Hacking may be portrayed by some movies as an activity that appears exciting, dare devilish and advantageous, however, this criminal act has distinct social, political and financial consequences for all parties involved. With the rise of eSports, cyber hackers have found new victims emerging, in the way of pro players, spectators and the organizations associated with the games.
The eSports Phenomenon
Since the birth of eSports at the Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics in 1972, eSports competitions have risen in both scale and renown. Between only 2015 and 2017, the revenue gained by eSports has increased from $325 million to $696 million, according to Newzoo. This figure is predicted to grow once again in 2020 to reach heights of $1.5 billion.
The size and importance of the tournaments have also progressed. While the “Intergalactic Spacewar Olympics” saw just 24 students come together at the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, the eSports world is now witnessing tournaments with audiences comprised of millions of people. For example, the Dota 2 annual tournament, The International, is run by the game’s producers, Valve, and this year gained a viewer total of over 20 million. Furthermore, the prize pool for the 2017 competition weighed in at over $24 million, which is the largest prize pool to have existed so far in eSports tournament history.
But with success comes the risk of danger. Just as Icarus fell into the sea after the wax on his wings melted when he flew too high, the current – and exponentially growing – success of eSports means that it cannot fly unscathed.
eSports Cyber Hacking
The beginning of the year 2017 saw the E-Sports Entertainment Association (ESEA) League held to a ransom of $100,000 under the threat of the hackers releasing the data of 1.5 million of the ESEA’s users. The data were displayed online after ESEA refused to give in to the hackers’ demands. Despite becoming aware of the hack on the 27th of December 2016, instead of meeting the hackers’ financial requests, ESEA chose to strengthen their security and inform their users of the situation so that they could individually take steps to mitigate the potential damage before the information was leaked.
A more specifically targeted cyber hacking scandal came in the form of the attack on Cloud 9 coach, Bok “Reapered” Han-gyu, whose Twitter account was hacked in September 2016. The information that the hacker subsequently released pertained not only to Cloud 9’s account logins, chat records and contact information, but also to rival Team Solomid’s personal information. ESPN reported that Cloud 9 contacted Team SoloMid as well as Riot Games and Twitter with the aim of dealing with the issue.
Why are eSports being Targetted?
One of the reasons that eSports players and spectators are a target of cyber scams is that it allows for a great multitude of people to be hacked simultaneously, with far-reaching impact. The popularity of eSports is also somewhat to blame. As eSports begin to enter the mainstream entertainment sectors more and more, the risk increases. Even mainstream online betting site Betway – which, previously, concentrated on traditional sports – now includes an eSports section, conveying how far eSports have come in terms of their comparison with standard sports. Moreover, there is increasing coverage of eSports tournaments, such as on British channel BBC Three, as well as news features on ESPN.
The accessibility of knowledge into the private lives of the top eSports players and personalities is an additional factor. Live streaming on Twitch allows pro players to connect with fans on a far more personal level than established tournaments allow. Online statistics site Statista details which of the many pro eSports players gained the highest number of followers on social media site Twitter in January 2015: Denmark’s Soren “Bjergsen” Bjerg came in at the top, with 604,000 followers, followed closely by Enrique “xPeke” Cedeno Martinez at 596,000, while third place was taken by Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng with 393,000 followers. Being in the public eye so much comes with the risk that eSports players may become more susceptible to cyber attacks, simply through being seen as high profile targets.
What is most imperative for both eSports players and for those who watch the events, is to take all feasible measures to reduce the risk of cyber hacking. As eSports gain increasing momentum and subsequently attention, the risk is only set to increase in future.