Flameseeker Chronicles: It's all Kun Shao's fault

The Xunlai Tournament House in Guild Wars was a great idea in theory. Once favor was no longer tied to PvP, it served as an excellent incentive to keep PvE only players involved in the other half of the game. All players -- whether actively participating in the tournament or not -- could make predictions on the outcomes of the monthly 1 vs. 1 and Guild vs. Guild matches. Points were distributed based on the accuracy of the predictions, then traded to Tolkano for prizes, usually Zaishen Keys.

Players responded very well to the concept, with many purchasing second, third, and even fourth accounts to snap up more Tournament Reward Points each month. The Zaishen title helped fuel the enthusiasm, and ZKeys soon rivaled Globs of Ectoplasm in value, even briefly becoming another alternate currency in game.

All good things must come to an end, though.
When it was time for prizes to be distributed, players visited Kun Shao, the Xunlai Tournament Agent in the Great Temple of Balthazar, to receive their points. Point distribution day was always chaotic in GToB, with more districts open than usual, large mobs surrounding the beleaguered Kun Shao, and local chat scrolling madly as players announced their point totals or complained that Kun Shao was overwhelmed and telling them to check back in a few minutes. The rest of the day, visitors to GToB could watch streams of players running for the portal to the Isle of the Nameless to use up their ZKeys on the Zaishen Chest, or hang out in the district buying and selling keys.

It was a hectic but fun system, but things started getting a bit glitchy after a while. Local chat on point distribution day was suddenly peppered with comments such as "Hey, I only got five points, I should have 80," and "I voted the same on both accounts and got two different point totals!" Something was getting shaky inside the Xunlai Tournament House. In June of 2009, Community Manager Regina Buenaobra informed players that tournament points would be delayed while the team did backend work on the XTH. When points were distributed a week later, there were a fair amount of mistakes in point totals here and there. As Regina explained to frustrated players, "The back end for XTH is extremely complicated. It was a system built into a game that wasn't originally built to support it. Because of this, unpredictability in the code happens. On the outside it looks like the same issue, because people don't get points. On the back end, the bugs that happen are often not the same."

So the team continued work on the XTH, and Kun Shao continued hanging out in the Great Temple of Balthazar as people hurled abuse at his head. (The GW programming team came under the gun as well, with a relatively small but noisy contingent of players screaming "OMG FAIL" and threatening to leave the game forever because their points were incorrect.)

On June 23, the Guild Wars team made a decision: "We realize that the Xunlai Tournament House points distribution has been problematic in the past. We were faced with either taking Xunlai Tournament House down to resolve the issues, or running into similar problems with the point distribution in the next month. We've decided to take Xunlai down to ensure the issues are thoroughly resolved. As soon as we have a good estimate on when it will be available again we will let you know."

Things got more complicated through the rest of summer into fall as the team continued digging through the problems with the Tournament house, then all was quiet for a while. We all know what happened next: On February 10th, the fate of the Xunlai Tournament House (that many players had guessed anyway) was announced: the XTH would be permanently retired. Following the predictable storm of questions regarding May point distribution, a second announcement was made one week later: all accounts would receive an identical one-time allotment of points, and on February 19th every account in the game was awarded 50 Tournament Points, whether they had voted in the May 2009 Tournament or not.

"Leave me. Leave me with my filthy beasts!"

Hilariously, Kun Shao took the fall for the whole mess when the February 19 update arrived to distribute Points. Players arriving in GToB talked to High Priest Zhang to receive their points, and were told, "On behalf of the Xunlai Guild and the Zaishen Order, I conducted an exhausting investigation into tournament agent Kun Shao's shoddy record keeping, but even with the wisdom of Balthazar I could not make sense of his ungodly mess. Therefore, I have closed the Xunlai Tournament House and have sent Kun Shao to work as a stable boy in the Zaishen Menagerie. According to Kun Shao's records, you and basically every living thing in Tyria should receive 50 Tournament Reward Points. I don't know how that's even possible, but that's what the records say. Congratulations."

A quick trip to the Zaishen Menagerie revealed a bitter Kun Shao resting near his shovel, having been demoted from level 24 to level one, and ranting: "Yes, it is I, Kun Shao. Have you come to mock me? Have you come to watch me shovel lynx dung? I was once a powerful, respected official! Now look at me: Kun Shao the stable boy! Do you have any idea how hard it is to get the stench of moa bird out of your armor? Leave me. Leave me with my filthy beasts!"

Poor Kun Shao. In the end, the Xunlai Tournament House was a great idea...in theory. Unfortunately, as Regina pointed out, the game just wasn't designed to support something like that. We players received some great benefits from it while it lasted -- many people learned more about the PvP side of the game, and even those who couldn't have cared less and just voted blindly got a pile of free platinum every month in the form of ZKeys. Players who purchased multiple side accounts for more Tournament Points benefited even more -- a small one time cash layout for an even heftier monthly infusion of ZKeys. (And now you have mule accounts to hold anything Nick might ask for.)

Thanks for the freebies, ArenaNet, it was great while it lasted.

This article was originally published on Massively.