Written by Richard Wee & Jacob Wong

Introduction

From Konami Code in 1986 to the famous GTA code and today evolving into various types of different codes that could break the overall fairness of video games, distinctions are noticeable between these codes and the distinctions are massive. Before the rise of online games, any cheat code that is being abused can only affect personal game-play experience, but the same definitely cannot be applied in online games that involve millions of other players with their right to fair play and more so in a competitive esports competition involving millions of dollars.

We are referring to the infamy of edoping in esports. An article on this matter was previously appended back in 2017, where it outlined certain types of cheat codes and also the initiatives taken by relevant organisations. However the battle against the edoping is still ongoing. This article is a revision of that previous one and has three portions :-

  1. The variety of doping cheat codes that had taken place in the scene;
  2. The efforts made by several organisations in curing this destructive burden, and;
  3. The current state of affair.

 

  • Robodoping

 

Robodoping is a very novel way of cheating in the scene and it in fact has only occurred in British Cycling’s Esports Championships which is the first U.K.’s national cycling esports that was held in 2019. The cheating was not taking place during the live finals instead it happened during the route to the finals. Mr Jeffers was accused of using a bot-powered bike and faked his avatar riding for many hours at an uplifted power level through use of a program to get to the final . He admitted to it after he had been caught. Although all other finalists were using the same powered bike during the finals, utilizing it to get into the finals was prohibited. 

The probability of employing the same cheat might be very slim as it is a very specific code that is used to tackle the very system of the competition. However, it will be very interesting to observe whether a similar technique of cheating will spring up in the future.

 

  • Radar Hack

 

A huge ban wave, back in late 2018 had seen PUBG (“PlayersUnknown’s Battlegrounds”) actively banning over 30,000 players who abused the cheat code and gained a huge unfair advantage in their gameplays. What makes it more notable was that several professional players who play the game for a living had been banned as well. Radar hack is a robust arsenal for PUBG players as it enables a player to know the live position of the opponents and this is very destructive for the game play as one of the core features of the game is to find out the spot of the opposition.

 

  • Macro Commands

 

TI8 (“The International 8”) held in 2018, was the biggest esports tournament at that time with a $14.7 million prize pool, also encountered edoping. In the South American’s region qualifier, Thunder Predator’s player Juan “Atuun” Ochoa was found exploiting the macro commands feature on his mouse. Macro commands is a computer terminology of putting a series of commands and instructions into a single command to accomplish a task automatically. 

During the game, Ochoa was using one of the heroes that is hardest to control in the game which is “Meepo”. The hero requires a very strong micro management control from the player in order to maximise its potential but Ochoa abused the macro commands mechanic and performed a close to zero delay play between each of the different commands. Thunder Predator and Atuun’s disgraceful act had been found out and later disqualified from the tournament.

 

  • Aimbot

 

Aimbot should be no stranger to anyone who ever plays any first-person shooter games such as CS:GO (Counter Strike: Global Offensive). Tracing back to our previous article in 2017, aimbot was one of the edoping that was outlined. 

One of the most notable events that came off recently was during eXTREMESLAND 2018 Asia Finals where a player from Optic India named Nikhil “forsaken” Kumawat used the cheat code to seal the victory. The organisers had reasons to suspect his activity, and when the tournament administrators attempted to check his computer he immediately tried to delete a file named “word.exe” which was later discovered to be the cheating program.

Furthermore, another esports – Fortnite – edoping cases also occurred. The cheat did not arise during a competition but rather related to a professional player from FaZe clan with the in-game name of “Jarvis”. He was also a popular streamer and during one of his streams he decided to illustrate the cheating code to all his viewers and later got banned by the game developer, Epic Games. This goes on to show that aimbot is still able to continuously bypass the anti-cheat system and appear in shooter games.

 

Measures are taken by the likes of game developers and also tournament organisers to tackle this. Below will showcase some of the efforts that have been done in order to overcome the current situation.

 

  • The “ESL Anticheat” programme 

 

ESL (Electronic Sport League) who act as one of the pioneers in this industry as a well established tournament organiser have definitely taken a lot of efforts at times to maintain the integrity of esports by setting up rules and advancing their technology in the anti-cheating system. Marcel Menge, who joined ESL in 2001 as an online referee and currently responsible for all online platforms and tournaments, has said that about ¼ of ESL’s technology budget goes toward anti-cheat measures. They even have a cheating lab setup with people who are dedicated to get the latest cheats and reverse engineer them.

This anti-cheat system has a feature that causes you to be unable to tell if your hack is ESL Anticheat proof. This is because they can detect current cheats and modifications on the player’s system and inform them in different ways. Anyone who was caught under ESL Anticheat will be punished according to the rules with 12 Penalty points and a 2 year barrage.

