Drama erupts as the newest Final Fantasy XIV raid is cleared, until it wasn't

As soon as Final Fantasy XIV patch 6.31 released, the race was on. Hundreds of groups across likely thousands of players began working hard to attempt to topple the near-insurmountable challenges presented by the game's newest Ultimate raid, The Omega Protocol. To much fanfare, the finish line was finally crossed - and then uncrossed. The community has been left in disarray. 

For a short time, players thought that the World First was finally over, claimed by a team of players called UNNAMED_. But then it quickly emerged that the team completed the raid while using third-party tools to give themselves an advantage. The result is a community locked in reignited debates about the use of mods and plugins within the game's end-game raiding scene. Even Square Enix has waded in. 

It all started yesterday when members of the team announced that the group had finally achieved a clear, with some members tweeting their success. Within a mere few hours, however, a screenshot was shared that appeared to show one of the group's members - their Dragoon player - using a wide variety of third-party tools while raiding, including the now infamous zoom hack - a modification allowing players to zoom out the camera much further than the game natively allows, offering the ability for streaming and recording footage that teams can then pore over to more easily figure out what had gone wrong during failed pulls, and to expedite solving mechanics.

While a screenshot was enough to get players asking questions, an unlisted YouTube video was eventually circulated from a user going by the name "Divine Punishment" showing unedited footage of the team's progression in action, confirming that the accusations were true beyond a reasonable doubt.

While there's been a number of explanations for how the footage might have been leaked - there's been rumors stating that one of the teams support members, those whose job isn't to fight but rather to observe mechanics and coach play, might have blown the whistle; members of the team have claimed that the footage was leaked as a result of one of their team members' YouTube channels being compromised - it wasn't long before the team itself started to come clean about the modifications. Now, this morning we've started to see the consequences for the team's actions.

Naoki Yoshida - Yoshi-P, the director of Final Fantasy XIV - put up a blog post on the game's news bulletin, the Lodestone, going over the news of third party tools being used in the process of a team clearing the new raid, and he didn't mince words. Beyond stating that he wouldn't personally consider any team that cleared with plugins the true Worlds First, considering this is the third Ultimate raid in a row that has run into controversies surrounding modding in Worlds First runs, he put into question the point of even designing these intricate fights if players will only continue to cheat them.

The Epic of Alexander back in Shadowbringers had the winning team Thoughts Per Second using a plugin to swap between different waymark positions during the middle of the fight, which prompted the dev team to patch the ability to do so out, and more recently Endwalker's Dragonsong's Reprise had members of the winning team Neverland using plugins such as a visual indicator for when a player can move to "slidecast" spells as a caster DPS job.

As a direct result, members of UNNAMED_ have been pulled into Jail with XIV GMs, alerting them that even players that didn't actively use plugins themselves will be stripped of their new Alpha Legend player title, and must relinquish the totem or weapon that they received for completing the fight. While this does mean that they could potentially clear the fight legitimately to regain the title, some members of the team have already deleted their characters as repentance for violating the spirit of the raid race.

All of this leaves the game's raiding scene in a bit of a sticky situation, as even though UNNAMED_ were the ones who caught the limelight for cheating, as someone who has been engaging with the scene extensively for the last year, it wouldn't be fair to say that this is exactly an isolated incident.

Third party tools such as ACT are entirely a given once a player has begun to attempt Savage and Ultimate raiding, where players will upload logs of their play to FFLogs - and even if you don't engage with the practice, someone else in your party certainly will. For example, here's my own raid logs, having never even touched XIVLauncher, let alone any plugins whatsoever. Don't just take it from me, even commentators from the community-led Mogtalk have said as much themselves.

For many players, certain mods are required to even the playing field. For those with weak eyesight, audio callouts from Cactbot might be a necessary adjustment in order to engage with these raids at all; for players with connections far away from the game's datacenter, plugins like XIVAlexander or NoClippy are essential for allowing one to properly weave oGCD - off Global Cooldown - skills into their rotation.

Yet at the same time, it's undeniable that cheating mechanics has slowly but surely become part of XIV's raiding culture, and it's equally clear that Creative Business Unit 3 has had enough. While prior incidents merely left players with temporary suspensions, this is the first time that the team has stepped in to explicitly state that these wins are illegitimate, and going through the process of actively removing that distinction from a player's account.

While the next raid race will occur with the final Endwalker Savage raid tier in 6.4, players will have to wait until patch 7.11 until they have the next chance to raid a new Ultimate - and with a new precedent set, and the acknowledgment that the playerbase desires a truly sanctioned raid race with which Square Enix can directly oversee the results, it's hard to say what the future will hold.

Despite previous assurances that Yoshi-P and the devs personally don't want to add any sort of anti-cheat to the game, one has to ask if we may be reaching a tipping point where that position starts to become untenable for the integrity of the game as a whole. With plugins existing in a grey area as it is, despite being against the Terms of Service for the game, it's difficult to imagine Final Fantasy XIV without them.