Valve and kuku: What Gabe can't do

The past few days have seen many more articles written around the kuku controversy, in Dota 2. For those not in the know, we’ve got a precis of the initial stages of the controversy for you here, when the player was told not to attend the Chongqing Major, while the more recent movements have been confusing to say the least.

Valve denied accusations of allowing the Chinese authorities to interfere ahead of the Chongqing Major in November by banning kuku from the country and were forced to do so again, when it became clear he would not be allowed to play at WESG 2018, which is due to start in March.

The moralising from various virtual soapboxes has obviously been considerable, and we’ve probably been guilty of some of that too, but there is one big problem that nobody seems to recognise, or maybe nobody wants to recognise. Even with games such as Dota, CSGO and League of Legends, the point of esports is to sell games, or items, that make publishers money, meaning Valve will always have to bend the knee to those people powerful enough to really hurt their business plan, which in this case means China.

For that reason, the messages Valve send might now always add up, and it’s important to understand the reason why. Nations such as China and the US have a massive influence over the current and future success of Valve products, and going against the evil empire is only a good idea if you have a lightsaber and less-than-concrete attachment to your hands. Gaben, Valve's founder, might be a Luke Skywalker-esque hero to many, but he's way less likely to take on that sort of battle.

Racism is bad, y'all

That’s not to defend kuku, or attack Valve for their decision of, course, which is an entirely different conversation, but to point out why it’s not realistic to expect publishers to ‘take control’ of situations like this. They have less to lose, and when it’s Dota2 and China that is true to such a ridiculous extent that people should keep their expectations firmly in check. Asking for consistency is a different matter again, and worth doing, but even that is more complex than it seems.

There may or may not actually be a legal justification for a lot of what Valve do, as we’ve known for some time. The IBP bans in CSGO are not particularly sound from that point of view, and open to legal challenge, and the same is true here. Valve are materially damaging the earning potential of a player, albeit one without huge resources to challenge the decision, while simultaneously allowing others to play despite them having committed similar, or the same crime. You can already see how complicated this could be if it went to court, and why they aren’t keen on involving themselves with complex international law.

It would obviously be great to have a consistent, loving parental relationship with our developers, and it’s worth saying how Valve are better than most, it’s just also important to understand the limitations of the company. When compared to other players in the gaming scene, they can make real change, but right now the Chinese government has a tad more clout, and Valve and their fans just have to accept that.