Richard Lewis: Can we trust Valorant’s anti-cheat? - Dexerto
Opinion

Richard Lewis: Can we trust Valorant’s anti-cheat?

Published: 19/Apr/2020 17:30 Updated: 8/Sep/2020 15:19

by Richard Lewis

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The first week of the launch of the new title from Riot Games, first-person shooter Valorant, has been something of a mixed one for the developer. The almost unprecedented hype around the game saw the closed beta launch reach a peak of 1.7 million viewers on Twitch as people vied for a drop so they could too participate.


The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by Dexerto.

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Initial impressions of the game were met with praise from veteran gamers on social media. Then came the revelations that maybe the game’s anti-cheat, which was a big part of the marketing push to attract players of other games, wasn’t all it was cracked up to be with working private cheats being sold in the first few days of the closed beta’s release.

If Riot had egg on their face after that the coming days would bring worse PR their way. On April 12th a post on popular subreddit r/pcgaming would claim that the Vanguard anti-cheat system, which has kernel-level access on the computers that install it, would be launched on booting up your PC regardless of whether or not you were playing Valorant.

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Valorant anti-cheat Vanguard
Riot Games
Riot made bold claims about the capabiltiy of their anti-cheat systems.

The post, made by Reddit user u/voidox, read:

“The kernel anticheat driver (vgk.sys) starts when you turn your computer on. To turn it off, you either need to change the name of the driver file so it wouldn’t load on a restart, or you can uninstall the driver (it will be installed back again when you open the game).

so ya, the big issue here is it running even when players don’t have the game open, from startup no less. EDIT – It runs at Ring 0 of the Windows Kernel which means it always has the same rights as administrator from the moment you boot.

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For comparison, BattlEye and EasyAntiCheat both load when you’re opening the game, and unload when you’ve closed it. If you’d like to see for yourself, open cmd and type “sc query vgk.”

The thread quickly filled up with people confirming this to be accurate and expressing their concerns. The finding spread across social media like wildfire and made its way to the official Valorant subreddit. Eventually, Paul “arkem” Chamberlain, the anti-cheat lead, commented on Reddit confirming the claims made by the now many users who had tested out the method detailed in the Reddit post.

“TL;DR Yes we run a driver at system startup, it doesn’t scan anything (unless the game is running), it’s designed to take up as few system resources as possible and it doesn’t communicate to our servers. You can remove it at anytime.

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Vanguard contains a driver component called vgk.sys (similar to other anti-cheat systems), it’s the reason why a reboot is required after installing. Vanguard doesn’t consider the computer trusted unless the Vanguard driver is loaded at system startup (this part is less common for anti-cheat systems).

This is good for stopping cheaters because a common way to bypass anti-cheat systems is to load cheats before the anti-cheat system starts and either modify system components to contain the cheat or to have the cheat tamper with the anti-cheat system as it loads. Running the driver at system startup time makes this significantly more difficult. 

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We’ve tried to be very careful with the security of the driver. We’ve had multiple external security research teams review it for flaws (we don’t want to accidentally decrease the security of the computer like other anti-cheat drivers have done in the past). We’re also following a least-privilege approach to the driver where the driver component does as little as possible preferring to let the non-driver component do the majority of work (also the non-driver component doesn’t run unless the game is running).”

The Vanguard driver does not collect or send any information about your computer back to us. Any cheat detection scans will be run by the non-driver component only when the game is running. 

The Vanguard driver can be uninstalled at any time (it’ll be “Riot Vanguard” in Add/Remove programs) and the driver component does not collect any information from your computer or communicate over the network at all.

We think this is an important tool in our fight against cheaters but the important part is that we’re here so that players can have a good experience with Valorant and if our security tools do more harm than good we will remove them (and try something else). For now we think a run-at-boot time driver is the right choice.”

While I was working on this they also put out another clarifying statement, one that assured their players that their anti-cheat absolutely has to run the way it does and no changes to it are likely. If you want a TL;DR for the whole post it basically states “trust us, we’d never do anything bad to our fellow gamers.”

Hacker detected on monitor in Valorant
Riot Games
Vanguard runs from start-up, which some users feel is too invasive.

