Today I’ll be talking about originality in content creation and an instance where I believe plagiarism occurred. This article isn’t related to game design. However, as a content creator who dedicates the small amount of free time that I have to make videos and write articles – purely out of passion for computer games and for zero compensation – this topic is important to me.
Disclosure: The writer whose work I believe was plagiarized, Cyan, is a friend of mine. I’m a fan of his work.
Important: Do not witch hunt. Do not go after individuals related to The Score Esports piece or The Score Esports site itself. Do not take any action as a result of this post aside from supporting Cyan’s work. Be kind and respectful to everybody. Etc, etc.
Plagiarism sucks. It makes it hard for content creators to build an audience. Furthermore, it’s demotivating to work really hard on something and have someone else take credit for it.
At the same time, it’s not uncommon for content creators to reach the same conclusions or otherwise create similar-sounding content about the same topic. I don’t think people should be prevented from covering something just because someone else already did. As a result, I always bias toward assuming a new piece of work is transformative and new unless someone provides compelling evidence that this is not the case.
I think it’s critical for someone to sit down and thoughtfully and thoroughly argue that plagiarism has occurred when stating this publicly – otherwise, it creates a needless chilling effect on new content.
In this instance, we’ll be examining whether or not an article by Cyan was plagiarized.
- The original article by Cyan can be found here.
- The Score Esports (hereafter often abbreviated as TSE) article can be found here.
- Note that the TSE version was changed since its original publication. Here’s the earliest archive I could find.
You can watch Cyan’s thoughts on this situation here.
(I don’t like using archives but the decision by TSE to change their article without notifying the reader means it’s necessary here.)
What is plagiarism?
Let’s define this term crisply:
“Plagiarism is presenting someone else’s work or ideas as your own, with or without their consent, by incorporating it into your work without full acknowledgement. All published and unpublished material, whether in manuscript, printed or electronic form, is covered under this definition. Plagiarism may be intentional or reckless, or unintentional.” – University of Oxford
The Society of Professional Journalists is very clear on the issue of plagiarism:
“Never plagiarize.” – SPJ Position Paper on Plagiarism
We need to answer two questions: was The Score Esports article presented as the author’s own work? If so, was it actually the author’s own work?
Was The Score Esports article presented as the author’s own work?
Yes. Look at the way Cyan’s original article is sourced in an archive of the original:
“In the early days it was more about what you liked playing than about business,” Jason Lake, CEO of compLexity Gaming, told Esports Heaven’s cyanesports. “I started complexity because I loved Counter-Strike and saw a future for it.” – Archive from yesterday
This is in paragraph four. No other references to Cyan or his work are made. This paragraph reads like the TSE author did original research to write this piece, and one piece of original research just happens to be a quote from an interview Cyan conducted.
Notice that this was silently changed: compare the reference to Cyan above with the article today:
“Esports is no longer the small-scale enterprise it once was. In 2016, esports were valued at approximately $892.8 million and are expected to skyrocket above $1 billion in 2017, according to a market report by SuperData. Esports Heaven’s cyanesports spoke to senior members of three esports organizations to get their take on the numbers, and the business side of the industry.” – Archive from today
The reference to Cyan has moved from the fourth paragraph to the first. This quote makes it clearer that the original research was done by Cyan, not The Score Esports author.
Why change the story without noting that it was changed? The Score Esports is capable of updating stories after new facts have come to light: they did so just a couple weeks ago. The edit is substantial – it changes the reader’s perception as to the source of the story. That’s a pretty big deal: it’s the integrity difference between presenting the information as the author’s original work or Cyan’s original work. It’s also the difference between becoming part of TSE’s audience and becoming part of Cyan’s audience.
Aside from those things, what are some other reasons we care about the original source? Well, one is that it affects how much we trust the information that’s presented to us.
For instance, Jason Lake was one of Cyan’s interviewees. I’m a huge fan of Mr. Lake because when I watched him on the Championship Gaming Series I thought he was a great leader. I don’t recall exactly what happened but in the second season he re-drafted some players despite their poor performance in season one. That made an impact on me and taught me the importance of investing in people.
Here we have Mr. Lake talking about leadership in an esports organization – you can bet I’m going to pay attention to that. I want to know that what he had to say wasn’t taken out of context or misrepresented, and the only way I can do that is by trusting the person who did the research. Misrepresenting who did the research makes that impossible.
Was The Score Esports article the author’s original work?
Let’s take a look and see.
First, the quotes. Cyan’s original piece contains about twenty-five sentences worth of direct quotes. Out of those twenty-five, only nine were not used in The Score Esports piece:
“The first challenge has traditionally been financial (but in today’s investor funded ecosystem it’s less relevant to some).” – Jason Lake
“This isn’t necessarily rocket science,” – Jason Lake
“We’re still evaluating a few titles for 2017 but nothing I’d like to discuss at this time” – Jason Lake
“When they emerge, it’s about opportunity cost;” – Catz
“Kind of self-limiting on that front,” said Catz, “We’re always exploring and looking for opportunities regardless, but that is a second priority for me.” – Catz
“We were looking at SC2 for about six months but never saw the right player for us. The large release of top teir players in Korea opened the rare opportunity to hand pick the player you want who has the right personality, skill and fit for your org”.” – LazerChicken
“don’t have any specific plans for expansion this year, but who knows what the future holds.”” – LazerChicken
Of the quotes used by The Score Esports, zero come from a place aside from Cyan’s article. In other words, every single quote was taken from Cyan’s article.
