If you’re looking to become a pro gamer, there are risks you shouldn’t play down.
Gaming has been a popular pastime for decades. Over the past few years, it has also become a career path, with esports becoming a steadily growing phenomenon. Tournaments are taking place around the globe with huge prize pools and name recognition in play. Goldman Sachs expects the monetization of esports to reach an estimated US$3 billion by 2022. The competitive prize pool for the Fortnite World Cup last year was US$100 million. To put this into context: this is nearly the size of the entire esports prize pool for 2017. Education is trying to match pace, with university degrees offered on the subject.
All of this inspires generations of players to play online, grinding and polishing their skills, aspiring to be the next breakout stars of the esports scene.
To qualify for important tournaments and eventually to be scooped up by one of the elite teams, gamers have to practice and play a lot. With games being played online and the stakes being high, you may have to contend with a whole slew of unexpected risks. Since today is Safer Internet Day, we listed a few of the risks ambitious young gamers may encounter during their journey through the ranks.
One of the dominant threats to gamers online are other gamers willing to cheat in order to get a competitive edge. You can encounter all kinds of cheats from scripting to third-party modifications; in Counter-Strike, for example, Aimbots and Wallhacks are well-known cheats used. If you’re playing on a competitive level, you’ll probably be playing on Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC) secured servers. That system should easily dispense with any form of identifiable cheating, resulting in a ban of the guilty party. But! There are ways to subvert that. Pro gamers have been caught using boutique cheats ordered from underground hacking forums, but those usually cost thousands of dollars since they are custom made.
Scripts can be applied to Multiplayer Online Battle Arena games such as League of Legends and DOTA2 as well. These can detect the trajectory of a skill shot, the cooldowns of the abilities of your opponents or automate some mechanisms. Gamers can usually tell that something smells fishy and report the guilty party. The practice often results in sanctions. On the professional scene, this translates to bans, penalties and even paying fines. In South Korea, it went as far as a police crackdown on the hackers behind the scripts and cases going to court. In essence, most developers have their own mechanisms in place to combat cheating … but if you suspect that something is amiss, you should always report it.
Various types of malware can also be a thorn in your side, especially if you’re the victim of a targeted attack. Depending on the objective of the bad actor, the method or the tool may vary. One mechanism to disrupt active players is by attacking them with ransomware. This can be designed specifically to lock up your game files, hence preventing you from taking part in an important qualifying match. As a result, you may lose access to your data and incur financial losses trying to recover it – either by paying the ransom (but with no guarantee of getting your files back, of course) or by taking the computer to a specialist, who may be able to save your files if a decryptor is available.
Keyloggers take it a bit further. By mapping your keystrokes while logging in and sending the results to them, the adversaries can then compromise your account and lock you out. To add insult to injury, you may lose everything in your account: ranks, unlocked or purchased items, and other valuables. If your credit card is also connected to your account, hackers may rack up an expensive list of purchases. You will not only lose your money, but your credit score may be tarnished as well. Moreover, your account might end up on the underground market and be sold with all of the achievements you poured your sweat and tears into achieving. Sometimes players can even be targeted due to a bug or flaw in a gaming client, such as the one that affected Origin.
A distributed denial-of-service attack (or DDoS, for short) is an attack where a computer or network is overwhelmed to the point that it disrupts the services of a host connected to the internet.
In online gaming, that translates to lagging: a delay between your action and the reaction of the server on which the video game is running. In esports, where players have to make split-second decisions, lag can mean the difference between glory and ignominy. In some cases, if one of your teammates fails to connect, you may even have to forfeit a match, depending on the rules of the game you’re playing. Individual players can be attacked to make their team perform worse, but there have been cases where all members of a team have been DDoSed. For example, the now inactive Turkish team ZONE suffered so many DDoS attacks that it went in prepared by deleting any unnecessary software from their machines and played in the same room so they wouldn’t need VoIP to communicate, yet they were hit all the same.
Gamers aren’t the only victims of these attacks; even gaming service giants such as Microsoft and Sony have been hit, bringing their online services to a screeching halt. To mitigate the chance of being hit by a DDoS attack while competing, you should use a reputable endpoint security solution, audit your network security and: last but not least, try using a VPN while playing.
As esports continue to gain traction and more widespread recognition, we can expect the ranks of gamers to swell with newcomers hoping to make it big. There have been talks of including it in the Olympics in the future, but we have yet to see how that pans out. In a bid to explore the intersection between esports and the Olympic Movement, the International Olympic Committee and Intel partnered up to announce the Intel World Open tournament in the lead-up to the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games.
So, if you have ambitions to make it big, train hard and always remember the golden rule of cyberspace: stay safe.