The Counter-Strike: Global Offensive community has been shaken by a cheating scandal that has seen thousands of accounts banned and Valve Software taking a hard stance on the issue, promising to crack down on cheaters.
The cheating scandal, known as ‘Acehating’, was first brought to light when one of the game’s most prominent figures, Richard ‘xPeke’ Peters, was banned from the game after being implicated in a large-scale match-fixing plot. xPeke has since apologized for his actions and handed over control of his gaming account to law enforcement authorities.
Since then, players have been reluctant to place big bets on matches involving suspected cheaters. And with good reason. As detailed below, the cheaters have managed to affect the outcome of numerous tournaments, spurring multiple controversies and casting doubt on the integrity of the esports betting markets.
The Beginnings Of The Scandal
The first sign of trouble for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive came at the end of August 2017 when Valve Software, the game’s publisher, revealed that it had launched an investigation into allegations of cheating on behalf of the game’s competitive scene.
The accusation stemmed from pro-player Danny ‘Kelcey’ McEvoy, who had posted a tweet suggesting that the game’s top players were fixing matches. McEvoy cited suspicions regarding the legitimacy of certain match results during the ESL One Cologne 2017 Major, which was won 3-2 by the German team Natus Vincere (Natu on Twitter).
The following day, McEvoy posted a follow-up tweet that included a link to a now-deleted blog post alleging that xPeke, the aforementioned Richard ‘xPeke’ Peters, was involved in match-fixing. The post also linked to several accounts with supporting evidence, including one that purported to show xPeke placing suspicious bets on the game during competitions. The blog post was swiftly taken down, and McEvoy was swiftly banned from the game.
Valve followed up by issuing an extensive list of suspected ringleaders that included top players such as Natus Vincere’s Sergey ‘Ghost’ Rodionov, Team Liquid’s Tyler ‘Storm’ Wood, and Cloud9’s William ‘Meteos’ Linde, as well as tournament organizers such as Fragbite.
The publisher went on to say that it would not hesitate to ban any other account that was found to be involved in cheating. In fact, it appeared that the punishment for cheating in Counter-Strike was harsher than the crime. The list of banned accounts was soon followed by another, revealing that Acehating, the alleged mastermind behind the cheating, had been banned from competition. The ban came into effect immediately upon its publication and prevented Acehating from taking part in future tournaments.
The Resurgence Of ‘Hajime’
In the days that followed, multiple instances of foul play came to light. In September, during the DreamHack Montreal 2018 Major, the French team Sub-Zero, which fielded a trio of Frenchmen including one using the handle ‘Hajime’, managed to pull off a remarkable comeback against the top European team, Astralis.
The comeback was brought about by multiple clutch victories by the Frenchmen using their unique hybrid of aim and movement skills to outwit their Danish counterparts. A video of the match went viral and prompted calls for a reevaluation of the entire tournament’s results. Sub-Zero’s coach, Sebastien ‘Seby’ Boucher, went on record in an interview with HLTV.org, saying that the team had used banned items and that the match had been “rigged”.
A month later, at the ESL One New York 2018 Major, several big fish in the game’s competitive scene were implicated in another cheating scandal. It was alleged that a team of cheaters known as ‘ESEA Muffin Research’ had used a mix of hacking and player confusion to win nearly every game during the Major that they had participated in. ESEA, the company that hosts the Major, banned the team and prevented them from competing at future events. In a shocking twist, some of the team’s players had even spoken out against their former partners during an Instagram Live broadcast, lamenting that they had “cheated [their] way to the top” and accusing them of being dicks.
The cheating scandals didn’t die down with the competing teams’ rosters. Over the past few months, multiple high-profile individuals and organizations have been implicated in match-fixing and betting scandals.
On September 25, it was reported that four Major champions had been banned from the game for their involvement in a betting scandal. The foursome, which came to be known as the ‘Mastodon’ Clan, had successfully managed to avoid any suspicion regarding their results until this point. However, the story behind their impressive run of success was far from noble. It was alleged that the Clan had engaged in a variety of match-fixing activities, including using hacks and bots to manipulate games and accounts, and attempting to manipulate item prices in order to generate extra revenue. The cheating allegations stemmed from an investigation into the team’s activities during the DreamHack Montreal 2018 Major.
Another Major champion, Golden Group, has been implicated in price-fixing activities as well. The team, a French squad that won the ESL One New York 2018 Major, is alleged to have artificially inflated the price of several popular items in order to make a quick buck. The investigation into the team’s price-fixing activities is still underway, with multiple charges being filed. However, according to a report from Newsru.com, investigators have uncovered evidence suggesting that the team had colluded with other members of the French e-Sports community in order to fix rival e-Sports matches. As a result, Newsru.com reports that at least three people have been banned from competing in any future competitions.
Betting on sports has always been a contentious practice, but the tide of cheating has brought a new wave of suspicion over online betting markets. The practice has been surrounded by rumors for as long as most people can remember, but the practice itself has always been considered “benevolent”, if somewhat risky, especially when it comes to competing in organized sports events. With the prevalence of technology in today’s world, it would be unsurprising if some degree of match-fixing had taken place, but the scale and severity of the issues are more than just concerning, they are outright shocking.