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Exposing the deep underbelly of CSGO hacks and its thriving community

There are two forms of hacking in CS GO - Legit and Rage (Image courtesy - Bhop/YT)
There are two forms of hacking in CS GO - Legit and Rage (Image courtesy - Bhop/YT)
SENIOR ANALYST
Modified 29 May 2020, 17:15 IST
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No tactical first-person shooter is perfect by any means, may it be Overwatch, Apex legends, Valorant, or even CSGO (in this case) there is a tonne of in-game issues that ruin the fun for players.

From buggy tick rates to smurfing, flaming, and toxicity; online multi-players suffer from a lot of maladies. However none of them even compare to one of the biggest problems in the competitive scene, and that is of hacking. 

For CounterStrike: Global Offensive making and using hacks feels like a pandemic that the community can never truly rid itself of. The problem has gotten so out of hand, that for those who play by the rules, it often feels that Valve is never really doing anything about it. 

So we have decided to take a deeper dive into the issue, and figure out why hacks are becoming so popular today, and why CS: GO is the one most afflicted by it.

What makes CS: GO a soft target for hacks?

Out of all the tactical first-person shooters, CS: GO is by far the most attractive IP for cheating, and at times the reasons for that are as good as they get.

1. Snappy Combat

The gameplay and the gun mechanics in CS: GO are quite fast-paced, and with skilled players, it’s often hard to determine whether he/she is actually that good or just another aimbotter.

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In the GDC talk of 2018, Valve’s John McDonald more or less echoed a similar sentiment when he said that, “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 fail to disincentivize cheating.”

So snappy headshot kills at long ranges can either mark a player as a cheater or someone with incredible skills; however, these days the former notion is more entertained by the community.

2. Easy account creation and easier to run

Unlike other major titles like Call of Duty and Overwatch, CS: GO doesn’t take much for your PC to run. With a minimum system requirement of: 

  • CPU: Intel Core 2 Duo E6600 / AMD Phenom X3 8750 or better.
  • RAM: 2 GB.
  • HDD: 15 GB of storage space.
  • GPU: Video card must be 256 MB or more and should be a DirectX 9-compatible with support for Pixel Shader 3.0.
  • OS: Windows 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP.
  • DirectX: Version 9.0c.

Almost any PC today will be able to run it, and this is precisely the reason why the game enjoys such a vast player base. 

Moreover, with the ‘easy to run’ feature, the ease of account creation goes hand in hand. So if one of your accounts gets VAC banned, you can start again from scratch, without any problems at all.

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Taken from PCgamesn.com Taken from Valve
Taken from PCgamesn.com Taken from Valve

Thousands of accounts are banned daily, and sometimes Valve even went as far as going on a ban wave, shutting down more than 60k or even 90k accounts at a time. Things have gotten to a point, where large VAC bans have become a daily routine.

3. Free to play

When CS: GO was initially released, you’d have to buy the game to play it. Sure! It did have some minor cheating problems back in the day, but Valve had actively banned the cheaters and was successful in protecting the competitive integrity of the game. 

The hacking issue started to escalate when Valve decided to have a wider player base and made CS: GO free-to-play. It took just a week for the hackers to completely take over the game servers, and in another week’s time, the situation got out of Valve’s hand.

What were Valve’s countermeasures to the hacking problem?

Valve’s solution to the problem came in two phases, ‘VAC’ and ‘Overwatch.’

1. VACnet

In essence, VACnet was developed by Valve to identify installed cheating programs along with checking the game files and seeing if there has been some tampering done to them. 

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GDC talk of 2018
GDC talk of 2018

It was developed in 2016 and later released in 2017 when the CS: GO community created an uproar on the existing cheater problem and threatened to leave the game if the situation was not brought under control.

GDC talk of 2018
GDC talk of 2018

VACnet soon started getting a lot of convictions, but that wasn’t the only thing that the software was capable of doing. It even works as a ‘deep learning tool’ to get as many players into the ‘Overwatch’ system as possible. Valve wanted to use the player base to tackle the cheating problem.

2. Overwatch

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Overwatch allows a selected group of experienced CSGO players to watch short snippets of a reported player’s gameplay and decide whether he was hacking or not. And if enough of them vote that the player is a hacker, then the account gets a swift ban hammer.

GDC talk of 2018
GDC talk of 2018

One such member of the ‘Overwatch’ community is the YouTuber, WarOwl.

