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The Collusion of Money, Drama, And Pride

With a scene that's bigger than ever, how the fighting game community's biggest organizers are trying to break its players of some bad habits and grow up.

Several important elements of the fighting game community came together last week to announce a sweeping change to many of the most popular tournaments in the scene. Collusion, in this case defined as two or more players agreeing to purposely manipulate a match or intentionally underperform, would no longer be tolerated. Those involved would forfeit prize and title.

EVO has continued to grow, gaining sponsors and thousands of worldwide fans along the way. It is far from its old niche.

“Competitive spirit is the lifeblood of the fighting game community,” announced EVO founder Tom “Inkblot” Cannon on his popular fighting game website Shoryuken. “Unfortunately, this year we have seen a few incidents where players intentionally underperformed, usually in the final matches of a tournament. This behavior is unacceptable, and it must end.”

The Shoryuken element is key to this, as well. If tournaments refuse to adopt the collusion rule, Shoryuken and EventHubs, another popular destination for fighting discussion, have declared they will not cover the tournament in question. The rule change has the backing of many major tournaments already, and common tournament sponsor and accessory maker Mad Catz.

It’s a sweeping change, and one that’s prompted heated discussion from within the community. Cannon was expecting this, but he has good evidence for why everyone should get behind the rule change: EVO has been operating with the very same rule since an incident back in 2004.

EVO 2004 is mostly remembered for Daigo Umehara’s unbelievable full parry of Justin Wong. But it’s also where the finalists in the event’s Soulcalibur II tournament, Rob “RTD” Combs and Marquette “Mick” Yarbrough, were widely believed to have decided their final match wasn't worth playing seriously. Combs and Yarbrough were friends, a common thread during these moments. Coverage of fighting game tournaments wasn't as prevalent in 2004 as it is now, but surprisingly enough, Games Across America (GSN) covered exactly what happened at 50 seconds into the clip below.

"GSN: I hear there was some controversy, they thought maybe you guys were faking it.

Combs: We did pick characters that we were good with, and we played it out.

Yarbrough: We fought, we actually fought. [...] We the most dominant team around, you know? Can’t nobody stop us."

Following this match, EVO instituted the collusion rule now populating to other tournaments. No action was taken against Combs or Yarbrough, however.

“We didn't want to come down on them after the fact because they didn't break any rules, even though they broke the spirit of the tournament,” said Cannon to me recently. “We were like ‘fine, this happened, let's make sure this is never gonna happen again.’ We did that a while ago, and it's worked out great for us.”

Since then, Cannon said EVO has experienced nothing else like what happened at the end of the Soulcalibur 2 tournament. Once players know the rules, he told me, they tend to shape up.

What Cannon and others are hoping to clamp down on can be a little confusing to understand. It’s not about pot splitting, in which several players agree to divvy up the tournament money to one another. Pot splitting is not unique to the fighting game community, and though it impacts the game, it’s difficult to imagine a scenario where it could reasonably be eliminated.

“You really can't stop somebody from splitting a pot,” said David “UltraDavid” Graham, a former player, commentator, and, during the day, a lawyer with his own practice. “I think it makes too much economic sense, unless you really think you are, by far, the best player, and you're going to dominate. Or you don't like the player you're playing against. Otherwise, you might as well just split. Why take the risk that you don't earn money?”

“That's [pot splitting is] not the concern at all,” said Cannon. “It's impossible to stop because once the money is in their hands, they could just split it later, if they didn't split it on-site.”

But it’s impossible to talk about the collusion rule without considering pot splitting, either. The two are often but not always linked, as friends or allies decide to divide the tournament money. If one's money is now more or less guaranteed, there's far less incentive to be performing at the top of your game. Pot splitting happens behind-the-scenes, and there’s no way to prove it.

That is, unless you admit you were an active participant.

A snapshot from an old TechTV segment on the B4 tournament in San Jose, California. You might notice a familiar face.

“I've witnessed it,” said longtime player Jay “Viscant” Snyder. “Heck, I've taken part in it. We all have. That's how the FGC used to work.”

Snyder was a champion at EVO 2011, taking the ultimate prize for Marvel vs. Capcom 3 with his combination of Albert Wesker, Mike Haggar, and Phoenix. Snyder has been a part of the fighting game community for a long time, and remembers a specific story from more than 10 years ago.

