Valve has disqualified Peruvian DOTA 2 team Thunder Predator from competing in its premiere tournament The International 2018 this August because one of its players was caught using an off-the-shelf gaming mouse during a qualifying match on June 19. With more than $15 million in the prize pool, it’s a huge loss that highlighted the sometimes complicated nature of "cheating" in professional esports.
Cheating has been a problem in professional sports for years. Unscrupulous players, managers, and even entire countries will do whatever it takes to gain a competitive advantage. In traditional sports, cheating often takes the form of bribing officials or using doping with performance enhancing drugs like steroids.
Esports is no different. The people who play games like DOTA 2, Overwatch, and League of Legends professionally are competing for tens of millions of dollars. That’s a lot of pressure and players sometimes turn to shady methods to give their team the edge they need to win. That happened over the weekend when the Peruvian team Thunder Predator used a Razer Synapse 3 gaming mouse during a DOTA 2 match in a way that constitutes cheating.
DOTA 2 is a fast paced game where two teams of five compete for objectives. Players pick from more than 100 different heroes to battle it out, each with their own set of unique abilities. Teams compete to win the best of three rounds, and in the tense third round between Thunder Predator and Brazilian team SG, Thunder Predator player AtuuN picked a character named Meepo.
Meepo is a powerful but difficult DOTA 2 hero. He’s a little goblin whose defining power is his ability to create clones of himself that the player can teleport around the map. When Meepo or his clones teleport, he deals damage to the surrounding area when he leaves and when he arrives. A clever player can do a lot of damage this way, but each Meepo has to be handled individually and it’s difficult for even skilled players to manage that many individual characters in the heat of a tournament.
Which is why it was surprising when AtuuN managed to move all his Meepo clones around the map with quick precision during the third game of Thunder Predator’s match against SG. Redditors noticed the speed and precision of AtuuN’s Meepo deployment and cried foul, assuming the player was guilty of using a software macro. A macro is a kind of cheat that allows players to program complicated button combinations and deploy them at will with the click of one button rather than several.
A slowed video of the match showing the Meepo clones descending on a rival player in the fraction of time it would normally take seemed to back up the Redditor’s claims. A close look at the combat log—a written and timestapped record of all the interactions in DOTA 2—showed that the Meepo clones all teleported at the exact same time. Without the use of a software or hardware macro, this would be impossible. To pull off this maneuver manually, a player would need to click each individual clone, click the “poof” ability, and then click the target location. AtuuN moved three clones in an instant, a move that would take a normal player several seconds to accomplish.
Thunder Predator denied it was using a software macro, but offered an alternative explanation for the clutch teleporting goblin play—a fancy programmable gaming mouse. “The player of our squadron ‘Atún’ has a Razer Synapse mouse, which, like any professional player, has put its own manual configuration to be able to have a better use of Hardware in benefit of its efficient performance in each of the games played with this hero (Meepo),” Thunder Predator said in a statement on its official Facebook page. “In this way, we highlight the fact that no type of hack has been used.”
FACEIT, the organization through which it runs its tournaments, announced Thunder Predator’s disqualification on Twitter. The game company considers using a programmable mouse to be equivalent to running a software script which, according to its rules, is an “external scripting/macros designed to gain an advantage over other players."
Thunder Predator disagreed. “We denounce this accusation, stating that at no time, our player ‘Atún’ use any type of hack or particular program that facilitated his game mode before the match, yesterday, with the team of SG,” it said on Facebook.