What Valve is going to do about the recent Coaching Bug Scandal?

By: Will Myers

This article analyzes 3kliksphillip’s video Valve, pls thank, alongside TheWarOwl’s video The Biggest Cheating Scandal in Pro CS:GO History, to gain a better understanding of what the future actions Valve will take in regards to the coaching bug scandal.

Phillip “3kliksphillip” Dyer and TheWarOwl, or Brent, are popular content creators with extensive knowledge about Valve’s FPS, Counter-Strike, and the scene around it. Both have recently released videos analyzing different situations within Counter-Strike and are worth looking into. If you have not seen these videos have no fear(although I do encourage watching them). I will cover and analyze all the main points they make in them. The important thing to know is their respective videos can be analyzed side by side to predict what Valve will do about the coaching bug. 

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If you are familiar with Valve and Counter-Strike, you know Valve takes a hands-off approach to making decisions for the game. 3kliksphillip’s video does an outstanding job describing this. 3kliksphillip stresses how Valve does not communicate especially well with the community, instead opting to have as little external communication as possible. Valve observes community feedback and uses it to guide their decision making. These can result in changes in Counter-Strike. From small changes, such as fixing a gun animation, to larger ones, like a whole map overhaul. 3k3kliksphillips emphasizes this “fly on the wall approach” by pointing out that Valve made several changes to Counter-Strike following his suggestions.

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Valve rarely credits the individuals who advocate for changes in the game. In all of 3kliksfillip’s career, he was only given credit once, and if you know him, you know how much he has done for Counter-Strike. He claims other respected individuals in the community have had similar experiences. They inspire change and receive little to no credit. The good news is this does prove that Valve is actively listening to the community.

The patch notes for an update in Counter-Strike showing 3klik’s name

3kliksphillip’s video drew my attention to a Valve communication presentation posted to youtube. This youtube video explains Valve’s approach to communication policies, but it is over an hour-long, so I will save you the trouble and go over the main point. The big takeaway from this presentation is that Valve electively decides not to directly communicate with the player base. Instead, they observe people talking on forums and social media and take action where and when needed. It is documented that they actively use this minimal approach in their external communication. This is usually seen when Valve pulls together the community ideas and releases an update with several changes to the game, many being community suggested.

Documentation for Valve's policies towards communication.
This slide was taken directly from a Valve communication presentation

Why is this significant regarding the recent coaching bug scandal in Counter-Strike? Because you have to understand Valve’s hands-off approach to communication for the rest of this article to make sense and have validity.

This is where TheWarOwl’s video comes into play.

There has been a massive scandal in Counter-Strike recently that resulted in many coaches being investigated and banned. It was quickly dubbed the coaching bug. In TheWarOwl’s video, he calls it “The biggest cheating scandal in pro CS:GO history.” That would mean this scandal is worse than the infamous iBuyPower match-fixing scandal that resulted in Valve permanently banning some of North America’s best talent. However, TheWarOwl’s accusation has merit to it.

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The community discovered a bug in the game, wherein online games coaches could gain an unfair advantage point on the map via the bug. It would give the coach a third-person perspective of a random part of the map. For example, the coach could use the bug to get a vantage point of Mirage’s A sight and is able to see how the counter-terrorists are set up. Then they can inform their team of this information and use it to their advantage. Normally the coach would spectate a player’s POV and can switch between other players as well. This advantage may seem insignificant, but it has the ability to influence the outcome of a match completely. This picture is an example of what the coach would see when they use the exploit.

What the coaches would see when their point of view is bugged

TheWarOwl describes how the situation on paper is one thing, but actually reviewing the matches and seeing the coaches use the exploit left him “absolutely disgusted.” He is confused about why this is not a “bigger story in the media” than it actually is, and I agree with him. It is getting nowhere near the coverage of the match-fixing and gambling scandals of the past.

This bug was reported having been in the game for over three years! Luckily we have access to a decent portion of match recordings. That means every professional online game within the past three years now has to be reviewed to restore integrity back into Counter-Strike. This would take months to do, and Valve being Valve has not said anything about the topic. This has lead to the ESIC, the Esports Integrity Commission, to investigate the exploit. The ESIC is a third-party group that is dedicated to maintaining the integrity of Esports.

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The ESIC has developed a formula that searches through match data and signals if the exploit may have been used. They used a point system to measure how extreme the case was and would increase the ban’s severity accordingly. The ESIC provided a document stating how the formula works if you are interested in learning more (click here to view document).

