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SYFY WIRE gaming

Game over! Police put finishing move on ‘world’s biggest’ cheating ring

By Benjamin Bullard

We’ve known for a few years now that video games have become much bigger than the movie box office. In fact, they're now the biggest legitimate screen entertainment business in the world. But who knew they could be this over-leveled as an illegitimate business too? What’s reportedly the “world’s biggest” alleged game cheating ring has fallen hard to the final boss of law enforcement, with police in China busting an operation estimated to have taken in more than $76 million in illegal revenue.

BBC News reports that Chinese gaming giant Tencent — which owns League of Legends maker Riot Games and is a major shareholder in big-name games like PUBG, Fortnite, Call of Duty: Mobile & more — worked with police in China to shut down a massive online service that allegedly sold cheats to players for a monthly subscription fee. The service had the very video game-y name of "Chicken Drumstick," and reportedly traded cheats for fees of up to $200 per month to enable players to get a leg up on hugely popular global titles like Overwatch and COD Mobile.

While it’s not the first time Chinese police have KO’d an alleged gang of perpetrators taking advantage of the burgeoning cheat scene, BBC reports it’s the biggest to date. In addition to the $76 million in reported cheat revenues, the bust also yielded an asset seizure — complete with “several luxury cars” — estimated at $46 million. The shutdown also flashed the game over screen on the alleged ring’s operators and their hardware, arresting 10 people and destroying “17 cheats” — which presumably means computer servers and not, y’know, actual cheat-peddlers.

Money has become an increasingly alluring part of gaming since the global breakout of popular eSports tournaments centered around PvP games like League of Legends, Overwatch, Dota 2, Rainbow Six Siege, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and, yes, even Fortnite.

BBC cites a 2019 survey that found an approximate one-third of gamers admitting that they use cheats to gain an advantage in the competitively high-stakes online gaming arena, while also noting the resolve of Tencent and other big gaming companies to keep the eSports playing field level with stepped-up enforcement. A 2018 Bloomberg report revealed earlier collaborative operations between Tencent and Chinese police had netted 120 arrests — some leading to jail time — for cheatmakers who allegedly had been selling easy-mode shortcuts like auto-targeting or wall-penetrating X-ray vision.

Though American cheaters and cheat purveyors face shame, eSports bans, and even lawsuits rather than actual prison time if they’re caught in the act, tons of games that U.S. players love are owned or partially funded by Chinese companies. And if operation “Chicken Drumstick” is any kind of signal, it’s an increasingly feather-brained idea to load out with anything but legit in-game gear…and only the skills you bring with you.