Right out the gate let’s establish something. Anyone acting surprised about the level of access that Vanguard has is either uninformed or disingenuous. Two months prior to the release of the closed beta the development team posted a blog detailing exactly how the anti-cheat would operate. As the original Reddit poster acknowledges kernel access anti-cheat isn’t anything new and has been utilised by multiple companies in the past. Indeed, it is the only thing that can give an anti-cheat system a fighting chance because most high-level cheats have that same level of access.

What must be said is that someone who is adept in reassuring people should have given this a thorough proofread. While the sentence “this isn’t giving us any surveillance capability we didn’t already have” might seem benign if you take it to mean the capability is zero, given Riot’s history and the company that funds them, it’s a statement that is incredibly difficult to be relaxed about. It also seems to inadvertently contradict what Chamberlain said in his Reddit post because it implies there is some surveillance capability there. If the intent was to communicate that there is no capacity to spy on you once the software is installed then this was a ludicrously ominous way of expressing that. This conclusion seems an impossibility when the following sentence states “if we cared about grandma’s secret recipe for the perfect Christmas casserole, we’d find no issue in obtaining it strictly from user-mode and then selling it to The Food Network.”

We can all appreciate when a game’s developer has a sense of humour, both about themselves and their projects. It can lead to great things. Think Devolver Digital. One area you probably don’t want to joke about though is having the potential to spy on your customers. The sinister overtone of “we’d find no issue” as a phraseology can’t be overlooked either. Do they mean technically, morally or both?

Still, most people let it slide because there is a growing sentiment among online gamers that they’re willing to take the risk of a big company violating trust with their data to ensure a cheat-free environment. It’s certainly not a sacrifice I would be willing to make and I think anyone willing to do so should probably assess their life priorities, but provided people are informed I believe it is a choice that should be up to the individual. It comes down to a matter of trust. So the only question that matters is how comfortable are you in allowing Riot Games that level of access to your computer?

Some things to consider then. Riot’s history when it comes to data breaches is less than stellar. In 2014 I detailed how they had kept a major hack, one that compromised millions of accounts, secret and then downplayed the details when it became public. The hacker behind that incident was able to continue to gain access after it was brought to the public attention after a warning for players to change passwords wasn’t heeded by a senior Riot employee. Even the President of the company, Marc Merrill, had his Twitter account compromised during this time. It was a hugely embarrassing and costly lapse in security.

Given that this took place between 2011 – 2013 you might be inclined to give them a pass and say it was early in the company’s history. It is worth remembering then that in July 2018 when Riot Games were legally obliged to comply with requests to share data with their customers under the newly adopted General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) in Europe, they also had a security lapse. Some players were sent other people’s data, which included name, phone number, email and date of birth. While Riot were quick to respond and said it was only a “few” who were affected, the scope of the problem will never be known.

It also doesn’t help alleviate fears when you consider the fact that invasive anti-cheats have been abused in this space before. The Counter-Strike pick-up game system ESEA decided to secretly turn their kernel access anti-cheat into a bitcoin miner, violating their consumer’s trust and damaging user’s machines in the process. They would receive a $1 million fine for this malicious activity, two thirds of which would be scrubbed if they avoided any other violations for a ten year period. In court, the company would blame a “rogue employee” for doing it despite evidence of the owner of the company having made public comments about how they could turn their anti-cheat into a bitcoin miner without customer’s knowledge prior to the incident. Some of the staff that worked on the ESEA anti-cheat are now working on Vanguard.

Developer working on Valorant
Riot Games
Some of the staff from ESEA’s anti-cheat are now working on Vanguard.

Then there’s the elephant in the room… China. Riot Games is now wholly owned by Chinese mega-corporation Tencent. It is career suicide in the gaming industry to talk about how Chinese money and influence directs many of its biggest companies. Whether it’s Activision Blizzard punishing a player for expressing solidarity with the Hong Kong protestors, Mesut Ozil disappearing from PES and FIFA Online in China due to his comments about the persecution of Uyghur Muslims or game stores adhering to Chinese government censorship in order to sell their products in that country, China gets what it wants and games developers let it.

