Aug 22 2014 - 2:10 pm

On Twitch, SWAT teams are becoming dangerous props for trolls

Around 10pm Sunday night, Alexander Wachs was playing a computer game in his Plainfield, Ill
Richard Lewis
Dot Esports

Around 10pm Sunday night, Alexander Wachs was playing a computer game in his Plainfield, Ill. home. A popular streamer on Twitch, where he's better known as Whiteboy7thst, the 23-year-old boasts a legion of followers who watch him play games live, everyday. That night, fans would watch something unusual unravel on-screen.

In the middle of playing through DayZ, the post-apocalyptic zombie survival game, Wachs tells his viewers to "give me a second here." Then his screen suddenly freezes. When the feed resumes, Wachs is gone. In his place is an empty, spinning chair. A few minutes later, a police officer and a K-9 walk into screen. That's when the feed shuts off.

Minutes earlier, a hoaxster—we have no idea who—tipped police to something illegal going on at Wachs' address. It was most likely a bomb threat, though specific details on the incident are scant. Wachs had just fallen victim to a "swatting" prank. And unlike a lot of other recent victims, he ended up paying for it. While digging around the apartment, police found Wachs' personal stash of 30-500 grams of pot. They promptly arrested him.

...

Popular streamers at sites like Twitch are used to abuse from their viewers: insults, pranks, run-of-the-mill trolling. Some, however, go to far more malicious extremes. Hackers have occasionally targeted popular Twitch channels, or popular streamer's online game accounts. Other have leaked personal, identifying information about popular personalities online, leaving them open to all types of harassment. But the latest harassment craze facing streamers is the most dangerous and potentially deadly yet: “swatting.”

In swatting, someone anonymously phones your address in to the police. The typical line they use that there's an ongoing hostage situation in your home. They might add that several people are being held at gunpoint, or they might skip that scenario entirely and just go with a generic bomb threat. If the call is convincing enough, police will often dispatch a Special Weapons and Tactics team (SWAT), armed to the teeth with assault rifles and body armor, to your home—hence the term swatting.

Although prank calls have been around pretty much since Alexander Graham Bell invented the phone, swatting turns a harmless prank into a wasteful and potentially life-threatening hoax. Swatting itself has been around for a while, but live video platforms such as Twitch are adding a new, voyeuristic appeal, allowing the perpetrators to watch the whole situation unfold live.

In December 2013, a particularly high profile case saw popular League of Legends streamer James “phantoml0rd” Varga being confronted by armed police in December last year. He described the ordeal subsequently on Facebook:

“Just had an automatic pointed at me, put in handcuffs and sat in the back of a cop car as I watched as 6 policemen go through my whole house.”

Although the situation was defused relatively quickly, Varga was still clearly shaken when he released a video about the incident a few days later.

“I took a couple of days break afterwards and tried to be level-headed about it all," he'd later say. "Thinking about it now I am still a little shaken up about it still, because I am remembering a lot of things that happened."

More than 130,000 people watched the incident on Twitch, the video game streaming platform that's a hub for the online gaming community. That seems to have given a new generation of trolls ideas. Over the month of July and August alone, four high-profile streamers on Twitch were victims of swatting.  And alarmingly, few have been caught, or punished, for perpetrating the pranks. It's largely a consequence-free hoax.

The same cannot be said for the victims. If the stress of having armed police turn up at your home with their guns trained on you isn’t enough, what happens after they arrive seems increasingly to be something of a state lottery.

Most victims, at least, have been more fortunate than Wachs. When leading StarCraft 2 streamer Evan “Winter” Ballnik was swatted last month, police were a little more sympathetic, quickly realizing the whole thing was prank. Even then, Ballnik said that if he hadn't been notified by a friend to contact the police prior to their arrival it could have been a very different situation.

When the swatting happened, he was living in Kentucky with his girlfriend, at an address that "isn't anywhere on the Internet or anything," he told us. He spends most of his time in Dearborn, Mich., where he's lived for 20 years, goes to school, and resides at a publicly listed address. That's the address the pranksters found. So Ballnik had no idea the police had encircled his home until he got a message on Twitch.

"My friend, who is actually my neighbour too… says ‘there are police cars outside your house and you need to call the Dearborn PD right now’ and I was like ‘oh shit, this is legit.'"

Ballnik immediately called the police.

"The officer explained to me that they were forced to search [my] home because someone had called saying [I was] holding a hostage at gunpoint.’ I told them that I definitely wasn’t holding a hostage at gunpoint in my house, or was even in my house."

The caller apparently hadn't been convincing to the police.

