Counter-Strike's Pro Cheating Scandal Might Be A Good Thing

Counter-Strike's Pro Cheating Scandal Might Be A Good Thing

Hear me out: Counter-Strike's pro cheating scandal -- which has seen three top-tier players get banned and others put under a hot magnifying glass of scrutiny -- sucks right now, but it could be a good thing in the long run. Or it could create standards the sport can never live up to.

I know, I know: on paper this really couldn't be much worse. Massive eSports compo DreamHack Winter is coming up this weekend, two teams have been banned from competing, the Counter-Strike: Global Offensive pro scene is questioning the very foundations on which it's been built, and an incensed community is out for blood.

As a popular eSport, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive is still very young, and people are already getting caught red-handed, losing fledgling careers. But, at the risk of sounding insensitive, may I say, "hurrah"? We might still be awash in a sea of confusion, but one thing is becoming pretty clear: people have a zero tolerance policy for cheating at Counter-Strike's highest levels. I think that stems in part from the fact that many fans have also played Counter-Strike against cheaters, and they hate it. Their reaction is doubly impassioned because, well, they have been there. It's bullshit. This early on, that's a powerful precedent to set.

Counter-Strike's Pro Cheating Scandal Might Be A Good Thing

In other sports, athletes rarely watch their careers explode into a smoking ruin of shame for cheating. As I mentioned yesterday, MMA fighters get busted for performance enhancing drugs with alarming frequency, and the worst they get is a (relatively) minor fine and a suspension. Some have come off long layoffs due to sketchy drug use and right back into title contention. What kind of punishment is that? Clean gains for dirty deeds. Pro cycling has had more doping scandals than anybody can count, but -- despite some disciplinary efforts -- it keeps happening. The NCAA is woefully lacking in needed resources to investigate cheating scandals in sports at the college level.

At some point, if the punishment is lax enough, it becomes beneficial to cheat. Even if you get caught, you still manage a net profit -- for your bank account, sometimes even for your legacy. Maybe eSports should come down harder on cheaters, harder than ball sports and fight sports and racket sports and the puppy bowl. Maybe the only way to nip these issues in the bud is to tear them out at the roots. eSports are still young in the grand scheme of sports. They have a chance to shut down potential widespread cheating before it ever takes off.

The problem, however, is that we don't really know how widespread cheating is at the pro level in Counter-Strike yet. If it's as entrenched of a practice as some pros claim it is, the sport may already be in a bad way. You can't always defeat systemic problems by isolating individuals -- by saying, "OK, person who cheated, it's one and done for you. You're out forever" and then putting their head on a metaphorical stake. If a whole bunch of people are cheating to, as they perceive it, level the playing field against other cheaters, high-profile busts don't necessarily teach them to clean up their act. Why should they? Everyone else is doing it too.

Counter-Strike's Pro Cheating Scandal Might Be A Good Thing
Counter-Strike's Pro Cheating Scandal Might Be A Good Thing
Counter-Strike's Pro Cheating Scandal Might Be A Good Thing

Rather, the system evolves to hide the act of cheating better. With steroid/HGH usage, athletes have found new ways to "cycle off" -- that is, temporarily stop using and empty their bodies of evidence -- over the years. Drugs have also become harder to detect with standard tests, more expensive to test for. These sorts of issues have a way of stumping officiating bodies for lengthy spans of time.

It doesn't help that Counter-Strike pros' alleged cheating tool of choice is apparently very subtle in the way it works. According to commentator Duncan "Thooorin " Shields, it doesn't turn players into unstoppable digital demigods so much as it makes them look like they're having their best day, every day. So it's already insidiously stealthy by design.

That sort of thing combined with an ineffective zero tolerance cheating policy, then, can leave a sport in a situation not unlike the one baseball faced with steroids in the early 2000s or the one football is facing with shitty actions from its players now. The sport holds itself up as a bastion of immaculate purity, but the human beings competing in it tarnish that image. And instead of looking into why/how people keep breaking the rules -- admitting that the whole thing is flawed -- the sport keeps punishing individuals, washing its hands of bad PR. It's a vicious cycle that doesn't actually solve anything.