In a video last year, he shows how exactly the ‘Overwatch’ system works, as he tackles 50 reported cases of cheating in the 2v2 Wingman mode. Here we see just how out of hand the cheating problem has gotten in CSGO, as out of the 50 clips that he goes through, he finds a staggering number of cheats in 45 of them, and at times he even finds more than one cheater in a game. 

“Two times as many Wingman games were hack vs hack than the 5v5 games,” he says. He even goes on to explain that the situation has worsened over the last couple of years, ever since the game became free to play, “There’s no consequences, you just make a new account.”

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There is no question of re-buying the game, or even getting a hardware ban for that matter.

The Community Solution

Taken from ScoreEsports
Taken from ScoreEsports

Fed up with how Valve tackled the cheating issue in CSGO, the community soon created their very own solution to the problem. 

Though, in theory, the ‘Overwatch’ system should have worked; the reason it didn’t was that, unlike League of Legends and Overwatch, CSGO wasn’t able to hold on to their pros in the official matchmaking servers. Hence, there are hardly any people left in the ‘Overwatch’ program to make VACnet banning more potent.

All the CSGO professionals have left for the community solutions which came in the form of ESEA and Faceit, who offer ‘third-party play to pay servers with robust anti-cheat systems.’

However, both ESEA and Faceit use intrusive softwares which checks everything that goes on in your system. Compared to the anti-cheat from Valve, theirs is much more sophisticated and along with 128-ticks (double of that of Valve), and lesser player toxicity, it’s not surprising why the professionals are jumping ship one by one.

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Paying for the right to play is one of the biggest reasons why hackers think twice before cheating in these servers. 

Uploaded by Denver Rangers
Uploaded by Denver Rangers

Both ESEA and Faceit go a step further by providing payouts for top performers regularly, making them the best CSGO experience for pros who want to face-off against other pros.

At times even the community solution falls short

Screenshot from HLTV.org
Screenshot from HLTV.org

Sometimes, even the third-party servers fall short of curbing the hacking issue, and recently we saw some hacks raise its ugly head in professional play as well. So when your esports idols start to cheat in the finals and cheat in one of the most secure servers in the world, what is then truly left of the game?

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The answer is, ‘not much’. Hence, on the 27th of May when the players ‘woldes’ & ‘jezayyyy’ were officially disqualified and banned for cheating in the Red Bull Flick Finland tournament, it caught the CSGO community completely off guard.

The tournament’s security in charge was Faceit. So a hack passing through undetected for so long in such a tight-knit server is baffling, to say the least.

However, in their defense, Faceit blames it on some technical issues, so in their statement, they say, 

“Unfortunately, due to a technical issue introduced by last week's release, information on a few types of cheat detections was not temporarily available within our infrastructure by our Anti-Cheat operation team. 

This lack of visibility and the fact that those types of detections were not yet managed with any immediate and automated “kick & ban” strategy, created a delay for the two players to be banned (alongside 80 other players involved in other competitions across the FACEIT platform).”

This raises a lot of questions about the future of CSGO’s esports scene. As hacks are evolving faster than their anti-cheats, there are certain concerns raised about Faceit and ESEA becoming the next VACnet for cheaters.

Why cheat in the first place: The underbelly of the hacking community

Now to fully understand the hacking issue that plagues the community, we will first have to take into consideration the mindset of a hack-maker and a hack-user.

To do that let us take you to an EGM interview of a hacker by Aimee Hart who goes deep into the psyche of a hacker whom she refers to as ‘Dominic’.

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In the interview, we get a few pointers as to why the hacking problem, especially in CSGO is so widespread and dire.

1. It is very easy to get some hacks.

For a hack-user, getting their grubby hands on a cheat is one of the simplest things to achieve. According to Dominic, all you have to do is search under “hackhelp” and “helpfulhacks” in either Discord or Instagram and you will be rewarded with a variety of websites that provide top-notch aimbot and wallhacking software for some of your favorite games; CSGO being the most popular highlight in them of course. 

2. Aimbotting is fun.

According to Dominic, cheating made way for some of the most fun experiences he has had in CSGO. In the interview, he says, “It’s simple really: It makes me laugh, especially in CSGO. Of course, it can get annoying and boring if someone uses them for no reason. For example, I cheat when others start to cheat. It’s like a defensive technique which sometimes works out, sometimes doesn’t.”

3. It spreads from player to player.

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Hacks being the defense against other hacks is one of the most common reasons for a player to take up cheating in the first place. And this is why softwares like aimbots and wallhacks, which can bypass VACnet over and over again, is spreading like wildfire within the community.

