HOW CAN DEVELOPERS BETTER ADDRESS CHEATING IN GAMES AND E-SPORTS?
Sure, giving yourself unfair advantages in single-player games will probably raise fewer eyebrows than it would in a PvP setting simply because your performance doesn't affect the experience of others, but it's hardly the most satisfying way to win, don't you think? Not only does it take away from the challenge of completing the game through sheer grit and skill, but it essentially tramples over all the effort the game's developers have put into creating them.
Which brings us to today's topic: what are some options that developers can explore to better address cheating in games, especially with esports becoming as prominent an industry as it is?
But let's not jump the gun. Before we can talk about what developers can do about these issues, let's first go over three of the more common tactics employed by cheaters these days, as well as several examples of how they've compro-mised the integrity of esports.
For the record, I hate aimbots. And so does every honest, self-respec-ting first-person shooter player out there. After all, having a piece of code do the hard work for you in an FPS game really defeats the purpose of playing it. There wouldn't be any more satisfaction from reacting faster than your opponent did, nor the "aww yes" moment of scoring a difficult headshot. At that point, you'd might as well be playing Boxhead on Y8.com.
Anyway, for those who are unfa-miliar with the term, "aimbotting" and “wallhacking” is the practice of having an external software that can automatically track and aim at opponents through the map, even behind walls and other obstacles that you would normally be unable to see through, and fire your gun for you in shooters like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare or Counter-Strike: Global Of-fensive, removing the crucial human reaction time between seeing an en-emy, lining up the shot and pressing the fire button. It would also automat-ically compensate for any accuracy-re-duction mechanisms within the game that would require additional finesse or skill to counter such as gun recoil or motion. Naturally, in a genre where swift hand-eye coordination is as valuable as a Minecraft diamond, this makes a lot of difference in game-play, as it is borderline impossible to escape a player who is basically as precise as a machine and can see the enemy to pixel-perfection.
Frankly, we don't have to look too far back to find an excellent example of a cheater who used this hack in a professional setting, and more importantly, got caught using it. The man in question was Optic India's Forsaken, a pro CS: GO player whose use of an aimbot software he'd amusingly named "Word.exe" let him score near-impossible shots on opposing players during the 2018 eXTREMESLAND Asia Finals.
Naturally, this logic-defying track-ing raised many eyebrows, and match officials went over to double-check his computer. What makes this one really memorable was that he tried to delete the software when he realised the gig was up, although he wasn't able to do it in time, and it was all caught on camera. Accordingly, he and his team were disqualified out-right, and subsequent investigations revealed that he'd cheated at previ-ous tournaments too.
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For those who got the John Wick ref-erence, congratulations - you're really sharp.
But let's get back on track. In many modern PvP genres such as the battle royale, tactical shooters and MOBAs, a lot of the game's excitement comes from players having a certain degree of uncertainty throughout the game, especially regarding the location of other players or their resources.
As such, having possession of that kind of information provides one party with a really, really unfair ad-vantage, since it allows them to make significantly more informed decisions. Although such cheats are more com-monly seen in battle royales nowa-days given the genre's popularity, it is probably at its most devastating in a MOBA like League of Legends.
In 2012, Korean team Azubu Frost was caught for possessing such infor-mation in their match against Team SoloMid (or TSM for short). During the match, Azubu Frost's players kept looking away from the center of their screen, to the point where people started to suspect that something fishy was going on. Their hunch was correct - Azubu Frost was actually watching the spectator screens (the ones meant for the audience) to "spy" on TSM's movements across the map and using that knowledge to make plays.
Surprisingly, the team wasn't banned outright, and were only awarded a fine, though it was a rather hefty one. Still, it's a great example of how such "cheats" can interfere with the sanctity of modern esports competition.
Let's face it - we've all seen players with an ungodly amount of health (or lives) at least once. The good old invincibility cheat has been around since someone thought it'd be a bril-liant idea to replace a game's regular health value with a bunch of nines.
