Cheaters aren’t an uncommon sight in multiplayer shooters. Some people just can’t win games without some sort of unfair advantage, and cheating gives a quick ego boost. While cheaters on competitive Overwatch are normally humans, popular streamer ‘Redshell’ recently ran into a literal bot.
Someone programmed an Aimbotting AI to follow a Rein. While both of them are hacking (The Rein and Mcree). This is the craziest thing I ever seen in ranked. pic.twitter.com/ESl71chNnp
— Mr. Ming Lee (@RedshellOW) February 1, 2020
History of hack bots
If you’ve played Team Fortress 2 in recent years, you may remember the robot invasion of “cat-bots.” They were so prevalent on the servers that you’d be lucky to find a match without them. Loaded with an aimbot and the ability to recognize the objective, they plagued Valve servers for months. Bots would even end up dueling each other, which was quite funny to watch.
Eventually the invasion of cat-bots died down, but the cheating continued. Valve’s anti cheat system is antiquated and not equipped to deal with modern code. In the long run, cheaters had a severe impact on the player counts of Team Fortress 2.
Cheaters are common in older games like that, where exploits are common and code has been patched multiple times. It’s damaging enough for bots to dominate the matches in a relatively casual game. In a competitive game like Overwatch, AI interference of this type could be a real problem.
Improved bot scripting
Let’s return to the recent incident brought to light by Redshell. Unlike bad players “botting” out on your team, the competitive Overwatch bot there was actually carrying the game. In Redshell’s chat, the player who owned the script was actively discussing how it worked. Equipped with an aimbot and rudimentary vision, it was programmed to follow around the Reinhardt player. It would even follow the player if they died, slowly circling their ragdoll until respawn.
Clearly the bot is not actively learning or trying to improve itself, so calling it an artificial intelligence is a bit of a stretch. You couldn’t run this bot while you were off buying groceries or cleaning the house. That being said, cat-bots did reach a point where there was no human involvement. Could we see the same thing in Overwatch?
The biggest difference between Overwatch and Team Fortress 2 when comes to cheating is the price. Overwatch costs about $15 USD on sale, which at least stops people from obtaining a large amount of accounts. They’d have to spend time hacking in quick-play as well, in order to reach level 25 and unlock competitive. Overwatch 2 will probably be released later this year, which will most likely cover exploits and buff the anti cheat system.
How to fight bots
Overwatch offers a few more options to use against cheating. The hero system innately allows you to counter a hacking Widowmaker using shielded heroes and teamwork. You can also confirm if a player is hacking by being invisible as Sombra. Sometimes playing a hero like Genji can allow you to kill the cheater using the Deflect ability. If they are tunnel-visioned, Tracer or Reaper can sneak behind for the elimination as well.
The hard thing about cheaters in games, is that there is really no way to combat them effectively. Eventually someone will peak their head out and receive a quick trip back to spawn and lose the fight. What’s left for Overwatch players is the report system, which developer Jeff Kaplan assures us works wells. I’ve received pretty fast messages that an account has been actioned when reporting players in the past.
Overwatch patches are releasing faster these days, and hopefully this doesn’t open up new vulnerabilities for cheaters to use. In the most recent developer update, Blizzard assured players that they are improving their anti cheat. How exactly they are doing that isn’t known, as that information could be used by cheat developers. We can only hope that actions are taken fast enough to preserve the playerbase.