"I’m sure they have been prank-called multiple times and I understand that the police can’t just be like ‘well whatever, it’s probably fake.’" Ballnik said.

"I mean, they even called and knocked on the door first before breaking in to search the property. Usually it’d be a silent response with a SWAT team coming in with flashbangs and stuff. I guess I can be thankful.”

For younger streamers, the incidents can be more than an annoyance.  Ballnik has spent a lot of time trying to convince his parents that streaming is a safe, viable career. Every time something like this happens, it sets that dialog back.

“My mom never thought I should be putting my face on the Internet because there are ‘bad people’ on the internet. Now she feels vindicated and has no idea how things like this can happen, which isn’t fun for either of us. I had to spend several hours trying to explain that no one is going to come to our house and hurt us. I mean that is a literal concern of hers: That someone would come and stab me in my sleep.

Things like this really don’t exactly put her at ease."

But it could have been much worse, Ballnik says. And at least now he's established a dialogue with the police to ensure any future swatting attempts are greeted with a healthy scepticism.

Jordan “n0thing” Gilbert, one of America’s most successful Counter-Strike players, was less fortunate. He was streaming some pickup games with friends on July 10, just a few days after Ballnik's brush with the law, when he heard sirens outside.

"I have been pranked like this before, " he said. "But normally just fire trucks coming, thinking my house was burning or something similar."

This time, since the sirens weren't on his street, he didn't think anything of it. A few minutes later, however, he saw his father, just returned from work, "waving to somebody at the end of our street."

"False alarm guys," Gilbert heard his father say.

It was then that he decided to go and check what was happening. In the video, Gilbert says “be right back, I think I heard something.” The camera then shows three SWAT officers enter his bedroom with automatic rifles and start searching under the bed.

His teammates are slow to realize what's happening. But when they finally do, they shrug it off.

“Well it happens every week, so I’m sure he’s used to it by now,” one says.

According to Gilbert, who now plays with top North American esports organization Cloud9, his family knew enough about swatting to help defuse the situation. “[My father] was well aware of what swatting is, because I basically informed my whole household what might happen to me, based on previous events” he explained.

Gilbert advised future victims to remain calm at all times.

“I let them handcuff me. Me and my father then proceeded to calmly explain what was going on and the officers actually were quite responsive to my story and uncuffed us while the other officers quickly scanned my home.”

When the whole thing was over, Gilbert made sure to continue the dialog with police, ensuring that the next time it happens, law enforcement at least try to communicate before wasting resources on another hoax.

“After talking with them, the 911 emergency response unit has placed a marker near our home address” he continued. “They have a protocol when serious emergencies are called into my address. This way they will give us a call before responding with such force.”

...

Swatting isn't just confined to popular streamers who broadcast the biggest esports titles. It's been going on for years—if mostly limited to wannabe hackers and trolls from the darker corners of the Internet.

In 2013, the FBI placed the number of swatting incidents at about 400 per year. But that estimate seems conservative. As the Verge reported in 2013, Google trends show a significant increase in the use of the term “swatting” in early 2013, and there have been frequent spikes since. And the FBI's methodology hardly seems scientific. The bureau calculates its number based on "local law enforcement calls received about once a month; interviews of individuals arrested; and a review of social media with perpetrators bragging about it," a representative told the Verge.

Despite this increase in awareness and the instances themselves, law enforcement seems to remain not only behind the curve in terms of knowledge, but also toothless when it comes to tracking down offenders. The number of arrests relating to swatting incidents remains startlingly low, even if there have been a few high profile arrests. In March, 2013, police busted the perpetrator of a pair of high profile swatting pranks against big-name celebrities Ashton Kutcher and Justin Bieber. The suspect was a 12-year-old boy.

It was inevitable that the trend would find its way into the growing world of esports, where the best competitive gamers have become mini-celebrities in their own right thanks to broadcasting platforms like Twitch. That said, you don’t need to have a huge following to find yourself a victim of swatting. Last month police raided the home of Caleb Hart, a bodybuilder and holder of numerous world records in “speed running”—trying to complete single player games in as fast a time as possible.

Hart was in the middle of a Mega Man X speedrun when the police knocked on his door. Clearly not believing what was happening, he kept playing, until it became evident the police were not kidding around.

“Who the hell did this?” he asks. “This is not cool. Why would you guys do this? Are you kidding me? This is actually happening?”

In full view of his audience, Hart then tries to explain what was happening. He shows the officers his streaming rig—and the Twitch chat. That's when one viewer, maybe the prankster himself, makes a donation with the name "F The Police" in full view of the officers. Hart is left with the awkward task of explaining that he didn’t know the people he was interacting with online—and had no control over their behaviour.

