Sunday eSports: What happens when you “accidentally” insert bitcoin mining software in your anti-cheat client?

ESEA

By 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.

The entire debacle highlights a systemic lack of proper process within eSports

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.

17 comments (Leave your own)

Words. I have, no words .. just .. f’king WOW ..

 
Bane Williams

The worst part of this entire thing is how easy it is to buy awesome bitcoin miners in the first place.

29 BTC is a lot, yes, but really a $1500 miner could make that in a month by itself. At that point it’s like printing money.

 

Gamers are by an large stupid, an have the long term memory of a goldfish. this issue will die quickly an the so called “gaming elite” will go straight back to it

 

….Jesus man.. the fuck?

 

and just like that, ESEA’s reputation is gone.

 

Oh no i can’t play video games and win large sums of money for sitting on my proverbial ass my entire life /firstworldproblems.

 

Bane Williams:
The worst part of this entire thing is how easy it is to buy awesome bitcoin miners in the first place.

29 BTC is a lot, yes, but really a $1500 miner could make that in a month by itself. At that point it’s like printing money.

By the time you receive your ASIC it will barely be profitable. The difficulty is increasing dramatically, and soon btc will be too inefficient to mine for all but the most power conservative miners.

Which is why new coins are being created all the time; gives people decent mining returns for GPUs and allows you to gamble against the market as an investment vehicle.

 

so….what are bitcoins? can someone give a simple explanation?

 

collect0r:
Oh no i can’t play video games and win large sums of money for sitting on my proverbial ass my entire life /firstworldproblems.

So… this guy didnt actually read the article lol

 

collect0r:
Oh no i can’t play video games and win large sums of money for sitting on my proverbial ass my entire life /firstworldproblems.

Dumbass

 

Interesting to see what their EULA says, but unless there’s something pretty disgusting in there, this ought to fall under the “Unauthorized Access” section of US computer law.

 

revengous:
so….what are bitcoins? can someone give a simple explanation?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bitcoin

?

I had started typing something but this seems the much better path. Okay, maybe not simple .. but it’s well worth *knowing* something. Go on, educate yourselves.

 

Czechoslovakia?

Admittedly it doesn’t make the article less clear but it’s bemusing (to me) that a whole generation has grown up since it was dissolved and people still write/say that.

 
 

This is truly despicable.

 

What if BITCOIN is just an elaborate scheme to make research into quantum computers economically viable?

 

Somewhere, there is some person that knew about this in the beginning and said to Eric Thunberg “This is a bad idea and it will probably bite you on the arse” to which I’m sure he said “Ha, they’ll never know!!!”

:P

“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.”:

If your 4890 died it probably died of old age…

 
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