By Lisa MacBeth, GW Law, 2L
In November 2021, the United States District Court for the Central District of California reviewed a motion for default judgment against Andre Swirszczuk ("Swirszczuk") and Andrew Martin ("Martin") in the matter of Proxima Beta Pte. Limited et al v. Andrew Martin et al. It is alleged that these two defendants developed and sold a cheating software to gain an advantage in the mobile game "Player Unknown's Battlegrounds Mobile" ("PUBGM"), which is a violation of PUBGM's terms of service that all players must agree to prior to entering the game.
PUBGM is a free mobile game on Apple and Android devices that has become immensely popular for its "Battle Royale" mode, where players must fight till there is one victor. It is featured in many esport tournaments, and there is therefore, a large incentive to cheat at the game. Defendant's cheating software, which may include, but is not limited to, Sharpshooter or Cheatninja, allows players to gain unfair advantages in the game. These unfair advantages may include seeing through walls and improving accuracy while shooting.
The Court’s Decision
The claims brought against the Defendants included tracking in circumvention devices, intentional interference with contractual relations, and unfair competition. Defendant Martin indicated that he is willing to defend the claims brought against him, so there is no default judgment against him. But Swirszczuk failed to respond to the complaint and a default judgment was entered against him. As a part of this default judgment, the Court granted a permanent injunction against Swirszczuk and any other subsidiary prohibiting any future creation, distribution, or use any PUBGM cheating software. PUBGM alleges that there is irreparable harm to their brand and reputation as a result of this cheating software. Multiple players, both professional and nonprofessional, have abandoned the game due to the cheating and if this exodus continues, there will be substantial financial repercussions to follow, according to PUBGM.
Additionally, the Court granted damages to the PUBGM developers based on the number of downloads of the cheating software, which totaled up to $9,525,000, not including attorney's fees. But this amount could only be skimming the surface on the profits Defendant's potentially made from their software.
According to esportstalk, this case is similar to a large cheating ring, which has been named "Operation Chicken Drumstick". Developers in this ring made approximately $76 million dollars in revenue off of video game cheats for games such as Overwatch and Call of Duty Mobile. Users of their cheat codes paid $10 a day to use the software, and up to $200 a month. While Chicken Drumstick is one of the biggest cheating rings to date, this is still a highly profitable business and the minimum damages imposed by the Central District of California based on the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) may not serve as a major deterrent in the industry. It is likely that with the rise of popularity in the esport industry there will be an increase in the number of cheating cases in years to come.
PUBGM developers report that they attempt to get ahead of the cheating and catch third-party developers by increasing the penalties for players who cheat in the game, or who intentionally play with cheaters. Additionally, the PUBGM developers have the option to block gamers who have "Developer Option" enabled on the system. These measures may deter some third-parties from further development, but the high profitability makes it attractive to third-party programmers.
Cheating with similar third-party software can be prevented during esport tournaments through preventative measures such as streaming each player's screen and having multiple spectators view the event. But little can be done about individual players cheating in private. Even though PUBGM is not the game with the highest level of cheating, it still has hundreds of thousands of cheaters on the platform, according to Surfshark. The Esport Integrity Committee (ESIC) is in charge of investigating corruption, cheating, and betting allegations in the esport industry. ESIC conducts investigations and comes to conclusions based on a high evidentiary standard before concluding on sanctions. However, it has been reported that these investigations take considerable time, and the committee is unable to handle the volume of allegations that is facing the global industry.
Cheating is a critical, worldwide issue that the esport industry is faced with. Swirszczuk and Martin barely scratch the surface of cheat code developers and the industry must adapt to prevent, find, and sanction current and future cheating.