There was a tournament in Phoenix, Arizona during the heyday of Marvel vs. Capcom 2, and a number of San Diego, California-based players were invited. When Snyder and his crew arrived, they discovered Peter “ComboFiend” Rosas and his squad, known as R.U.N., were there, too. Previous tournament results, lingering bad feelings, and webcam girls (“no joke!”) simmered.

“We decided that they weren't going to get a dime out of the tournament,” said Snyder.

During the semi-finals, Long “ShadyK” Tran, Tong "Genghis" Ho, and Snyder were still in the winners bracket, while Rosas had drifted into the losers bracket. Feeling confident, Snyder’s crew decided Snyder would purposely throw matches to place himself in the losers bracket. The plan went off without a hitch, and Snyder managed to deny Rosas from winning anything at all.

“The top three placers were Genghis, myself and ShadyK--in that order,” said Snyder. “We split the money on the spot and didn't really hide what we were doing. It should be noted that this was the last time I'd beat ComboFiend [Rosas] in ANYTHING (Marvel 2, Marvel 3, SF4, 3s, ST, A3, coin flipping, RPS, credit card roulette, Candy Land). Karma is not without a sense of humor.”

Snyder said he was not alone, and this was common practice in the earlier days of the fighting game community, and not necessarily frowned upon.

“That's how things were done,” he said. “People from out of town come to your arcade? They're not winning, we'll protect the house somehow or someway. That's just how it was.”

That was more than a decade ago, though. Much has changed, including Snyder.

“Back then these were 40-man tournaments with no streams, no sponsors and a handful of spectators,” he said. “We want the FGC to be more than that now. We want to be attractive to sponsors. We want our streams to be watched and appreciated. We want people to turn on an FGC stream for the first time and get hooked by the great matches they're seeing, not turned off by players throwing games. Maybe things were OK the way they were back then (they weren't) but we all have to grow up a little. If we truly want the FGC to grow and be on the level of other eSports then we have to clean up our collective act and making a hard and firm stance against collusion, and match fixing is a good start.”

"I've witnessed it. Heck, I've taken part in it. We all have. That's how the FGC used to work. [...] Maybe things were OK the way they were back then (they weren't) but we all have to grow up a little."

What can be reasonably proved is whether or not top-tier players are, for whatever reason, purposely playing terribly.

“The entire point of a tournament is to determine the best player, and mathematically, the only thing a double-elimination tournament format guarantees is the top two players,” said former Capcom strategic marketing director of online and community Seth Killian. “Nobody is forcing you to play your best at all times in your life, but if you show up to a tournament that the organizer and lots of other players have put a lot of resources into, and the whole point of a tournament is to show who is best, then playing by those rules seems pretty straightforward.”

Killian, a longtime member of the fighting game community, was both a known spokesperson and a large internal influence on Capcom’s modern fighting games. He left the company in 2012 to take a lead design role at Sony Santa Monica, but continues to remain close to his roots and applauded the decision to expand EVO's anti-collusion measures to a wider audience.

“This has already been a rule at by far the biggest tournament in the world, for many, many years,” he said. “Anyone can invent all kinds of imaginary situations where it goes bad, is terribly enforced, etc, but instead there's the decade of reality: it works just fine. There has been no "new world order," and there has been no shortage of surprising character picks, counter-picks, etc. Every competitive activity from boxing to football has people making judgment calls, and of course those games would be a mess with terrible officiating too. There's less of this in video games because so many rules are built into code, but where it exists in the FGC it has worked just fine, with lots of truly incredible matches.”

“Just because they pot split doesn't mean they don't have to not play the match seriously,” said Graham. “When I played, I split pots. I did it. But I never gave up the match, you know? I never let my opponent give up the match. I don't think I considered it at the time, actually.”

Again, a big reason the collusion rule has come into vogue in 2013 was a series of closely watched finals matches. Coincidentally, they all involve Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3, and each had the quality of the fights called into question. These incidents were pointed out and described to me by members in the community.

Back in late March, Loren “Fanatiq” Riley and Christopher “ChrisG” Gonzalez squared off against one another at the Final Round tournament in Atlanta, Georgia. Riley is seen using an unusual set of characters--often a red flag--and intentionally bailing out of combos several times.

