A Look at Cheating in Hearthstone

Tue 5th Apr 2016 - 7:43pm Gaming

Cheating has been a big issue in Hearthstone ever since the game was launched, especially in an era where the number of open cups awarding HCT points steadily increases. Personally, I have been the victim of cheaters on numerous occasions and even unintentionally cheated myself. Often it is practically unavoidable and you just have to trust that the players and tournament admins will make the right decisions. However, there will always be people out there who will do everything in their power to find a way around the rules to gain a competitive edge.

Below is a list of common ways players cheat in Hearthstone:

  • Win trading on ladder (Queueing into yourself or a friend over and over so your account gets boosted to a high rank).
  • Changing cards in your deck in a tournament. Often players will have multiple versions of a deck built, including additional tech cards such as Kezan Mystic that they then use to counter your deck choice. Tournament organizers attempt to circumvent this by including rules where you can ask your opponent for a screenshot of their deck selection screen. The problem being, that these screenshots can easily be Photoshopped. For example: once I asked my opponent for a screenshot and he sent it to me about 15 minutes after asking. There’s simply no way it takes that long to show a screenshot to someone if you’re not cheating. It’s almost impossible to prevent this form of cheating unless you have decklists submitted and an admin watching every single match in the entire tournament. The fact that basically anyone can run one of these HCT open cups often leads to sloppy administration such as inconsistent rules enforcement. The majority of tournament admins might apply their rules fairly and consistently, but I’ve witnessed admins biasing towards (or against) certain players for no apparent reason other than personal ones. 
  • Stream sniping/ghosting (Watching a stream of a tournament or streamer you’re playing against while you’re playing your game). As a streamer, you should pretty much expect you’re going to get sniped a decent number of your games, in my opinion its less of a big deal as watching a stream of a tournament that you’re playing in to see your opponents hand. A lot of tournament organizers use delays, broadcasting a stream slightly later to prevent giving dishonest players an advantage, but Hearthstone games don’t have a standard time limit, meaning all organizers can do is choose what they think is an average amount of time to delay by. Even 10-15 minutes is not enough as some games last longer than that, and you can see what cards are still remaining in a player’s hand or have additional information going into your next game about what their deck contains. If you’re going to watch a stream of a tournament you’re playing in make sure you don’t have a reflective surface in the background or reflective glasses! *cough* Hosty *cough*
  • Bots. This used to be a much bigger deal, but Blizzard started cracking down on botters and has gone through many ban waves. I’m sure anyone that has played Hearthstone long enough remembers the days when the ladder was flooded with Shaman bots running Sea Giants. More recently, there was also an influx of Secret Paladin bots. While it is harder to spot the bots now, because they act more like a human, there are still some things they don’t do normally that make them distinguishable if you’re really watching for it.
  • Getting outside assistance. While casually playing with your friends on ladder is perfectly acceptable, getting help while you’re playing tournaments is questionable. This is partly the reason Blizzard decided to move the Preliminaries to live locations so the players can be watched and prevent them from cheating and getting help from other players.
  • Fake disconnect in tournament matches. Pretty self-explanatory, some tournaments have a rule where the disconnected player loses, but other tournaments let a re-game happen. Someone pulling the plug on their router while they’re losing to get a re-game could happen.
  • DDoSing your opponent. This can be done pretty easily these days if you know your opponents Skype name and follows along the same line as the disconnecting in tournament matches that I listed above.

Some of these forms of cheating are avoidable. Blizzard implementing an in-game tournament mode which organizers could use to run their tournaments through the client or keeping a closer watch on the match history of people that hit the top of the ladder to prevent win trading. This tournament mode can have a deck submission function, that way it’s impossible for players to swap cards out in their decks between games. As for why they haven’t implemented this yet, I have no idea, but it’s likely because the game is targeted mostly at the casual market and not the small % of players that play the game competitively.

Blizzard has done a decent job of this in the past, banning a few well-known players including Specialist, Naiman, and Alchemixt. However, a lot of win trading still goes under the radar, especially if people are much more careful about it. Naiman redeemed himself this year by becoming the EU Winter Champion proving that his prior ban was not indicative of what he’s capable of as a player. Naiman’s story is great and proof that cheaters can learn from their mistakes and transform into fair players.

Most cheating prevention is in the hands of Blizzard and tournament organizers, as you can’t just expect every single player to be completely honest. The more Hearthstone develops as a competitive game, the more likely it is for people to cheat. Blizzard relying on third parties to admin their game is possibly too trusting and at some point they will have to take matters into their own hands. These forms of cheating will happen abundantly until Blizzard implements a system that makes it much more difficult to cheat.




Alec Howard

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