November 11, 2020
Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) Statement Regarding Stream Sniping/Ghosting in online CS:GO tournaments
Through the period May to June 2020 ESIC received numerous allegations of coaches and teams engaging in stream sniping behavior (having the broadcast stream visible during the progress of the match, usually on a second monitor, sometimes called “ghosting”) during online competitions. Since the initial notification of this issue to ESIC, ESIC has received and assessed compelling evidence depicting that this behavior has been taking place on an alarmingly regular basis and at all levels of competition.
Stream sniping is cheating and is specifically prohibited by the rules of almost all CS:GO tournament organisers. Furthermore, this form of cheating is a breach of the ESIC Code of Conduct.
ESIC STATEMENT REGARDING STREAM SNIPING:
As of the date of this release, ESIC has issued a direction to its member to re-communicate, re-emphasise, and reinforce the CS:GO tournament rule prohibiting stream sniping during online events. ESIC strongly recommends that non-member organisations do the same.
ESIC has notified its members that this form of cheating will be treated with zero tolerance if detected in the future.
FURTHER MEASURES TO BE TAKEN:
ESIC further recommends that additional measures be urgently implemented in order to mitigate the ongoing threat to competitive integrity that is posed by this practice. The recommendations found below are specific to CS:GO and are not meant to cover any other game. An unfair advantage could accrue by the use of some of these recommendations in other games. Accordingly, separate but equally tailored consideration should be given to measures that should be implemented to mitigate this risk for other game titles.
Recommendations for CS:GO Tournament Organisers
- Any tournament rule prohibiting the viewing of a CS:GO match broadcast stream be reviewed and, if necessary, strengthened, republished and notified to all participants. It is noted that prohibitions within the ESIC Code of Conduct against the access and/or use of any direct real-time data feed by players, coaches or teams remain in place and in full force and effect.
- The delay between the real-time match action and the stream broadcast be increased to a minimum of 3 minutes.
- During any technical pause in a match, the broadcast stream should be amended so as to not show any current round information or current round caster or analyst commentary.
- In Tier 1 CS:GO online competition, as a minimum, every effort should be made to include live video feeds from each team playing room with as much of the room and the participants covered by video as logistics and practicality allow. This footage does not need to be broadcasted, but it must be stored by the tournament organiser for at least 90 days following the match. Further to this, communication between coaches and players should be recorded and kept for a minimum of 90 days.
- In recognition of the fact that betting markets are highly likely to be offered on broadcast CS:GO matches (whether supported or endorsed by a tournament organiser or not), ESIC notes that it is imperative to establish countermeasures against the potential exploitation of a broadcast delay for the purposes of betting fraud being committed by participants of the tournament (i.e. taking advantage of the broadcast delay by using inside information). In order to do so, ESIC reiterates that it is important for tournament organisers to conclude “official data” agreements for the provision of real-time data via a data partner or directly to the esports betting industry. ESIC explicitly disclaims that this recommendation is not to be construed as an endorsement of betting on esports. Furthermore, this recommendation does not imply that all risk associated with the existence of betting markets (such as match-fixing) are wholly mitigated by official data agreements, but these agreements are considerably better for esports integrity than the alternative or, even worse, pretending that the betting market does not exist.
ESIC is open to discuss rules and practical measures that may be adopted with respect to other games and welcomes dialogue from any member, tournament organiser or game developer on this issue.
Overview of investigations conducted by ESIC, the reasons for our recommendations and investigation outcomes:
- ESIC received a significant number of allegations of ghosting against teams, players, and coaches from across the CS:GO ecosystem. If all were credible, it indicated a widespread practice of rule breaching across the online competitive CS:GO scene.
- Initial investigations and dealings with teams did indicate that, although far from universal, the practice was widespread in online matches.
