Fairness vs. latency: what really matters for esports?

With prize pools in the millions, tournament organizers have undertaken the challenging task of creating a reliable online environment for professional players to compete. Will there be a push back from players if studios can’t guarantee a low latency, high fairness experience in these high-stakes online matches?

We have seen many esports competitions move online recently due to the current pandemic, with varying degrees of success. The 24h Le Mans Virtual comes to mind as a mixed bag of high profile, high viewership event that was unfortunately troubled by technical issues. Time will tell what to make of the recently launched PUBG Mobile World League, and the upcoming Call of Duty League Playoffs online competitions. We have also seen many cancellations, the biggest probably being the EVO Championship Series, the biggest fighting game tournament of the year, cancelling their EVO Virtual after many personalities and game studios pulled out due to allegations of sexual misconduct against the championship’s co-founder and president.

Against this backdrop of successes and failures, the state of the network connection between players and game servers has been a point of contention between tournaments organizers and players. What are the issues at play and what can be done to improve the state of these competitions?

Why low latency isn’t king

Low latency is great, but a one-sided difference in latency can create an insurmountable advantage for one of the participant. Consider a 1v1 player scenario where the average latency of the two players is 60ms. It sounds good in theory, 60ms of latency is quite manageable for most online competitive game genres. But taking in consideration only the average latency doesn’t tell the whole story; both players could have 60ms of latency, or one could have 20ms while the other one 100ms. A difference of 80ms between players makes for a match that is “unfair” by most standards, since the player with the lower latency will have a huge advantage in terms of reaction time.

This can create issues like the one experienced during the Call of Duty League back in April, where Crimsix, one of the game most accomplished player, complained that the servers were “unplayable” because his team had to play on “neutral” servers. A neutral server, in this case, means a server that would not give an unfair advantage to one team over the other. Since his team is geographically close to one of the CoD game server location, it was deemed that it would confer them an unfair advantage against the other teams, and they had to play on a different location which gave them a much higher latency. This trade-off is a typical example of the problem of latency vs. fairness, and without an understanding of how these two interact, studios and tournament organisations are bound to receive complaints from their most valuable and vocal ambassadors, professional players.

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The fairness score

So how do we measure fairness from a network perspective? The simplest way to define the fairness of a match is to take the difference in round-trip time between 2 players in a 1v1 scenario. In the case of team-based matchmaking, a team is considered a single entity and so the average latency of the group is compared to the other group(s).

If the difference in latency is low, it means the match is fair since there is only a small gap between each player’s latency. If it is high, the match becomes unfair from a network perspective as the gap in latency between players means one of them has a sizable advantage. To take a specific example, if a player has 100ms of latency and the other player 20ms, the fairness factor is quite high at 80ms and as such the match is skewed towards the player with a lower latency. As such, a low fairness score is a sign a fair match up.

Through the looking-glass

Let’s take a look behind the scenes with a concrete example from an actual game. Through our work at Edgegap, we had the privilege to work on a case study in collaboration with a leading game studio to take a look into what can be done to create a better online experience for their players. Providing a lower latency is a great step forward, but it cannot be the only variable taken into account. Compromises must be made to make sure each match is fair from both sides, enhancing the overall experience.

Let’s take a look at a specific match that was played between a player in New York and another in Ivory Coast. Although it is an “edge case” scenario, it gives insight into what can be done to improve fairness when latency is in play:

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We can see that Player 1 had a low latency of 39ms at first, and a higher latency of 93ms after moving the game server location. However, for Player 2 his latency went from 176 to 106, and as such the fairness factor went from a large 137 to a meager 13, creating a much fairer environment. In that sense, making sure the game server is situated about halfway between both players makes the most sense. That is why having a large global infrastructure footprint is key to provide both a lower latency, and a more fair environment for all players, as each available location has the ability to improve the quality of every match.

Taking fairness into account

There is no one-size-fits all in video games, and what might be great for one type of genre makes no sense in another one. Every game, every match and every player is unique, and requires a decision based on the unique parameters of the match. This is why policy-based decision-making is the best tool available to create a fair experience.

A policy-based system is quite simple in theory. Take all the parameters that helps create a fair experience for the players involved (level, ranking, latency, jitter, fairness, etc.) and weight them one against another so that you determine which one has priority. Is latency more important than the level of the players? Is fairness more important than the player ranking? It all depends on the game, and at first the game designers are the best to answer these important questions. In the long term however, machine learning will be able to provide a better insight into how to create a fairer, and more fun experience for all players involved.

Fairness is a fundamental principle in every competitive titles, yet it is rarely taken into account from the network perspective in a game’s matchmaker. Beyond simply comparing latency between players, a holistic view of the match is needed to provide the best conditions for the opposing players. When taking into account the meteoric rise of esports betting under the pandemic, fairness becomes especially critical to provide a healthy competitive scene.

What gets measured gets managed

Starting a match in a state of fairness does not mean it will stay fair for the whole duration. That’s why it’s important to track the network for each player during a match and react when a player’s online experience degrades. Different actions can now be taken: pausing the match, sending a QoS improvement request, or even increasing lag artificially for the low latency player to insure a fair competitive environment.

Once data has been accumulated for thousands of matches, we can see patterns emerge and use machine learning to make better decisions in the matchmaker. These can be about specific sites not being able to guarantee a good experience throughout a match, players coming from different ISPs that creates a degrading experience once a match is launched, etc. The decision making can then be adjusted to provide a better gameplay experience with the whole duration of the match in mind.

