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Balancing

Balancing and esports

There is no clear-cut definition of the term “balancing”.[1] It is used in many different ways. In the broadest sense, it describes the balance of certain elements in video games and the process in which this balance is created and maintained. The basic idea of balancing is that the elements in video games are arranged antagonistically.

For example, if a character has characteristics that give it an advantage over a certain other character, this is balanced out by the fact that – in this regard – the superior character is in turn vulnerable to the characteristics of a third character. This is also referred to as the “rock-paper-scissors principle”.[2] It is generally assumed that good balancing is essential for the success of a game.[3]

Balancing is by no means limited to the characteristics of game characters or objects. For example, the frequency of successes and failures,[4] the ratio of cooperation and competition[5] as well as the role of luck and skill[6] are also considered relevant factors. Balancing can be realised by adjusting characteristics of game characters or items, in particular, they can be strengthened (see the article on ‚buff‘) or weakened (see the article on ‚nerf‘). However, balancing can also be done differently, e.g. by adjusting the game modes, game environments or matchmaking, as well as by implementing new content. There are also technologies that allow dynamic balancing (so-called ‚dynamic difficulty adjustment‘). In this case, the game software reacts directly to the course of the game and adjusts the conditions individually to create an entertaining game experience.[7]

Video game publishers base their balancing on collected game data.[8] For example, a study on the update practice in League of Legends has shown that the Riot continuously modified the abilities of the various game characters (‚champions‘) so that they each maintained a win rate around 50 %.[9]

Balancing must already be taken into account during the development of a video game. However, a large part of the balancing in modern online video games takes place after the games have been released.[10] This is realised by means of updates. In many cases, this leads to constant fluctuations in the game conditions and players often have to ‚relearn‘ certain elements of the game.[11]

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Due to different perspectives on balancing, the ideas of when a game is “well-balanced” also differ.

Implications of balancing for esports

Good balancing is vital for the suitability of a video game as an esports title.[12] What ‘‚good balancing‘ is from the perspective of esports is determined by esports-specific interests. For esports, it is very important that the game is not only player -but also viewer- friendly. Also, the game must allow fair competition. These preferences are likely to differ from the preferences of video game publishers and average players. A publisher usually prioritises the profitability of the video game. This in turn depends especially on mass compatibility and is therefore orientated towards the ‘interests of the ‚masses‘, who primarily want to be entertained by the video game and place less value on authentic, fair competition. As a result, video games are often not ‚well-balanced from the perspective of esports. Moreover, methods such as dynamic balancing, which counteract the idea of authentic competition, pose a potential threat to esports.

Legal background

Only balancing through updates following the release of a video game holds legal relevance in esports. The main focus here is on the question of whether the publisher is in breach of existing contracts by modifying the video game software.

The publisher is obliged to provide the video game – in a certain condition – as part of numerous video game contracts with the players, which also include all esports players. The video game may also be subject to licence agreements with third-party organisers and agreements on competition participation with esports players or esports clubs.

To legally conduct an update, a publisher has to reserve a certain contractual scope to change the video game software. However, both the reservation and the implementation of each update itself are not possible without limits. Interests that are or could be affected by balancing must be taken into account when assessing contractual reservations and when exercising them in individual cases. For further details see the article on update.

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[1] On the different meanings Alexander Becker & Daniel Görlich, ‚’What is Game Balancing? – An Examination of Concepts‘ (2020) 1 ParadigmPlus 22.

[2] Cf. Jesse Schell, The Art of Game Design: A book of lenses (3rd edn, CRC Press 2019), at pp. 215-6.

[3] Becker & Görlich (n 1), at p. 22; Schell (n 2), at p. 212.

[4] See Schell (n 2), at pp. 217 et seq.

[5] Schell (n 2), at pp. 227 et seq.

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[6] Schell (n 2), at p. 225.

[7] See Mirna Paula Silva et al., ‚’Dynamic Difficulty Adjustment on MOBA Games‘ (2017) 18 Entertainment Computing 103; critically Schell (n 2), at p. 249.

[8] In detail Carson K. Leung et al., ‚’Game Data Mining: Clustering and Visualization of Online Game Data in Cyber-Physical Worlds‘ (2017) 112 Procedia Computer Science 2259.

[9] Artian Kica et al., ‚’Nerfs, Buffs and Bugs – Analysis of the Impact of Patching on League of Legends‘ (Proceedings of the 2016 International Conference on Collaboration Technologies and Systems), at pp. 129 & 134.

[10] Kica (n 9), at p. 129 & 134.

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[11] Kica (n 9), at p. 130.

[12] Cf. Tobias M. Scholz, eSports is Business: Management in the World of Competitive Gaming, (Springer 2019), at p. 50.

Author

  • Valentin Horst

    Valentin Horst works as an associate lawyer in IT, media, and sports law at FREY Rechtsanwälte in Cologne, Germany. He wrote his doctoral thesis about the influence of video game publishers on the esports economy and holds a Master of Laws in IP and the Digital Economy from the University of Glasgow. He teaches esports law at the University of Applied Management. View all posts

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