In this case, the intention of the player was obvious, and Riley, part of Team AGE, apologized.

“A lot of people questioned whether or not it was thrown or whatever,” he said in a YouTube video. “I intentionally made it very obvious that it was a throw, and it wasn’t, again, an attempt to spit in the face of any organizers or anything like that. It was my own protest, and, obviously, anyone protesting in any kind of circumstance is going to be open to attack, and I understand why certain people were offended. I thought by me playing the match in the way I did, by actually trying to get the hits before deciding to throw the match, I’d give the people what they wanted as far of them seeing the ways to open up Morrigan, the ways to get the hits on ChrisG’s team, the ways to open up ChrisG in general. Unfortunately, by me doing that, once I got the hits, they wanted to see the actual K.O., and that was something I was unwilling to do there. I’ve learned from that mistake, and what I’ve learned is that any circumstances where I feel that I don’t want to play a match, if I feel things are unfair, if I feel the seeding was inappropriate or things of that nature, the obvious best response to that situation is just to withdraw from the tournament.”

Then, in April, there was the Grand Finals at the Texas Showdown event, pitting the ever present Justin Wong against Gonzalez. If you skip to the end, you’ll notice the two are seen picking random characters and generally goofing around, both traits contrary to their known talents.

You don’t have to go far to see diehard fans criticizing the level of play on display.

The need for a stricter set of rules was highlighted just days before the collusion rule expansion was announced. At the Video X Games competition in the Caribbean in late July, ChrisG and Job "Flocker" Figueroa found themselves squaring off. Many observers, including Mad Catz community and sponsorship manager Mark “MarkMan” Julio, criticized the players, accusing them of playing with goofball teams, including the notoriously disdained Phoenix Wright.

In these cases and others, the players largely never admit to collusion, pot splitting, or intentionally screwing up the tournament, but it’s obvious even to laymen. The question facing the community--players, sponsors, organizers, commentators, viewers--is what to do about it. Cannon’s already admitted there’s no way to regulate pot splitting, so what’s happening?

Those in the community favoring the rule change said it was solely about ensuring everyone is having a good time. Some players have criticized the collusion rule as easily exploitable, and as gamers, they’ll easily find a way to break the system. Cannon welcomed these challenges, and compared players looking to sneak a fast one to sports players caught flopping. Flopping is when a player intentionally exaggerates physical contact with another player in hopes of drawing a foul. It’s hard to pull off and the referees don’t always catch it, but someone who’s exceptionally good at flopping is also exceptionally good at making it seem real.

“The rule is really designed to stop the matches at the end of the tournament from becoming a complete joke,” said Cannon. “I'm also equally sure there have probably been times where, late in the tournament, you had two friends playing each other, and in their heart of hearts, they were not playing their absolutely hardest because they know what's going to happen. But they at least played well enough that it was a legitimate match. That's all we're trying to do.”

More importantly, what Cannon and others hope to clamp down on are shenanigans in the final moments of a tournament, the high-stakes moments that people wait around all day and night for. There was an unspoken commitment to organizers and fans, and now it’s written down and has consequences.

“We’re only going to invoke the rule when there is an obvious flop in the last two minutes of the fourth quarter,” he said.

Cannon acknowledged some legitimate concerns from players. What happens if players want to experiment? What happens if someone is picking a strange lineup to keep cards close to the chest, and not blow a secret technique? What if people just want to have a little bit of fun?

Snyder had a perfect example. At the Oceanside Fight Club tournament in San Diego this past weekend, he was pitted against Connor “PermaVermin” O'Neill, a notoriously difficult player who often employs strange teams. Snyder added Dormammu from Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 to his lineup, a tournament first and an unexpected move. Remember, this would usually constitute a red flag for possible collusion. The commentators were confused during the match, publicly wondering why Snyder went with Dormammu.

“Because I was winning they thought that perhaps I was showing off,” he said. “The ‘c-word’ even got floated out there during the set.”

Since he won all three rounds, though, nothing came of it.

What happened? Snyder showed up early to the tournament, and was playing casually with O'Neill. None of Snyder’s usual tactics were getting him anywhere, so he randomly picked Dormammu. Bingo. O'Neill was thrown off his game, and Snyder kept this in mind for later.