Tencent has become ubiquitous across all of gaming and tech. They own a piece of practically everything it seems. Where their money goes sympathies towards the authoritarian Chinese government seem to build. Indeed, Tencent enjoys a close relationship with Chinese government officials and has been exposed as having used their software for gathering information on their behalf. In March last year, a Dutch hacker revealed that 300 million private messages had been gathered through Tencent applications and stored on a database that could be accessed by police stations in cities and provinces across China.

Now, doubtlessly you’ll say “but that’s in China and there’s no way an American company would ever sign off on people’s data being used that way.” I’d hope you are right but it is hard not to believe that Chinese government influence isn’t present already. For example, last October, League of Legends players found that the game was censoring iterations of the word “Uyghur” and “freedom”. Riot staff took to social media to explain this away as a censoring error and that explained that sometimes the system just bans words by mistake. Interesting then that one of those words would happen to be the name of a minority group persecuted by the Chinese government who wants the atrocities committed against them to be hidden from the eyes of the world. What a crazy coincidence.

Put all this together and at best you should be healthily sceptical about deciding to give across such access to your computer. I’ve seen the arguments made that anything you sign up to can be subject to a hack. Of course, this is right but not everything you sign up to can be used as a surveillance tool without your knowledge and you should absolutely weigh up whether or not you want to opt into this simply to play an online game.

A final consideration… Maybe you are the type of person who is so frustrated with cheaters that you’d be willing to roll the dice on your personal data being used for something nefarious or a malicious entity gaining access to your computer files. So far the anti-cheat has fallen well short of the expectations it was generating before the closed beta launch. We had working private cheats being sold two days into the closed beta and the embarrassments keep coming.

Gun shooting in Valorant
Riot Games
Cheaters were spotted in Valorant only days into the closed beta.

Spanish CS:GO pro Oscar “mixwell” Cañellas was locked out of playing while streaming for charging his mobile phone via his USB port. He wasn’t the only player this happened to (Riot has since addressed the issue, and stated that Mixwell was in fact not banned, but instead hit by a bug that affected digital bootcamp participants who were accidentally still using the alpha build to play the closed beta).

Indeed, some cheats in the past have operated via injection from an external device. This false-positive suggests that at best, the anti-cheat is being overcautious and needs some fine-tuning. Meanwhile, T1 player Braxton “brax” Pierce had two cheaters in one of his games while streaming. Currently, it seems we are relying on manual bans to keep cheaters out of the closed beta, which makes a mockery of the whole idea of having this “revolutionary” anti-cheat in the first place.

So, to conclude, you guys can make your own choices. I personally think Riot Games should yield ground on the idea that Vanguard needs to be working on start-up as this would bring it in line with other kernel access anti-cheats we already have. The argument that it “helps” their fight against cheaters is lame when you consider the potential cost and the fact that so far the anti-cheat software looks like a false bill of goods. Failure to compromise or do more to reassure their players could be a not insignificant factor in the game’s potential success when it leaves this beta phase.

CS:GO

Richard Lewis: MiBR’s legacy will be one of petulance not excellence (Part 2)

Published: 14/Sep/2020 19:13 Updated: 14/Sep/2020 21:45

by Richard Lewis

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The second part of an exploration into MiBR’s legacy and their core players who were once the unquestioned faces of competitive CS:GO, but had their prestige eroded by skirting conflicts of interest, consistently poor performances, and more. (You can read the full first part of this post here)


The views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and are not necessarily shared by Dexerto.

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Where we left off last time we were about to segue into another reason why the MiBR core had gone on to become so disliked by common fans; and that was their litany of excuses they come up with to explain away defeats. However, in the few days between publishing this second and final piece, something extraordinary happened.

The team’s long-standing coach and manager, Ricardo ‘dead’ Sinigaglia, was given a six-month ban from participating in ESL competitions for using an in-game bug to ascertain information about the opposite team. The offense, ESL said, took place during the Road to Rio competition places the violation squarely in the same timeframe as the team went off the deep end with public allegations made against Chaos and their young players, going into an apoplexy that ruined the reputation and compromised the safety of two young and upcoming players.