The formula does not outright ban a coach. It only signifies the need for more investigation. Out of all of the reviewed matches, the formula only detected 0.1% (99,650 matches) of them. Full detail of the investigation can be found here.

After the investigation was completed, the ESIC reported 37 offending parties to have used the exploit. A full detailed list of them can be found in the ESIC’s Annexure A. The most notable accusations include reputable teams such as MIBR, Heroic, Furia, Ninjas in Pyjamas, Faze Clan, Navi, and Navi AGAIN with another coach. The fact that these top tier teams have been using this coaching bug to gain an unfair advantage is a HUGE hit to the integrity of professional Counter-Strike. We trusted and loved these teams. Unfortunately, the coaches’ poor decisions in question may have stained the legacy of their team and organization.

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So why is it that the ESIC gets to decide who gets banned and who doesn’t? They aren’t endorsed by Valve anyways. The ESIC’s subsequent bans hold value because they are supported by many of the Counter-Strike’s Tournament Organizers. A list of the ESIC’s members and supporters can be found here. This means that when ESIC bans a person, the Tournament Organizers that sponsor the ESIC will ban them as well. Because most big-name tournaments support the ESIC in Counter-Strike and since Valve has yet to do anything, the ESIC essentially has jurisdiction over the entire professional scene.

When you use a formula and flags 99,650 match demos that then have to be determined by user decision, there is a chance to be some inaccurate verdicts. Especially since the ESIC team investigating this is relatively underfunded and understaffed. One of the lead investigators and Esports Referee, Michal Slowinski, described in a tweet that they were working non stop with minimal breaks.

ESIC Referee talking about the extensive workload

So far, they have overturned one case via an appeal process. Sergey “LMBT” Bezhanov was ruled to have used the exploit in four different cases and received a ban of seven and a half months by the ESIC. Later, the ESIC ruled him to be innocent and found he actively sought assistance in removing the bug during the match. The overview of LMBGT’s appeal can be found here.

To rule that someone used the bug to gain an unfair advantage when they did not is unacceptable. A ban like this will end a person’s career. A player who is banned will be kicked off their team and lose their source of income. They won’t find other work within the scene either because organizations and their teams tend to blacklist players who have had a shady past. This is why producing the correct verdict is imperative. Sergey “LMBT” Bezhanov is proof that there needs to be greater attention to detail throughout this trial.

Michal Slowinki can attest that the ESIC rushed the process, which resulted in uncertainty. A more attentive approach must be taken that alleviates the pressure from the investigators. This way, the investigating party is free of distractions and can accurately determine the ruling.

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This is where Valve comes in. We can reasonably assume that Valve is paying attention to the whole scandal, from dissecting how the ESIC’s formula works to the emotions felt from distraught fans. Valve is, without a doubt collecting vast amounts of information and data about the scandal to properly equip themselves with the tools they need to proceed with the appropriate actions.

When Valve enforces a ban, they do not allow a player or coach to attend any Valve sponsored events. In Counter-Strike, this means you can not participate in the Major. A Major is a Valve sponsored tournament where all the top teams in the world come to compete. It is the equivalent of the playoffs in NBA basketball and has around a million-dollar prize pool. Any organization or team that wants a shot at the Major cannot have a roster with a banned player on it. This roughly means that when you are banned by Valve, no team wants you, and your career will automatically start declining.

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So when can we expect a statement from Valve regarding the Coaching Bug Scandal?

A good estimate would be a little bit before the next Major, most likely around July 2021 (I explain how I got this month). However, the next major does not have a set date yet due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Valve is opting to “hold off on scheduling Majors” until it is much safer to travel and congregate. This roughly translates to Valve shooting to have the Major sometime within the year 2021. If I had to guess when it would be, I would guess the major will take place in the range of September to November 2021.

Ideally, Valve would have it earlier, but until a significant advancement in the COVID-19 vaccine development is made, a tournament of this scale is not feasible. This is because Counter-Strike Majors attract people from all around the world, the ever-changing travel restrictions, and the logistics that go into setting up a tournament this scale takes a substantial amount of time to plan. I considered factors such as these in my estimate that the next major would be around September 2021 at the earliest.

