ESPN Begins Airing eSports. Will Hackers Pose a Threat?



  • Because video game tournaments are conducted online, eSports face a major risk of being hacked
  • Information security expert Dustin Childs says game developers need to be held accountable and start building in security

HPE information security expert Dustin Childs discusses the need to build security measures in eSports

Nearly two decades ago, ESPN began to broadcast poker tournaments. To the surprise of just about everyone, watching people play poker became a runaway hit, and soon, anyone who could play Texas Hold'em was vying for their chance to shine at a televised Vegas tournament.

ESPN is trying this formula again, but this time with video games. eSports—or professional video gaming often done in teams but also occurring in matches between individual players—is already an international phenomenon, selling out arenas and stadiums in Asia. The fan base in the United States is growing so it's just a matter of time until eSports tournaments become a part of mainstream American culture.

However, the more popular a sporting event becomes and the more money that is at stake, the greater the risks of someone trying to rig matches. In traditional sports, we've seen point shaving by players and referees purposely favoring one team over another. But the greatest threat to the integrity of eSports is its Internet security. Because the video game tournaments are conducted online, they face major risks of being hacked.

User accounts are a valuable commodity, and one of the first major hacks in eSports revolved around the theft of the accounts. The popular game League of Legends was disrupted by an Australian hacker stealing account information and transferred it to other servers. At the world championships for Dota 2, the event was halted by a distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. In addition, there are a number of hacks used by the players to gain an edge during a match.

"One of the biggest hacks that gets used is called an aimbot," explains Dustin Childs, information security expert with Hewlett Packard Enterprise. "Instead of manually using the controls to put your weapon on your opponent, the aimbot automatically does it." The rapid-fire pace of the aimbot's shooting, Childs says, is a pretty obvious "tell" that the integrity of the game has been hacked.

Tournament organizers instituted Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC) technology, which is designed to catch in-game hacks. "While it's good to know there is technology in place, it isn't 100 percent effective," says Childs. Tournament officials tend to fall on the side of banning anything that could resemble a hack, rather than seeing if it is actually legitimate play or not.

  • Cyber hacks give players an unfair advantage, ruining the integrity of the tournaments.

Hacking video games isnt difficult. Most designers aren't thinking about security and preventing hacks as they develop the games so protections aren't built into the systems. The hackers are taking advantage of existing functionalities and manipulating them for their benefit during play. These hacks give the players an unfair advantage, and this ruins the integrity of the tournaments.

"Game developers and vendors need to be held accountable and start building in security," says Childs. The average gamer doesn't take security into consideration when playing or watching a tournament, but that doesn't mean it should be ignored. As the amount of money at stake in these tournaments increases and fan interest grows, expect a criminal enterprise to take advantage of the vulnerabilities and easily-hackable flaws.

eSports are on the cusp of becoming the next sports sensation. Whether it is a passing fad or a mainstream staple will depend on its integrity. Without improved security measures, the future success of eSports could be tenuous.