- To be consistent and fair to previous players sanctioned for this offence and the precedent we set in previous decisions, ESIC and some of our Member tournament organisers were faced with the very real prospect of the banning of a significant number of players, coaches and, in a few cases, entire teams. This would have had an extremely adverse effect on CS:GO esports, particularly in the top tier. Accordingly, such an action would have been, in ESIC Commissioner Ian Smith’s view, a disproportionate outcome to the actual harm done by the practice. In addition, due to the domino effect of such an action, ESIC and our members would have been faced with weeks or even months of further investigations into these alleged offences, involving many hours of video footage (where available) and hundreds of hours of in-game team communications, all over the period of our investigation into the coach bugs, which already threatened to overwhelm our limited resources.
- ESIC was also faced with the very real challenge of proving breaches in many cases where, due to the teams playing in their own environments, it simply could not be ascertained with sufficient certainty whether the teams were ghosting to sustain a regulatory prosecution. The offence is, to all intents and purposes, impossible to police meaningfully or consistently without the measures recommended above being in place.
- There is no perfect solution. ESIC has considered scrapping the rule altogether, but this affected the meta of the game even though it levelled the playing field, and, in our wide consultation, most agreed this was not acceptable. ESIC also considered increasing the delay between real-time play and broadcast to 5 minutes or more, but this had many unintended and bad consequences and only partly solved the problem, while significantly increasing the overall integrity threat.
- The delay implemented by the tournament organisers in every case between the real-time game action and the broadcast stream negated almost all of the realisable competitive advantage that could be gained from the on-screen information and standardising that at 3 minutes or more is, in ESIC’s opinion, a reasonable countermeasure capable of mitigating the threat to integrity posed by this behavior to the greatest extent possible.
- The inherent unfairness of taking strong action in those cases we investigated and where we felt there was a case to answer extended to the fact that many of the other allegations received were simply impossible to prove, which meant that some participants faced prosecution and sanctions simply because they were unfortunate enough to be in environments or circumstances where proof is or was available to ESIC and others would “get away with it” by luck.
- ESIC has therefore concluded that the only sensible solution for the CS:GO community was to draw a line in the sand as of the date of this statement by indicating that we are closing all current investigations without prosecution and reiterating that any violation of this rule from today onwards will be prosecuted vigorously and the maximum available sanction sought if the player, coach or team is found guilty.
- The potential betting integrity threat in every case investigated by ESIC so far was negated by an official data provision agreement that meant that odds/markets provision to betting operators occurred in real-time so that the stream broadcast was always behind the betting markets. No participant could, therefore, “beat” the delay between game outcomes in real-time and that outcome being reflected by betting operators. Concurrently, ESIC takes the view that any betting operator offering markets based on the broadcast stream of a match accepts the inherent risks associated with inaccuracies and inefficiencies in available information.
- The prohibition on ghosting set out in Article 2.3.3 and 2.4.4 of the ESIC Code of Conduct, therefore remains in full force and effect and will be enforced from now on with zero tolerance.
ESIC Commissioner, Ian Smith, said:
“Whilst I am disappointed with the level of abuse of this facility and clear rule-breaking, it is my view that we have done what is best for the broader CS:GO community, which has already been rocked by serious scandals this year. In taking these actions, ESIC has collaborated with many stakeholders in the CS:GO space. In almost every case revealed in our investigation, there was no discernible direct competitive advantage to be gained due to the delay between the real-time match action and the broadcast stream. There are minor exceptions to this, but they can be circumvented by implementing our recommendations. Our decision not to proceed with prosecutions and our recommendations are born out of pragmatism and the desire for a holistic approach that actually works and has the minimum adverse impact on this important esports community. ESIC has fulfilled its purpose to protect esports integrity by acting as we have, but those coaches, players and teams we have given a pass to by this decision have been warned and we are watching them closely. They will not be so fortunate a second time.”
ESIC will not make any comment regarding any player, coach or team involved in the resolution of any existing allegations, investigations or completed cases with agreed sanctions by plea bargain. ESIC is available for further comment on the general issue of stream sniping in CS:GO and other games.
For further information about ESIC, please contact: email@example.com