This week, I was planning to write my column about online Counter-Strike and its implications on the historical records of these teams. On whether teams who excel now get to go down in history with the best of all time. On whether they should. And while those are still important things to consider, they pale in comparison to a conversation about the ESL announcement that came out on Monday.
At about 4:30 p.m. EST, the official ESL Counter-Strike Twitter account tweeted, “As part of a recently concluded investigation into the exploitation of a spectating bug in ESL and DreamHack CS:GO tournaments, we are issuing punishments to the coaches of three teams today.” with a link to a much longer explanation.
Three coaches, Dead of Made in Brazil or MIBR, MechanoGun of Hard Legion and Hunden of Heroic, were found to have cheated on maps during the Road to Rio or DreamHack Masters Spring using a bug that would allow coaches to see sections of the map as a spectator that they shouldn’t have been able to see.
These coaches, who ESL all found to have “knowingly misused the bug for a competitive advantage in live tournaments,” have all been banned from ESL events for a period of 6 to 24 months, depending on how many times the coach was found to have used the bug. This is a huge violation of competitive integrity and a blow to the Counter-Strike scene, which has struggled in the past with issues like match fixing.
Hunden has since confessed that the report is accurate, saying “The recent allegations made against me are true.” He also noted that he “decided to contact Michau Slowinski, the ESL Admin, to explain the bug that was a part of the game at the time,” despite knowing that it would certainly have repercussions for him to admit it. Heroic, Hunden’s team, has also suspended him following an investigation, meaning that within a week of winning ESL One Cologne, one of the biggest tournaments in Counter-Strike, he found himself on the bench. Hard Legion also suspended MechanoGun.
Dead, the MIBR coach, was seemingly very displeased with the ban and the accusations that he cheated in a round at the Road to Rio event. He released a clip that he claimed was what he was being banned for, but reports have since come out that it wasn’t the round he was banned for, but rather a much more damming round. The report also said he had also used the bug at the Counter-Strike Summit 6 Event, which ESL does not run.
This incident is eerily familiar to the scandal baseball has struggled with this year and it is disheartening to see another team dealing with cheating scandals surrounding coaches. For anyone who doesn’t pay attention to baseball, the Houston Astros were found to have stolen signs from their opponents and used it to gain a large competitive advantage in the 2017 and 2018 seasons.
Despite several coaches on the Astros and other teams losing their jobs from the scandal, the lack of punishment for players who may have been involved led to many irate fans and other players. At the start of this season, Joe Kelly infamously threw a baseball near the head of Alex Bregman, which resulted in a suspension. There were rumors that it was due to his anger over the Astros players not being punished by the league for their team’s poor behavior.
Now, many Counter-Strike fans are dealing with the same anger, since ESL declined to take action towards players on the teams that used this cheat, even those on the Hard Legion roster that used the cheat over a number of maps and rounds. Heroic, in their completed investigation, have claimed that their players were not aware of this cheating by Hunden, but many of us are left wondering how it is possible that they were unaware of such blatant actions by their coach.
Whether or not the players knew, the public is likely to believe that they did without some kind of irrefutable evidence and frankly, even that might not help. Fans, especially fans of teams that were harmed by other teams using this bug against them, are unlikely to be thrilled by these actions.
It’s impossible not to pity the players in these cases, because the sheer level of cruelty people can manage over the internet is terrifying, especially given the relatively young age of most of the players. No matter if the players knew or not, the Counter-Strike scene is still going to have to grapple with the reality that at its highest levels, people were able to cheat in such a dramatic way. Now, they can only hope to stop it from happening again.