(CBS) – It was Game Over for what Chinese authorities say was the world’s biggest gang of video game hackers. Ten people were arrested for selling cheating software for bestselling games, including Call of Duty and Overwatch.
Authorities seized $76 million, along with luxury cars and other goods from the alleged illicit enterprise.
Cheating has become an epidemic in Esports, also known as competitive video gaming, and as CBS News’ Lucy Craft reports, that has made it fertile ground for hacking.
Serkan Toto, a video game analyst, said cheating syndicates like the one busted in China and hackers have long operated with impunity.
“They are extremely professional. If you look at some of the website offerings, they have shopping carts, they have pricing lists, they have customer service,” Toto told CBS News. He compared the websites that hackers create and use to Amazon. “Some of these companies [are] raking millions and millions each month. And the scale is really unbelievable in some cases, and so are the profits.”
China’s crackdown reveals the dark side of competitive video gaming, where top stars playing solo or on teams are earning seven figures.
Online gaming grabs so many eyeballs, it’s become a political tool. Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez live-streamed herself playing on the Twitch gaming platform last year as hundreds of thousands tuned in.
Japan has an entire hotel dedicated to Esports. Hotel e-ZONe opened last year in the western Japanese city of Osaka. Manager Takahiro Shimamoto said most adult customers check into the hotel on Friday and play all weekend long. Sardine-like bunks bathed in game-arcade lighting are available upstairs to guests.
Most people don’t have lightning-fast reflexes like the professional gamers, part of what makes cheating so irresistible to some. Instead of getting crushed in competition, using cheats can give gamers a sharpshooter’s aim and let them see through walls like superman.
Esports are lagging behind in Japan compared to neighboring South Korea and China, where they’ve seen astronomical growth, but online gamers are known to take shortcuts wherever they are.
“When we first opened [the hotel], we caught three cheaters,” Shimamoto said.
This year, close to half a billion fans are forecast to watch Esports. With revenues on track to top $1 billion, vanquishing the industry’s cheating scourge will remain front and center.