 

  • Kernel drive

 

In 2020, Riot Games introduced a new anti-cheat system by opting into the usage of kernel drive following the likes of some third party anti-cheat operators such as BattlEye and Xigncode 3 in their games including LOL (League of Legends) and Valorant. Before the establishment of this brand new system, cheaters were able to employ specialized hardware to read and process system memory in order to bypass Riot’s previous anti-cheat system. 

The kernel is a computer program that has complete control over everything in the computer system. While users might be concerned about getting spied on by game developers, Riot responded by claiming that cheaters had been working on kernel-level and developers must follow up or else they will not be able to prevent these behaviours. Besides that, they also said that a lot of anti-cheat softwares had been employing the same system to provide the best gaming experience to the players.

 

  • Kaspersky’s Anti-cheat

 

The well established antivirus company had made their first move into the esports scene by announcing their latest anti-cheat system. They function their anti-cheat system in their own cloud so as to prevent interruption on the user’s game play. It will also be running on real-time monitoring attempts on cheating and provide judges with technical confirmation on the use of cheats.

At this moment, they had their trial run by a famed tournament organiser, StarLadder. They are demonstrated to be capable of operating in big name games such as PUBG and CS:GO. Therefore, the future development of anti-cheat mechanics by this cybersecurity company is indeed very exciting and promising.

 

  • Other notable efforts by different parties

 

Tournament organisers, game developers, and third party organisations are amongst those who made a lot of efforts in overcoming the obstacles created by those vicious cheaters. ESIC (Esports Integrity Commision) are one of those we mentioned in our previous article where they made some extraordinary efforts on keeping the integrity of this industry in check and are continuingly doing so.

Besides that, another interesting move by Riot is that they offer special bounties for up to $100,000 for high quality reports that demonstrate practical exploits leveraging the Vanguard kernel driver. This completely displays the dedication of putting an end to this never ending depressing experience. Valve as another giant developer also keep on advancing with their durable anti-cheat system VAC by scanning a player’s computer for one out of an ever-growing list of identifiable cheats.

Apart from that, it is also appealing that game developers are making immediate response in dealing with cheating such as PUBG’s developer PUBG corp and its anti-cheat system BattlEye implemented the solution in the update of Vikendi snow map. 

In 2016, South Korea had officially passed a legislation to prevent cheating in online games and it is illegal to perform such conduct within the nation. Such measures not only provide extra defences in combating with edoping but at the same time also raise the awareness of the severity of cheating and the need of more officials to make an effort at this particular area to ensure the growth of this unsettled industry.

While there are a lot of undertakings being taken by relevant units and accomplishments that can be seen, there are still certain shortcomings that are hard to be dealt with. For example, the unique cheat of robodoping that we mentioned above is an evidence of the presence of novel cheat in esports. It is a drawback that the cheat code developers are always initiating in this battle which make it hard for anti-cheat programs to tackle spontaneously as they need time to study and analyse the code especially those that are custom made.

Furthermore, another setback for anti-cheat developers is that they have to make sure their programs do not violate the privacy law. Marcel Menge during his interview also mentioned that they have to work with data protection officers and legal firms to make sure everything has to be compliant with the terms of use. A failure in coping with legislation means lawsuits coming on its way to game developers.

At the same time, we also have to bear in mind that those recognisable cheatings are only being recognised because they have been found out. The likes of account sharing, stream sniping, and usage of macro command are some of the cheating measures that are hard to be proved due to the tournament being held online. For instance, the macro command incident in the TI8 qualifier was found out only because a Reddit user caught suspicion on the player’s action. This clearly shows that even on the biggest esports event with millions at stake, players might actually get away with cheating if not for a sharp-eyed regular viewer. 

Another stumbling block with esports organiser dealing with cheating is the size of the organiser. ESL being a giant organiser with several sponsors might be capable of  investing in their anti-cheat system but the same cannot be said of smaller organisers who are just making a start on this business without any big sponsor. Due to the popularity of gambling events taking place, small competition with an unmatched prize pool might also have big monies involved from betting companies. Therefore, it is not surprising to see the same amount of cheatings take place in the lower tier of the competition.

Conclusion

Progressions are definitely in place with the cooperation between relevant parties in attempt to eliminate the existence of such reprehensible behaviour that constantly damages the integrity of esports. However, it is indeed disheartening to see that despite all the efforts that have been conducted, cheating events still have a spot in the scene. Nevertheless, witnessing companies like ESL, Valve, Riot Games, Kaspersky and organisations such as ESIC keeping their pace with cheat code developers are indeed giving all the gamers a glimpse of hope in making esports a better environment for players to compete in the games they love. 

May fair play eventually prevail. 

Published 9 September 2020

Photo by ELLA DON on Unsplash

 

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