This year, a cheating scandal rocked the professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive scene. Numerous pro players were caught cheating, with many more placed under suspicion. In an industry based on fair competition, cheating threatens the very foundation of esports: How can fans invest in a game when players can even cheat at live tournaments?
Tournaments have tackled this problem with stricter restrictions on players at events. Riot Games, for example, now requires their League of Legends pro players to keep an unopened set of peripherals at the Riot studio, meaning that players have no chance to tamper with the devices and potentially install cheat software before a match.
A software engineer from Los Angeles has a different solution—a simple piece of hardware between the mouse and computer.
David Titarenco has dedicated much of the past decade to combating cheating in esports, working on the Cyberathelete Amateur League (CAL) Anti-Cheat software, but now he’s developed something more concrete.
The device, called Game:ref, interfaces the mouse, computer, and Internet and uses that data to verify whether the mouse movements the player makes match what the computer is producing. If they don’t, then there’s tampering on the player’s end.
That’s highly specialized for an anti-cheat device. For one, it doesn’t do anything to stop wall-hacking, a prevalent form of online cheat that allows players to see through walls. For another, a player could circumvent the detection by using another hardware device to filter their mouse inputs as they’re sent to the Game:ref device.
Of course, that’d be nearly impossible to do at a live tournament event, with thousands of eyes watching, just like wall hacking. And that’s the market Titarenco sees for the device. He hopes event organizers will implement his device to help return trust to the sanctity of Counter-Strike competition.
In some ways, this is the next stage of escalation in the war between anti-cheats and the cheats themselves. It’s a never-ending arms race—every time a developer figures out a way to detect the latest hacks, the cheat providers figure out a way to get around it. And they’re usually one step ahead.
Taking the anti-cheat to the hardware level makes it much more expensive to combat since it’d require another hardware device to edit the mouse inputs before reaching the Game:ref, though it’s conceivable that the massive industry could fund such an effort if Game:ref catches on.
“My goal is to first approach events and organizers and lans in particular and see how they do there and then I’d like to contact end-users,” Titarenco told Vice. “I feel that both hardcore as well as casual gamers would like this. Nobody likes to be cheated against, no matter if you’re playing at the highest levels or the lowest levels. It just sucks when you’re playing against a cheater.”
Whether Game:ref really makes a dent solving that problem is another issue. It’s unlikely casual gamers would put the effort in to use such a device, and there doesn’t seem to be many ways to ensure that other users do the same to ensure a game is free, other than perhaps requiring its use for certain servers. Plus, wider adoption means there’s more incentive for cheat developers to counteract it.
As far as a solution for live esports tournaments, though, Game:ref looks like it could be a powerful tool for a growing niche of the community. The application isn’t limited to Counter-Strike, either—games like League of Legends and Dota 2 could benefit from the same setup.
With the stakes in esports events constantly increasing, the industry needs more creative solutions like Game:ref to combat the cheating problem.