As competitive gaming continues to become one of the most popular forms of entertainment, the problem of cheating pushes developers to improve their anti-cheat solutions.
The many forms of cheating
There are a number of ways in which players try to gain the upper hand in an unfair way in competitive games, including the use of special software, exploiting design flaws, watching opponents broadcast their games through streaming platforms, or even – taking drugs that stimulate concentration. Cheating programs come in many forms. Aimbots or autoaim provide automated targeting, causing havoc in FPS games. They are often combined with triggerbots that make a player shoot the moment the target appears in the crosshairs. One famous aimbot case involved Jarvis from FaZe Clan. He was noticed using the software while streaming, and so Epic Games made the decision to permanently ban the 17-year-old from Fortnite. Later on, Jarvis decided to check whether Epic improved their anti-cheat software and played the game with an aimbot using a different account. Indeed, this time the anti-cheat software detected the issue. Another common problem ruining FPS games in particular is wallhacking, so the ability to see through textures. The removal of certain obstacles, or making them transparent allows the players to see their opponent’s position. Lag switching makes player behavior erratic, causing them to stutter around the map, reaching ridiculous speeds and becoming difficult to hit. Some players avoid having their losses recorded in games by disconnecting when they see the situation is turning against them. Many dedicated players know their games inside and out, and some are more than willing to use exploits or bugs to their own advantage. In 2020, Guild Esports used an in-game exploit in the Valorant First Strike: Europe competition when they were playing against G2 Esports. Although they won the game, after noticing the bug a decision was made not to acknowledge the victory and the team left the competition while their opponents advanced further to play against NiP. Some tournaments consider setting up macros – a sequence of actions under one key – also as a form of cheating. In February 2021, the internet was abuzz with information that Ninja decided to quit Fortnite, the game that kickstarted his career, due to being stream sniped several games in a row. He might be intending to keep his promise refraining from playing the game, as he has not been seen streaming it since the incident took place 2 months ago. Stream sniping is a term used to describe a situation in which players watch their opponents stream to gain an advantage within the same match. The Washington Post reported on the frequent use of Adderall, which is a type of drug that helps people focus and applied in the treatment of ADHD. The article also points out several other substances also used as performance enhancers by competitive gamers. Few leagues run tests to check whether players have used such drugs. Twitch gives streamers an option to delay their broadcast for a specific time so that opponents cannot use it to gain advantage. These are just some of the problems that game developers and event organizers have to face.
What companies do
In 2019, Blizzard announced it was considering a solution that would force-end a match if cheating was detected among any number of players on both teams, without recording the results of the match. The company would then enforce appropriate measures against the player(s) that violated the rules of fair play. The developers of Call of Duty: Warzone continue to ban cheaters in droves, with 70,000 accounts recently banned in a single wave. The introduction of 2-factor authentication invalidated over 180,000 suspect accounts. Companies continue to invest in the development of anti-cheat software, dedicated teams are hired to monitor player actions during matches, new security measures are being implemented and improvements are made to in-game reporting tools. Increasing numbers of companies assume harsh zero-tolerance policies and aggressive specialized software that monitors the processes running on player computers. One controversial case was Valorant’s anti-cheat software that used to run in the system regardless of whether or not gamers were actively playing the game. PUBG has an entire “anti-cheat unit” of developers who monitor the activity of cheaters to identify their tactics. Respawn Entertainment, the company behind Apex: Legends, incorporated machine learning to create behavior models for detecting cheating and improve auto banning. The company also modified its matchmaking to force cheaters to play against each other. Panopticon Laboratories, a cybersecurity company, made an estimate that players spend up to half a billion USD on cheating software every year.
The battle rages on
Many video game companies perceive cheating as a threat to their income and the community – and rightly so. The frustration caused by unfair competition in an environment that is already stressful to some can cause people to move on from the games they used to love, just as Ninja did. As we sit inside our homes entertaining ourselves in multiplayer matches, the battle for fair play continues to escalate.