In Hart’s case, this was clearly not just a prank call designed to be an inconvenience. Towards the end of the video, the police officers start to listen to the still-ongoing call.

"The cops are in my house with a gun right now," the prankster says. "I'm gonna kill them... I'm hiding in the basement. They're speaking to my brother upstairs."

The video ends when cops realize Hart is still streaming and ask him to shut it down. There was at least one positive for Hart: He received a record number of donations following the incident. The swatting was broadcasted to about 1,200 live viewers, but his followers jumped to 22,000 not long after.

That will surely be scant consolation, however, the next time police come knocking at his door.

Photo via Jason Eppink (CC BY 2.0)

Jan 23 2017 - 8:37 pm

Armada takes out Genesis 4 Melee crown

His win at Genesis 4 helps solidify his claim as the best Melee player of all time.
Xing Li
Dot Esports

We've seen this story before. Adam "Armada" Lindgren vs. Joseph "Mang0" Marquez for the Genesis Super Smash Bros. Melee title.

Once again, Armada emerged victorious.

Both players are idolized in the Smash community for their stunning success over the years. But if any venue has been the site of their personal rivalry, it's Genesis, where the two have met in the finals again and again. There were other talented players in the field, but this is the matchup most fans wanted to see at Genesis 4.

Armada had the easier path to the final by virtue of his 3-1 victory over Mang0, which sent his rival to the loser's bracket. Armada had a relatively easy time, absolutely controlling stages and strangling life from his opponents. His run seemed relatively routine until he ran into Jason "Mew2King" Zimmerman.

Mew2King was on-point with grabs and air attacks on his signature Marth. Many times, Armada was stalling on Peach, trying to get into winning situations. Mew2King had a lead and momentum.

But Peach is hard to finish off and Armada's stalling got him to a deciding fifth game. Even then, Mew2King had chances, but missed key inputs. Small mistakes compound against a talent like Armada, and he punished Mew2King relentlessly.

In the loser's bracket, Mang0 survived by grit and guile, coming back from numerous deficits. First, it was against William "Leffen" Hjelte, where Mang0 mounted an insane comeback to tie the set at two games apiece. But Leffen came out strong in the deciding game and quickly took a two-stock (life) lead. Down to his last stock, Mang0 found his way back to the middle of the stage and went ham, somehow ending Leffen's run. The comeback ignited the crowd, with fans hugging and high-fiving at what they just witnessed.

Things wouldn't get easier. Juan "Hungrybox" Manuel Debiedma, valiantly playing with a broken finger, used Jigglypuff's burst to take big stock leads. But Mang0 continued to control the center of the stage to take Hungrybox down. He then beat Mew2King—reeling from his loss to Armada—to set up the finals rematch.

Fans wanted to see a show, but it was a different one than they might have expected. Though these two have gone back and forth in extremely close sets over the years, Armada has been on a tear for the last several months. And the final against Mang0 was no different. Instead of a close, tightly-fought match, fans got a coronation.

Armada had an answer for everything Mang0 threw at him. He floated around and seemed to take no damage. It was perhaps his most convincing win of the day.

Melee has been ruled by the Six Gods (which includes all the aforementioned players) for years now. But Armada is beginning to separate himself from the pack. He stands alone at the top at the beginning of 2017—if he ends the year in the same position, he could cement himself as the greatest Melee player of all time.

Jan 23 2017 - 3:29 pm

Our predictions for the Evo 2017 lineup

These are the ten games we think will make it to Las Vegas... and the four that won't
Steve Jurek
Dot Esports

Ladies and gentlemen, we are about to officially enter Evo season.

Organizers for Evo, the largest fighting game event in the world, will reveal the event's 2017 lineup on Tuesday at 9pm ET. Thousands of fans will be watching intently to see if their favorite game will be played on the fighting game world's biggest stage. There is a bit of uncertainty about this year's lineup, as several new games—including King of Fighters XIV, BlazBlue: Central Fiction, and Injustice 2—all have strong cases to be part of the Evo 2017 lineup, and the nine games that were part of Evo 2016 all have strong arguments to return to the event.

Earlier this month, lead Evo organizer Joey Cuellar asked which seven games fans would like to see at Evo 2017. This led many to believe that only seven games will be featured at this year's event. While that's certainly a possibility, Evo staff have a tendency to try and do things bigger than they did the year before. I feel that this year will be no different, as I believe a record-setting ten games will make the final list.

Here are the 10 games I believe will make the cut for the Evo 2017 lineup, along with a few that won't.

