On Transparency, Ethics, and Publishing

Most of the time when I write, it’s about an idea or concept, with examples to work through that idea.  Today, though, I need to reverse that: I have a story to tell, then want to get into the ideas that story implicates.  This wasn’t really something I ever wanted to write, but because the Pokemon community is very good at rumor mill propagation and very bad at precision in detail, I have a record to set straight.

To be clear, though, I hold absolutely nothing against anyone that was involved in this situation—I would’ve preferred to let it die, but since it’s been pseudo-weaponized against me three times in the last 24 hours, it’s clear to me that it’s something I should address.  Everyone involved had their heads in a place they can defend; nothing wrong with it.  Merely, opinions differed.

Let’s get right into it, with my best effort in this portion to stick to the facts of the matter: to finish off 2017, Xander Pero and I played in a few Chicago League Cups.  At that, they were Expanded Cups—relevant to the upcoming Dallas Regional Championships.  At the second of these two Cups, Xander played a Wailord deck that, as it turns out, many people felt they had a claim to the secrets of. If memory serves, the key “new” ideas here were a 2nd Lusamine and the Xurkitree-GX/Lightning combo.  Basically, 3 of the 60 cards were new ideas, and for competitive advantage, this group of players wanted it kept secret.

On January 2nd, Xander and I co-wrote an article detailing our experiences at these League Cups.  Within, we included all 4 lists that we played that weekend.  Included among these: the full 60 Wailord list.  Lo and behold, this was met with controversy.

By another prominent player, Xander (and by extension, 6P’s) actions were referred to as “incredibly scummy.”  According to what I was told the afternoon of this publication, Xander was directed not to post or play this list for Wailord prior to the Dallas Regional Championships. Specifically, the argument made to me was such: “Releasing lists due to article transparency should not ever take precedence over your testing partner asking you not to release the list in confidence.”  Moreover, the thought was floated that Xander should, if he must talk about the deck, provide a skeleton sans the double Lusamine/Lightning+Xurkitree.  I’ll get to my thoughts on these arguments later, but in full disclosure, I want to present them without my impressions first.

My role in this was as follows: as Xander’s editor, my job is that his content is compelling and does not damage the site’s reputation in its approach, both in published content and in omission.  When Xander and I floated the co-written article over dinner on New Year’s Eve, the topic of the Wailord list came up.  He raised a concern that he may have been asked to not publicize it, or at least its details.  I offered the following two choices:

  1. Write about it.
  2. I’ll write my impressions, after having played against it—for a 90 minute series in which all 3 games were exceedingly drawn out.

We did not immediately come to a solid conclusion on which approach to take.  I felt strongly, given the attention the deck garnered on HeyFonte at the time after his placement, that we could not publish an article without Wailord at all.  Furthermore, I had ethical concerns with publishing a skeleton, but omitting key details (whether that’s right or wrong isn’t of current consequence—I’m laying out how we got where we did).

So, I set out to reconstruct the 60 cards in preparation for the possibility that I would be writing about Xander’s deck on his behalf.  This was not my favorite solution ever: it’s still a bad look, in my mind, to have me writing about Xander’s deck, but I was 100% willing to do it in observance of his testing group’s wishes that someone with knowledge of the deck not betray it.  I realize this is a semantical point in many ways, but the reality is that I could have been any other top player writing an article at that point—I had no inside knowledge of the Wailord list, just 3 long games against it.  Maybe they had a claim to Xander’s knowledge—that’s an ethical issue I still don’t have a happy answer to. But, they had no claim to mine.

When I produced 60/60 cards accurately, our point became sort of moot.  Considering I would be exposing the exact 60 anyway, Xander elected to write about Wailord and include the full detail.

Now, I want to get a bit more analytical—this will be, naturally, through the lens of my beliefs.  I hope that you’ll try to walk through it with me, especially if you’re among the group that holds me maliciously at fault in this—I want you to understand my angle.

That brought us to the reaction I got earlier.  Outside of those initial charges, I want to be fair to the person that complained to me and minimize my discussion of specific things said.  I think that he is wrong, but he believes in what he said, and I’m about respecting that. To generalize the accusations:

  1. I was wrong for “forcing” Xander to post this list.
  2. It was “extremely immoral” of myself and 6P to prioritize posting the list over his testing group’s trust.
  3. It simply wasn’t right for the information, given in confidence, to make its way out of that confidence.

I can understand all of these points.  However, here’s where I was at on them:

  1. I didn’t force anything.  By being observant enough to discern the list, though, I made a situation where that list was going to come out.  If I were to consciously withhold that list, I think that’s dishonest toward subscribers and isn’t something I’m okay with. Critically, once a list reaches the public eye in any way—see: League Cups—I strongly believe claims to privacy are void. If someone wants a concept to be secret, it should not appear at League Cups.100% to the credit of the unnamed testing group, they claim to have told Xander to not play the deck at this League Cup.  If it hadn’t appeared at this League Cup, I wouldn’t have ever known about it, and it wouldn’t have been in that article unless Xander wanted it to be.  Fundamentally, I believe the issues boils down to this.
  2. On the contrary, I strongly hold it would be immoral of me to sell a service promising players’ best advice while being knowingly complicit in withholding of that advice.  This is simply a fundamentally disagreement between me and the accuser(s) on an ethical level.  This isn’t an essay on metaphysics, so we’ll leave that there, but this is the lens by which I viewed that.
  3. Once more, I would consider buying this argument if this deck hadn’t appeared in public.  As it is, any remedy—partial obfuscation, total obfuscation, whatever—would have violated the trust I believe is implicitly needed in our business.  Anything worth doing is worth doing only with integrity, in my mind, and we would be headed down a very slick slope with this buried.

Fundamentally, this boiled down to a disagreement between this other player and I over the appropriateness of publishing less-than-complete information.  I believe it is wrong.  He didn’t.  I respect his point of view and empathize with the dilemma, but hold pretty strongly that partial disclosure is a sketchy practice.

Does this place me in a minority?  Am I wrong?  I don’t know.  My goal in writing this today isn’t anything to do with going after those that were mad at us then; it’s mainly to clear the air on a situation that apparently has become “Christopher forced Xander to write about it!” in many circles.  That characterization hurts and simply isn’t true.

You can disagree with my basis and ethical positions on these issues—disagreement gets us more further than agreement in many cases.  I’d surely be curious in hearing some thoughts from others on the issue.  Perhaps I’m on an island.  I merely believe that the pay site model is fundamentally based on an implicit trust between reader and writer, and that partial omissions like this damage that completely.  Do players keep secrets?  I think it’d be foolishly naive to believe otherwise.  But, once those secrets reach the public eye—via a League Cup, say—I think the claim to secrecy erodes tremendously.

It’s an interesting issue, if nothing else, and I primarily wanted to put out my side of this story since I believe the “forced” characterization is unfair.  If the deck hadn’t shown up in public eye, it wouldn’t have been a problem ever.  I believe players should take care to make expectations clear amongst each other over how far a deck goes—whether that’s a League Cup, other players, or something else.  Half-truths, though, are something I’m not okay with.

I respect that some of you are going to disagree with me and hold that testing groups should hold full rights on the secrecy, and that the article shouldn’t have existed.  I hope, though, this helps shed a bit of light onto my thought process—and perhaps you can find it in yourself to respect my position, as I respect the fact that others disagree with me on it.

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