Plug & Play: Cheating extends to the esports world, too

Cheating is the most infuriating thing to a sports fan. From corking a bat to using performance-enhancing drugs, scummy players will always find a way to gain the upper hand on their opponents. 

Last week, the Houston Astros organization was accused of using computer and video technology to steal pitch signs during its 2017 World Series-winning season. An act like this is disgusting from a professional baseball team, and serious consequences must be handed down. 

It’s a good thing that esports are so heavily regulated to mitigate cheating and deem performance-enhancing drugs useless. Right? Not even close. 

While professional gamers aren’t pumping their muscles full of steroids to move their mouse more vigorously, professional esports has seen its fair share of cheating scandals and corruption at the professional level. In 2015, Cloud9’s CS:GO team was embroiled in controversy after it came out that the entire team was using Adderall to improve alertness and reaction time for the ESL One Katowice 2015 Tournament.

Perhaps the most notable cases of cheating came from the eXTREMESLAND 2018 Asia Finals. Nikhil “forsaken” Kumawat of OpTic Gaming was caught using an aimbot, a computer program that assists the user with aiming, during the tournament.

Cheating might be a bigger problem in esports than in its traditional sports counterpart. The root of this issue lies in the basis of esports. Youth e-athletes don’t play on teams; they start their digital sports career alone. Them and the computer. 

All you need is a computer and an internet connection to play esports. No coach. No team. No officials. While this structure is appealing for players looking to dive into esports, it carries several problems with it. 

Take youth baseball, for example. From the very first day, you are held accountable. Umpires, coaches and teammates will teach you right from wrong and 99% of the time will prevent you from cheating. That form of accountability doesn’t exist within esports, as cheating is normalized from the amateur level.

There is no one to prevent players from popping Adderall before playing a competitive match in the comfort of their own home. Amateur tournament officials aren’t testing its players for PEDs.

Anti-cheat algorithms have gotten impressively good in the past several years — handing out permanent bans to cheaters while limiting the number of false positives. However, the cutting edge anti-cheat systems are only as good as the cheating methods they are trained to find. It will be a long time before anti-cheat systems can identify new forms of cheating without human interaction. 

The cheating issue in video games is twofold. 

Primarily, it is infuriating for new players. How would you feel if you played in a high school baseball game and a freshman on the opposing team hit the ball over the fence 100% of the time, threw 110 mph and caught literally every batted ball? You would be pretty pissed off. Now imagine if that happened in a significant portion of the games you played in. That’s how the cheating situation in esports feels. 

This is utterly discouraging to players who are trying to play the game fair and become better the right way. Players feel the need to install cheats to compete, leading to more cheaters and more players quitting the game. 

Yes, you are going to play with cheaters on your team every now and again, but no one wants to win illegitimately. 

The second — and perhaps more significant impact — is in the way it could affect professional play. As mentioned earlier, several players have taken their cheating ways through the amateurs all the way to the professional stage without getting caught. 

With esports attempting to one day become an Olympic sport, competitive gaming needs to clean up its act. If this sport wants to be taken seriously, it can’t enter the Olympics like the athletes in the doping-infused 2004 Olympic Games. 

For esports to gain traction on a multinational stage, spectators shouldn’t have to worry about potential cheaters slipping through the cracks. Moreover, if competitive gaming is to continue to grow at the rate it has in the past several years, video game companies need to minimize cheating as effectively as possible. 

Cheaters destroy the integrity of the game, but even worse, they destroy the community of the game.

Sam Arslanian is a junior writing about esports. He is also a former sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Plug & Play,” runs every other Wednesday.