Competitive action RPG Dota 2 remains the second most-played game of all-time on Steam. Naturally, some of those players are cheaters. But this week Valve purged thousands of them from the platform thanks to an extremely clever little rouse: a bit of bogus game code that would only be activated by particular third-party cheat software.
“Today, we permanently banned over 40,000 accounts that were using third-party software to cheat in Dota over the last few weeks,” Valve announced on the Dota 2 blog Wednesday. “This software was able to access information used internally by the Dota client that wasn’t visible during normal gameplay, giving the cheater an unfair advantage.”
In addition to trying to patch out the underlying exploits, Valve said it also wanted to remove the people taking advantage of them from the Dota 2 player pool. To do that the company recently released a patch for the game that effectively created a “honeypot” within the client, a bit of code that would never be accessed in the normal course of gameplay unless a player had cheat software active.
“Each of the accounts banned today read from this ‘secret’ area in the client, giving us extremely high confidence that every ban was well-deserved,” Valve wrote. The company said the total ban size was particularly large this time around due to how prevalent these recent cheats were, but that this is just one small battle in its ongoing war against cheating in its games and on the Steam platform. Why publicize it? As a threat, basically.
“We wanted to make this example visible, and use it to make our position clear: If you are running any application that reads data from the Dota client as you’re playing games, your account can be permanently banned from playing Dota,” it wrote. “This includes professional players, who will be banned from all Valve competitive events.”
It’s not yet clear if any notable pro players were caught up in this week’s mass ban, but competitive Dota 2 has a history of unsportsmanlike conduct ranging from spying on match livestreams to using macro files to gain an edge in speed and precision over opponents. Cheating is hardly unique to Dota 2, however.
As more games have moved online, companies from Bungie to Electronic Arts have worked to put more anti-cheat measures in place in games like Destiny 2 and Apex Legends, with some even going so far as to sue cheat makers in court. Others like Activision have gotten more creative with how cheaters are punished, like making their opponents all disappear. In some cases, developers have sought an intrusive level of access to players’ PCs, only to walk back those efforts after public outcry.
At this point, the occasional mass ban just seems par for the course. And you likely won’t convince anyone, Dota 2 player or otherwise, that whoever recently stomped them in a public match wasn’t doing something crooked.