Cheating in Esports – How is it Dealt with and Why it is So Ruinous

August 13

The Konami Code

Cheating in Video Games is nothing new. Ever since there was a game to play there have been ways to cheat on it. Now, many of you will read cheating and think directly about it as a bad thing and that is totally understandable. Cheats in today’s games (especially esports games) are generally bad, especially when it comes to online games where cheating or hacks actually ruin the game for multiple people, but cheats didn’t start off this way.

What is a Cheat?

The Infamous “Wall Hack” cheat in CSGO

Well, to put it simple cheats are ways for players to win games using ways to give them an unfair advantage. Some of the most known cheats are wallhacking, aimbots, trigger bots, and different types of map hacks. Wallhacking is when you can see the enemy through the walls of the game. Aimbots and trigger bots help with aiming and shooting. Map hacks are more in battle royale games and shows where everyone is at all times. Different types of players cheat differently, some cheat the whole game, while others do it when someone on the other team is doing better than them. There are ways of cheating that don’t involve a special program too, for example some players cheat in battle royale games by teaming with other squads.

The Beginning

Many of us will remember playing games like Super Mario when we were younger. Super Mario is a platform game where you play as Mario who seeks to defeat Bowser and get his princess back. It is a really fun game and probably the most known platformer out there. Super Mario is also known for its shortcuts and cheats because they were built into the game itself. It gave a sense of mystery to the game and pride to the one finding the hidden shortcut. This game came out before the internet was such a big thing, so you were essentially on your own in finding these cheats. Here cheats are nothing bad, on the contrary, it is something good for the game because it gave the players a mystery. Something the developers intended.

Single-player Games

Super Mario is a single-player game, meaning it was not meant to be played against each other. It was you versus the game. So, adding cheats to a game like this was nothing bad. It didn’t hurt anyone; it just made your experience better. That’s why developers during this time often added small cheats to their games. They wanted to find out if someone could find the cheat, they wanted to give more to the ones willing to spend the time looking. It was that time’s Easter egg. Probably the most well-known cheat is the Konami code found in various games from this time.  I don’t think cheats in these games are generally bad I think if you want to cheat in a game where it doesn’t hurt anyone, go-ahead. It’s when it hurts others when it becomes a problem.

The Online Era

As games moved into the online world, we saw the rise of a new type of player. The god, the one so skilled they could hit a shoot with their hands tied. The type of player that was so good that no-one could compete. In their shadow, another player type grew, the cheaters. The ones that didn’t have the skill or the game sense. The ones that didn’t want to put in the time, so they cheated. The better the gods became, the better the cheaters became. They adapted and first they weren’t a problem, but soon the gaming world realized how infected their favourite games had become. Our heroes, the developers, set out to find a cure, the anti-cheat system. A system that has come to define a game’s capability and can both make or destroy a game. This is what today protects us from cheaters, but it doesn’t always work and it shows. Rainbow Six: Siege is one of the games that is struggling to keep up with the cheaters. It has in fact become so bad that players are leaving the scene.

The Scandals

Hovik “KQLY” Tovmassian – Former professional CSGO player and a notorious in-game cheater.

Most people have a picture of cheaters being people in the background, but sometimes they slip into the professional scene. Probably the most notorious story is the one with Counter-Strike. CS has for a long time struggled with cheaters. Still, the game is one of the biggest out there and has a thriving Esport scene to go with it. A couple of years ago, however, the game was at its breaking point. Valve had just introduced Valve Anti Cheat or VAC. It uncovered a huge cheating scandal where multiple pros confessed to cheating. It got so bad that pros who never cheated were accused by the community. Fuelling mistrust for years to come.

A more recent incident is one in Apex Legends. The top 2 players in the EU were playing a ranked game and decided to team together effectively creating a 6-man team. This made them able to fight off any competition with ease as others only had 3 people in their teams. Yet again top-tier players decide to cheat, this time caught by their own community.

