Valve’s anti-cheating software, known as VAC, monitors public Counter-Strike matches for evidence of cheating, like aim assist or changing value modifiers. Traditionally, any pros found cheating have been barred from competing in tournaments, but one organizer has decided to let them back in.
ESL, originally Electronic Sports League, updated its Counter-Strike rulebook today, to allow VAC-banned players to compete in ESL-sanctioned events after serving two year bans. ESL runs several major tournaments in the Counter-Strike circuit, including the Intel Extreme Masters series, ESL One and Pro League tournaments.
Players like Joel “emilio” Mako, Hovik “KQLY” Tovamassian, and Gordon “Sf” Giry—who have all VAC-banned in the past for cheats ranging from X-ray wall vision to possibly using aim assists—will now be allowed back into tournaments, as they have been banned for over two years.
ESL’s new rules only apply to VAC-banned players; it specifies that players with standing bans from either the game publisher (Valve) or ESIC (Esports Integrity Coalition) will still stand in ESL. Match-fixers, for example, will still be barred from competing in ESL events. Additionally, Valve has confirmed to us that the Valve majors will still enforce VAC bans, so if ESL hosts a major, any VAC-banned players will still not be invited.
Since the VAC ban rule was instituted by ESL in 2014, several VAC-banned pros have still been able to compete in low-level ESL competitions, thanks to a similar time-limit rule. Simeon “dream3r” Ganev, who will now be able to compete in all major ESL events, was able to still compete in and win the Global Challenge LAN through this rule, despite receiving a VAC ban in 2015.
While top teams will still seek to compete in Valve majors and thus avoid VAC-banned players, not everybody is happy with ESL’s move, with DreamHack Masters director Marc Winther Kristensen and FaZE’s Finn “karrigan” Andersen both criticizing it.
Update [7:39 p.m. ET]: ESL replied to our request for comment with a statement clarifying the company’s position and direction on the topic.
Alongside VAC, ESL uses Wire anti-cheat technology at all of its events. This move is meant to bring the rest of ESL’s major competitions in line with a preexisting two-year policy, mentioned in the above story. The statement goes on to acknowledge that implementing punishments across platforms is complex and says that ESL’s policies “are not set in stone.”
“We will consult with players, teams, organizations and sports integrity experts such as ESIC on whether the existing policies are still adequate for professional play in Counter-Strike,” wrote a representative for ESL.