Updated: Feb 11
Electronic sports, or esports, is a term for organized competitive gaming at a professional level, that first appeared in the year of 1972 and has drastically developed since. Although labeling video games as a sport is a controversial point of debate at the moment, there are some similarities between esports and traditional sports, that cannot be overlooked. Popularity, emotions and business growth are surely some of the positive similarities, however both, traditional sports and esports, unfortunately suffer from unfair practices as well.
What is eDoping?
Esports tournaments are famous for their million-dollar prizes, which makes an ideal environment for cheating, as the distinction between winning and losing has never been bigger. One such method, adopted by some esports players, is eDoping. eDoping means a manipulation of the game’s outcome against fair play rules that increases the chance of winning for a certain player. There are two forms in which eDoping can occur - one has a big resemblance to traditional doping in traditional sports, whilst one exists only in cyberspace.
As in traditional sports, players in esports may use performance-enhancing drugs in order to “support” their way of playing. eDoping does not only aim to affect physical fitness, but also intellectual efficiency. Banned pharmaceuticals that players usually take are for example Adderall and Ritalin. Although they are far away from the steroids and growth hormones that infiltrated into traditional sports, they still give a big advantage to the player that uses them. Adderall for instance, is typically prescribed for people diagnosed with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), but can also be used as a cognitive enhancer since it can make the user more focused, alert and able to concentrate for hours.
eDoping where computers are used instead of chemicals is another, equally prevalent form of doping in esports. The eDoper takes control of the program by hacking a game’s underlying software in order to alter its source code or object code. Through the years, esports have seen a wide variety of digital eDoping methods. For example, a cheat may empower one player to access the capability to see through walls or smoke or to enable an auto-aim feature to help with very difficult shots or to never have to reload. Another way for players to cheat is when they tweak and alter the game software and settings of the keyboard or mouse, to perform a series of actions with just a single click.
A famous software cheat happened in the Counter-strike: Global Offensive 2018 Tournament in Shanghai. A gamer was caught using an “aimbot hack” during his game. An aimbot is a software tool that allows player to shoot enemies without having to aim their weapon. As this helps the player to shoot more accurately with less skill, it is considered a serious violation in esports. The cheating player and his team were disqualified, however only the cheating player was later handed a five-year ban.
A cyber eDoping that does not require any form of modification of the source or object code, is very common as well. The so-called “stream sniping” is when a given player watches an opponent’s live stream of the match in which he or she is also currently playing, in order to gain an advantage of the opponent's intuition and next move. This however, is only possible if there is not an evident delay between the cheating player’s gameplay and the other person’s broadcast.
Not long ago, eDoping was not strictly regulated nor talked about, as there was no government body or anti-doping policy in esports. It all changed when a professional Counter-Strike player casually announced that he and his teammates were taking Adderall when competing in one of the biggest esports tournaments. This led to the introduction of much stricter anti-doping measures by the Electronic Sports League (“ESL”), which organizes many of the world’s biggest tournaments. As ESL partnered up with established anti-drugs bodies, which also supervise more traditional sports, regular doping tests and penalties in case of violation, were promised. If a player tests positive, he or she can be punished with deduction from points and winnings or even disqualification and prohibition of playing for up to two years.
Cyber eDoping however, has to be combated very differently. Here, a list of prohibited performance-enhancing drugs, or saliva and blood tests do not help much. This is why legislators have taken several steps to fight cyber eDoping. For example, Polish legislator adopted a law that sets out the scope of the author’s economic copyright to the computer program. This Copyright Law prohibits any changes to the structure or modifications of the computer program without the consent of the copyright holder. The latter will usually be the game organizer, who acquired the economic copyright from the author. A cyber eDoping therefore violates the game organizer’s economic copyright and presents a basis for several legal claims against the violator, including claims for compensation for damages that the organizer has suffered.
Another country that has already introduced legal acts against cyber eDoping is South Korea. With the establishment of the Korean Esports Association in 2000, a regulation for taking the responsibility for eDoping was determined. A log-in system that allows linking a virtual account to a real person, ensures responsibility for criminal acts. Their penalties however, are far stricter, as you can be sentenced to two years of imprisonment with labor if you were caught “boosting” for profit. Boosting in esports means an unethical act, when a gamer logs into another gamer’s account to play a ranked game to increase their ranking.
eDoping is a violation of moral principles, breach of fair play rules and can even be a copyright infringement. This is why it is important to create a strict anti-doping set of rules and to also implement them into the industry of esports. Creating an efficient procedure and system for banning the violators may help significantly, not only in on-going cases but especially in preventing future incidents. So far, a lot has been done, but the fight never ends.