Will make the cut

Street Fighter V

After a launch year that included poor reviews, missed sales targets, and an embarrassing rootkit fiasco, it is safe to say that 2016 was not a great year for Street Fighter V. However, there was one area in which the game was unquestionably successful: tournament turnout. A record-setting 5,100 players took part in last year's Evo tournament, which is more than the number of players who participated in the second- and third-largest tournaments in the event's history combined. Despite its freshman struggles, Street Fighter V's status as an Evo game is as safe as can be.

Super Smash Bros. Melee and Super Smash Bros. for WiiU

The increasing prominence of Smash games at traditional fighting game events has not been without controversy, but it's a trend that isn't going away anytime soon. Last year's two Smash games were the second- and third-largest events in Evo history. Over 2,600 players entered last year's WiiU tournament, while over 2,300 entered the Melee event. With support like that, it's impossible to imagine a 2017 lineup without either game.

Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3

To steal a line from a popular fighting game talk show: Marvel lives! The Marvel community did everything they could over the past two years to reignite interest in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3, and Capcom's December announcement of Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite poured gasoline on that spark. There's no doubt that we'll see at least one more Evo with the insanity that is Marvel 3.

Injustice 2

Injustice 2's May 16 release date will surely make Evo organizers a bit nervous. With just two months between the game's release and Evo 2017, the game's entertainment value will hinge largely how well-balanced the game's cast is at launch. A poor initial balance could lead to a repeat of the original Injustice's Evo debut in 2013, an event in which three of the top six finishers played Superman. Still, those fears won't be enough to dissuade Evo organizers from including the game in the 2017 lineup.

Tekken 7: Fated Retribution

It's strange to think that Tekken 7, a game that hasn't seen an official North American release, can be making a third straight Evo appearance. Yet here we are. Bandai Namco, the Tekken series' publisher, has done well to drum up interest in the game with its regional King of the Iron Fist tours. That effort will pay dividends on Tuesday, and they'll pay dividends once players can finally get their hands on the game. Speaking of...

 BONUS PREDICTION: Tekken 7 console release date will be revealed

Tekken publisher Bandai Namco has promised to announce a console release date for its much-anticipated fighter some time this week. The company has been coy about exactly when that announcement will come, but Tuesday's Evo lineup reveal show seems to be the most likely choice. With popular figure Mark "Markman" Julio - who has appeared on the reveal show in each of the past two years - now working with both Evo and Tekken in official capacities, this appears to be a no-brainer.

King of Fighters XIV

The King of Fighters series is always a favorite among international Evo viewers, so it would be incredibly shocking to see the recently-released King of Fighters XIV left out of the 2017 lineup. 

Guilty Gear Xrd -Revelator- and BlazBlue: Central Fiction

Evo has historically had one unwritten rule for "anime" games: they only get one spot in the lineup. That rule was broken in 2015 when both Guilty Gear Xrd and Persona 4 Arena Ultimax were included in the event, but only Xrd returned last year. I feel that this year will see that rule broken again, as the BlazBlue series has a strong new entrant in Central Fiction to join Guilty Gear Xrd's still-strong -Revelator- update.

Killer Instinct

This may be the toughest call on the list. With the amount of developer and community support shown for the game four years after release, Killer Instinct is the type of game you want to see succeed. Microsoft is now backing the competitive scene in a big way as evidenced by the upcoming $30,000 Killer Instinct World Cup in March. I feel that momentum should be enough to see the game make the cut again despite being the game that had the fewest entrants at Evo 2016.

Will not make the cut

Pokken Tournament

It's tough to imagine a game going from over 1,100 entrants at Evo 2016 to not even in the 2017 lineup, but that's the fate that I believe Pokken Tournament will face on Tuesday. The game's community has shown up to events in force, but so have many other communities. Pokken felt like an odd choice last year, but with so many other games in contention,this year it feels like the odd one out. 

Mortal Kombat XL

There is precedence for Evo including two different NetherRealm Studio games at one Evo - both Mortal Kombat 9 and the original Injustice were a part of Evo 2013. But with so much crossover between players from the two series, along with the abundance of potential choices at Evo's disposal, I think that we've seen the last of Mortal Kombat XL at Evo.

Ultra Street Fighter II and ARMS

The Nintendo Switch will likely have at least two fighting games available by the time Evo rolls around, but don't expect to hear the name of either game on Tuesday. Many tournament players love Super Street Fighter II Turbo, but its re-release as an "HD Remix" was not particularly well-received by most of that group. It's doubtful they would be more receptive to Ultra Street Fighter II, a game that appears to be an HD remix of HD Remix. And as fun as it would be to see players like Justin Wong and Daigo duke it out with motion controls, there are far too many 'legit' fighting games in the running for a spot in the lineup to take a flyer on ARMS.