What CS:GO’s Cheating Problem Means for the Game

CS:GO is not a perfect game by any stretch of the imagination. It has its issues from tick rate, (Stream) To smurfing (Stream) To toxicity. (Stream) But none of these issues stack up to Counter-Strike’s biggest problem. Cheating.

(Stream) So we all know that cheating sucks, and what’s even worse is that it often feels like Valve isn’t actually doing anything about it. CS:GO’s lack of an intrusive anti-cheat system has left a lot of people without any faith in the existing VAC system. See, CS:GO is a really attractive game to cheat in, partly because of its snappy combat. Here’s a Valve at a GDC talk in 2018 “The design is this very satisfying combat experience where almost any weapon in the game can be a one-shot kill But that does also sort of fail to disincentivize cheating.” The game is also relatively cheap and easy to run compared to games like Call of Duty or Battlefield. It’s also extremely easy to start up a new account once one of your old ones gets banned.

So there are a lot of cheaters. According to SteamDB, thousands of people get VAC banned every single day, and when a wave hits, 60 thousand people can get hit by the ban hammer all at once. It’s at the point where real great plays from honest players are being called out as an example of a cheater who hasn’t been caught yet.

“It’s the same pattern. He locks on the enemy that starts doing his weird f*cking shape. This one’s right on crisp clean lock boys.” So, what does Valve do to combat cheating.

The current system works on two fronts. The first is VAC, which looks for identified and installed cheating programs, and also checks the game files to make sure nothing’s been tampered with. The other front is Overwatch. Overwatch lets a selected group watch a reported players matches to determine if they’re cheating or not. If enough people vote that the player is a hacker they get hit by the banhammer But that existing system is exactly why cheating has flourished in CS:GO. So Valve began developing VACNet in 2016 after massive community outrage regarding the cheating issue.

“Only thing the community was talking about was cheating. It was this just deafening conversation.” They silently deployed it at the beginning of 2017. “Here we deployed VACnet and you can see hey we started getting more convictions, that’s great.”

VACnet is a deep learning tool that works to get as many people into the Overwatch system as possible. “VACnet gets a conviction when it submits a case it convicts 80 to 95 percent of the time.” Valve also developed a trust score system designed to put cheaters in matches with other cheaters. This makes sure that they play with each other while clean players play with other clean players.

In theory as VACnet gets rolling and more and more cheaters get banned the game should feel more fair That’s because when those cheaters return to the game, they’ll all be matched up against each other due to their trust score But the issue is that the game’s top players have already left Valve’s matchmaking system. And while they’ll be under VACnet’s watchful eye it all seems like too little too late. The community has found something of a solution to the cheating that runs rampant on Valve’s official matchmaking servers. ESEA and Faceit offer third-party pay to play servers with robust anti-cheat systems. FaceIt even has a free version with a lot of the same benefits. Neither Valve nor ESEA or Faceit want to show their hands and reveal exactly how their anti-cheats work, which makes sense.

If no one knows how the anti-cheat works then cheaters will never be able to beat it What we do know is that both ESEA and Faceit use intrusive anti cheats, which check what else is going on in your computer while you’re playing, and Valve uses a much simpler system. “ESEA can f*cking watch porn with me. Let me tell you dude I could f***ing pull up a porn thing and some f***ing dev over at ESEA can watch it with me having a grand ol’ time. It’s very intrusive. So they have to let you know that it’s very intrusive. They can tell you exactly what the f*** you’re doing on your comp homie.”

And that’s not the only reason that CS:GO players have switched over. Faceit and ESEA boast servers with 128 tick. The rate at which the server refreshes. That’s double what Valve has and something the community has wanted for a long time.

There’s also a general understanding that players are going to be less toxic and more serious on these services because they’re often paying for the right to play. Now that’s not always the case, toxicity usually finds a way to seep through. (Stream) And Rank S and FPL, the top ranks on the servers, don’t have a lot of spots to go around. Which means only the best players get to have that experience.

But overall third-party software provides the best experience for CS:GO pros to play against other pros. Faceit and ESEA even offer payout for the top performers in each region at the end of the season. This system affects real players from Silver to Global from Rank D minus to S. From Bronze to Pro League.

No matter where you play though, if you’re an unknown or a less known player, people are more likely to assume you’re cheating than that you actually earned your rank. And the most recent example of this is 17 year old Faceit Pro League player d0cc. D0cc ripped his way through the Faceit ranks and made it to Pro League, all without ever using a mic. Communication is key in high-level CS and this was pretty unusual. (Stream) He even streamed his games but with no camera, And again No mic. This gave him an air of mystery that led to a lot of online speculation about his actual skill.

On the surface d0cc is a really talented player. He’s even gotten some praise from top pros. (Stream) But the overwhelming voice of people accusing d0cc of cheating overshadowed his skill. Fellow Dutchman ChrisJ reached out to help d0cc prove his innocence But he refused. “I asked him if he could come over and play from my place But he says he cannot come until he’s 18. It’s like whatever if he doesn’t want to prove himself, then it’s strange to me but I cannot force him.”

d0cc eventually met up with Faceit in the Netherlands to play under supervised conditions and prove his legitimacy so he could join the ranks of FPL. Sure he passed but his reputation is tarnished. If d0cc ever chooses to pursue a career in CS:GO later on in life, those accusations of cheating or going to haunt him and d0cc’s story is eerily similar to Ropz. Ropz was an up-and-coming player in the EU FPL and just like d0cc, he had to deal with plenty of accusations of cheating early on in his career. “He might be cheating actually.

He does like these quick looks. That’s so weird bro. Like why are you doing that.” “And did it.

He did it right after he got the kill. I think it’s just one of these things where he has an OCD twitch. I don’t think he cheats. I don’t think they’re right about that, you gotta watch all his streams and see why he’s looking there. I think it’s just some OCD.” The community picked apart every aspect of his play to try and prove that he was cheating.

And just like D0cc, Ropz’s eventually travelled to meet with Faceit employees and play under supervised conditions to prove his legitimacy. He also passed and is now a pro player playing for Mousesports. Faceit might trust our anti-cheat but after years of dealing with cheaters running rampant on Valve’s official matchmaking services, They don’t trust anyone. The lack of pros on matchmaking is a unique problem to CS:GO. League, Dota, Overwatch, all the major esports titles have pros in the highest echelon of their matchmaking servers. CS:GO on the other hand is so broken that it needs third parties to come in and clean up the mess.

“To really have fun in the game and feel like you’re playing anything close to what pros play. You tend to need some third party service, that’s not really the case in League of Legends that actually got a fairly decent ranked system. Overwatch likewise, not really the case.”

But Valve is off to a good start when it comes to fixing matchmaking. The new more efficient anti-cheat is unbelievably important for the longevity of a competitive multiplayer game. They can change the server and even tackling smurfing might bring a lot of players back. But none of that is ever going to matter to the top level of players. They’ve left matchmaking behind and as ESEA and Faceit are rapidly improving there’s basically no downside to playing on them. Besides some players’ monthly fee.

Sure the vast majority of CS’ casual audience will reap the benefits of Valve’s changes, but the pros are never coming back.