Coin trading, suspensions and drug testing: How are FIFA esports players punished?

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EA Sports has been working hard on growing and developing the esports scene for its FIFA franchise with a huge overhaul in the season format for FIFA 19. However, with changes come challenges as the publisher had to hand out multiple suspensions and other punishments to players throughout the season.

Some players were handed short suspensions from competing, like FaZe Clan's Tassal "Tass" Rushan who used a homophobic slur in a video while others missed months of competition, including the FIFA eWorld Cup, like Kylem "Lyricz" Edwards who was found guilty of trading coins on Ultimate Team.

Of course, with these punishments came controversy as some argued it was unfair that players who had bought coins had used their advantage to eliminate other players from qualifying for live events. Goal spoke with the Deputy Commissioner of FIFA Competitive Gaming, Sam Turkbas, to hear EA Sports' side to the story and how the disciplinary process in FIFA esports works.

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Seemingly one of the most common issues this year was with pro players buying or trading coins. How was that detected?

While I can't go into specifics, we do have a whole security team that monitors FIFA Ultimate Team to make sure that the mode stays secure and fun. We work with that team directly to continuously vet competitive players throughout the year and we also vet them after they've qualified for live events to make sure that their account passes various security benchmarks that we set. We vet players for every event, it's a continuous process that we use all year.

Do you think there were a lot of players who bought coins because they felt it was necessary because of the amount of money that had to be spent in order to create a competitive team good enough for online qualifiers?

I don't agree with the premise that it's a pay to win situation. Players, especially at the high level, all have the opportunity through FUT Champions and other gameplay opportunities to earn really high-level squads. I think that the biggest reason we saw more issues with coin buying this year was that they just weren't aware of the rules and because of the number of events we ran this year, there were a lot more vetting opportunities. I think you saw quite a few players who didn't quite realise the impact of their coin-buying actions would have on their ability to compete. It's important to us that we maintain the security of the game and the security of the market, that's why we take such a hard-line stance on coin distribution.

Some players complained that a lot of these punishments for coin trading came later in the year after the rule-breaking players had already qualified for events. Why did that take so long to find and punish?

We didn't purposely wait, we actioned on them as soon as we found a legitimate reason and once we worked through our internal process to make sure we're taking the right actions on the violations we've seen. We don't take action on players lightly, it has a very significant consequence on them as well as their organisation if they're signed to one. It also has a significant consequence on other players so we have a robust process internally to ensure that, once a detection has been found, we're reviewing that with the various teams involved to make sure that detection is realistic, there's not another explanation for it and we ask the player who has violated the rules if there's something that would explain the behaviours that we're seeing that we believe to be against the rules in a way that would make them within the rules.

FIFA 19 Xbox Play-offs Faze Tass

How do you decide the severity of a suspension or punishment?

For some of the behaviour penalties like aggressive behaviour, we go circumstance by circumstance. For things like coin buying, trading or selling, we've taken the stance this year that no matter when it occurred it would be a serious penalty which was the suspension for the rest of the season you saw. I think with the formats we had this year, a suspension at the end of the season is actually quite impacting because, while you were able to compete in events earlier in the year, you lose the opportunity to compete in the Play-offs and subsequently the FIFA eWorld Cup.

You also have a disciplinary committee working on each incident, can you tell us a bit more about them?

We have a really great, diverse, disciplinary committee. There are five members right now and we're looking to expand it for future iterations as we look toward the future. Also, three of the five members of the disciplinary committee are not people working around FIFA competitive gaming full-time so it really does have support across the entire FIFA business and that's something we're proud and excited about. Between the members of the committee, they're working over 40 hours a week to evaluate all these cases that come up and making sure we're making fair and rational decisions. There's also our FIFA security team who are all supporting additional hours behind researching, vetting accounts and making sure we're making informed decisions. We have a really robust system in place, I think we're making really good strides towards making the Global Series a much smoother-running, more safe, more inclusive environment with the work they're doing. 

Has drug use ever been an issue at events? Do you drug test players at every event?

We don't do any drug testing, it's FIFA who do random drug testing at their events but I can't comment on the exact procedure that's used. But, to our knowledge, drug use has never been an issue during the Global Series. We want to make sure we're creating a safe and inclusive environment for the Global Series so any overt drug usage during the event would be something we look into.

And, finally, can you tell us about any planned changes for the competitive FIFA system once FIFA 20 releases?

We experimented with some changes in online qualifiers towards the end of the year and those changes we made specifically around squad composition requirements are going to inform things we want to do next year. All the learnings that we had this year are going to be applied to the future iterations of the Global Series or whatever shape competitive FIFA will take but unfortunately we're just not ready to announce anything just yet.