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Of course, Singaglia went down the predictable route of feigned confusion and denial, claiming he had been sent a clip from the CS Summit 6 event that showed the bug in action against Triumph. The clip he made public was, of course, edited to make it look like it was a simple error that garnered them no advantage at all. When the full clip was posted it showed Singaglia not only following Triumph players around on a crucial pistol round but also his teammates then lying about the coach being AFK after the round was won.

Beyond The Summit took the decision to ban Singaglia from the next two of their events and retroactively disqualify MiBR from the event. Valve have also subsequently stripped them of all Regional Major Ranking points, which is less of a punishment as CS:GO Majors have been canceled for the foreseeable future.

With these latest sanctions issued against MiBR they are the only professional team in CS:GO history to have been caught and punished three times for cheating at major events. The timing of these revelations is too perfect and underlines everything stated in the first part: these players think rules do not apply to them while publicly masquerading as the only honest competitors in a rotten scene.

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Conflict Of Interest Violations

Speaking candidly I was surprised that ESL took action at all given that there was an even more egregious violation of competitive rules enacted by the Brazilians. On the 23rd of April 2020, in the North American Road To Rio competition for the Valve sanctioned CS:GO Major, MiBR took on another Brazilian team simply called “Yeah.” The brand name is another throwback to Counter-Strike 1.6 and thanks to some investors they were resurrected at the start of 2018. Now here for the potential to play in the biggest tournament in the CS:GO calendar, they were taking on MiBR for the first time since their return to action. This sounds like a great story, right? Well, if you look a little closer you’ll find plenty that will make you realize that this match should never have happened and would not have happened in any other professional sport.

Let’s start with those investors. Can you guess who they are? As the kids say “it’s ya boi” Epitácio ‘TACO’ de Melo and the aforementioned and freshly banned Singaglia. Both of them are in for a 25% share each, giving them essentially a controlling influence in the team through direct ownership alone.

mibr yeah gaming csgo esl one
ESL
MiBR and Yeah Gaming played a qualifier match in April for ESL One: Road to Rio.

You might recall that back in November of 2019 Valve said they were going to have a big clampdown on conflict of interests in the competitive CS:GO space. This came after years of work from beat journalists, myself included, having to catch multiple moneymen with their hands all the way in the monopolistic cookie jar. I’ve been doing it for years and at great cost to my bank balance, sanity and hairline (still not insisting broadcasts allow me to wear a hat yet though.) “Finally,” I thought reading this blog, “I have dented the financial membrane of Valve and got them to care about the thing that matters most to any competitive pursuit; its integrity.”

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I must have temporarily forgotten I was referring to a game developer, which is easily done with Valve at times. In the grand scheme of priorities, the top three of which are all variations of “add gold to the hoard,” the matter of allowing player-owned teams to compete against the players that own those teams are so way down it’d give you vertigo to look at them. Combine that with the usual lack of communication (Valve’s philosophy is “we’ll tell you when something happens we don’t like or if it upsets China.”)

Incredibly this game was scheduled despite the fact that the players had disclosed ownership in writing prior to the competition. And to be fair, it was no secret to begin with. Yet there is something beyond distasteful about a team who have spent so much time complaining about how they are victimized by big tournament organizers seemingly oblivious to just what was being ignored here. Oh, and it gets worse.

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The parent company of MiBR, the Immortals Gaming Club, are such suckers for all things Brazilian they’ve either bought all the businesses their players own or created working business relationships with them. So it is that the parent company of MiBR pays an annual fee to Yeah that enables them to buy any two players they wish from the organization at “an agreed-upon price.” This means that Yeah is in essence the academy team for MiBR. And they played against them in a qualifier. For the Major.

MiBR beat Yeah Gaming 2-0 in their opening match on the Road to Rio.

Incredibly the result still stands to this day and neither team has been disqualified. Valve completely bottled the issue when, in a statement to HLTV.org, they went back on their previous stance and instead said: “The sole requirement for ESL One: Road to Rio was that participating teams disclose existing conflicts of interest and that those disclosures be made public so that the community can have an opportunity to discuss them.”