“It's only because I won the set that this pick doesn't look fishy,” said Snyder. “ [...] What if instead of winning 3-0, I lost 3-0? People would be able to point to those mistakes to say that I didn't know what I was doing with that character and that I threw the set. The intent and reason for picking that character and that team would have been the same either way; good results made me look smart whereas bad results would have made me look like a match fixer.”

Even with this in mind, Snyder thinks the rule is right, just one that should be exercised with caution. Good intentions often have unexpected consequences, and you can’t control everything. It is, in the end, subjective.

One possible wrinkle comes from international tournaments, which Cannon and others have less control over. Everyone I spoke to assumed the the world would follow their lead, not wanting to be left behind. One place it won’t have any impact, though, is competitive play in Japan, as there no money prizes for legal reasons.

“The only thing to play for is, in Japan, is for pride,” said Cannon.

If Cannon and others gets their way, that’ll be a big reason the rest of the world plays, too.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
163 Comments
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Posted by Morningstar

Thanks for this stuff. Keep up the good work!

Edited by Kaigan

FGC? More like WGC!

It stands for Worst Gaming Community.

I'm clever.

Posted by mnzy

@kaigan said:

FGC? More like WGC!

It stands for Worst Gaming Community.

I'm clever.

And wrong.

Online
Edited by Alehud42

*waits for WWE 2013 'COLLUSION' joke*

Edited by DeadFish

@alehud42 said:

*waits for WWE 2013 'COLLUSION' joke*

Collusion! *gets hit by a car*

Posted by vikingdeath1

Oh jeez, i'll read the rest later, sounded like an interesting read though!

Posted by MethodMan008

@kaigan said:

FGC? More like WGC!

It stands for Worst Gaming Community.

I'm clever.

You aren't paying much attention to the others I take it?

Posted by flanker22

fgc without controversy isnt the fgc.

Posted by Jayzilla

Gen.

Posted by frytup

This reeks of actual journalism.

I'm scared.

Edited by ILikePopCans

Long article huh. Well, better get my glasses

...and DONE. No quotes from people who oppose the rule seems somewhat strange, but the article was good. I lol when I'd scroll down and looked at the basketball flop picture.

Edited by Rorie

If there was a gaming section for Longreads, this would be perfect for it.

Staff
Edited by wumbo3000

Cool FGC article Patrick. Hope to see more on the site.

I feel like colluding matches and pot splitting are totally two different things. It's okay to pot split; what you do with your money is none of my business. But if you're in grand finals, be competitive and try to play your best.

Besides, if you're going to pot split, why not try to beat the other player at the same time? Whatever happened to competitive spirit and trying to prove that you're the best? That part still boggles my mind.

Posted by Undeadpool

@deadfish said:

@alehud42 said:

*waits for WWE 2013 'COLLUSION' joke*

Collusion! *gets hit by a car*

OH!

Edited by Shikon

nice article, Divekick made me sort of interested into the fighting community. And this is a good intro.

Posted by mrfluke

nice work

Edited by Milkman

Oh, collusion...etc, etc.

Really great article, Patrick. I know people within the FGC get frustrated that it seems like most journalists are only willing to write about the FGC when there's some sort of gender or social issue. So, it's nice to see someone getting this indepth with an issue that is still very real to many members of the community but doesn't paint them as some sort of asshole sexists or homophobes or whatever.

Edited by Hassun

Mistakes will be made, just like in other sports. Football (actual football) players often get carded for flopping even when they weren't and vice versa.

It does not mean the rule is bad. It's a great rule and I'm surprised it has taken so long for other tournaments to adopt a rule Evo has had for years. (The lack of overall governing body probably being the reason for it.)

Keep evolving, it's the name of the game. And this is the right way for evolution to take place.

Posted by LoMo

I think collusion is the wrong word. The whole point is for them to actually play out the match and take it seriously.

I don't think Chris G. and Flocker "colluded" to decide who was going to win the match, they just didn't play the match out seriously and didn't use their A teams. That's what people are tired of seeing.

Posted by ManlyBeast

Well I don't really care about any of this but surprisingly I found myself reading every word.

Nice article Patrick.

