CS:GO pro team makes controversial decision to hire former cheater

French professional team Vexed announced in a blog post this morning that they were hiring Hovik "KQLY" Tovmassian, a one-time staple of CS:GO’s upper echelons of professional competition. In his heyday, KQLY played for some of the game’s best teams, winning a couple sizeable tournaments and placing well in some massive events as part of French teams LDLC and Titan.

One problem: KQLY was banned for cheating back in 2014, prohibiting him from participating in official Valve-sponsored tournaments, the highest tier of competition in CS:GO. Due to recent rule changes made by ESL, one of CS:GO’s biggest tournament organizers, Vexed will be able to participate in some decent-sized tournaments with KQLY in their roster, but the game’s players and spectators have reacted negatively to the announcement.

Two of Vexed’s existing players stated that they had not been informed of the potential roster change before it happened.

KQLY is likely the highest-profile player to ever receive a ban for cheating in CS:GO. At the height of his success, shortly after finishing in the top four at ESL One: Cologne as part of Titan, his team seemed poised for greatness in the latter half of 2014. But his squadmates’ hopes were crushed that November when KQLY was banned, and Valve announced that the whole Titan team would not be allowed to compete at Dreamhack Winter 2014. Eventually, KQLY was replaced and Titan carried on, but they were never able to achieve the success that had seemed inevitable before the ban, and eventually dissolved in 2016. In a farewell letter from the CEO, Titan alluded to KQLY’s misconduct as a large part of their inability to keep the team operational.

KQLY, as a member of Titan. (image via Fragbite.se)

KQLY, as a member of Titan. (image via Fragbite.se)

The controversy damaged CS:GO’s reputation as an esport and made KQLY an unpopular figure, so Vexed’s hiring of KQLY to play for them in the upcoming ESL Championnat National tournament was bound to be poorly received by the community. But surprisingly, that negative reception extended to the team itself: two of Vexed’s existing players stated that they had not been informed of the potential roster change before it happened, and that they refused to play with KQLY in upcoming events. Vexed has now updated their roster at the bottom of the original announcement, removing all mention of the two dissenting players.

Other CS:GO professionals weighed in on the announcement as well. Veteran player and current LDLC member Ex6TenZ tweeted a sarcastic one-liner that implied Vexed would have a much harder time finding sponsors for their team now that they had a former cheater in their employ. Former Team Liquid player Hiko expressed similar derision on his Twitch stream upon hearing the news, exclaiming “KQLY’s back on a team again - gets VAC banned, but can join a team? Interesting. My boy [Braxton ‘swag’ Pierce, of iBuyPower] throws a match and he’s banned for life, but KQLY literally cheats in the game and comes back?”

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In the latter half of his remarks, Hiko alludes to an old wound that the CS:GO community has been nursing for years now; he mentions that while the recent ESL rule changes allow anyone banned for cheating to play in ESL tournaments once two years have passed, the iBuyPower players who were banned for match fixing in early 2015 are still banned indefinitely. Much of the community believes cheating in the actual game to be as heinous of a crime as throwing a match for financial compensation, and that Valve’s failure to address this disparity in punishment has festered for an inordinately long time.

Vexed still won’t be able to play in the Valve-sponsored “Majors,” CS:GO’s most lucrative tournaments, since Valve maintains that no cheater will ever be allowed back into its good graces. In reality, that doesn’t affect a team like Vexed much; they’re not at the level where they would qualify for Majors, and since ESL has changed its rules, Vexed can still play all of the tournaments that exist at their skill level without incident. This stands in contrast to the fate of iBuyPower’s players, who are still banned by Valve, ESL, and any other tournament organizer who wishes to maintain their relationship with Valve.

It’s a sticky situation that once again has players questioning Valve’s philosophy regarding banned players, and has the potential to deal another blow to CS:GO’s reputation with sponsors and organizing bodies.