Cheating. It is one of the scariest things to think about when entering any competitive environment. We’d like to think that when we play a game—any game—we are being treated fairly and that the integrity of the game is being upheld. No one wants to feel like they’ve been cheated out of anything, especially something that they’ve paid their money for or put time and effort into. Despite how badly we wish they didn’t, cheaters do exist. They are out there, and they come in all forms. The problem is how we go about pointing the finger and identifying these people. Being labeled as a cheater is extremely serious since it directly puts the person’s reputation under scrutiny. Cheating has such a negative connotation attached to it that most people want nothing to do with anyone known for it. Now I’m not saying that I have any sympathy for people who engage in the act, because I happen to despise cheaters more than I probably should, but we can be sensible human beings about it. Is the label well deserved and backed by evidence, or is it something personal that we feel towards the individual?
Trading Card Games have many factors that can determine the outcome of a match. I’ll only touch on a few and try to keep it as simple as possible. There’s skill level, deck vs. deck matchups, and then there’s luck/variation. You can personally determine your skill level through hard work and dedication, there’s no doubt about that. You have very little control over your matchups throughout the course of a tournament. I mean, sure, you could main a few tech cards to give you an edge in certain matchups, but realistically, if something is a bad matchup for your deck, you will most likely still struggle with it. Luckily, we play more than one game and get to side deck. As for luck/variation, which is something completely out of your control, you just have to hope that your deck complies or that your opponent isn’t having the best day ever.
Some people believe that those with outstanding credentials are all cheaters. “How could he be that good and that consistent? He has to be cheating, there’s no way.” I actually understand this form of thought; I used to think like this myself, unfortunately. You think that because there is a luck factor in TCGs, a person should not be able to do so well so consistently. Well the truth is that there are some people who really are that good. They won’t top and win everything, but they will be in the top often enough that you’ll notice them over and over again. And why shouldn’t someone be able to do well on a consistent basis if they put the work in?
Before I ever topped a SJC/YCS tournament, I had over 20 regional tops. For some reason, I couldn’t translate that success into larger tournaments. I wrote the article, Release Restraint: Breaking Free of Mental Limitations, to express the real reason that I believe I wasn’t able to break through that ceiling. When I finally topped, I seemed to keep doing it over and over, and it became easier each time. A few things had changed, though. First, people started handing me free wins. I do not mean that literally, because no one has ever walked up to a table and said, “Hey, you’re Frazier Smith, I’ll just sign you as the winner and go do something else with my forty minutes!” Instead, they would be so intimidated just by me being me that they would throw the match. There are countless times when I can remember seeing game on my opponent’s side of the field and just hoping that they mess it up so I can win on the next turn, and it happened…a lot. It still does, actually.
Second, I started believing in myself more and more. I knew what it felt like to top a tournament so it wasn’t a big deal to me anymore. The pressure was off. I could play my rounds with a clear mind and execute my plays accordingly. In a way, I got better because of that. So to summarize that point, you have me being able to play my opponents with a cool head, and my opponents becoming more nervous because of who I am in their eyes.
Regardless of this, I still remember how long it took for that to finally happen, for me to be able to top and then do it consistently, and how much work it takes to get there. It does not happen overnight. I have been playing this game for many years, probably more than most of my readers. I knew that one of the things associated with doing well in this game on a consistent basis was being labeled a cheater at some point. Strangely enough, it didn’t happen. My success brought me a lot of things, but it did not bring me that label. This confused me, of course, because now I wanted to know what made people believe in me so much more than other players who also did well. Now don't me wrong, haters gonna hate. There will always be some people out there who have nothing better to do than make up stories about someone or try to rain on your parade, but for the most part, I have not experienced this. I think that has a lot to do with how you carry yourself.
It became apparent to me that the people who are mostly accused of cheating have an extreme aura of cockiness and lack humility. This is not me saying that all cheaters are cocky human beings. That is the furthest thing from the truth. Some of them are as humble as Tyree Tinsley, one of the cleanest and nicest guys you will ever meet, and one of the best, too. **Side note: I am not saying Tyree is a cheater, but I felt the need to write this sentence just in case some people misinterpret what I said. As I aforementioned, they come in all forms, and that’s the point. But most of them, and I don’t want to give names but I think you have an idea of the people I’m talking about, tend to be jerks. It’s easier to label someone as a cheater when you already dislike that person. The hard part is, what happens if you admire that person?
