The team behind the multiplayer breakout hit Playerunknown’s Battlegrounds came under fire this week, as a player’s suspension for “stream sniping” split the game’s community on whether or not these types of bans are acceptable.
Stream sniping is a contentious form of, essentially, cheating in multiplayer games with big livestream audiences. Stream snipers are those who watch a Twitch stream of a game while playing it themselves to get a read on where another player is so that they can go take them down.
It’s against the rules to do that in Battlegrounds, according to the game’s official rules of conduct. But even though it’s a bannable offense, it’s tough to prove that someone really is stream sniping, especially if they’re not active in a live chat or actually streaming themselves.
The precarious nature of suspending players for these hard-to-prove actions came to a head when lotoe, a well-known Battlegrounds community member, got hit with a weeklong ban for stream sniping one of the most popular Battlegrounds players on Twitch. Streamers Summit1G and Shroud were playing together live, and were killed multiple times by other players. Lotoe was one of them — and when he killed Shroud not long after other alleged stream snipers took out Summit, lotoe ended up kicked out of the game.
(Warning: The clip below, where lotoe kills Shroud on stream, has some NSFW language.)
A ban screen told lotoe that he had been suspended from play, but didn’t have a reason why. He was soon thereafter told by a community manager that he was suspended after being reported for stream sniping. But lotoe told Polygon that that was a false accusation.
“I don’t even watch Twitch,” he told us over Discord.
Instead, he insisted that he “just got caught up in the crossfire and I was the one who got banned.
“The only way people are saying I was stream sniping them was because the devs surely banned with evidence, but in reality they banned me within 1-20 minutes,” lotoe continued. “I don’t see how they could of [sic] received reports and investigated the case in that amount of time.”
This quickly became one of the most high-profile cases of “he-said, he-said” when it comes to stream sniping. A thread from one of lotoe’s friends and defenders arguing that he wasn’t watching the stream and therefore was not hunting Shroud down has become the most popular one ever on the Battlegrounds subreddit.
Both the Battlegrounds subreddit and the game’s two Discord servers exploded with opinions on whether stream sniping can really be proven. Many sided with lotoe that it would be impossible to actually detect whether he was stream sniping, calling on the community team to adjust the system and support players as much as it does streamers. Others argued otherwise, even finding evidence that suggested lotoe may have a history of tracking down Summit and Shroud. (We’ve asked lotoe for comment on this claim.)
Summit1G has responded to the community’s cries to lighten the punishment for stream sniping on his Twitter and Twitch channel.
“Yeah, I called stream sniping,” Summit said in a stream that addressed the Battlegrounds ban drama, which some users are blaming him and Shroud for directly. “I’m fucking sorry, dude. I didn’t know I was supposed to be this fucking angel who’s not allowed to have fucking emotions and call these things out, even if I don’t know if they’re true or not.”
Shroud has mostly kept quiet, on the other hand. We’ve reached out to both for further comment and will update accordingly.
The Reddit and Discord — and Twitch — discussions have since prompted a response on Twitter from its namesake developer, as well as one from the community team on the game’s forum.
“If a ban has been issued incorrectly, we will admit our mistake and lift the ban,” wrote poopieQueen, the lead community manager for Battlegrounds, in a forum post addressing the controversy. “However, it may take some time for us if there is no evidence to prove the banned user's point. We need to make sure by looking into in-game data.”
PoopieQueen added that the community team is collaborating with the engineering and platform departments to “effectively address the issues that could ruin anyone’s experience in the game,” and they they’re designing new systems to do so.
Lead director and designer Brendan “Playerunknown” Greene took a less apologetic tone about the community’s frustrations with how stream sniping allegations are handled, however.
“I have seen the data the community team looked at before issuing the ban, and the ban was indeed justified,” Greene wrote in a message about lotoe’s situation posted to his Twitter. “The tracking data shows that the player in question tried to join the same lobby as their target multiple times. While we understand we cannot prove that this player was watching the target’s broadcast, we see no other reason why they would consistently attempt to be in the same lobby as someone who is broadcasting live other than to have an advantage in the game.”
Greene stands by the current ban system, arguing that it’s guided by objective data. Not all players are on the same page, as the back-and-forth continues on. There’s no consensus yet on who was in the right or wrong, but here’s how a more recent top Reddit post summarizes where we’re at now in the conversation:
We’ve reached out to the Battlegrounds team for further comment on the stream sniping situation and the game’s current ban processes and will update with more.