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Keeping esports honest in a hacker's world

Gamers give insight into esports volatility
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Posted at 5:49 AM, Jul 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-27 07:58:26-04

For the first time, the Olympics will host esports competitions, a sign the video gaming industry with its millions of players and spectators is proving its relevance and reaching the mainstream.

If you're a gamer for a living, there's a good chance people pay to watch you play. The more followers you have, the more money you can make.

Similar to any sport though, there are cheaters and in esports, there are hackers. Their motives may all differ, but if they get into your game, they have a buffet to steal from.

"In-game items, in-game currency, the ability for different pieces for a character, or just the accounts that are attached to it - PayPal, credit cards, what have you," said Brian Kirsch, IT Networking instructor at Milwaukee Area Technical College.

"It also appears to be a soft target. People think it's games, it's not a big deal. But that's not accurate anymore, because that's real money now," he explained.

Kirsch said sometimes, hackers can steal a gamer's account and either re-sell it and hold it for ransom, demanding cryptocurrency for its release since cryptocurrency is hard to trace.

Other times, hackers get into an account and can manipulate a player's performance.

Three years ago, a gamer in Greenfield lost out on prize money after he said someone took over his identity as a player in his 'Call of Duty; video game. He told TMJ4 News hackers knocked him down from his top spot.

"They can find your IP address and send a bunch of bots to your router and in essence, overload it and shut down your router, so killing your internet," said Maggie Vesey, who plays esports at the collegiate level for Concordia University.

Vesey has also been hacked, not during a college tournament, but when she was playing for fun. She says hackers have different ways they gain an upper hand.

"What they will do is they will turn on a program that makes it so that if they shoot something, they will automatically lock onto your character, specifically your head, because if you hit somebody's head, it does more damage. So an aim hack will make it so that they will aim at you and they will never miss a shot," she explained.

"They'll turn it on and they'll make it so that their mouse movements are automatically locked so that they'll do better," she added.

Alex Fletcher is the Founder of the E-sports Group. His company helps brands connect with esports audiences.

"I know that the risks are there, but I'm confident that as the world continues to grow with our involvement with online activities that esports will benefit from increased security practices and the like," said Fletcher.

He says players need to research who's organizing a tournament and what security is in place before they sign up.

"So you have to do some due diligence around a lot of these activities because just like with anything else online, some people don't have the best intentions at heart," he continued.

Tech experts say if you're playing from home, two-factor authentication is a must and a strong username and password is essential.

"I personally have had two of my game accounts hacked that way because I did not have unique username and passwords," said Kirsch.

From a business standpoint, it is in the industry's best interest to keep the game honest and protect players.

Market researchers report the global esports market is valued at just shy of $1.1 billion.

The Entertainment Software Association reports the average salary in the video game industry is more than $120,000, more than double the national average.

"It takes the same as any other sport would take: time and dedication to the game," said Jack Kral, another Concordia University student who plays eSports competitively for the college.

"Plenty of people only define athletics as being only physical events. And if that's your definition of it, okay, we're not a sport, we're an esport," Kral said.

It's smart to know every aspect of the game, including vulnerabilities.

"Protect it like you do any other data because if you don't, someone is going to take it away from you," said Kirsch.

See all of our Olympics coverage at TMJ4.com/Olympics

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