Riot's latest blogpost about Valorant reveals some of the lengths the developer is going to in order to combat cheaters. Even before the game was released, catching cheaters has been one of Riot's major priorities—not unreasonably, given how widespread cheating can be in competitive shooters.
Most remarkably, for the online First Strike tournament, Riot reviewed every single player account because "we needed to know who every player was [...] We had to make the precedents and rules almost as we went, deciding what exactly constitutes a disqualification, and how we’d handle those."
Matt 'K30' Paoletti is Riot's senior anti-cheat analyst, and reckons "we hit a decent mark, and have learned a ton for the next one."
However, the logistics of a big tournament are one thing, and day-to-day matchmaking is a whole other kettle of smelly fish. Paoletti goes into some detail on what Riot intends to do in targeting players who cheat in matchmaking, and an amusing aspect of this is the man's utter disdain for his targets.
The number of matches with a cheater is "a fraction of a percent", but Riot acknowledges that this is still too high, and that "cheaters at the highest ranks also put a stain on the prestige that comes with reaching such heights in a highly competitive game. We saw that some players also looked to bask in the ill-gotten gains of cheaters by teaming with them—knowing that the cheater would get banned after a few games, but they would get to reap the rewards."
This type of behaviour, which can involve playing with a hack-based cheater or just a smurf account, is known colloquially as 'bussing', and Riot is instituting a 90-day penalty for players who participate in such activity, as well as looking into how to recalibrate ranks for the innocent players affected by the behaviour. Paoletti subsequently clarified that this will be targetting boosting services in a precise manner, so shouldn't affect 'innocent' players, though of course the proof will be in the pudding.
most common question I see around banning the ol' "cheat bus" is "what if they didn't know their queue partner was cheating?". we're really targeting concerted boosting services here, where the results are pretty distinct. precision is a massive priority in these actions. https://t.co/JGrDDOPT9xJanuary 27, 2021
It really is funny how much Paoletti dislikes cheaters. He describes queuing with cheaters as “rid[ing] the cheat bus on the highway to hell” before going on to describe it as an "expensive addiction." "Rank should be an indicator of your skill," intones Paoletti from the mountaintop, "and not your ability to pay for a service."
Part of the solution is a change to how fast players can rank in placements, and reducing the speed at which the Radiant rank can be reached. "This helps prevent cheaters from being able to blow their birthday money on a cheat," writes Paoletti, licking his lips,"just so they can headshot the legitimately talented player before their accounts are permanently banned."
Valorant's anti-cheat software, Vanguard, has been the subject of some controversy since even before the game's release, using as it does a kernel-mode driver (here's an explainer of exactly how it all works). That kind of trade-off is up to each individual player, but it does seem to be helping Riot make cheating in Valorant (a) hard and (b) expensive. It's good to see the clear relish with which the company approaches what will be a never-ending war. As my new hero Paoletti ends: "Cheaters, sadly, will always exist, but cheaters never prosper."