The reason for Dominic taking up the cheat was because of his brother. He says, “My brother introduced me to it. He always used to beat me, no matter how hard I tried. It got to the point I stopped playing with him, but after a while, I just got curious and wanted to know how to get better. Turns out ‘better’ was actually just using cheats.”

4. No sympathy for the non-cheaters.

Hack-users are not sympathetic towards the experience of those who do not use a hack, they really don’t care much if they are ruining the fun for someone else. To players like Dominic, if someone is not enjoying the game then “they can just quit the game. It’s not hard to do that,”

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Aimee Hart digs a bit further in the interview and tries to appeal to the human side of the 17-year-old hacker, however that just made Dominic angry and ended the interview then and there.

“When I pointed out that cheating and hacking had become so prominent in some games, such as PUBG and CSGO, that leaving didn’t really seem like much of a solution, Dominic’s attitude changed. He accused me of trying to paint him as “the bad guy” and left our call. Despite apologizing, Dominic ended up blocking me on Discord, and, soon after our conversation, I found the Discord server I’d been a part of with Dominic had also kicked me out. This came as no surprise to me, as I’d been poking around that server looking for other people willing to talk to me. I’d even come across one girl who had been using the server to try and investigate scamming. We were definitely not the “usual” clientele.”

5. Hack making is a very lucrative business

With how popular cheating has become in the last decade, it’s not surprising why hack-makers are selling their product at nominal rates and sometimes even giving out discounts to attract more customers.

According to this investigation done by Emanuel Maiberg of the PC Gamer all the way back in 2014, hacking industries are making millions every year. 

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He starts off the article by saying, “Zero is a customer service representative for one of the biggest video game cheat providers in the world. To him, at first, I was just another customer. He told me that the site earns approximately $1.25 million a year, which is how it can afford customer service representatives like him to answer questions over TeamSpeak. His estimate is based on the number of paying users online at any given time, the majority of whom, like me, paid for cheats for one game at $10.95 a month. Some pay more for a premium package with cheats for multiple games.”

In fact, if you are to pay a premium amount, several cheats providers guarantee easy bypass of strong anti-cheats such as FaceIT and ESEA. In fact, for an even higher amount you can cheat on LAN.

Yes, you heard that right! This explains why professionals like ForsakeN was able to get away for such a long time. There are hacks that let you cheat without others knowing that you're cheating!

EAs you can see a Russian company offering anti Faceit cheats for CS GO and LAN
EAs you can see a Russian company offering anti Faceit cheats for CS GO and LAN

So if 6-years ago (when the hacking problem was at its initial phases) cheat providers were able to afford customer service, then imagine what they would be capable of right now. 

In fact there are 24/7 services for cheaters by companies to solve their installation and configuration problems.

Services provided by cheat developers
Services provided by cheat developers

In a game like CSGO you will be able to earn way more money by making hacks than having a professional career on the competitive stage.

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6. There are two forms of cheats in CSGO, Rage, and Legit

U[loaded by X22CHEATS
U[loaded by X22CHEATS

The only similarities between the Rage hacker and the Normal hacker are that they both cheat, and the Rage one does it more blatantly than the other.

In simple terms, a Rage cheat will usually turn on 90% of all known hacks in the game, and the user will openly cheat in the servers, without even attempting to hide it. A Normal cheater, on the other hand, will use something simple like an aimbot or even a wallhack and will try to manually aim the mouse to avoid suspicion.

In fact, there are YouTubers who actually make money by cheating on CS GO and yes, Valve has done nothing about it. YouTubers such as Gill have engaged an entire community of players and teaches them how to bypass the fickle VAC anti-cheat.

Exhbit A

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The unfortunate story of Valve’s official CSGO matchmaking servers is that, yes they are overrun by cheaters, but there are more Rage cheaters in the game than the Normal cheaters. Players nowadays don’t even hide the fact that they’re cheating anymore.

Exhibit B

This video is a great example of how easy getting a Rage hack is, and how popular they have become in CSGO.

Valorant Vanguard might be the death of CSGO.

Riot Games’ new tactical, first-person shooter has been giving a stiff competition to CSGO ever since its closed beta was released. 

Though there were a few hiccups concerning hackers in the initial weeks of the launch, Riot has been able to more or less create a very sophisticated and potent anti-cheat software called Vanguard

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Not only is Valorant free to play, but if Riot delivers on its promise of a hacker free competitive environment, then “The Game That Never Dies” might just be on the brink of extinction.

Published 29 May 2020, 16:53 IST
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