esports — Cheat to Win?

As esports grow more, so does the amount of people that will do anything to win.

Cheating in online videogames is generally considered a terrible thing, once you’re caught cheating online not only you are likely to lose your account forever but you will be known as a cheater on those platforms such as Steam, where all violations such as cheating are publicly reported on your profile.

Name and shame

Cheats have been a thing since the earliest videogames, when you could just type in the videogame console something like “iddqd” to become invulnerable in Doom back in 1993 and even before that. These offline cheats-codes would help developers debug certain aspects of the game. Once they got in the wild these cheats-codes spread like wildfire.

This was a while ago, now things have changed — offline cheats aren’t cool anymore because playing and cheating online is a very much more rewarding experience.

Online cheats are nowadays also commonly known as “hacks”, but in reality they’re just small clever software algorithms that run very simple calculations and interact with your game.


Let’s take a look at how, in general, cheats work in video games. We can learn the following.

There are 3 general categories of how cheat works

  1. You let the computer automate actions that you should instead handle such as:
  • Trigger actions automatically when certain events happen
  • Automatically aim at hitboxes for you
  • Prevent recoil and spread

2. You see through things you shouldn’t be able to, for example:

  • Walls — the most obvious one — see who’s behind that structure
  • Chests and storage containers so you can see what’s inside without wasting time and opening them
  • See through fog and distance, so you can see incoming friends and foes

3. You acquire super powers, literally.

  • You’re alerted when things are about to happen before they happen on your screen, or with enough (milliseconds) time, so that your or the cheat software can reposition yourself to avoid harmful situations.
  • You become immune to things that under normal conditions should put you in a disadvantage
  • You become faster, stronger, better than anyone and any human will ever be in the game (iddqd, idkfa style)
  • Teletransportation, ability to fly, walk through walls. You name it.

But hold on, how does a cheat work really?

Well, generally speaking most cheats are external tools that read the values that are stored in the memory of your computer (or console). Depending on the game played each cheating framework sends instructions that are calculated in real time to perform the desired action.

Clearly as computing power advances, cheat software becomes more and more advanced, faster and accurate to output such commands quicker.

To read the memory’s data and remain undetected, cheating software can do a multitude of things. First and foremost from back in the day, to protect the source code that could be otherwise easily reverse engineered, the executable files of cheating software would get obfuscated — solutions like TheMida were extremely hot back then as they are today. This way no one can read your “recipe”, which is extremely valuable to anti-cheat software companies who need to understand how a cheat works to protect a game from it.

As time passed, cheating software developers have evolved and now have a multitude of tools to protect their code, to hide the execution from prying eyes of anti-cheat software. They do so because they do not want to be detected.

It’s like a bank robber vs the authority scenario. The robber cannot let anyone know his plan of attack and its methods of breaking into a bank’s safe. If that happened then authorities would work with safe manufacturers to make the safes harder and harder to break into.

In today’s world cheat software makers use practices that are commonly found and used by creators of virus, and especially trojan horses, used extensively. This also explains why cheating software does trigger anti-virus software most of the time.

In the cheating world: prices are low, demand is high, offer is good.

Just like you can go and buy an app from the iTunes store, purchasing cheating software can be a 2 minute job. Running the software is harder but cheat makers take care of their customers well, with tutorials and step-by-step guides. It is sadly extremely easy to get started — all you need is a form of online payment!

The thing no one talks about? Private cheats

As soon as some cheating software hits the market for anyone to purchase you can bet that it’s one step closer to being defeated. Although the source code remains unreadable due to scrambling and obfuscating techniques, there are still ways to detect it. The beauty of the software world!

However there is a trend in cheating software circles, that likely produces cheats that will never be detected. Private cheats who are sold to only extremely trustworthy people and who are built entirely from scratch upon order. These are usually built around custom needs, work in very subtle ways so that you could possibly even use them at a LAN party or while streaming on Twitch.tv or similar. 
The price tags for these are thousands of dollars, but if you’re playing at the highest ranks of competition or if you make a good living from streaming videogames to your audience, it’s a totally (unethical) worth investment.

What can we do?

On the large scale: Me and you probably nothing, software companies who produce these games can only work with anti-cheat software companies, who took it on themselves to protect — at hefty price — videogames! I will explore this topic soon enough
On a small scale: If the game you have has some kind of replay system and you manage to spot a player showing extremely suspicious behaviour, you should immediately submit the replay for review. Find a way to contact the support team of the game you’re playing. Game producers usually take online cheating extremely seriously. (for example: Blizzard is known to ban people relentlessly and to send lawyers letters to cheat software producers)

If you’re new to online gaming and esports I hope you learned something new of its darkest side !

Part 2 — How anti-cheat software works to follow next!

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