Dear Valve, what does the roster lock actually mean?

I’ve noticed that people are speaking as if breaking the roster lock will force a player/team to go through qualifiers in order to attend The International. This is how the roster lock worked in previous seasons. However, none of the published rules regarding the 2017/2018 circuit mention this anywhere. In fact, the most pertinent rules to this issue strongly imply this is not the case.

This is a screenshot of the relevant section of the FAQ on the Majors registration page. It’s not clear if the penalties will be exactly the same as those using subs since it’s not specified — we’re only told they will be “similar”. However, given that we don’t have any more information to go on, the best we can do is to look at the penalties listed for using subs.

This is a screenshot of the relevant section of the FAQ on the Pro Circuit page.

The first important point to take note of is that the only penalties explicitly described are point penalties — we don’t see any mention in either FAQ about a broader eligibility penalty.

The second thing to notice is that point penalties can only make sense if your points will still matter after you break the lock. In other words, the fact that there are rules about point penalties implies that breaking the lock will not force you to participate in qualifiers. Otherwise the point penalties would be entirely redundant.

Based on the available information, the only significance of breaking the roster lock is the reduction in points you will acquire at subsequent events.

Why this is a problem

There are two important questions that this raises about the roster lock. First, is there a further penalty that will be applied at the time that the top 8 teams are selected for The International? If penalties are applied only at the time of earning points, there is still room for players to switch teams prior to the final calculations done for selection, without incurring any penalty for breaking the roster lock. Thus rendering the roster lock obsolete precisely at the point where it’s meant to be most significant.

Consider, for example, the recent transfer between Na’Vi and Virtus Pro which led to Na’Vi climbing several places in the standings. Given the current ruleset, such an exchange could happen while rosters are locked with the exact same outcome (provided it was done late enough into the season, so Na’Vi won’t be participating in any more Majors or Minors). It’s difficult to see the point in the roster lock if this kind of thing is still possible within it.

Second, if the only penalty for breaking the roster lock relates to point acquisition, one consequence of this is that the lock essentially applies more strictly to some players/teams than others. Why? Because the more points you have, the easier it is for you to take on point penalties without it really affecting you. So a player who has earned a lot of points during the season could break the lock and still qualify for The International while a player who is perhaps just on the edge of qualifying would not have the same luxury.

This means that in practice the roster lock applies more to some players than others which is obviously unfair and undermines the integrity of the pro circuit. The system already rewards you directly for having more points — by qualifying you for The International — and it should not be the case that having a lot of points can more or less make you “above the law”.

Conclusion

Valve need to tell us if breaking the roster lock will make a player ineligible for a direct invite to the International. If this is the case, the regulations relating to points penalties seem entirely incoherent, but at least we’d avoid the above issues.

Assuming you are still eligible after breaking the roster lock, we need to know if there are further penalties that will apply at the point of final calculations being done. If there aren’t, the roster lock is toothless, and the rules can and will be abused.

Finally, an issue of fairness exists if the only penalties for breaking the lock relate to points. This is because this practically results in a situation where the lock applies more to some players than others.

Anthony is a former Dota 2 coach and commentator. He is currently studying towards his Masters in Public Health.