Some of us misinterpret the definition of cheating, which is the intent to give yourself an unfair advantage. Without the intent, there is no cheating. “I saw him activate Tempest’s effect to search and then summon it from the graveyard in the same turn.” Sure, this certainly could be cheating, but that player would have had to intentionally use both effects. Otherwise, it is a mistake not caught by either player or the judges that might be watching the match, assuming that it goes unchecked.
We are all human beings, so everyone makes mistakes. Not one player, who plays/played this game or another, is perfect. I’m sorry if that bursts your bubble about your favorites, but they misplay and mess-up just like anybody else sometimes. And I will let you in on a little secret in case you were unaware: those who cheat in these games are also very good at the game, too. Yes, that’s correct. They do not need to cheat every opponent to win the game. They can make short work of the person in front of them without it. The cheating takes away that variation or luck factor associated with TCGs.
Think of it like this, in every tournament, your deck will most likely crap out on you in one round or another. There is really no way around this unless it’s just your day. Well what if you cheated to ensure that that does not happen, either by manipulating your own deck or making your opponent’s worse? Now we have a skillful player winning his matches because he is actually better than his opponents, and then winning the matches that he would have lost because he took away the luck factor in those games, which would have made him lose otherwise. There’s also the chance that his opponent is actually just good, too, but maybe too naïve to realize what is going on. This is why I always encourage people to pay attention to the way someone if shuffling/handling your deck, and the way they fan out their graveyard or banished zones. If it seems like your opponent is looking into them every time you go to do life points, then something might be up. I have had this happen to me a few times and it bothered me so much that I had to stop and stare at my opponent to make sure he knew I wasn’t slow on the uptake.
Cheating is not always between players, either. Those in higher positions are capable of “cheating” as well. And why wouldn’t they be? They are humans, too, right? I can tell you right now, it is not the hardest thing in the world to become a judge in Yu-Gi-Oh. You do not know what personal agendas people have when they sign up to become a judge. There are definitely malicious people amongst them, just as there are malicious people amongst the players. I would argue that most judges are not like this and actually have integrity, but there are always exceptions. Once again, we are all human beings here. Therefore, it is not completely out of the realm of possibilities that a judge would target a player for some reason other than to keep the integrity of the game intact.
I have nothing against the judges. I am actually a judge myself and I love doing it. And yet, being a judge has opened my eyes to certain things like the lack of knowledge one could possess that carries the title of “judge.” It scares me how easy it is to become one, seriously. I absolutely think there should be more requirements to judge premier events, and maybe by cutting down on the number in this way, they can be better compensated. This means that those who do obtain the title of judge will feel some incentive to do it more and do it well, and those who are not judges may want to invest some serious time into studying the game to become one. This is just my own philosophy on the subject, though, and I’m sure there are other complications to it that I am not aware of, but what I’m trying to say still applies. Becoming a judge is not hard, and corrupt people have certainly made their way into the ranks.
Now that we’ve established that, think about the conundrum that we’ve gotten ourselves into. You have malicious players and possibly malicious higher-ups. It is a bad situation either way. In one case, there are cheaters out there stealing spots in the top cut, gaining prestige as a result, and winning prizes that they shouldn’t have from those who are clean and do not cheat. I’m sure we agree that it is unfair to have them continue to do so, so we need judges to aid us in preventing it from happening. In the other case, we have legitimately clean players that have personalities disliked by those in higher positions, and are willing to actually act on their personal disdain for said person. I’m going to also say that there could be a multitude of reasons that a judge or higher-up doesn’t like someone, but we will keep it short for the sake of this article. So then what do we do? Which case is worse?
You can’t be naïve and think that players don’t cheat, but you also can’t be naïve and think that judges aren’t capable of malicious intent, either. Wearing the uniform and badge of a police officer does not suddenly make someone exempt from human error, and being ordained a priest does not mysteriously make someone incapable of wrongful acts. We put these people—both players and judges—on a pedestal. We make them out to be more than what they are because of what they represent to us and to others. Take away all of that and you have a human being capable of right and wrong.
I hope the message contained in this article was not lost.
Thanks for reading. We hope to see you at the upcoming ARG Circuit Series in Ohio and Boston.