Suspension Drama and Setting Higher Community Standards

Alright, I guess we’re doing this. I feel like the events of the last few days make this a good time to address some issues I’ve had with various segments of the community going way back to before the game blew up (some of you old school folk may remember a particularly notable ban I made back when I was moderating the #wall-street channel FAB Discord relating to a user spreading false information). I don’t want to look like I’m being coy here, the motivating incident for prioritizing this article is LSS’s indefinite suspension of CompetEsport and the ensuing backlash from their fanbase. For me, this whole “thing” raises issues about ethics in content creation, how the community behaves, and how we present things as either fact or speculation.

The Situation

For people who are not terminally online, CompetEsport is owned by George, part of the KitchenTableTCG podcast. The announcement of the store’s suspension came without any particular fanfare on the part of LSS, which is how these announcements have generally been handled to date. The obvious difference between CompetEsport’ suspension and most of the other stores on that list is that it has a relatively high profile (in the context of FAB) because it’s owned by a well-known content creator and thus has a not insignificant amount of fans within the community. So when KitchenTableTCG published their most recent podcast, which addressed this topic, things got spicy on Facebook and other FAB communities (such as the #wall-street channel in the main Discord).

CompetEsport’s site posted the following message below, which I’ve captured as a screenshot (on 7/29/22) to preserve as a historical record since, presumably, the site will be updated at some point in the future:

Additionally, I think it’s probably appropriate for me to disclose my own history with George so people have that info going into this article. I generally try not to write about other content creators if I’m critical of them because I have very little interest in participating in interpersonal community drama unless someone is doing something egregious (traditionally the exceptions have been instances of sexism or bigotry aimed at LGBTQ folk). Anyway, most of my personal interactions with George occurred a couple years ago in #wall-street leading into the release of Monarch and in the months that followed. I think it would be fair to say that we didn’t really see eye to eye on things from the outset. We’ve got some fairly different positions on how business should operate and, as I’m sure people know by now, I’m kind of abrasive, so it was contentious in chat at times. However, beyond the politics of capitalism, I felt like George toed and sometimes transgressed the line on how he framed his speculation. Privately (in 1:1 and small group conversations) my position has always been that there were times that, if he wasn’t overtly claiming something was a hard fact, it was at least implied to be fact, and I wouldn’t blame a reasonable person from assuming it was. I felt that since he was a large seller, and obviously stood to gain financially from “Mon to 1k,” it was incumbent on him to be more responsible in how he presented info. I also believe that there is a case to be made that his consistent messaging on soaring prices and exceptionally high value of private deals he was conducting likely contributed in a meaningful way to the some of the price spikes that leading into the FAB crash. Note, I’m absolutely not claiming he caused the crash. That’s kind of absurd; there were far more factors at play than any one person could control, but I do think his perpetual hype leading into the Monarch era likely amplified climbing prices beyond what they would have been otherwise, and I think it’s inarguable that he stood to personally gain from those rising prices.

Again, I want to be VERY clear that I am not ascribing specific malicious intent here. I can’t see inside his head to know what his intentions were at the time or afterwards (and I largely am unaware of his takes after that period of time). I think you could potentially make a fair argument that he was just an enthusiastic guy who liked to talk about this stuff and his loud demeanor had an outsized effect on influencing the tone of the financial sector of the community. So, once more, I’m not making a claim on his intentions. As a rule, I’m not particularly interested in people’s intentions; my interest generally lies in the material impact that people’s actions have. Given that, I believe that all members of the community, but especially those of us with higher profiles have a responsibility to be careful when making statements, particularly on financial-related matters. There should always be a clear and easy way to disambiguate between when you’re presenting factual information and when you’re speculating.

And that’s it for the actual CompetEsports portion of this article. Like I said, I haven’t followed George’s content closely since those days in #wall-steet and can’t speak to anything he may have said in recent months that led this suspension.

Wait What?

Wasn’t that what this article was about? Actually no, that was the catalyzing event that prompted me to write it, but most of what I want to talk about has to do with community reaction to this event as well as how content creators and members of the community generally talk about information and how the line between fact and speculation gets blurred.

