Disclaimer: I am a North Carolina attorney. I do not practice law in Europe, so please take this post as an outsiders viewpoint.
Today, one of the developers of Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, announced that the Pro Ladder would not be delayed from its announced start date of January 4, 2018.
This came as something of a surprise to much of the player base. The game has unfortunately been suffering from both technical and balance (at least in the view of the vocal minority) issues since a patch in the middle of December. Many top players have expressed their frustrations with the state of the game. With these complaints in mind, many people believed that there would be a patch before the new Pro Ladder season began, or that the Pro Ladder would be delayed to allow for time for a hotfix to be released.
This was not the case. My topic of discussion today is a comment by Rafal Jaki, a developer that works for CD Projekt Red, who stated the reason for not delaying the release of the Pro Ladder was as follows:
We are obligated by our rules to start the pro ladder season this way - the hot fix is not coming today so taking more days out of pro ladder is a bad thing as well. I know this is not ideal but we are doing what we can to fix the bugs, so we would ask for some leniency.
The Rules that Jaki is citing are the CD Projekt Red - Gwent Masters - Offical Rules. These Rules are the framework that guide the esports scene for Gwent--of which the Pro Ladder is an integral part of the structure of the esports scene. Long story short, players compete across two months seasons to gain a berth into CDPR tournaments. Here is an article that explains the process in more detail.
Official Rules and Their Importance to Competitive Integrity
I've now finally reached the point in the article where I discuss the issue at hand. (I'm aware that I have a tendency to excessively set the stage for my topics of discussion, but I am of the mind that these posts should be accessible to those outside the scene of any given game).
The Rules, as linked above purport to be the "legally binding rules for the GWENT Masters." These Rules establish two very important expectations:
1. CDPR's Expectations of the Player Participants
The Rules govern the behavior and eligibility requirements for any player wishing to participate in the Gwent esports scene. These include rules for age requirements (18 and up), play patterns (one player per account), and prohibited entrants (no employees of CDPR are allowed to participate). The Rules also discuss the number of games played, and the requirement that players are able to attend the tournaments in person should they qualify at the top of the Pro Ladder.
These Rules' purpose is to create a uniform understanding of what is expected of the players to participate in the Gwent esports scene. It also has the secondary effect of allowing CDPR to disqualify anyone who does not abide by the Rules (""if a Participant does not accept or fails to comply with these Rules, he/she must not participate in the GWENT Masters"). This creates a layer of protection for CDPR--if a player complains that they were unfairly denied access to the esports scene, CDPR can point to the object Rule that the player failed to comply with.
By corollary, it serves as an equal level of protection for the Player. If the Player complies with all of the Rules, CDPR may not arbitrarily or prejudicially disqualify the Player. This creates a level of expectations on the conduct and eligibility of the participants, and gives each side a public rule-set to apply to any questions of eligibility.
2. The Participant Player's Expectations of CD Projekt Red
It is perhaps not as obvious, but the Rules establish an equal number of expectations of CDPR's behavior and actions in the esports scene. Of greatest importance, CDPR is obligated to pay prize money to eligible Participants that meet specific conditions under the Rules (namely, winning tournaments). Without the requirement to pay prize money, the pro Gwent scene would not exist. If CDPR just said "we might pay prize money if you win Gwent Challenger, just play and find out," Participants would riot. These Rules make CPDR's promise to pay prize money legally binding, and form the base of the esports scene. Without prizes, there would be no scene.
The expectation that is most important today is the expectation of the structure of the Gwent esports scene and the Pro Ladder format. The Rules go into great detail as to the format of the Pro Ladder--from Crown Points to the top placing players, to how MMR is determined, to, at issue today, the stricture of the seasons. The Rules state "each following Pro Ladder Season (meaning each season after the first) will commence within 24 hours after the end of the previous Pro Ladder Season." The rules also determine the exact moment that the Pro Ladder season ends (12.00 CET on specified dates).
These Rules are not for show. Consider the following situation: CDPR decides to end the Pro Ladder Season 6 hours earlier than the time stated in the Rules. The Players (and by proxy, Reddit) would have a fit! Pro players would make videos about how they were making a strong push for Top 8, and now they've been cheated out of a chance for $100,000 dollars. And they'd be correct.
This same rationale applies to the start of a Pro Ladder season, although the net effect is obviously not as drastic as a sudden closing of the season. If the Season arbitrarily started four days late, this would reduce the amount of time for all players to compete. Some would be effected more than others--depending on schedules and the amount of time they have to play. This would be a breach of the Rules, and of standards of fair play.
There is always an opposite viewpoint, otherwise this topic would not be worthy of discussion. The basic rationale for a delay of Pro Ladder is that if there is a later hotfix, players who start the season late will be at a disadvantage (this is due to the unique way MMR is determined in Gwent and is beyond the scope of this article). There is some accuracy to this viewpoint. However, conformity to the Rules as written trumps the uniform "injustice" imposed upon the Participants as a result of a flawed Pro Ladder season. Each player currently participating under the Rules is aware of when the season begins, and has the same opportunity to gain MMR at the beginning of the season before any changes are made (and CDPR has all but promised changes). It is of a lesser evil, and in line with expectations that the Rules of the GWENT Masters, that the Rules be followed in all cases other than a complete breakdown of the product as a whole.
This stance by CDPR on not delaying the start of the Pro Ladder Season 3 also sets the precedent for the future: The Pro Ladder will not be delayed for reasons of balance or bugs that still leave the game in working condition. If CDPR ceded to the demands of Reddit and delayed the Pro Ladder, it would set a dangerous precedent going forward about the conditions under which the Pro Ladder would be impacted by balance or bugs. A perfect example of what happens when the community gets too involved in the "game balance" process can be seen in Ban List Discussions for Magic the Gathering. This is a timeline we should be trying to avoid.
Finally, it is true that CDPR did include a rule that "CD PROJEKT RED reserves the right to edit, change, delete or add to these Rules in its sole and absolute discretion at any time and will use reasonable efforts to inform Participants when it does so." My opinion is that CDPR is correct in that the current situation is not an instance where a change to the rules is warranted, and would set dangerous precedent for issues that will invariably arise down the road.
In closing, I agree with many of the critics of the current state of the game, but from a organizational, consistency, and "fairness" standpoint, I believe that CDPR's decision not to delay the Pro Ladder Season 3 to be the correct choice given the circumstances. I am, of course, always open to discussion on any points I have raised above.