Posted by posh

great article. also, combofiend works for capcom now

Posted by CustomOtto

@mnzy said:

@kaigan said:

FGC? More like WGC!

It stands for Worst Gaming Community.

I'm clever.

And wrong.

it sure as hell ain't the BGC

Posted by BaconGames

Great article Patrick! People kept referencing the collusion thing but didn't inquire enough to find out what it was all about.

Posted by edgeCrusher

Cool read. Thanks for the past examples of collusion, and cultural context. It gives me some more insight into why tournament organizers would want to clamp down on it.

Online
Edited by Orange_Pork

Posted by jimmyfenix

Collusion !?!?

Posted by EvGar

FANTASTIC article.

Posted by ILikePopCans

@rorie said:

If there was a gaming section for Longreads, this would be perfect for it.

I don't think you need A gaming articles section on Longreads, that's what Polygon is for.

AHHH SHOTS FIRED

Posted by TimeLeap

Awesome article Patrick! Nice to see some FGC coverage on the site! :)

Posted by King9999

Thanks for the coverage, Patrick! I didn't think you guys would actually make a story out of it.

Posted by ImmortalSaiyan

Good stuff. I heard of this in passing but never delved into it. Was nice to get the full story here.

Edited by HoboZero

Can someone expand on Riley's "protest" as mentioned in the article? I can't tell what exactly he was protesting with his actions. It seems as if he was unhappy with the person against whom he was playing - was that due to some shenanigans earlier in the tourney?

It reads as if he didn't call it a protest until after he was called on his performance, which kind of reeks of someone looking for an excuse, but without context who can say. Whole article has me intrigued; would love to know more about this incident.

Posted by jvalenti57

Great article Patrick, thanks for working on it.

I've been following this story for the last few weeks and I'm of the mind that whether you pot split or not, players should pick their best characters / teams. The fans want to see the best go up against the best, not watch players hit random select.

That being said, this issue probably has a lot more to do with ChrisG, rather than some new prevailing trend in the community. ChrisG just seems to keep convincing players that they should just goof off in the finals because it doesn't really matter. He's been doing it for years now, apparently because he feels like people are bored of his normal characters.

Edited by leebmx

Cool was just listening to them talk about this on the 8-4 podcast and now this comes up. Still doesn't make 100% sense to me. I get the splitting the pot business. I guess is not like they are all millionare sports stars and they want to make sure everyone comes away from the tourney up if they do OK.

But the collusion bit? Why would you want to lose if you got to the final? Doesn't winning matter in these things or are people just having a laugh? I always thought the fighting game community was super competitive - I'm not sure why you would try less hard against someone just because they are your friend. Its not like you are actually punching them in face.

Edited by FLStyle

Good job Patrick! Hope collusion gets stamped out!

Posted by Kapwan

Great article Patrick. Glad you took the time to do this right and call upon the right individuals to interview and got all the facts straight.

Posted by StarvingGamer

As a member of the FGC, I found very little in this article to be condescending or offensive. Good job!

Edited by MasterRain

@hobozero: If you watch the video they hint at it. He kept promoting AGE on stream, who were not a sponsor, and that pissed off Spooky. That's why spooky is mad in the pre-video and on the video. As to why Fanatiq was upset? I guess he didn't appreciate spooky's opinion.

Great article Patrick! Really felt unbiased and just full of truth, you also got quotes by people who matter in the FGC.

I love the drama in the FGC but I'm also glad this got resolved by the FGC Illuminati.

Posted by KoolAid

Great article. But man, I can see how the FGC community would hate this. This happens when you get money/sponsors/coverage involved in competition. It becomes all about the consumers, not the competitors. Why force two guys to compete who don't want to? (Que the "ARE YOU NOT ENTERTAINED?!" clip)

Maybe the answer can be solved with a different kind of tournament structure instead of squishy, hard to enforce rules.

Edited by churrific

Well-researched! I hope it doesn't become a trend among those super friends at the top (the top-tier players seem like a pretty close-knit group from a cursory glance). They should realize that destroying each other while in tournaments should trump friendship and goofing off (see NBA).

Lol awesome.

Posted by Gelf513

Good to see the WWE collusion joke is alive and well

Posted by Fobwashed

Well done Mr Klepek. Never really followed anything having to do with the FGC but almost all the noise I hear about it is somewhat negative. I fully understand the reasoning behind pot splitting, but not taking matches seriously or straight up throwing them feels like a real good way to turn fans off. Thanks for this.

