Inside a now-famous Overwatch video, a Korean player is banned mid-match because of his shameless hacking. He’s streaming himself as Widowmaker, effortlessly flinging himself throughout the map and landing perfect headshots in-air. A Hanzo approaches, and in just a minute, he’s gone. Widowmaker’s crosshairs, that were feet far from him, rubberband to his head.
A couple of minutes in, he’s locked from the game. Someone reported his cheating. But it’s no issue – he just navigates returning to the Battle.net website to make another account.
Cheating in the Asian Overwatch server is endemic and widespread. About the Battle.net forums and Reddit, complaints about hacking South Korean players’ too-accurate headshots, immediate gun-downs and even DDOS attacks against winners in competitive mode are widespread.
Just today, 22,865 Korean hackers were banned from Overwatch. Between January 26th and 31st alone, 3,095 accounts were suspended. Harry, the Korean Blizzard representative who reported the ban wave on Battle.net, proudly allows the numbers, but doesn’t explain steps Blizzard is to take to definitively stomp out Overwatch hacking in South Korea. For months, Korean fans have begged Blizzard to quit playing whack-a-mole and address the root with their servers’ endemic hacking problem.
Depending on my conversations with Korean players, it appears that hacking culture Korea is inexorably certain to the over 25,000 “PC bangs” where Koreans spend time, slam energy drinks and grind on Overwatch Cheating. They’re like North America’s now-antiquated ’90s LAN cafes where patrons pay a tiny $US1.00 ($1)/hour fee to experience ahead-notch computers. At PC bangs, cheaters often download aimbot software with impunity. Recently, “nuking” is becoming widespread. It’s a practice where people hack into enemy control systems to change maps or freeze them at spawn.
Since Overwatch’s release last May, Thomas Lytwynchuk has frequented PC bangs to play the video game. In Korea, Overwatch is the second most-played title in PC Bangs, second only to League of Legends. With the cafe, he grinded for months in Competitive mode to reach Platinum rank, where he says he’s encounter plenty of hackers. Recently, while defending around the Anubis map, he turned a corner and in just a nanosecond, was pummelled by McCree’s rapidfire, a little bit faster than human impulses permit.
“I checked the deathcam replay, and sure as hell, he’s hacking,” Lytwynchuk explained. “His crosshair instantly locked onto me, so that as I’m jumping and crouch-spamming away from the corner, the crosshair perfectly follows my head.” Later, that same player switched to Widowmaker, whose crosshairs, in his words, “would literally flick onto your head then perfectly track it, even through walls.”
Lytwynchuk reported the player, but doesn’t think it made a difference. In Korea, it’s easy to play Overwatch by using an infinite number of Battle.net accounts provided that you’re in a unmonitored PC Bang. That’s because Blizzard includes a take care of Korean PC bangs which allows patrons to invest a meagre $US.80 ($1)-$US1.50 ($2) per hour to get into the video game. They don’t have to purchase it themselves. They could just make a fresh account every time they play. The cafes pay Blizzard a subscription fee in exchange.
“If you have to pay for $US40 ($52) for the copy of Overwatch whenever you hacked and got banned, as with the West, nobody would undertake it,” Lytwynchuk explained. “Except if you got a great deal of spare alteration to throw around.”
Players don’t even need to attach their personal information to these accounts. They will likely use VPNs to make North American accounts with burner emails. For home computers in South Korea, Blizzard requires a form of strong identity verification to play Overwatch. That’s what empowers Cinderella’s Law, which prevents kids under 16 from gaming after midnight, to understand gamers’ ages. So essentially, in many PC Bangs, anything goes.
“It can be ruining the video game for people and its endemic in Korea due to the free-to-play model,” Lytwynchuk explained to me. “The fact that you can hack and play games with your friends for $US1.50 ($2) one hour without repercussions is what’s enhancing the worst in people.” PC bang owners, I’m told, don’t have most of an incentive to report hackers, since the opportunity to hack is a major draw to perform there. Employees’ pay is low and monitoring every user would demand a surveillance panopticon.
Daniel Na, who may be situated in Seoul, mostly plays Overwatch at home, but estimates that he’s encountered hacking 50 times in the Asian server. He’s ranked at Diamond and says that, at higher levels, it’s more widespread. “Usually hackers’ IGNs [in-game names] are famous enough that if a game title starts, both teams just consent to tie the match if you find an aimbot inside the room,” he explained. He described it a “manner system,” so nobody wins or loses when there’s a hacker.
As I asked Na why a lot of PC bang attendees enjoy hacking, he informed me that “I believe it is actually all brought in the competitiveness that Korean culture has on the whole, specifically younger generations in gaming.” He added, “Breaking the principles might be regarded as fun while you are surviving in a world that you always have to listen for your mother and father and live life in tight studying-schedules since elementary school.”
If 22,865 Korean Overwatch hackers were banned today, it’s simple to picture how toxic their server can get. Korea-based players I spoke with said they absolutely despise hackers. They decimate any probability of fun and fair play.
That’s why, from the very morning hours, you could see Korean players on the North American server – they don’t want to deal with hackers. English-speaking players have widely complained about this, given that they can’t communicate with their Korean teammates. Some have even called for Blizzard to ban Korean IPs through the North American server.
Korean players are constantly posting their pleas to Reddit and Battle.net, with one, “BLIZZARD DISREGARDS KOREANS OPINION,” garnering over 17,000 upvotes. Relief is necessary, but Blizzard’s licence agreement with PC bangs may tie up their hands. Mass account bans may look effective, but to cite one response from today’s news, “And 22,865 new PC bang accounts were made.”