Cheat codes, fixing, friendly software, how unfair practices operate in eSports

In the world of eSports, players are always attempting to find new and creative ways to give themselves an advantage. Here's a lowdown on the most common unfair practices prevalent in the eSports universe.

Anand Krishnaswamy August 12, 2020 17:39:29 IST
Cheat codes, fixing, friendly software, how unfair practices operate in eSports

Over the past few years, the world of eSports has grown rapidly, resulting in it becoming a viable career choice for many. Even post-retirement careers for eSports players and gamers are a reality today.

With this massive growth comes the issue of cheating. Like we have seen in the past with traditional sports, eSports has a growing number of cheaters emerging. Many of them are not professional players, but there have been a worrying few incidents even in the competitive scene. What does this mean?

Cheating is considered a taboo, a shameful act committed by unscrupulous individuals with little to zero integrity. This is the outlook many of us have, but what if that is not the whole truth? The new issue emerging is that there are many players, some even at the top of the industry, who have fallen prey to the pressure of always needing to perform. The downward spiral led them to cheat. A few famous high-profile examples that come to mind are that of Hovik 'KQLY' Tovmassian in competitive Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) and that of Apxvoid.

Both players were well respected in the community and considered promising. KQLY was, in fact, considered one of the best at the time of his scandal. KQLY was found to have been experimenting with cheats outside of competitive games and due to the anti-cheat policy of CS:GO, he was served a Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC) ban in the middle of a tournament by the game system. This embarrassing incident occurred while he was playing a game against another team.

The policies by Valve Corporation, within CS:GO do not allow any player to even experiment with cheats outside competitive gaming and those caught are subject to the well-known VAC ban. This ban directly disables the account that is caught cheating and the players behind the account, if identified, may be further banned from making a new account as well.

KQLY admitted to his transgressions and, upon investigation, it was found that a cheat developer had misled him into believing that cheating was commonplace within the professional circuit.

Apxvoid is a professional player and streamer for the popular game Hearthstone. He was found to have asked a player sitting next to him for advice. This incident was discovered as he typed the message out so that the player next to him would be able to see, however, he mistakenly sent the message to the admin after this.

Cheat codes fixing friendly software how unfair practices operate in eSports

Representational photo. Image credit: Twitter/@ESL

The result was an investigation that led to a disqualification for him from the tournament. He has since admitted to his mistake and said it was because he was nervous and wanted a confirmation to calm his nerves. Interestingly, Apxvoid, before this incident, had been vocal about how cheating is never excusable.

While both incidents are a result of a moment of weakness for the players in question, the act itself shows them in extremely poor light and leaves little room for excuses or justification. The way for the companies behind eSports and gaming to stop cheating has resulted in the need to also understand these cheats and what they find attractive about it.

To understand this, the first thing is to look at the most common methods of cheating. They can be split into various categories of cheat codes, assistive software, unauthorised hardware, and editing of saved game data.

Cheat Codes is a well-known term for every avid gamer. These codes are often built into the games by the developer. Hence, often the use of some of these codes is accepted outside of competitive gaming. Many of them are even made with the intention of allowing players to make the game harder than originally intended, such as providing enemies with certain advantages. The games that feature such codes are made for the recreational gamer and rarely ever have a competitive angle to them outside of maybe comparing high scores.

Use of additional software that provides players with an unfair advantage is another common unfair practice. These software are generally run in the background by the player and they include things such as AIMBOTS, Map Hacks, Wall Hacks (allows a player to see through otherwise opaque obstacles in the game), etc. Some of the more advanced cheats in this category even allow for a series of actions without input from the players when activated.

Unauthorised Hardware is a method of cheating that is also used in sports. This is an exceedingly rare method as in any event, the hardware used is extremely visible to the audience and the use of non-standard hardware always raises eyebrows. The best-known example of this is the turbo button that was seen on many non-licensed controllers. This button would make each button press made by the player equivalent to multiple inputs on the same button, something like a burst mode click in cameras. In games that are based on reaction speed, this could become an unfair advantage.

Editing of saved game data or just editing saved files is a method of cheating that emerged from players wishing to skip the need to actually train their in-game avatars or just wishing for a special in-game item or skill that is otherwise impossible for them to obtain. This method is in violation of the terms of service for almost all games.

In the world of eSports, players are always attempting to find new and creative ways to give themselves an advantage while staying within the rules. These methods are controversial and as such, while some players consider it fair, there are some that are outraged by these incidents and often call for action from the developers and authorities. As a matter of fact, many of these methods are considered bugs in the game by the developer.

A famous example that comes to my mind is the fountain hook tactic employed by Natus Vincere (NAVI or Na`Vi) during Dota 2’s third iteration of ‘The International’ (TI). This strategy was originally just a standard in-game interaction that had not come to the notice of most players until the day NAVI used it to win what to be an impossible game. The strategy was based on two heroes in the game, Pudge and Chen executing their skills in a specific order with very precise timing to pull an enemy hero way out of position such that it was guaranteed to result in their death.

With the impeccable execution of this method by Danil 'Dendi' Ishutin and his teammate Clement 'Puppey' Ivanov, many players began to fear this move and made requests to the developer to remove this interaction altogether. Valve Corporation considered the play to be within the competitive integrity of the game but did concede that the interaction could lead to an unfair situation. It was swiftly removed. Such exploits have even resulted in some game developers seeing a need to invalidate results of professional games plagued by similar incidents.

Other cases of cheating in eSports have even included incidents of match-fixing. The problem of match-fixing in eSports is a real one, and the main reason for this is players looking to make easy money. This can be done by way of rigging an event or bribing players. In the case of the first, the incidents are often isolated to specific players or even just specific events. The second case is more difficult to tackle, players are lured by criminal organisations with the promise of big pay-outs.

Adam Kling, CEO of Kronoverse, believes in a holistic approach to solving cheating within eSports. The Kronoverse platform is said to be able to identify ‘dirty players’ with a high degree of accuracy. The system can ban players and even stop them from returning to the game under a different name. This system works with a combination of player information as well as an integrity score, which is assigned to each player.

The Director for Global Strategy and Partnerships for Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC), Stephen Hanna, believes that the solution to issue lies in working together with all stakeholders. Launched in 2016, ESIC is focussed on protecting eSports from all forms of corruption. In the words of Stephen Hanna, “The industry is in need of the trifecta."

This trifecta is a combination of bookies, regulators, and game developers. The understanding is that by working together, they could help educate players/coaches and provide them with a means to access the information collected by all stakeholders. It is believed that the entry of betting organisations into the industry will finally motivate game developers into joining ESIC.

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