Posted by jakob187

@rorie said:

If there was a gaming section for Longreads, this would be perfect for it.

I don't think you need A gaming articles section on Longreads, that's what Polygon is for.

AHHH SHOTS FIRED

Polygon confirmed as Giant Bomb's secret Longreads section?!

SCOOPS, GET ON THIS STORY AT ONCE!

As for the article, THANK YOU for this one. It's a well-written article (despite being slightly one-sided until the last paragraph or two) and brings up a big problem within the FGC. It's one of the reasons that I got out of the scene personally.

I played SSF2 at a tournament level within Texas (never got big enough for anything larger, and plus I was only 14 or so at the time). Pot splitting was nothing new then, and it's still nothing new now. "Hey, how about we just dick around and I'll toss you 40% for a win?" Stuff like that is common. However, I knew of at least four occasions when people threw matches for a high percentage of the pot just so someone else could get the title.

Shit like that pisses me off to no end. When you get to the end, I want to see who is GENUINELY the best. In those four matches, I knew that at least ONE person was genuinely better than the other, but because he threw the match, it meant that people had to call an inferior player the champ. It's annoying as shit, and with that one specifically, it made me walk away from the SSF2 fighting scene.

Queue Street Fighter IV. It made me start getting back in. I wasn't great at the game or anything, and hell...I played with a 360 controller on top of that. However, I have at least one documented match where I beat @lordofultima and even had some stout matches against @mb.

We started doing some tournaments here at the gaming center where I work, tried doing them about every two weeks. We quickly learned after three tournaments that one of the biggest problems with the FGC is that everyone IS too tight-knit and knows each other. In turn, everyone are friends and persuading thrown matches is not nearly as complicated. We had a final round that ended up being a joke in SSF4 (Dan vs Vega). After the round was done (which was terrible btw, nothing exciting about it at all), we pulled the two guys to the side and just asked them up front: did you throw that match? It took about five minutes, but the second place guy finally broke down and said that he did throw the match. However, they were also roommates, and the stated reason for the throw (which I could confirm because they are my friends and I knew their general financial situation) was that the guy in first basically had his entry fee paid by the second place guy in order to try and pick up the $100 cash prize for first that we were offering so the first place guy could make rent. $10 turned into $100, and the guy could make rent.

While it's an excuse I can understand, it's also one that made us look at the rest of the tourney. This guy had a lot of friends involved in matches, so were THEY throwing matches? It led to too much speculation and questioning, and we ended up giving up on fighting tourneys. It's not like Call of Duty or League of Legends, as those are games where it's hard to throw without someone being able to thoroughly notice it. With fighting games, it's not always easy to tell.

In turn, it's good to see that the FGC tourney scene is adopting this policy as a wide-sweeping ideal rather than an almost completely EVO-exclusive thing. I look forward to seeing more solid matches.

Edited by Daneian

Sounds like all the collusion centers around ChrisG.

Posted by casper_

I wish he included the video of spooky blowing up Sanford and Chris g. That was the first time the rule was enforced and its hilarious

Edited by ArbitraryWater

To some extent I think it's sort of hilarious when players deliberately pick lower-tier characters and troll around, but cementing anti-collusion rules in the fighting game community is at least a symbolic step in the right direction. Great article Patrick.

Posted by patrickklepek

As a member of the FGC, I found very little in this article to be condescending or offensive. Good job!

Phew! While I will always write about what I want to write about and how I want to write about it, I did take the accusations of sensationalization from my Aris story last year seriously. (For the record, I don't regret reporting that story at all.) My big takeaway was being deliberate and careful when covering communities that I'm unfamiliar with and not a part of, and tried really hard to make that apparent in this story.

Edited by sanzee

This was my first year watching EVO. It got me hooked. I was watching 2 hour streams of every game at the tournament. I started watching all the previous years streams on YouTube as well. Even the Super Smash Bros tournament was excited in it's own way. I can't believe how good some people are at that game. Anyways, reading this article gave me a lot of insight into the FGC and I am glad they are working to make it more fair with the collusion rule. Great article Patrick.

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