November 29, 2021

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ALGS coaching rules frustrate, confuse Apex pros

Several pro Apex Legends players expressed frustration and confusion with ALGS coaching rules on social media last night after the day’s Pro League matches broadcast some teams receiving live coaching.

Complexity’s Bowen “Monsoon” Fuller started the discussion on Twitter, singling out Cloud9 coach Jamison “PVPX” Moore and posting a video clip of the team’s in-game communication to accompany his tweet.

“Since when are coaches allowed to talk MID GAME and influence their teams decisions, rotates, and information?” Monsoon asked. “PVP is literally sitting there calling out edge teams and when rotates are bad mid pro league. Who thought this was a good idea lmao?” Monsoon later deleted the tweet.

Dot Esports spoke with PVPX after last night’s matches to get his take on the issue. PVPX related his own views on what kind of coaching should be allowed in the ALGS and staunchly defended his communication with the C9 roster on Sunday, Oct. 17. 

Four months ago, when PVPX was starting out as an official coach in Apex, he reached out to Zac Conely, EA’s league operations manager for the ALGS, to determine the limits of permissible conduct for coaches.

“I asked him, ‘What can I do? Am I allowed to talk to [my team] mid-game? How does this work?’” PVPX told Dot Esports. “And he said that, under no circumstances, I could talk to them in-game. I couldn’t signal to them or anything. They’re supposed to be just like LAN, where I’m allowed to stand behind them, I’m allowed to watch while they play. And then in between games, I can talk to them and go over strats. And I could also watch people’s VODs in between games. And I could watch all the other teams in between games. I just couldn’t talk to them.”

Yesterday, however, after hearing reports of teams in other regions getting live feedback from coaches, North American coaches received new guidance about what was legal conduct for them. It seemed to directly contradict the older rule.

“We asked them again in the official ALGS Discord,” PVPX said. “‘Are coaches allowed to talk to teams mid-game?’ And they said, ‘Yeah, you’re allowed to sit in the chat with them, you’re allowed to talk to them mid-game, and you’re allowed to do like, whatever you want.’”

Coaches can’t directly feed information about the whereabouts of other squads gleaned from the streams of competitors, according to PVPX. But other teams proceeded on the assumption that gathering information of that nature was perfectly legal since those streams were public information, broadcast to thousands of people on Twitch and available to anyone with a computer. 

Tyler “Dezignful” Gardner, who plays for G2, freely admitted online that their coach observed other teams who fielded a recon character to gain early information about the movement of the ring. While streams of tournament matches are broadcast with a five-minute delay, that allowed teams like G2 a small window where valuable information was easily conveyed to a team by their coach.

Oddly, the ALGS rulebook doesn’t contain any mention of coaching at all. For his part, PVPX was cautious about his interpretation of the new guidance.

“I think they didn’t give us a straight answer to say [watching other teams] was against the rules,” he said. “Personally, I didn’t even watch any other teams. I only watched C9 live. And then I went back in between each game and I watched VODs and the main broadcast and all that stuff. Because this is like, all new to me. I literally found out about it 20 minutes before the tournament started.”

Aidan “rocker” Grodin, who plays for NRG, called for the rule to be changed.

The Code of Conduct in Appendix A of the ALGS rulebook says “using any external software designed to give the competitor an unfair advantage” is prohibited.

That could mean G2’s use of Twitch was illicit conduct. It is, after all, a piece of external software, which they used to learn and then relay game information from the streams of other teams. Of course, Twitch is not “designed” for that, and whether its use in a tournament constitutes “an unfair advantage” is much more difficult to parse.

If the information is freely available to everyone, it might be difficult to see or prove how it’s unfair. Third-party browser extensions that allow viewers to watch multiple Twitch streams at once, very common on Apex Twitch, are another gray area.

Team Liquid coach hodsic weighed in as well.

Opinions in the pro community radically differ about the fairness of live coaching in general. Some appear to welcome it, likening it to other sports where coaches routinely offer strategic options in real-time. Others, like PVPX, disagree with the rules but are unwilling to give up a concrete competitive advantage.

“I don’t think that it should be allowed,” PVPX said. “I think that they should lock all the players in a voice channel on the official Discord, and then in between games, your coach should be able to go in and talk to your team. Because there’s things that a coach can do that players are incapable of tracking, like watching the kill feed, paying attention to exact compositions—not every player can do that perfectly. And like having a fourth person is just a strict hard advantage.” 

The change certainly raises concerns about competitive integrity and what it means to coach a team in a battle royale where information about the game state is asymmetric by design. If the number of players grumbling about it on Twitter is any indication, the rule is not popular. 

That makes sense for two reasons. One is that most teams in the ALGS Pro League don’t have coaches, putting them at a disadvantage against teams that do. The second is that many pro Apex players make a healthy proportion of their income from streaming and do particularly well during big tournaments. But the only way to ensure coaches don’t watch a team is to refrain from streaming the event entirely or stream with a longer delay, both of which reduce viewership.

Dot Esports reached out to Respawn and EA for clarification regarding in-game coaching but has not yet received a response. 

ALGS coaching rules frustrate, confuse Apex pros