Strictly speaking, I'm not entirely against this being used in certain situ-ations, because sometimes it's tossed in by the developers themselves. The Grand Theft Auto series is actu-ally one of them - the single player version, at least. You see, in a fran-chise whose main selling point is let-ting you have fun doing (and mostly destroying) random stuff on a whim, it's all about that "feel good" factor, and what can make that even better? Not being able to die in the process, of course.
However, that doesn't mean it should be encouraged, especially not in official gaming competitions. For-tunately, this type of cheat is hardly used in esports given it's ridiculously easy to tell if someone is using it.
Still, that doesn't say anything of the situation outside of competitions, and shooters are bearing the brunt of it. In addition to the aforementioned aimbots, games like Call of Duty: Warzone, CS: GO and suchlike also have to deal with a surging number of people adopting invincibility cheats in matches. In some respects, cheaters who employ such tactics are even more annoying to deal with than those who use aimbots, since a well-coordinated squad can still corner and take down someone with "godlike" aiming skills - how do you even outplay a guy that can't be killed?
So, we've gone through some of the more common methods players are using to cheat in modern video games and esports. But what can developers do about them, on top of mere ban waves and issuing warnings to players suspected of cheating?
This one is a bit of a - no, scratch that. It's a huge grey area. Vigilante justice is often frowned upon in many disciplines and scenarios, and gaming is no different. However, there have been some individuals who've taken it upon themselves to explicitly look for cheaters in popular titles and get them reported.
24-year-old Mohamed "GamerDoc" Al-Sharifi is one of these individuals. A former pro gamer, he's been hunting down suspected cheaters for several years in Overwatch already, although he's recently extended his efforts into Riot Games' new tactical shoot-er Valorant as well. According to him, he really dislikes how cheaters ruin games for good and honest players, and says that as many as 50,000 to 70,000 cheaters have been reported to the respective game developers as a result of his work thus far.
So, what's our proposal here? Having developers rely on vigilantes to help them weed out the bad crops from the good? Yes, but not quite. In-stead of having vigilantes per se, perhaps dev teams could add a few more members to the roster as "dedicated anti-hacking agents" or something along those lines, and their role would be to actively "hunt down" offenders, rather than wait for the community to raise reports.
Fair enough, it does sound a little whimsical, not to mention morally questionable but there's no denying that individuals with skills such as Al-Sharifi's are invaluable in cleaning up cheaters, even if the way it's done does tend to be a little...unorthodox. Plus, they can even help provide feed-back to the main team to see which areas need to be patched up in terms of security.
However, you might then ask, "why not just let the community turn them in and offer incentives?", that way it saves everyone at the office a ton of work. On paper, that might sound like the ideal situation, but if that was the case, people would simply start reporting players they didn't like in-game rather than actual cheaters, and getting stuff out of it - that would re-ally mess up the game in question, regardless of the genre. Also, such methods are just like slapping on a Band-Aid to the wound and hoping the dressing sticks - it's just a tempo-rary thing, and cheaters might very well go back to doing so as soon as they're off the hook. That's why devel-opers could adopt this other method we're thinking of simultaneously.
Now this second method is what I'd like to call poetic justice. Frankly, it isn't a completely new tactic, although employing it in more games could theoretically lead to lower cheating rates across the board. Plus, it's a lot less ambiguous than doling out vigilante justice. Basically, instead of banning cheaters outright, developers could opt to funnel all of these play-ers into a dedicated server (assuming it's an online PvP game) filled with nothing but other cheaters for a set period of time.
Amusingly, the game which we find made the best use of this meth-od to curb a cheating problem is From Software's Dark Souls. They put all the verified cheaters reported by other players into lobbies with others of their ilk, grabbed some popcorn and watched the cheaters rage at each other until the cows came home. What's more hilarious is that some skilled (but honest) players even went into these lob-bies on purpose to troll the living daylights out of them - one of the more pop-ular videos on YouTube shows how a player managed to get a furious cheater to topple over a ledge to his death while casting a spell.
Before we end off, I'll just toss in a bit of a disclaimer here - these are not cure-alls, merely theoretical measures that could work in tandem with exist-ing efforts from the developers. After all, they don't really solve the root cause of the problem - when it comes right down to it, the onus still lies with players being good sports and playing fair in the first place.
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