Online Gaming Cheaters have Taken a New Form: Smurfs

“Reported.” That’s what my message to the player from the other team said. “For what?” they replied in mock innocence. This exchange was becoming all too common. In fact, it now happens at least three to four times a day. I’m talking about reporting players for cheating. More specifically, I’m talking about reporting players for smurfing.

In the world of competitive gaming “smurfing” is the practice of making a second account to abuse ranking systems. And while that’s not how others would define it, that’s exactly what it is. High level players create (and often pay for) new accounts that are either brand new or already at a lower rank tier than the one that truly represents their skill. They then play matches against lower level players and utterly crush them, due to their increased knowledge and experience with the game. Think of it like putting a 180 pound, 15 year old linebacker into a Pop Warner Pee Wee football game.

Until recently, this wasn’t much of an issue. Due to the fact that all the players started at the beginning, and would have to grind their way up through the ranks, smurfing didn’t seem worth it to many players. However, this has changed with the advent of the ELO ranking system. This system involves players usually playing in “seasons” where they play placement matches in the beginning of the season to determine what rank they will be for the duration of the season. That means that a brand new smurf account could start placements, and without much effort be placed into a slightly above average rank tier. From there it’s easy pickings. The best of the best players will do this, so even above average players typically get stomped by these smurfs. They play until they hit the rank they actually should be at, then they make a new account and do it all over again.

This has created huge problems for competitive gamers who are trying to climb the ranks. It’s not uncommon to play a round where everyone seemed pretty evenly matched except one guy who just wiped the floor.  You go to check their account history on their respective platform and lo and behold, the account is only a few days old, with a suspiciously low amount of activity on any game other than the one you’re playing. A lot of these players will openly admit it. Many a tense conversation has begun with a smurf calling me out for my rank. When I point out that they are at the same rank, they smugly respond “This is my smurf.” And while some of them are blatantly lying to make up an excuse for their own rank, it’s common to see their player stats backing up these claims. They actually brag about the fact that they are cheating.

At this point of the post, there will be those of you who are vehemently shaking your heads and saying “it’s not cheating.” First off, odds are you have a smurf and don’t like being called out for unethical behavior. Second off, in a technical sense your right. Players are not being punished for this. Game developers and the gaming service providers are turning a blind eye to this issue. Why, you might ask? Because it’s profitable. Every new Xbox live account that is made, every copy of a game that is downloaded on Steam, and every “new player” that joins the ranks in an online game represent dollars in the pockets of the people who created the game, who published the game, and who host online services used to play the game. It has created a pay to win system that gamers are so often up in arms about. Until cheating reports are taken seriously by these companies, this problem will remain one of the biggest in competitive video games today.

As a programmer, I understand that the technical solution to this is not an easy one to figure out. Creating a unique barrier to entry for an online game is not only difficult, but often times in vain. Players will find a way to get around systems put in place. We can’t pin this all on devs, despite it being rather advantageous for them. As communities, we have to come together and work against smurfing. We have to block players who are blatantly doing it, we have to send cheating reports, and we have to discourage it in our social forums. Keeping games fair is important and should be prioritized.

What are your thoughts on smurfing? Is it ethical to create new accounts to play against those who aren’t as good as you? Or do you see this as a non-issue? Am I just upset because I’ve lost to too many accounts that are less than week old? These are my thoughts and whether you love them or hate them let me know below, or in the comments section of the site you found this on. As always, thanks for reading and I hope you have a great day!

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