Cheating isn’t always about doing better. Sometimes it is because of the pressure put on the players to do good. A small cheat can seem like a way out of a tricky situation. Like the Hearthstone player who texted their friend to ask about a certain match up and ended up disqualified. Or the CSGO player who cheated when they were 14 and then couldn’t play at the professional level. I am not saying that cheating is good, it is completely the opposite (in online games), but we have to take things into context. Everyone who cheats isn’t a bad guy, they just couldn’t take the pressure.

What Cheating Does?

Cheating in online games is never okay because it hurts other players. It fuels mistrust in the community, which leads to mistrust in the professional scene. Cheating destroys games because it takes away the skill and the reason to put in extra time into the game. It makes our favourite games some of the most hated and that is why it is so important with anti-cheat. But the biggest reason is that it ruins the integrity of the game. We have become a lot better over the years though, adding report buttons and anti-cheat software capable of finding cheaters in real-time.

But what does this mean? Why is cheating so ruinous? Well think of it yourself, you’ve been playing a game for a couple of months. You’re getting better and better and suddenly a player emerges. A player who somehow always gets headshots and always seems to know where you are. A cheater. All that time you put into the game, learning patterns, and where to aim, for nothing. You move on, it was just one game you think, but then it happens again, and again, and again. This is what happens when games get a cheating problem. It is just no fun to play the game anymore so the game dies.

But when you start cheating in online games, you’re directly impacting — overwhelmingly often in a negative manner — the experiences of everybody else in the instance. Anybody who’s been sniped by a camper who was running an aimbots and wall hacks in Counter Strike: Global Offensive can attest. Even exploiting in-game glitches like the Last Stand Grenade Trick in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or simply unplugging your router before losing a match of StarCraft can make for a miserable experience for the players around you.

In 2018, an Irdeto Global Gaming Survey of 9,436 consumers found that 60 percent of respondents had their gaming experiences negatively impacted on multiple occasions by cheaters. The study, which spoke to players in China, Germany, Japan, South Korea, the UK and US, also found that 77 percent of respondents are likely to stop playing online multiplayer if they suspect other players were cheating and 48 percent said they’d be less likely to purchase in-game content.

What Happens to the Esport Scene?

The Valve Anti-Cheat Ban

The problem with cheating in esports is that it is hard to find the cheaters. It is not as simple as just taking a drug test. If the cheaters are good you won’t even know that they are cheating. This is what happened in CS. You had these cheaters grouped with these amazing players and they were playing virtually the same. This made it incredibly hard for the community, who started focusing on the players trying to find potential hackers rather than the game itself. This is not all bad as the community did help in finding hackers, but sometimes they were wrong. In CS’s case multiple pros were branded as hackers and received hate for just being good at the game.

And since the success of an online game requires a large and active user base, their developers can’t go letting a subset of cheaters ruin the fun for the larger community. As such, the gaming industry has long sought to counter the influence of cheating players though the methodologies vary widely between games and platforms. Banning players for cheating has long been a useful cudgel for game developers as have anti-cheating software like PunkBuster.

Developed by Even Balance Inc, PunkBuster is a program designed to detect the use of cheating software in online games. It made its debut in 2000 for Half-Life. The PunkBuster Client runs locally on a player’s system, running real-time memory scans to spot any known cheats, hacks, key bindings or illicit scripts, while the program’s servers request frequent status updates — up to and including screenshots — from all clients connected to them.

If a player is found in violation of the rules, PunkBuster Admins can remove the player from the game for a specific amount of time, up to a permanent GUID ban, which is tied to the game’s license key and requires the player to purchase another copy if they want to play again. PunkBuster is primarily used for FPS and action games. The BattlefieldGhost ReconRainbow SixMedal of Honor and CoD franchises, as well as Assassin’s CreedFarCry 2 and 3 all utilized the service.

Cheating in esports is not only bad because it ruins the experience, it also ruins the scene, it fuels mistrust, and it invalidates a game. But unlike some other things, we can fight this. We can stand up as a community and say no. That is why reporting and anti-cheat work – they are a necessary evil.

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