Let’s start with how people are reacting to this news. The Flesh and Blood Fan Page on Facebook, is, as far as I know, the biggest active hub of community discussion. The group has over 10,000 members and sees a steady stream of posts throughout the day. When the KitchenTableTCG podcast dropped, we immediately saw a host of people reposting links to the video and calling out LSS with claims that they dropped the ball on the suspension. These posts tended to have one of two demands (overt or implied). They argued that either A.) LSS should have reached out and done more to work with CompetEsport before issuing the suspension –OR– B.) LSS needed to provide the community with evidence of wrong doing.

I believe that both of these approaches are unreasonable and actually things that LSS should emphatically not do. In both of these cases, the demand being made by the people making these posts is that LSS treat CompetEsport differently than every other store that has been suspended, and the implied (and sometimes explicit) justification for this exception is their size and perceived influence in the community. It is essential to note that the community didn’t make a fuss over any of the other stores that were suspended for practices that LSS found detrimental to the game. This suggests that the objections being raised are not actually about how LSS handles suspension but rather that people are mad that someone they personally like got in trouble. LSS bowing to these demand would set a very bad precedent for how they handle suspensions going forward. It would signal that the community can bully them into giving preferential treatment to their favorites, which then incentivizes people with a platform to send their followers out to cause drama on their behalf should they get in trouble (I’m not saying CompetEsport did that in this case; I’m saying that’s the logical takeaway one would draw were LSS to do what CompetEsport’s fans are asking for).

The demands for evidence are not viable for the same reasons I just stated. No one demanded to see evidence for other stores suspensions, and to treat CompetEsport differently sets a very bad precedent. However, due to CompetEsport’s choice to post their communication with LSS (the screen shot at the top of this article), we actually have notably more information on this particular case than most of the other ones. So let’s look at what I would say are very specific charges justifying the suspension. Specifically:

“You have been circulating comments relating to issues such as our print run sizes and the nature of our commercial relationships that are materially false and misleading. While we are fine with people circulating legitimate critiques of the studio, we cannot endorse the circulation of such falsehoods.”

This is LSS unambiguously explaining their case. The phrasing of “materially false” and “falsehoods” very clearly show that this is not about speculation or opinion but that statements were presented as fact that are demonstrably untrue, and they believe that the proliferation of those statements has harmed LSS. For, what I hope are very obvious reasons, LSS cannot publicly detail the nature of their commercial relationships; however, we should also take it as given that they know, for a fact, what those relationships are. So, if we assume that LSS is remotely competent (something that I am assuming), then they can pretty easily assess whether what CompetEsport was saying is “materially false” or not. There are a variety of reasons why publicly providing the specifics of these statements might not be in LSS’s best interest. For instance, we don’t know where these statements were made. It’s possible that they were in private servers or other closed systems, and LSS would be potentially outing their sources if they shared them, limiting their ability to identify future abuses by other parties. The content of the specific statements could be such that posting them publicly and stating that they are materially false actually reveals some information about those relationship by implication. I could go on, but, simply put, we don’t know what the evidence was and what might be revealed if they shared it. However, LSS did think it was sufficient to constitute a “materially false” claim.

Given that, you have two real choices. Either you accept that LSS knows their own business and knows what is true and what is false, they found solid evidence of falsehoods being spread and acted accordingly, or you assume LSS is lying about the existence or substance of the evidence. Personally, I’m going to believe LSS here, though everyone else is, of course, welcome to make up their own mind on the subject. If people feel like LSS’ suspension policy isn’t sufficiently clear for people to stay on the right side of things, that’s a seperate issue that could be raised, divorced from the context of CompetEsport. If you’re legitimately worried that a lack of clarity on suspension policy is harming the community, then you’re doing a disservice to your position by presenting it in this context and not as an argument that can stand on its own merits. Your framework is preventing and sort of productive discussion before it can happen because it’s now about a personality and not a policy. If policy is the problem, present your critique of the policy. If you’re just mad that a guy you like can’t sell cards, then own that position and don’t try to paint it as though you’re on some greater quest for justice.

Punishing Critique

This should be a bit quicker because this was definitely a much less common position, but I feel like it’s worth mentioning. There were some people (again, far fewer than those discussed in the previous section) who framed this suspension as punishment for George’s perceived negativity about some of LSS’s decisions. To me, this claim is wildly off base and betrays a really unrealistic view of how LSS conducts themselves as a business. Drawing once more from the message posted above, LSS says:

“We support the community sharing their views on the game, both positive and negative, in the interests of encouraging healthy debate and ultimately presenting opportunities for us to improve Flesh and Blood and ensure a long lasting and successful game.”

