each other solely on a W/L basis and ignore battle-points for pairings. While I have no idea if these suggestions are feasible they would go someways in making the practice a lot riskier.

What are your thoughts on the practice? Do you think it is unethical? What solutions do you think are practical?

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