The Score Esports article took about 64% of the original quotes from Cyan’s article and added zero. The Score Esports article is about 45% quotes (ten out of twenty-two paragraphs).
So, at least 45% of the TSE article is not the author’s original work.
Aside from quotes, what else does the piece add?
- Background data about the size of the Esports market and the number of unique viewers.
- Interpretation and analysis of the quotes’ meaning.
The first point looks like original research and covers 9% of the article – two out of twenty-two paragraphs.
I’m going go into detail why the second point is a problem.
Quotes are a great source of data – for instance, I can argue that Nintendo games usually feature a gently increasing difficulty curve, and then I can use a quote to provide evidence that it’s intentional game design and not an accident.
One issue with quotes, however, is that they’re really easy to take out of context if you’re not the original interviewer. That’s because you can’t ask follow-up questions, clarify ambiguous statements, consider the tone and tenor of the speaker, understand where the quote falls in the context of the overall conversation, and so forth. All you have is the literal quote.
The problem, then, with writing an article that is heavily quote-based (in this case, 45%) when you’re not the interviewer is that it’s easy to misrepresent the interviewee. For instance, read these three paragraphs from Cyan’s original piece on Esports Heaven:
“Complexity predates the creation of Twitch, or even JustinTV, Twitch’s predecessor and former parent company. For many esports fans, its nearly impossible to envision a competitive gaming landscape that doesn’t include livestreaming. As someone who has been in the industry through this transition, Lake is a great example of someone who entered esports through passion, and who now combines that passion with statistics.
Jason spoke to this change within the industry when I asked him about the challenges faced in transitioning into a new game.
“The first challenge has traditionally been financial (but in today’s investor funded ecosystem it’s less relevant to some).’ He continued on to say ‘to field top tier teams you need competitive player salaries, coaches, managers and quite often a team house. It’s important to surround the players with knowledgeable support staff and those costs can grow quite quickly.”” – Cyan’s original piece
Now read how this quote is used in The Score Esports piece:
“If Vizcarra has been able to find ‘Beta Allstars’ but lost them as they excelled, how does Lake keep his star players flying the coL banner?
“To field top tier teams you need competitive player salaries, coaches, managers and quite often a team house,” Lake believes. “It’s important to surround the players with knowledgeable support staff and those costs can grow quite quickly.”” – Archive of The Score Esports version
Notice how The Score Esports article supplies intent: specifically, it implies that Mr. Lake’s desire to provide support staff comes from a retention perspective. The original piece doesn’t state this. Instead, it frames the quote as simple background information about funding a new game.
Does Mr. Lake believe that providing a support staff is important for retention? Probably. But Cyan interviewed him and didn’t draw that conclusion, or at least didn’t write about it. I didn’t interview him so I can’t reach that conclusion. In fact, nobody can reach that conclusion except Mr. Lake. Yet if you were only to read the The Score Esports piece, that’s the conclusion you would take away – and you would probably believe it, since it’s supported by a quote – even though there’s no basis for it.
To sum up:
- All of the quotes in the TSE article are taken from Cyan’s article. The TSE article is about 45% quotes (10/22 paragraphs).
- The analysis in the TSE article either restates the content of the quotes or tries to interpret them. The latter is hard to believe because the author didn’t actually conduct the interviews. At least one piece of analysis is provably wrong.
- Only about 9% of the TSE article is original research (2/22 paragraphs).
9% is not enough content to be considered original work.
Furthermore, the rewording of the article to make it clearer that Cyan is the original source is not sufficient. The content of the article is still essentially lifted from Cyan’s work, as shown above.
Is The Score Esports simply restating news?
If one news organization publishes news and another news organization publishes the same content and cites the original, it’s typically not considered plagiarism. Facts are facts.
This isn’t the case here. Cyan’s original piece is not simple news: it’s an analysis piece based on research that he did. He picked a topic, researched its background, interviewed relevant people, and assembled it into an article.
That’s more than just simply stating facts – it’s original work.
I agree with Cyan that we shouldn’t start a witch hunt and for that reason have not mentioned the author, their previous work, or anything like that. Do not take any action from this article aside from supporting Cyan’s work.
I’ve left all of my usual links to social media, YouTube, Twitch etc out of this post. I wrote this article because plagiarism accusations have a chilling effect on content creation. On the same token, so does actual plagiarism. I believe potential instances of plagiarism should be discussed thoroughly and thoughtfully. I’m not interested in chasing controversy for views and follows.
Thanks for reading and all the best.
Update 1/31: I’m amazed I forgot to include a conclusion. 9% is not enough to be considered original work – the TSE article is a clear example of plagiarism. It should be retracted and TSE should apologize to Cyan. My apologies. I hope this was clear from the rest of the piece, which I’ve left unaltered.