Counter-Strike's Pro Cheating Scandal Might Be A Good Thing

So there are two sides to this whole Counter-Strike cheat scandal, two possible outcomes that couldn't be more different. Maybe we see a few cheaters weeded out over the next few weeks, and then the sport's a no-cheat zone from the ground floor up. But if prying a few boards from that ground floor reveals a rotten, maggot-infested foundation, well, things might get ugly (er). Even then, there are steps that can be taken (standardised hardware at competitions, first and foremost), but even those can't account for everything.

I'm glad that the Counter-Strike community is reacting so strongly against cheating, even if I'm increasingly wary of the witch-hunt-style accusations flying in all directions. With DreamHack almost here and tempers flaring, all eyes are on this problem. That's good, or at least it can be. That means nobody can sweep this under the rug, even if they want to. I do hope that people on all sides -- whether fans, pros accusing other pros, or what have you -- keep in mind why they need to deal with cheaters, though: not to settle personal vendettas, not to make the sport "perfect," not to grab the spotlight, but to ensure that it's mostly about good, clean fun. There will always be cheaters in every sport, but they don't have to be what the sport's about.


    No idea why are people debating about this. You use hacks then you are banned from the pro scene. Easy as that. No matter what reason or excuse, cheating is cheating.

      Yeah, this article is confusing to say the least. In one point it talks of banning cheaters as a good thing, then in another it rationalises it in some way.

      Sorry to say, but if you cheat in CS you should be banned, for life. End of story.

        That’s all part of the silliness of ‘pro-gaming’ in its current state.

        You ban someone and then what? Well over 99% of gamers use aliases.
        If you’re a cheating sh*t you just go play something else and cheat at that.
        Sure if you see someone at a comp who is the same person from another league you might recognise them but really, who’s going to police these things?

        In the short term it would stop the very small portion of elite players who make money from a particular title from making money in that title but who’s really going to notice if the number 200 ranked CS player in the world gets busted cheating and comes back with a new alias and a beard?

        Maybe we can get the geniuses behind ‘GamerGate’ out there checking people’s IP addresses and monitoring their personal details under the guise of “upholding ethics in the gaming community”.

        Frankly, I think the gaming scene is too stupid, disorganised, unaccountable and immature to police these kinds of things. I just can't see it being resolved.

        Last edited 27/11/14 11:01 am

    I think this is another one of the reasons that we’re a LONG way away from gaming being recognised as any kind of worthwhile competitive endeavour. From a mainstream perspective at least.

    There’s clearly good money to be made for the very top few guys coming from within the scene, but (much like MMA) you’re always going to get a very sizable portion of the population who considers ‘pro-gaming’ to be the stupidest sh*t on the planet.

    There’s too much of a disconnect between the gamer and any kind of tangible physical achievement and as we’re seeing now, there’s also too many ways to cheat. It sucks because I remember back in the day watching the top handful of guys playing games like Quake and just being blown away by both how good they were and also just how entertaining that kind of game can be to watch at an elite level.

    Not that I mind too much, I’m sh*t at games so it doesn’t matter. Plus it’s not like games will ever really suffer if the ‘pro’ scene never truly takes off, the industry is built around a recreational model so it won't change a thing.

    I’m not sure I want to live in a world where I end up with fat, lazy, unemployed teenage children who consider sitting on their asses all day playing games “professional development” or “sport” either.....

    Last edited 27/11/14 10:43 am

      One thing that always bugged me is how people talk about how hard it is to train to be a "pro-gamer" and complain about their exercise regimen of waking up as early as 10 AM.

        At least they used the term “pro-gamer”!