This could be read as PR speak, but I think that would be immensely uncharitable and not at all congruent with my own experience as a content creator. I think that, as far as content creators go, I’m very regularly critical of decisions that LSS makes, and I often don’t sugarcoat what I’m saying. As someone who does a portion of her writing on the financial end of the game, I have often (Everfest, white-bordered History Packs) called out products that I think were a bad value for the community and explicitly recommended that people not buy sealed product in favor of singles. If I persuaded with these arguments, I functionally reduced potential income for LSS. I’ve also critiqued many other aspects of the product at various times. And yet, LSS has continued to include me in official content as recently as soliciting my thoughts on Dromai for Uprising. I think LSS is extremely permissive when it comes to accepting criticism from content creators and still including them in an official capacity. It’s something I’ve always regarded as a strength of the company. I legitimately believe that they support these sorts of negative takes with the end goal of improving the product. I think that’s very rare in this industry. Most other companies I’m familiar with (and know people who work at) have a fairly clear split between creatives making the game who are open to criticism and corporate bean counters who only care about quarterly profits and blacklist naysayers (look at some of the ways WotC has treated The Professor, the face of one of, if not, the biggest Magic YouTube channels, over the years).

Show Your Work

Alright, with that out of the way, let’s move onto the other issue. While I think that what I’m going to say below is good advice for everyone in the FAB community, I think it especially applies to content creators.

*adjusts glasses* SHOW YOUR DAMN WORK.

Ahem. So yeah, while many people are good about substantiating their claims or, making it clear if they’re speculating, there is also a whole host of bad information that gets spread around and it’s hard to unpack what’s people just repeating things they heard as fact and what’s the product of people trying to spread misinformation to enrich themselves. If you follow my content, you’ve probably seen me mention this next case before, but it remains my go to example because it never stops being relevant. So, real quick, let’s talk about Fabled pull rates.

LSS has never, to my knowledge, confirmed the actual pull rate of a Fabled card in any set. People like to use the 1:40 boxes figure, but that was a community derived number based on several bits of supposition (some of which have been drawn into question over the past few years). Beyond that, I’ve even seen people (usually people with a LOT of money in FAB) argue for a total number of CF Hearts that would make their pull rate far lower than that 1:40 figure, with some people going so far as claim the total number of Hearts is in the low to mid 300s.

In my mind, the best piece of circumstantial evidence to derive numbers from comes from this image:

Using the Alpha Magic comparison from an old James White post, you end up with a pull rate that looks a lot closer to 1:30 boxes. (Note, the generally accepted number of Alpha Rares for Magic changed between when James made that post and now, having finally been revealed by Peter Adkison. Also, please note how the author of that linked reddit post details where those print run numbers are coming from and potential sources of error.)

Still, despite the total lack of any official information on Fabled pull rates, you will quite often see people stating a specific Fabeled pull rate as fact, whether maliciously or simply because they’re repeating bad info. The correct presentation of any proposed Fabeled pull rate is to note that we don’t know and then explain why you’re making whatever supposition you’re making. In more recent times, this very much applies to discussions of Marvel pull rates as well. Personally, I think it would be great if LSS would just give us the actual pull rates so that unscrupulous people couldn’t mislead the community in their favor, but in the absence of those numbers, it’s on the community to self-police. People should be much more active in asking for evidence when people are making factual claims, and they should certainly not repeat claims they’ve heard but haven’t seen evidence for without presenting them as such.

Do I think this is going to solve the problem of misinformation? No. At the end of the day, we’re never going to be able to keep the Flesh and Blood community entirely free of misinformation; we’ve simply grown too large to regulate everything (and it’s awesome that we’re that big now). However, every person and content creator can play a part in trying to stop the spread of bad information. In your own communications, take the time to make it clear when you’re presenting something as speculation, and, if possible, explain the reasons that you believe what you believe. Give people the information they need to make informed decisions about whether they agree or not. And, when you see people posting things as facts that seem like they’re actually speculation, ask for the receipts.

*Header Image – Dust Runner Outlaw by Nikolay Moskvin

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