Esports has a problem when anyone can use an exploit that's been around for months to coast to victory.
Hit 'em where it hurts. Image: Ubisoft
The name of the game might be For Honor, but when there's a $10,000 prize pool on the line, honor apparently isn't as much of a priority when you can take advantage of a known exploit to win all that money.
Last weekend, Ubisoft hosted a tournament at the Intel Esports Arena in Burbank, California, to kick off the third season of For Honor, a fighting game known for its gnarly, albeit historically flawed premise of getting knights, Vikings, and samurai warriors to fight each other on the same field. In the tournament, Jakub Palen (or "SB.Alernakin") unflinchingly used an exploit that's been associated with the Nobushi class for months to coast to victory. The oddly complimentary name for the exploit is "unlock tech," and it prevents opponents of the naginata, or polearm-wielding class from parrying its devastating attacks.
It's not like this was some dark secret that was only dragged into the light at the tournament, which attracted almost 30,000 viewers during a 12-hour YouTube livestream on Saturday. A simple Google search proves that players have been complaining about unlock tech for months, and for just as long players have been using the Nobushi competitively for comparatively easy wins.
Palen, for his part, made no effort to hide what he was doing. He practically reveled in it. He laughed after almost every win, which was often as he never lost a set. It's hard to blame him: Ubisoft has had plenty of time to make a fix and the developer chose not to penalize the exploit for tournament participants. Even Palen's post-victory statements come off as one of the most damning commentaries on the exploit's continued existence.
"I didn't think it'd be this easy," he said, laughing, to the briefly speechless presenter. "Before the tournament, I hadn't played the game for two weeks."
Palen isn't without skill, and he clearly knows the class. Back in June he even wrote a sprawling 1,060-word commentary on Reddit explaining the Nobushi's problems, detailing every aspect of its playstyle in team modes and even acknowledging that Ubisoft needs to fix the issues with unlock tech.
"Nobushi is the best 1vX character in the game," he wrote. "Any small mistake is easily punished with a zone attack, unlocked sidewinder is a 100% safe option due to its wide arc and being unparryable. I believe unlocked attacks aren't easy to fix, otherwise they'd already be gone."
Roman Campos-Oriola, For Honor's creative director, seemed a little reluctant to express his admiration for Palen's achievement when handing him his trophy on stage, hinting that a fix for the exploit might be in the works.
"Good job, buddy," Campos-Oriola said. "Soon you might have to change your playstyle, but honestly, it's a good fucking job."
He might mean it, although it's a shame Ubisoft couldn't fix it in time for the tournament. A set of patch notes from last week referred to unlock tech as "unintended behavior" and added that the team was working to remove it.
A more focused look at "unlock tech" in action:
This isn't only a bad look for esports in general. It's yet another bad look for For Honor, a game played by tens of thousands of people that has always been plagued by technical and server issues that detract from the overall brawling fun of its knights-meet-Vikings-meet-samurai premise. Judging from comments on YouTube and Reddit, fans were hardly as outwardly impressed by what they saw as Campos-Oriola.
"I can't believe Ubisoft let an exploiter enter the tourney, let alone win it," said a commenter on YouTube going by the name The Cammunist. "It's 100 percent an exploit and everyone knows it. That kid [Palen] is the worst For Honor player I've witnessed because he can only win with that exploit. When he played [the Highlander class], he didn't get a single kill. His trophy needs to be ripped out of his hands and he needs to be banned from ever playing a single match again. "
In fact, as many of the commenters on YouTube and Reddit point out, unlock tech was but one of the facepalm-worthy bits on display. A Redditor named ColdBlackCage compiled a highly-upvoted list of some of the worst offenses, including a moment when a bug caused the loss of a match.
"This is a downright embarrassment for the For Honor community," ColdBlackCage said. "For Honor is theoretically supposed to be a fighting game, but this tournament has potentially shown to thousands of people just how thin the game is in a setting where players are supposedly trying their absolute best to secure the prize money."
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