        Don’t get me started on the “e-sports athlete”.
        I’ve said it 1000 times, but the terms ‘sports’ and ‘athlete’ should be nowhere near the gaming scene.

        As one of the (vast) minority of people on this planet who thinks that being good at games is a legitimate skill that should be an acceptable way of making a living I’m all for ‘pro-gaming and ‘pro-gamers’, but if you try to tell me you’re any kind of athlete and I’m going to laugh in your face.

        “Oh but it requires co-ordination! Oh, but it requires strategy!” you hear from people….. So does professional knitting. You don’t see old ladies in desperate need of validation declaring themselves to be “lounge-sport athletes”.

        The ‘e-sports athlete’ is right up there with the self-declared ‘professional chef’ who works at Macca’s when it comes to misappropriating a title to make themselves feel important.
        It might be a technically winnable argument, but why not just wear the title that actually fits and not be such a wanker? Nothing at all wrong with being a pro-gamer!

    I don't see why the environments can't be more stringently monitored with no custom options introduced. Every other professional sport has uniform standards for parts of their equipment or facilities. You hold a competition with professional teams and force them to play on clean, sanitized machines, monitored by organizers to install no third-party tools are installed, then it's a level playing field. You can't play without your custom macros and scripts and other bullshit crutches? Then I guess you're not a real pro, and you can't compete.

      I couldn't agree more, well said.

      Good point, I don’t know much about the logistics of holding a large tournament like that but I’d imagine it would be a freaking nightmare.

      A closed, standardised system with a single controller? I think they have that already…. It’s called a console and I don’t think you’d get the hardened PC gaming crowd that makes up the majority of the pro-gaming scene in on that.

      It works brilliantly for fighting games where both competitors are on the same system with the same controllers, but the logistics of putting together a field of CS players and making them use a provided system, mouse and keyboard would not go over well with the majority of competitors (and some sponsors) I’d imagine. That’s without even going near whether or not you allow people to mess with in-game settings and macros' which I’d assume you’d have too.

      As soon as you take peoples custom gear off them they’re going to start freaking out that the framerate is wrong, the monitor is too big, or too small, or too bright, or the mouse pad is too grippy, or that the keyboard has the wrong curvature…..

        ...that their cheats don't work, etc, etc. Yup.
        They'd need to harden the fuck up or bow out and admit they can't compete on standard configurations.

        You allow some sponsor-provided setups like Alienware or Razer or whatever and you'd probably be fine, given that half of them are probably sponsoring the teams anyway. But the organizers provide the hard drive image with the game files, and the competitors can't install any software or write scripts.

        Seems pretty clear-cut and clean to me. You be accommodating enough in that way, let 'em change in-game settings like FoV/sensitivity/keybinds, whatever... anything that actually has a menu option. Any complaints after that point are obviously either nit-picking or a smoke-screen for complaining that they can't cheat anymore. Which can safely be ignored or used as a sign of suspicion.

        It's perfect.

          It’s perfect at an extremely high level I agree.
          I just don’t know how you police the system for anyone outside of that very upper crust of elite competition.

          Ideally what you need (and it’s not happening anytime soon) is some kind of overarching certification system for hardware. So you get assigned a closed system that’s running the game but then you can use your own mouse, keyboard and monitor as long as those particular devices have been certified by a governing body. Like you said you would also be allowed to modify in-game settings to your liking.

          I don’t know how you do that for the lower levels though, it’s an expensive proposition to be organised to that level and while it might work for a grand final or world title or whatever they call it I don’t think it would be feasible for mid-lower levels of competition.

            I think it'd be self-selecting.

            If you have to cheat to compete at the lower levels but can't compete when your cheats are stripped away in the hosted competitions which actually matter, you won't get that sweet, sweet prize money, and are pretty likely to be spotted as the scam you are.

            For some competitors, that low level victory is all the imaginary validation they need, but the true pros will either switch up their skills as required, or self-regulate to practice against non-cheating peers.

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