I’ve been covering Counter-Strike now for over fifteen years. I’m qualified to say this. The average fan doesn’t even understand what a conflict of interest is, let alone grasp why it matters within the context of a tournament. While there was discussion in the CSGO community, these were punctuated with the usual moronic arguments; “why does it matter” or “are you saying that Yeah would throw a game just because they were told” or “But Yeah are so bad they can’t beat MiBR anyway.” That last one becomes especially hilarious when you consider their recent defeat against the team ranked 64th in the world Wisla Krakow.

So, even though there are multiple pathways in which a match between these two teams could be compromised, the “resolution” was for Valve and ESL to come to an agreement that as long as MiBR divest themselves before the Major itself in November (which, let’s be real, isn’t happening anyway) it is perfectly fine for any matches prior to that, such as qualifiers for that tournament, to be compromised. Man, people really do pick on those MiBR guys, don’t they?

Why Does Everybody Pick On The MiBR Guys?

There are few groups of players as humorless as the core of MiBR who’ve shown themselves to be over their careers. Despite the numerous examples of clearly preferential treatment they have received over their careers they seem to remain utterly convinced that everyone is out to get them. The record shows them to be some of the most widely praised players in the history of the game, their dominant era seeing them rightly showered with plaudits. By the same token, there is a significant blind spot in the community when it comes to behavior that would see other entities “canceled” in the current environment. I won’t get into the fact that the players have openly supported Jair Bolsonaro because, frankly, we should all be tired of playing the very American ‘gotcha game’ that the Twitterati have made a national pastime. However, there are some actions that usually carry consequences.

Following the death of George Floyd while in police custody, the Black Lives Matter movement gained significant momentum in carrying its message to a much wider global audience. This brought with it a wave of corporate statements keen to capitalize on positive messaging at this time. MiBR were no different. On the 1st of June they posted a message to their official Twitter account in both Portuguese and English. It read: “No to fascism. Yes to respect. No to racism. Yes to diversity. Killing? Just in a game. In real life, just life. The only acceptable supremacy is respect for our differences. The differences unite us, and the respect doesn’t separate us.”

 

Fernando ‘Fer’ Alvarenga streams on Twitch regularly by professional player standards. During a broadcast just two days after MiBR’s statement about respecting differences and rejecting notions of supremacy, Alvarenga made comments to a viewer that his straight hair was “good” and that the viewer’s Afro-textured hair was making them angry. This also has significant cultural overtones given Brazil’s long-standing history of racism towards the country’s population that are of African descent, including a period in their history where they implemented eugenics to increase the European descended population. The message in and of itself is horrendous with this analysis but the timing of it, the way it actively contradicted MiBR’s public stance, meant that it would be almost impossible to ignore. Almost.

MiBR’s response was to put out an apology only in Portuguese, one would assume to avoid the wider world noticing their acknowledgment of the player’s culpability. There was nothing directly from Alvarenga.

As is the usual strategy for the organization their statement went to great lengths to explain how words can sometimes be divorced from intent. “We all know, sometimes, language or phrases have, if taken to the extreme, a set of implications or meanings disconnected from the speaker’s intention” their apology read. “However, it cannot be an excuse to hide behind it. Fer knows and recognizes this type of language feeds a narrative that is wrong and deeply damaging. Instead of hiding, he faced the problem and apologized.” The story did the rounds but, despite it being the worst possible thing to say at the worst possible time, nothing really came of it. Weird, given the extreme amount of bias and hostility that the players believe they face.

So, I’ll just state it plainly: had this been someone from any other team, broadcast or media company, they would have been fired and on an indefinite vacation. Inflammatory, racially dividing statements at a time when people were addressing systemic racial inequality would have been, rightly, viewed as inappropriate for any other professional. When you factor in that Alvarenga had been banned from Twitch previously for using racial epithets to describe who he was playing within America it’s hard to fathom how MiBR players think they have anything other than an incredibly privileged position in the esports landscape.

