Quitting is sportsmanlike in StarCraft 2, but there are rules
There was a big debate between PAR readers about the proper time to quit a StarCraft 2 match that sprouted up following our report on StarCraft 2 player, Greg “Idra” Fields, and his dismissal from team Evil Geniuses. Things got heated, and we realized this was a topic worth exploring in more detail.
“Quitting” in StarCraft is considered to be common practice and good manners, but many readers expressed bemusement that any professional player could be considered a sportsman when they leave the game before the victory condition has been fulfilled.
I'm an avid StarCraft 2 player, and I love watching professional tournaments as well. I've seen and played thousands of matches, and I've never once questioned the custom of quitting before the game is complete. It's accepted practice, and this is why.
Continuing to play in a game you've obviously lost is quite the faux pas. “It most certainly is considered bad etiquette to unnecessarily drag out a game,” said Matt Weber, director of operations at the hugely popular StarCraft forum, TeamLiquid.net. “The player Fantasy is actually quite famous for this, and the phrase 'Fantasy GG timing' is commonly used to describe scenarios in which one player refuses to give up even though he cannot reasonably win.”
There's very little precedent for leaving games early in traditional sports, and it's rare in eSports as well. League of Legends games, for instance, are nearly always fought until the Nexus is destroyed. Street Fighter players fight through the final round. Counter-Strike players battle until the last kill. Why don't StarCraft players compete until the last building is destroyed?
“We occasionally see similar early-good game calls from players and teams in Quake, Dota and League of Legends, but for the most part they also have a play-it-out attitude,” said eSports journalist Rod Breslau of GameSpot.com. “The way the game is finally 'won' in StarCraft (all buildings destroyed) is much further off than when the game is actually over compared to other competitive games.”
It's also not like Street Fighter in that SF players always have a reasonable chance of a comeback as long as they have a sliver of life left. Their character still has all the same capabilities, and if they can pull off a miracle in one round then it can all turn around. Not so in StarCraft.
It's difficult to compare SC to most other sports or eSports, because losing your army is not the same as being behind by two matches in Super Street Fighter IV or by 20 points in a game of basketball. It's more like being behind by 20 points with one player left on your team.
Dragging it out
The important thing to remember is that StarCraft players almost never bow out of a game in which they still have a reasonable chance to win. These players aren't storming off the stage in a huff, they're politely agreeing that they've been bested. There comes a point in any match where the odds of winning are so incredibly astronomical, that it would be a waste of time to draw the game out and force the winner to hunt down every last building, like an NBA team that used all of their timeouts to prolong a game they have no chance of winning.
It's not necessarily about sparing the viewer though. “Since eSports as we know it stems from roughly 1999, the roots of leaving a game when victory is all but impossible can not be said to have anything to do with honoring the attention span of the viewership,” said crowd-farvorite StarCraft 2 player and former Warcraft 3 pro, Manuel “Grubby” Schenkhuizen. “What viewership? There was no one watching us play games, let's say 20 years ago.”
That said, today it's a nice bonus. It's a much better spectator game when the game ends after climactic battles. Players will often quit right after losing a large battle because their army is destroyed and they have no way of stopping the enemy from charging into their base.
There's room for interpretation though. “In most games [the GG] should be when your opponent has stopped your ability to produce units, because it's only then that you can really say you have no chance,” said Team Liquid's Weber.
Some PAR readers felt like leaving the game early closed the door on the possibility for a miraculous comeback. Amazing turnarounds are possible, but the thing to remember is that in StarCraft those still require the ability to mine appreciable resources, produce units, and mount an effective defense (or stall until you can build a defense.) If your opponent has taken any one of those away from you, then the match is lost. If you quit before these conditions are met, be prepared to lose some good will in the community.
“We may also consider GG-ing a way of respecting your opponent's as well as your own time,” said Grubby. “A foregone conclusion is not exciting, and we play games because it's exciting. Though traditional sports are encumbered by tradition. eSports is new, the rules were largely undetermined, and therefore we have been writing the rules along the way.”
Ultimately, comparisons to other sports are a little bit useless. StarCraft is it's own beast and the competitive scene has one of the most storied, professional, and mannered competitive groups of players in any sport - traditional sports included. For fifteen years, longer if you count previous pro RTS games like the Warcraft series, rules and traditions have been developing, and it is universally agreed that quitting a match, saying “good game” then shaking your opponent's hand is highly sportsmanlike. There are rules about when it's acceptable to quit the game, and breaking those rules is frowned upon in the culture of competitive StarCraft 2 play, even if this custom seems strange to those outside the community.