In a saddening turn of events, the first day of the StreamFleet Showdown Invitational tournament has been postponed by a week, and is now due to take place on April 27 and 28. This decision is the result of huge problems with the Thunderdome server and specifically the “tournament tool”, a piece of software used in recent years by multiple tournaments to ensure the smooth running of competitive play on Thunderdome. There is a post from Jin’taan and the StreamFleet team, but I wanted to take this opportunity to shed a little more light on the situation, explain to players why this delay is necessary, and what the cause of the delay truly is.
The Tournament Tool
To give readers an idea of how important the tournament tool is to this type of EVE gameplay, it effectively runs the show, and in any sort of larger-scale, more complex tournament, the tool is absolutely critical. The tool’s numerous duties include moving players to the right system and area in space so they can begin on an even footing, tracking the match progress with a point system, and flags up any issues with ships or fittings to referees according to the tournament rules. It also enforces the arena boundary violation system, removing the potential for human error when refereeing a pilot straying beyond the arena space.
The tool also outputs all these details to the ‘FancyUI’ system which viewers will be familiar with if they have watched the Alliance Tournament and other competitive events. This interface is integral to the viewing experience, as it shows not only the health state of each individual ship, but also any other Electronic Warfare or Remote Assistance effects such as warp scramblers and stasis webifiers, jamming attempts, and even more. This information feeds stream commentators and analysts in their description of the action people tune in to see, and without that information stream, the tournament staff are just as in the dark about events in the arena as viewers, making educated guesses based on effect visuals.
The issues in question came to light in the evening of Wednesday, April 17 when Jin’taan asked for volunteers to test that the tool was functional and that everything would work as planned. I conscripted a few members of my team to help out, and we spent more than an hour trying to start a match and run it to a completed state. We began by trying to have some fun, with an attempt to teleport our Raven State Issue, Megathron Federate Issue, and Fiend into the match system. The tool kicked up its first major problem here, not even displaying a UI for the first few minutes. The tool then recovered to be partially functional, as it successfully flagged the rule-breaking ships and modules we were in. This lack of UI was a constant error throughout our testing, though, with periods of partial functionality punctuated by periods of complete unusability.
However, the issues did not stop there. After another concerning few minutes waiting for the tool to override the module errors, we got to the stage where we would be teleported to the match system on Thunderdome. This aspect of the tool was quite simply broken. Attempts to troubleshoot the tool and why it was unable to teleport us included swapping ships, making sure all the fits obeyed the tournament ruleset, and ensuring everything was correct on our end, with nothing that we tried making any sort of impact.
In a last-ditch effort to see if it was simply the teleportation that was broken, we manually flew to the match system with our rule-compliant ships. Once in the system, we found another aspect of the tool that did work – the enabling and disabling of ship movement in the system. However, we still could not be moved by the tool within the system. We warped to the arena, Jin’taan triggered the match simulation, and we brawled it out in our destroyers, which made clear to us further issues within the tool’s systems. As one side of the brawl was entirely eliminated, the software could not recognise the destruction of ships and end the simulation. Further, there was no way to manually end the fight through the tool, and even clearing the system of all players failed to bring a stop to the match instance.
Ultimately, there is no way at all for the organisers or competitors to bring any sort of quality event to everyone in the community who enjoys this (admittedly niche) aspect of EVE Online without this tool and the setup that it allows. These cumulative issues would mean that every ship would need to be checked manually, pilots would need to fly themselves into the correct starting positions, and the commentary and analysis aspect of the tournament would be far below the standard to which the involved staff hold themselves.
Furthermore, even if this situation was even vaguely acceptable to the people who have put in hundreds of hours collectively to ensure everything is in position for this event, each match in the tournament would still require at least 20 to 30 minutes of organisational effort, and then potentially another 10 minutes of fight time. The total running time of the first day of matches – a mere ten individual fights – would end up taking between 5 and 7 hours, as opposed to the relatively short 2.5 hour original timeline. That sort of timeframe is utterly unfair to the people viewing, never mind the volunteer staff team, who would be working tirelessly throughout.
This announcement is an unfortunate event for both the players and StreamFleet staff involved in this tournament, with everyone having put in a huge effort to create the best experience for viewers and participants. As Jin’taan and the StreamFleet guys put it in their public statement, “the tool is key to providing a quality viewing experience”, and this is unfortunately true. Without a functional way to automate aspects of tournament running, any form of competitive play on Thunderdome is a herculean effort from the unpaid organisers and staff who are putting on a show because they care about EVE and competition play.
On a personal note, I’m incredibly upset that this has been necessary. As both a fan of tournament play and a team captain for this Invitational, it’s so disappointing that we have to face hurdle after hurdle in the attempt to provide a fun event for players who are both participating and watching. In February, I criticised CCP’s method of announcement regarding the Alliance Tournament, stating that they needed to be clearer with their information dissemination. I also said that “there is a huge amount to lose if the AT hiatus isn’t managed properly”. As it turns out, the AT hiatus appears to have not been even close to properly managed, and the StreamFleet Showdown Invitational is likely just the first casualty when it comes to this year’s competitive play opportunities.
CCP appears to have underestimated the importance of the tool, and the work required to get it functional. The latter is understandable in light of the departure of CCP Logibro, who oversaw so much of Thunderdome’s usage. The former, however, is hard to understand. CCP have been using Thunderdome, and this tool on the Alliance Tournament for years. Any member of the EVE team who has been involved with the AT would have some awareness of the single most critical piece of software involved. This also raises another question: did the non-functioning nature of the Tournament Tool contribute to the cancellation of this year’s AT? Is this something CCP has been sitting on for months?
Time will tell if CCP can make good on the promise from their Invasion Tournament DevBlog, where they claimed to have set aside “internal resources to support player-run competitions” beyond World Tour occasions. CCP Guard, before his departure from the company, even went so far as to directly address a question regarding the Tournament Tool in the associated forum thread, stating that Tool availability was “the plan [CCP are] working towards”.
Instead, there seems to be a lack of understanding about the way in which tournaments are run by players, and what appears to be a serious dearth of support for the tools required to make tournaments like this Invitational and larger-scale events such as the Anger Games run in an effective manner. Unless CCP are able, and more to the point, inclined to dedicate some proper resources to make sure the tools needed are in place and available, the organisers will face a stark choice: to go ahead with the tournament without streaming it so that the pilots can at least take part, or to cancel the tournament completely. It is now wholly on CCP’s shoulders to determine the future of player-run tournaments in EVE Online.
My advice to CCP is, once again, that they need to do better. The Invitational was the first instance of online competition play following the Alliance Tournament cancellation, and as it turns out, CCP have royally screwed up their opportunity to put money where their mouth is. They must do better.