This time frame would make sense since Valve would want to have finalized the Coaching Bug investigation before the most highly anticipated Counter-Strike tournament in recent history takes place. Valve is a company that prides themselves on preserving integrity and goes to great lengths to preserve it, so they would not begin a Major until the investigation is over and all offending parties are prosecuted. They once permanently banned NA’s most promising team over a few hundred dollars worth of skins, effectively destroying these players’ futures and, for some, lives (free Brax). This was the iBuyPower scandal, and if you want to learn more about it, here is a link to a video about it.

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Keep in mind that the ESIC only investigated demos from HLTV and ESEA databases, and it resulted in 99,650 matches being flagged by the formula. Who knows how many match files Valve has access too. Since they own and operate Counter-Strike, it is probable that they have archives of the majority of the professional matches in the last several years. This means that Valve is going to have substantially more cases to investigate than the ESIC.

Since Valve holds integrity as a core value, they will review every case thoroughly to ensure they are fair and just, regardless of how lengthy the process is. And we learned from the ESIC’s investigation that taking your time is essential in finding the correct verdict. Valve is willing to take as much time as they need to assess a verdict of a case properly.

To make matters worse, Valve is notoriously known to neglect Counter-Strike. This is because Valve’s President, Gabe Newell, personally prefers Dota 2, Valve’s other wildly popular Esports game, over Counter-Strike. This isn’t just a joke. It is well known and documented that Counter-Strike does not get near the support Dota 2 does due to Valve’s personal love for the game. If Valve truly wants the integrity within their game restored, they will have to fork over some much-deserved funding and support.

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Like I stated earlier, a reasonable deadline for Valve finishing their investigation is promptly before the next Major. This is a tricky statement to understand because as of now, Valve has not announced when the Major will be due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. We do not know if Valve will hold their Minor tournaments normally needed for teams to qualify for the Major. They may opt for a different way to qualify based on prestige and ranking, similarly to how the NBA bubble was initially set up. We will likely not know this for a while since Valve chooses not to inform people what they are working on.

Factoring all of this together, one can reasonably infer that Valve will have completed their investigation of the Coaching Bug Scandal and will have handed out necessary punishments to offending parties, effectively restoring integrity back into the professional Counter-Strike scene, by the latest July. Knowing this, they are presumably well into their investigation by now.

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Why is Valve’s official statement on the coaching bug going to be so significant?

For an issue to warrant Valve speaking out about it, it means it is posing an immediate threat to the future of Counter-Strike. We know Valve tries to communicate as little as possible, but when they feel an issue will hurt Counter-Strike significantly, they take action. The action they take usually results in harsh bans without the option of appeal. Refer to the 3klikphillips section for more info about Valve’s communication policies.

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Is Valve going to allow for coaches to appeal their case like the ESIC did?

Historically, unlike the ESIC, Valve does not offer an option to appeal. This is most notably documented in the iBUYPOWER match-fixing scandal. The players found guilty have suffered irreversible bans with no hope in sight for freedom. Steel, a permanently banned player from that iBUYPOWER roster, has pleaded and begged for Valve to reconsider his punishment, even years after the initial ban. Steel has offered to do community service and receive an alternate punishment if he got unbanned. But Valve has said nothing and sits in silence. Steel recently switched over to professional Valorant, Counter-Strike’s biggest competitor. I am referencing the iBUYPOWER scandal so often because it is the only other scandal comparable to the coaching bug scandal.

How harsh is Valve going to ban offending coaches?

This is a strong indication that Valve’s punishments are going to be harsh and irrevocable. Since the ESIC are professionals at this kind of stuff, Valve will most likely model their bans after them except longer to reflect Majors instead of months. This is because Major’s only tend to happen twice a year, so the ban must be adjusted to reflect it proportionally. Also, due to the lack of appeal process, Valve has to make sure the verdicts are correct and reflect the truth.


However, the upside to this is that Valve can reverse any bans made by the ESIC. Yes, the ESIC has merit, but everyone listens to the people responsible for the game’s future. Although a reverse verdict on the ESIC bans is unlikely, it is something to note.

So what is Valve going to do about the coaching bug scandal?

Valve is likely to follow the same exact formula and model that the ESIC has used to assess bans but put more of an emphasis on the user required part of reviewing flagged matches. This is to avoid coming to a wrong verdict. They are likely to not speak on this issue until the Summer of 2021. The bans issued by Valve will parallel the ESIC bans except adjusted to reflect Majors instead of months.

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