Despite MiBR’s claims that the player had been fined and warned it doesn’t seem that the player learned any significant lessons about expressing bigotry on his platform. The same month, following the aforementioned dispute with Furia, Alvarenga went on a tirade about the Furia players that made some charged comments about “taking it in the ass” and “not being a man.” This was ignored by all parties.

kNg – The Law Unto Himself

Vito ‘kNg’ Giuseppe is a relative newcomer to top tier Counter-Strike. He has, however, wasted no time in establishing himself as belonging squarely in the company of his fellow teammates when it comes to both talent and consistently unprofessional behavior. There isn’t a single person in the Counter-Strike scene who isn’t aware of his meltdown at DreamHack Montreal while representing Immortals but I’ll provide a summary. The Brazilian roster, then a top ten team in the world, was late to a competitive match against CLG. The admins gave them a warning but took no further action. They won the match and made it to the final where they would face North. Having a few hours of downtime between matches they went back to their hotel rooms and somehow managed to sleep through the call time. This being their second late showing the admins made them forfeit the first map. They would go on to lose to the Danes.

Now, as a point of information, it was widely stated by many attendees at the event that three of the players from the squad, Giuseppe being one of them, had been seen out drinking late the night before. The sheer volume of people claiming this never gave me cause to doubt it as being true but if you harbor any doubts in your mind the team captain at the time, Lucas ‘steel’ Lopes, said that while he didn’t think they were partying hard or that they went to a club, he said they were at the hotel bar late the night before.

As always what was fed back across the internet was likely an exaggerated version of the truth. Equally, these players, despite claiming it was jet lag that made them late, clearly weren’t feeling those effects bad enough to have an early night before must-win matches.

Anyway, CLG’s in-game leader Pujan ‘FNS’ Mehta tweeted a joke that it sucked to lose to players who were hungover and Giuseppe lost his mind. In a tweet that has now gone down in Counter-Strike history, he resorted immediately to death threats. “You’ll prove it or I’ll kill you” he said. It would transpire this wasn’t a quaint turn of phrase. Giuseppe was actively seen trying to find Mehta with the intent to assault him.

CSGO pro KNG’s response to FNS. The tweet has since been deleted.

The CLG captain had to avoid being in the hotel while people actively tried to calm down the Brazilian and even in the aftermath he stated he would never apologize for what he did.

While this ultimately set of a chain of events, that not only saw him removed from Immortals but also ended up having a huge negative impact on the upcoming Major, there was never any formal action from DreamHack. For a company that is on the record publicly as having stated that everyone must feel safe at their events, when a competitor tried to assault another one they took absolutely no action nor even addressed the matter publicly.

Of course, if they were being consistent, the player would have been banned from attending their events for a period of time and, in line with the code of conduct guidelines in the handbook, would have forfeited a percentage of his winnings. Instead, he was issued with zero penalty from the tournament he disgraced.

Hello Violence My Old Friend

We can all agree that there is no place for violence spilling over from what should be a spirited competition. Giuseppe’s Montreal incident is widely regarded as the worst of its kind, although Singaglia and de Melo threatening Oleksandr ‘s1mple’ Kostyliev’s life over a throwaway in-game knife could just as easily be brought to the discussion. However, what isn’t talked about as much publicly is when one of the Brazilian entourage that was brought to the PGL Major in Krakow actually assaulted a professional player at the event’s after-party.

Although I wasn’t personally in attendance the story has been told to me many times by those who were. It has mostly been covered up due to the combination of embarrassment and obviously the fact that there should carry some form of reprisals. Removing any embellishments from the story, here are the consistent facts that all present parties have repeated independently.

Esports after-parties generally tend to take place before the event has finished because it’s cheaper to do so. In this case, the event took place the day before the final, which featured the Brazilian team Immortals taking on the Kazakhstanis of Gambit. Markus ‘Kjaerbye’ Kjærbye, then playing for Astralis who had beaten the other Brazilian team of SK Gaming 2-0 in the quarter-finals, approached the group of Brazilian players from both teams who were together.

He made some seemingly disparaging comments that downplayed the likelihood of Immortals playing in many more finals in their careers, a comment that is often paraphrased as “enjoy the final you probably won’t play in many more” and a fracas ensued where one of the group assaulted the Danish player. This is widely accepted as a brother of one of the SK Gaming’s squad, although in the subsequent squabble it seemed even Kjærbye himself was unsure of who had done it. It is also worth noting that depending on who you ask the assault varies from a full-blown punch to the face or a finger being poked close to the eye of the player.