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Conclusion

There are many things to take into account when creating an esport title, and networking has to be a priority for game studios that aspire to release such a title. The online competitive scene is taking off under the restrictions brought by the current pandemic, but many issues remain to be solved. Studios will have to find solutions to reduce latency, improve fairness and have visibility over the network issues their players are experiencing for professional and casual players so that they do not move to the next best game that manages to get things right.

The team at Edgegap is focused on providing solutions for game studios to lower latency, improve fairness and increase the reach of game titles through the help of edge computing and machine learning. They have developed solutions specifically for esports titles such as a policy-based decision maker solution, player network monitoring and control technologies, and twork visibility tools to ensure a fun and fair online experience for players. Get in touch at info@edgegap.com

Edgegap on a Nascar race car!

We were sponsoring an official Nascar PINTY racecar over the week-end. The driver, Jocelyn Fecteau #77, could be seen on live national TV. We’ve posted below his virtual racecar with our logo, good job Jocelyn!

I’m told lag and fairness is important in those races, will the market start listening? 🙂

Case Study: Lower lag & improve fairness in 1vs1 game

We’ve been busy working with a leading game studio to measure how much our solutions at Edgegap can improve the player experience by lowering latency and increasing fairness. In their 1 versus 1 game scenario, we’ve managed to prove a colossal improvement for their players:

· Improved latency for 91% of the players

· Average RTT per player reduced by 46.5%

· Average RTT per match reduced by 36%

· Fairness improved from 46.5 to 33ms

· 25% of players below 50ms with Edgegap, vs 2% with the cloud

· 69% of players below 100ms with Edgegap, vs 33% with the cloud

All these improvements will translate into more revenue for this studio as players will not suffer from bad experiences and remain engaged. This is especially important as games are becoming services and their LiveOps is a crucial part of the monetization aspect of games. We’ve also observed that our solutions improves the fairness between players, which helps them improve their competitive edge. This is seen as highly desirable in a time where esports tournaments are forced to go online due to Covid-19. The studio did not have to modify their netcode or use an SDK; the game client remained as is. The full case study is linked below:

#esports #lag #edgecomputing #gamedevelopers #edgegap

http://www.edgegap.com/case_study_1v1.pdf

Improved the experience of more players than any other solutions.

esports and covid19

With many sports league cancellation for the foreseeable future, esports are poised to now take center stage and reach a more interested and diverse audience. With confinement orders and travel restrictions worldwide, online tournaments are the next best alternative, but how will organizers guarantee a low latency environment and fairness for all competitors in these high-stake matches where a few milliseconds of reaction time can be the difference between millions of dollars in prize pool?

You can find the article here:

http://www.edgegap.com/EsportsUnderCovid19_byEdgegap_290420.pdf

Edgegap appoints new Chief Strategy Officer

Edgegap is pleased to announce today the appointment of Vincent Archambault as its Chief Strategy Officer. Vincent has more than 15 years of experience in the gaming industry and will be applying his knowledge of the gaming market to help studios with their infrastructure needs.

“I’m thrilled to be joining the team here at Edgegap. Having been on the other side of the fence for many years as a Game Producer, I can vouch for Edgegap’s product as being what the gaming market is currently sorely missing.”

Edgegap’s technology helps game studios reduce lag and improve player experience by harnessing the power of edge computing. With 10X more regions covered than the biggest cloud provider, the company’s patented technology automatically selects the fastest server in its infrastructure for a determined group of players. Integration is easy, and can help game studios open new markets all around the world by improving the player experience in locations where it was previously impractical.

www.edgegap.com 

Edgegap selected to prepare & support MEC plugtest at ETSI

Again in 2020, Edgegap has been selected to prepare and support the upcoming NFV & MEC Plugtests (Multi-Access Edge Computing) at ETSI in the upcoming few months. We are working with ETSI and the various vendors involved in the Plugtests to develop the test plan for MEC interoperability. As leader in edge computing industry, Edgegap provides their expertise to share the tests and provide support through interop events between vendors. We are proud to support such project and encourage NFV and Edge vendors to participate. To join the plugtest you can follow the url below and register:

https://www.etsi.org/events/1683-nfv-mec-plugtests

Notes that the plugtest may happen remotely due to the covid-19 situation.

Why lag is so critical for eSports?

Our CEO was invited to take part in eSports BAR in Cannes this week and talk about why lower lag and guaranteed latency can be so important for tournaments where providing an equivalent chance of winning to everyone is key.

GFR Fund Joins Edgegap Seed Round

GFR Fund is an early-stage venture capital fund that invests in ground-breaking technology startups disrupting the digital entertainment sector, with a specific focus on #eSports. This year GFR Fund is working to expand its portfolio with companies that are innovating in the areas of live streaming, audio, artificial intelligence and edge computing.

“Edgegap is the perfect example of a company that is solving a real problem for gamers and in eSports – that of latency or “lag” – and GFR Fund is proud to be a part of its seed round. We are very interested in investing in companies that are using #edgecomputing to advance gaming experiences, and Edgegap has built an infrastructure that does this by allowing for new and effective ways of managing multiplayer environments and removing lag altogether,” said Teppei Tsutsui, CEO and Managing Partner of GFR Fund.

As an affiliate of GREE, Inc., a global leader in the mobile gaming industry, GFR Fund offers its portfolio global business opportunities in the Asian market combined with deep connections in Silicon Valley and decades of experience in digital media and entertainment. For more information, visit www.gfrfund.com.