If you post clips to social media of your gaming badassery from Rocket League, or any game with ranked multiplayer for that matter, you’re likely to come across DMs such as this:
“If you are interested in our boosting or coaching service join our discord :)”
DCD received a few such invitations the other day and it got me thinking just how unusual a concept this offer is. Now, if you were born in the 2000s, this might not seem unusual to you at all but let me say I am not much older than that and it’s quite bizarre, which shows just how meteoric the rise of competitive gaming has been. The idea of coaching services for gaming seems somewhat a natural development, as you can find training of sorts for anything these days, especially in areas of competitive sport; but the idea of boosting, which I’ve meditated on for a couple of days now is something I still can’t fully wrap my head around.
If you’re unfamiliar with the concept, boosting is when you (oftentimes in the form of a monetary transaction) play with someone or allow someone of a higher skill level than you to play on your account with the intention of increasing your stats or ranking. Oftentimes you’ll see this called Elo Boosting as an Elo rating (named after its Hungarian-American Physicist creator) is a commonly used skill ranking system used in games like chess or, of course, online gaming. Here’s a real-world example and breakdown: Rocket League ranked play is broken up into tiers of ascending skill level; bronze, silver, gold, platinum, diamond, champ, grand champ. A player currently in gold may pay someone to ‘boost’ them to diamond. So, essentially, the purchaser doesn’t play for a couple of days while someone of significantly higher skill level plays on their account, amassing wins and increasing skill rating until the purchaser’s account possesses enough skill rating to be ranked in diamond. So when the player gets back on their account, they’re ranked in Diamond, being matched up against players of a similar skill rating. If the purchaser elects to play with their booster, it all functions similarly, just with the booster being so proficient that they can shoulder most of the responsibility (games like Rocket League have an extremely steep learning curve, to the extent that a solo Grand Champ can beat multiple lower ranked players at once) and carry the less skilled player to a higher rank.
I understand how this could be enticing, particularly to younger gamers who generally attribute a greater value to titles and appearances and instant gratification. I understand wanting to be better without putting in the insane amount of time and effort it takes to get there— I have 742 hours in Rocket League and haven’t made it to Champ yet. I remember using so many cheat codes in GTA or Sims so I could be invincible or have a magic robot mailbox thing that fulfilled all my needs. And to this day, I play games with my Dad and help him get past levels or challenges that he’s struggling with. My point to all of this is that I relate to the desires that might lead to boosting— there’s a special type of freedom and/or camaraderie that comes from using a cheat code or passing a controller to a friend. The part I can’t wrap my head around is how this is okay for a multiplayer game. Now I’m going to try to keep this horse a pony because I know morality is often a matter of degree rather than category but I will admit my bias: I believe I have the high ground in spite of trying to stay open-minded.
We touched on Elo ratings before but I haven’t delved deep into a crucial detail: such skill rating systems are explicitly relative in their point allocation; meaning if one player or team gains points, their opposition must lose them. Furthermore, it’s a self-correcting system so the larger the point gap between parties, the more points gained or lost for the winner and loser respectively. The self-correcting aspect of this system works as its intended and, in the long run, will correct for anomalies like losing massive points to a booster, but it takes time for it to correct. Let’s have a real world example again: If Plant and I (ranked Diamond 3) play against a platinum player somehow and we lose, it takes multiple games of playing against people closer to our rank to make up the difference. It should go without saying, if we’re playing against a booster (probably a player of Champ or Grand Champ skill) we’re much more likely to lose. And I don’t mean for this to be some excuse for my rank, I think Plant and I are near where we belong, we win around half of our games as it should be with a ranked system. It’s the principle and popularity of the thing that concerns me.
As we’ve come to understand, the self-correcting system makes up for discrepancies and some, maybe even most, might then consider this a non-issue. To qualify the other side even a bit more, I suppose boosting results in pretty much free wins for their opposition when the actual player returns to their account and can’t keep up with the rank they didn’t earn. But even if boosting stunts other players‘ progression for just a couple of games, it’s costing other people time. And the wonder of games, especially great ones, is that they bring people together and are fun for beginners and veterans alike. And for many players that have jobs and other obligations, time becomes a significant factor in the equation, and time is precious— a couple of games worth of progress can be the difference between a good night and a bad one, and we’re all too familiar with the bad ones. But I don’t understand the appeal of boosting either. If you have someone get you to a rank far above your own, you aren’t going to be able to compete and it's likely (depending on how far you were boosted) you have a few gaming sessions of straight losses ahead of you. And I simply can't imagine how that could be fun. Do people feel like they belong in a much higher rank and that their skills will translate or spontaneously increase when they get there? Or is it more so that a screenshot of a Grand Champ badge next to your gamer-tag is more important than having fun playing the game?
I admitted earlier that I believe I have the moral high ground but it's important to me that I make it clear I'm not trying to take shots at anyone here, (I’m more of an assist man, myself) I’m genuinely curious and I want to better understand the gaming culture that I’m proud to be a part. So ultimately my questions are as follows:
Is the popularity of boosting growing proportionally with the competitive gaming scene simply because there will always be those that try to get ahead via shortcuts? Or is my position based on some obsolete, archaic ideas of personal achievement and pride? Does the popularity of boosting show that we are cultivating a gaming culture that’s more concerned with bragging to friends and strangers than earning the right to do so?
These are the things I can't wrap my head around but if you have any insight, be sure to leave a comment tell me your thoughts! Very soon this article will be updated and we'll have some of the other DCD bucks weigh in on the topic.