Cheaters are a plague that is found in every sport, but eSports, in particular, is a haven for nefarious practices and exploits. Preventing cheating and rooting it out of the industry is just part of the growing pains of what is quickly becoming the world’s most dynamic entertainment segment, but eSports also faces the unique challenges presented by cheaters in its field.
Not only are these cheats sophisticated, but also the clandestine nature of it all mixed with high-stakes money in some cases makes it a fraught, murky world at best, and a sketchy, near-criminal one at worst. This basket of issues was on full display at a recent Call of Duty: Vanguard tournament where one player was caught cheating and then subsequently named 14 others guilty of the same. Needless to say, the event caused more than a few waves in the community.
The prize pool in question wasn’t that much - about $7,000 - but the flagrancy of the cheating is what rocked the community. A Call of Duty: Vanguard search and destroy tournament had its results canceled after a user named Shiv got caught using an exploit, NME reports. A new player to the scene, Shiv’s team overcame a party fielded by eSports organization Optic in what was considered a real moment during the tournament but that was later found to be tainted by a hack that allowed him to see through walls.
A common hack, it is nonetheless extremely effective because it gives one player the ability to hone in on the competition and ruthlessly eliminate them one by one. Also, while common, this cheat keeps reappearing in one form or another, setting programmers on a Whack-A-Mole excursion to eliminate a problem that is somewhat the equivalent of the first-person shooter version of the common cold. In other words, overcoming even this simple exploit will not be easy and probably will require a concerted, organized, and persistent effort on into the future.
Back to our story, the discovery of this exploit led to Shiv’s disqualification after which he immediately named other players that he alleged were cheating as well. It’s all a bit of Internet drama that, again, you’d find in any sport but that doesn’t take away from the fact that big bucks are on the line. In fact, one player known as Faze 2Pac went on to describe how the accused player was cheating for months and, as a result, cost thousands:
“I knew this kid was cheating since the beginning of cold war. Kid went from getting 6-0d every tourney to magically winning. Cost me $1000s, I'm pissed.”
All of this led to a larger discussion about the Call of Duty professional community and, more specifically, the search and destroy tournaments that some players describe as “toxic.” Whether or not that is the case is not really the test of eSports so much as the alleged rampant cheating is. Cheating, by its very nature, will turn the best gaming community into a toxic mess but, beyond that, it undermines eSports as a serious business.
Sure, in Vegas, the house always wins but eSports isn’t gambling, it’s a game of skill, and everyone just being cool with cheating is likely not to end very well. That’s where software like Ricochet comes into the picture. Just like Vegas casinos are always on the lookout for cheaters trying to take advantage of them, anti-hacking software hopes to be one of many components that will make eSports safe, legitimate, and a little bit less toxic. Targeted at both Warzone and Vanguard Call of Duty communities, Ricochet will also be available in professional and casual tournament play. But, as skeptics readily point out, it’s probably only a matter of time before this is subverted as well.
Another major effort to curb cheating that is perhaps more aimed at professional tournaments is the work of the Esports Integrity Commission. This nonprofit organization works to root out cheating in the eSports community through a process of identifying, notifying, and preventing exploits and cheats from being used across a wide range of games. And the commission’s work goes well beyond just cheating; it also wants to make professional gaming and streaming a viable, valid, and legitimate career option for talented gamers. They do this through services such as advising streamers on contracts, helping with sponsorship deals, and even finding health insurance.
Director of global strategy and partnerships for the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC), Stephen Hanna, told DotEsports of the nonprofit’s work:
“Good agents, agents that are legitimate and doing the job correctly have made their talent alive to various components of risk that they otherwise would not be alive to. That’s the main thing that’s valuable because the reality is as a competitive or professional competitive player you’re not going to be able to have eyes in the back of your head all the time.”
In this regard, eSports has come a long way from its origins as a largely indie scene. But with serious money comes serious concerns that the competitions and, by extension, the players are being poisoned by a rash of cheating that is literally robbing players of their hard-earned money. The Esports Technical Advisory Committee is working closely with the Nevada Gaming Commission to develop practices that ensure the quality and “maintenance of integrity of esports competitions and related betting.”
Yogonet reports that Nevada approved a raft of games for competition in 2020, including Dota 2, iRacing, League of Legends, Overwatch, and Call of Duty, among others. This represents a record number of approvals in one year and seriously ratchets up the need for security and anti-cheating measures. The Nevada panel consists of gaming and video gaming luminaries such as Activision Blizzard’s Brandon Snow and Fifth Street Gaming CEO Seth Schorr. Operators that will accept bets on these games will be able to offer three wager types including head to head, match winner, and overall winner according to eSports Insider.