A now-deleted tweet from Kjærbye confirms the incident as having taken place, although due to his reputed intoxication it seems he aimed the tweet at a German racing driver. Fellow Dane Mathias ‘MSL’ Lauridsen also made light of the incident with a tweet at the time, with some fans who claimed to have witnessed the incident responding to him.

When it comes down to how I should view this incident, I am conflicted. I’ve been around sports my entire life and I’ve seen how quickly adults can behave like children when emotions are running high. Mix alcohol in with that and we all know what it can lead to.

I was raised on legends from the Welsh rugby team tours of the 80s and 90s, the insane antics of American wrestlers, and the rivalries of the golden age of the Premier League. As such, a part of me wants to file this story away on a mental shelf next to all of these, something to be saved for an esports speaking tour or a book. Yet by the same token, I know that violence is completely inexcusable and has no place at an event.

Competitors shouldn’t need to worry about being assaulted over trash talk or banter, which Counter-Strike fans agree is a part of what makes our esport stand out from the more sanitized, developer-controlled ones out there. It also cannot escape my attention that the most notable incident of an assault at a sizable Counter-Strike event just so happened to involve players who have actively threatened to assault other players. The fact that everyone with knowledge of the incident has a silent agreement to essentially never speak of it again may very well show a sensible maturity, but what would we say if another incident were to happen involving the same figures? We’d probably ask why they hadn’t been banned.

The answer to that is simple. We have collectively agreed to treat those with a certain level of status in our scene preferentially. As I can attest to personally, as someone who has been publicly smeared and castigated for five years over an act of self-defense, not all of us get to feel that benefit.

Excuses By The Bucketload

Another thing happened while I was working on this article. I was sent a thread from the forums of CS:GO’s leading coverage site HLTV.org. It was an update of an earlier thread that hadn’t attained much notoriety entitled “MiBR excuse list.” While I had planned to address some of the excuses as another example of how the players had tarnished their own legacy, this thread did include a few that even I had forgotten about. Sure, the thread does include some unsourced claims that I wouldn’t take as being the gospel truth but it shows that the fans are becoming increasingly cognizant of the lack of accountability the players display. After the latest round of drama, the thread has now been updated an additional five or six times.

Rather than rehash a forum thread here let me simply select some of the choice examples that have come from the team’s in-game leader Gabriel ‘FalleN’ Toledo. Like a lot of great former champions, he seems to have fallen into the trap of believing in his mind that there are always explanations for losses that go beyond simply understanding that you weren’t good enough. Right now, you would hope that they would be waking up to that reality as, at the time of writing this, the team has lost matches to rosters that fall outside of the top fifty ranked teams in the world. This includes a loss to Copenhagen Flames who are ranked #75. Few excuses have been forthcoming lately but let’s take a look at some of Toledo’s greatest hits.

There’s the obligatory reminder that he claimed players were cheating when they lost to Chaos worth repeating as his fans peddle the lie he never directly accused anyone. At the 2018 Boston Eleague CS:GO Major, the schedule meant one team would have to play twice in one day. It was randomly attributed to his team. He peddled a conspiracy intimating that Eleague had somehow been biased towards his team, relating it to their disqualification for moving organizations partway through the inaugural season.

When they lost to Astralis at IEM Katowice 2018, it was because the PCs were randomly tabbing out in-game. At the same tournament, he said the headsets were so uncomfortable it was unplayable. After having gone on a poor run of losing pistol rounds around this time he publicly said that one pistol in particular, the CZ, was too overpowered and should be removed from the game. Even though there was nothing stopping them from using it too, it wasn’t a gun that their squad naturally gravitated towards. Just a coincidence.

During the FACEIT Major in London, where they had an early scare by losing against TyLoo, he complained about the tournament PCs not performing well despite the spec being in line with what most tournaments use. When they lost to TyLoo at the Asian Championships in 2019 it would be the flu, not PCs, that was to blame. Oh, and most recently, when they failed to beat Mad Lions after they choked in the finals of the Flashpoint League earlier this year, the reason they lost was that the tournament system didn’t give them more of an advantage for having been undefeated prior to that point. This is especially hilarious given the caliber of the team in the league and the fact that it was the easiest lay-up in the world for them to take the title.

