Find out inside.
By Alex Walker on May 5, 2013 at 3:48 pm
Gamers are a suspicious lot. They don’t trust developers to look after their interests, and they trust publishers even less. But one party they do put stock in are the administrators and organisations which run competitions and events on their behalf.
That bond of trust was severely damaged this week after a member of the eSports Entertainment Association discovered that the software required to play in the organisation’s pick-up games and tournaments doubled as a bitcoin miner.
The scandal broke late this week when a forum user published a log on Pastebin that outlined a number of connections from his computer to a bitcoin server in Czechoslovakia.
ESEA owner Eric Thunberg replied with the perfect example of how not to respond to a crisis: by belittling users for uncovering the mistake, refusing to apologise and telling unhappy users to contact him so he could “attempt to buy back your love”.
To his detriment, Thunberg claimed that the bitcoin process within the ESEA client — which the community pays US$7 a month each to access — was only operational for 48 hours, had only mined the equivalent of US$280 and that all proceeds would be reinvested into the community. No acknowledgement was given to the fact that the software functioned as malware for that period, although Thunberg did admit that the idea of introducing bitcoin mining code to the client was discussed as a potential joke for April Fools.
As you’d expect, Thunberg was later forced to change his tune.
He publicly revealed that the code had running since April the 14th, far longer than the 48 hours initially stated. Over this time, ESEA users unknowingly helped the company mine just over 29 bitcoins, equivalent to just over US$3700.
Cue the pitchforks.
One forum user even encouraged others to join a class-action lawsuit. “Two weeks ago my Radeon HD4890 a $300+ card when I got it, fried with no explanation while I wasn’t using my computer,” wrote Tumn1s. “I kept smelling something burning coming from my computer and it took me a while to figure out that my expensive video card was overheating.”
After all and sundry were well and truly blanketed in the proverbial, ESEA co-founder Craig Levine, owner of the league’s parent company, stepped in with a statement denying any knowledge of the incident but promising to investigate and make amends.
That sentiment was followed by an official ESEA statement, which blamed one “unauthorised individual” for “acting on his own … to access our community through our company’s resources”. To make amends, the entire proceeds earned from the code will be donated to the American Cancer Society, along with an equal amount of money from the company’s own pocket. The prize pool for the 14th season of the league would also be raised by the same figure.
Admirable, but insufficient. Firstly, there was a clear line of communication between Thunberg and Sean Hunczak, the coder behind the ESEA client. Thunberg admitted as much in his first response to the fiasco by saying that he told the senior programmer that he “shouldn’t be lazy and run the miner in a separate process”.
If only one person was responsible for the drama, he certainly didn’t keep mum. More depressing is the indication that no one will be fired for the incident, and that Levine felt the need to not reveal the name of the person responsible.
ESEA’s reputation will be irreparably damaged. But the major problem here is not so much that the community’s trust in ESEA will be undermined, but that its faith in third-party programs like the ESEA client, which doubled as an industry leader for anti-cheat software will be undermined.
This is bad, because, frankly, there’s little competition. ESEA completely dominates the North American scene, in a similar vein to TeamLiquid’s status for StarCraft outside of South Korea. To paraphrase one user, even if gamers were disgusted by the whole affair, resigning from ESEA leagues and events was easier said than done. Competitors don’t have the reach, infrastructure or funding base that ESEA has built.
The entire debacle highlights a systemic lack of proper process within eSports. Having organisations profit from an event while maintaining responsibility for its integrity is not an unreasonable premise. The industry is not large enough to support a global association that could sustain the employment of independent administrators, as is the case with FIFA or the Association of Tennis Professionals.
Another view is that gamers were effectively punished for their compliance and blissful ignorance. As ESEA’s own statement admits, gamers have been swindled before by those who claim to have their best interests at heart. But until players get a clearer picture of what happens to the money they give eSports organisations, what information those companies collect and how both are used, scandals like this will continue to unfold.