This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means and only spans the last two years. It is also only Toledo’s excuses and, take it from me, the other players on the roster have all learned from the best when it comes to explaining away defeats as being circumstances beyond their control.

It’s good to see the wider community recognizing it for what it is. No sports fan likes competitors that can’t be gracious and humble in defeat. This is because in many ways it is the ultimate insult to the victor, a way to strip their moment of its luster and make it about yourself. Whatever you do though, don’t ever criticize them publicly about this or imply they might have lost their hunger.

A Fundamental Inability To Accept Criticism

As a public figure, criticism will come your way. Not all criticism is valid. A lot of it is coming from people that aren’t in any position to offer informed critiques because they are profoundly ignorant as to what they are talking about. Think the sports fan who is absolutely adamant about how they can fix the team they support without knowing anything about how the players train or interact with each other. They express themselves as you’d expect… Red-faced morons whose ignorance is only eclipsed by the confidence that they are right. You’ll have to hear those people, but you don’t have to listen to them.

However, in sports, there are those whose job it is to critique what you do. Many players feel these people are as equally clueless as the angry fans, and that is true in some cases, but certainly not the majority. Commentators, analysts, pundits and journalists religiously watch the games and are also privy to information shared behind the scenes. We know when a team is breaking down due to in-fighting. We know when in-game leaders are looking for someone new to add to the squad. We know when contracts are expiring and when players want to get a better deal. We know when orgs are shopping around a star player they can no longer afford. All of this gives insight and perspective that players sometimes don’t take into consideration when it comes to putting out an opinion.

Most players do understand that it is part of the business though. The MiBR guys have consistently lashed out at anyone either criticizing them or even making lighthearted jokes at their expense. It was this behavior towards Chaos, a team containing a young player whose reputation has been ruined by their claims, that was the last straw for me. The MiBR core enjoy an unbelievably privileged position in the esports landscape. They are, seemingly regardless of how badly they act, national heroes. They bring huge viewing numbers whenever they play, meaning tournament organizers and broadcasters will look to accommodate them in ways that other teams do not have the luxury of. They are paid a huge salary, one of the largest in Counter-Strike, without even the expectation to achieve results commensurate to their reputation and ranking. There is no oversight when they step out of line. Their coach is a lifelong friend and business partner. Their employer is also in business with them on several projects. They are completely untouchable and can act with impunity.

Because of all this, it leaves an especially bad taste in the mouth when you lash out at a young social media manager for implying that, due to bad results, you might be missing a legendary former member of your squad. It is beyond petty to take to Twitter to lash out at a broadcaster who says that you appear to have lost the hunger you had in 2016 (which would be an understandable reality by the way) and whine endlessly about how hard you work. The truly mean-spirited would point out if you’re working so hard and failing so consistently it might be time to quit. There were no such suggestions here because people still remember the Brazilian core of old.

We remember the team that came from nowhere to shock the world and win the country’s first CS:GO Major. We remember the style and swagger, the never-say-die attitude that meant until 16 rounds were on the board you could never be counted out of a match. We allowed the gamesmanship because it came alongside a healthy dose of showmanship. And we remember the gestures of giving back to the scene such as streaming to raise money for South African team Bravado because of their desire to come from a scene hampered by a lack of economic opportunity but go on to be among the best mirrored your own journey.

Since joining MiBR this has become a distant memory. Now what remains is a group of players too egotistical to see their own faults and labor under the delusion that everything else has changed while they remained the same. You’ve shown spite to your fellow pros, including youngsters who aspire to be like you. You’ve cheated while accusing the innocent of cheating themselves. You’ve diminished the achievements of teams that right now are better than you. In doing all of this you have taken a brand that should be a source of national pride and turned it into a bad joke, one that will never recover from the reputational damage you have all done to it. When your old colleague Lincoln ‘fnx’ Lau said “if MiBR comes back it will be a joke in my humble opinion, they will ruin a name that was once well represented” he couldn’t have known how right he would be.

Regardless of whether or not this farce is allowed to continue by the people that sign the checks after two years, it is too late to change what you’ve turned your legacy in to. It could have been one of the greatest stories esports had ever seen. Instead, it has become the all too typical one about unchecked power, ego and greed, and we had plenty of those already.