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Episode 31: Disqualified for Hacking Edition ft. Rishi Alwani and Hawken Miller

Imad Khan August 24, 2020 12

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After 19 teams were banned from the PUBG Mobile Open Cup Split in South Asia for cheating, Rishi Alwani of The Mako Reactor jumps on the show to break down the situation. And freelance journalist Hawken Miller gives his thoughts on Luminosity signing quadriplegic streamer Rocky Stoutenburgh.


SPEAKERS: Hawken Miller, Rishi Alwani, Imad Khan

Imad Khan  00:02

What’s up everybody? This is FTW with Imad Khan. I’m your host Imad Khan. And joining me today on this disqualified for hacking edition is Rishi Alwani of the Mako Reactor.

Rishi Alwani  00:10

Hey, thanks for having me.

Imad Khan  00:12

And later on we’ll have Hawen Miller to talk Luminosity signing Rocky Stoutenburgh an award winning quadriplegic gamer. But first PUBG mobile pub g mobile is a big deal in Asia but leading into its Mobile Cup Open Fall Split, 11 Indian teams and eight Pakistani on the teams were disqualified for using illegal software. So Rishi how pervasive is the use of cheating software in PUBG Mobile over an Indian and Pakistan?

Rishi Alwani  00:37

Alright, so I wouldn’t know for about Pakistan to be honest with you, because usually Mako Reactor and at least I only usually track the India market. But what I can say is that yes, cheating is I mean, it’s happening regularly across the board. I mean, and it’s also now because we have a situation where because of what’s going on with the Coronavirus there’s a lot of tournaments that have to be online only. And we’ve seen situations of cheating ranging from small thing all the way up to actual usage of emulation and emulator tech that’s still being used, and then even a couple of people using controllers as well. So all that is happening, it’s just not it’s not as widely reported or known or known off at this point in time. And it’s tough for the tournament organizers to actually pin it down because I mean the the API’s and the tech required to report this is isn’t where it should be. And it’s something which we’re seeing not just with PUBG Mobile but also with the local tournaments for Rainbow Six Siege and with Free Fire as well. So it’s a problem across the board and it’s pretty widespread. So in fact, so much so that the this this recent ban, right, which we’re talking about, the only reason Tencent even looked into it is because one of the star players of the Team SoloMid Entity, they’re one of the best teams essentially they have a winning they have a great track record of winning internationally and in India, one of their players got up, he raised a stink on social media. And he said that, you know, somebody should look into this because this is a problem, then only did Tencent go ahead and look into it. So that’s how it even came went down. It was a push by the community to fix this more than anything else.

Imad Khan  02:14

I see. I see. So I can see when that’s really frustrating for players that are, you know, playing this game fairly. And you know, without cheating, I mean, how much money is on the line for for some of these tournaments?

Rishi Alwani  02:29

we’re looking at a situation like last year alone, or the winning teams took away 10 million rupees or what we call one crore worth of prize money through the year. So it’s quite a lot of money that’s riding on Tencent’s tournaments, because you have to understand the PMCO is Tencent’s own thing. So there is quite a bit of money riding on it. And it’s the kind of game which has the audience, right? I mean, India at this point of time is essentially, if we look at it from a pure mass perspective, and if I ignore the feature phone side of the business, that’s 144 million users. If I look just at PUBG Mobile and if I look just at Free Fire Mobile. That’s around 100 million people right there. And it’s a huge audience. And it’s an audience that cares. And you know, both Kareena and Tencent have spent a lot of money to make it a big deal in a way also that’s also resulted in a lot of situations. I mean, how they spent the money has resulted in a lot of situations where it allows for third parties to have control because both of them came in with a lot of influence or clout. To the point where you know, Acosta has chosen not because he’s good, but because he has a following on Instagram or has a following on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. And when you have a situation like that if the rules or practices don’t suit certain influencers are certain pro players, sometimes they tend to raise a stink and use their power for bad. In Team SoloMid Entity’s case they use their powers for good to bring attention to a problem. But more often than not, we’ve seen tournament organizers and publishers held at gunpoint to make sure things happen a certain way and if they’re not the viewer counts fall tremendously and we’ve seen that in the pasta, you know, a tournament to get somewhere close to 60-70,000 viewers, but then the moment a certain hotshot influencer with clout doesn’t like it the views folder 4000-5000. It’s a situation where a greater amount of care is needed from the publishers. Not I mean, they’ve basically wrestled, they’ve given away control. And that’s, that’s gonna be really tough to get back in a market like this.

Imad Khan  04:14

Right? So I mean, in past instances in which there was cheating in esports, I mean, the most famous instance that comes to mind is the ibuypower situation Counter Strike a few years back where the team was essentially banned permanently by Valve. I mean, what are the repercussions for these teams that are cheating?

Rishi Alwani  04:30

I mean, so for us in India, the most high profile one we’ve seen was with also a Counter Strike where optic gaming is forsaken, was caught cheating Zowie Extreme LAN. And that led to him getting, I think, a five year ban. Over here, they will have a different situation because all we’ve seen and all we’ve got in terms of punishment is lifetime bans, but we don’t know what Tencent means by lifetime bans in this case, there isn’t too much clarity in this point in time, and that’s what’s a little annoying here where they say lifetime ban or does that mean there is actually mean lifetime bans? How are you going to put that into practice? so Tencent and all the tournament organizers have been really clear with how this is supposed, this is going to be dealt with. And what’s interesting is that there were 531 teams that are disqualified during the online qualifiers of this tournament because of cheating or using third party apps to gain an unfair advantage. And this is possible also on Android simply because so PUBG Mobile runs on the Unreal Engine, right? So it’s very ad on Android, it’s really easy to sideload stuff for most normal people. Yeah, they’re not going to go to the extent of you know, getting into developer options and sideloading software in India, it’s quite prevalent, because Well, a lot of people don’t want to pay for content. So So, you know, there are a lot of ways for on Android specifically for people to get around this. And it’s even reached a point where you have certain stakeholders in the ecosystem taking advantage of this. So I think a few weeks ago, I was talking to a few accessory manufacturers and they make controllers for PC, but they were like, you know, our controllers also work on on Android, but we’re not saying it because on Android, they work on PUBG Mobile, and we don’t want to be responsible for someone’s account gets banned. But yeah, people are playing that game and playing COD Mobile and playing Free Fire with our controllers. And as long as we’re not saying anything, were okay. To clean up the scene at this stage is going to be I mean, I don’t envy Tencent or Kareena or Activision at this point in time.

Imad Khan  06:19

Yeah, that’s such a such a fascinating kind of problem that’s affecting the region at the moment. And the I don’t know how you essentially solve it, because I mean, you have over 800 teams are being banned. I mean, why isn’t that, you know, becoming disincentive enough for people to say, you know, I don’t want to get a lifetime ban clearly the peat like nobody will actually have there been instances of people who have cheated and won the championship.

Rishi Alwani  06:41

There were situations like that, but then the only ones that have been widely reported were essentially around Counter Strike again, where all of OpTic Gaming is tournaments leading up to Zowie were were scrutinized, at least those in India was scrutinized and they resulted in a few matches being replayed all over again. But we with PUBG Mobile as far as I know, there hasn’t been a situation where anyone has been, you know, cheating and has gone all the way. But I will say a lot of it has the reason why we haven’t seen that yet is because the community for battle royale on mobile in India is very, very vociferous, and very, very active. And it’s essentially a situation where the community is playing the role of ensuring those anti cheat. So yeah, I mean, that’s the that’s the concern right there. It’s essentially the community that’s pulling that’s pulling the strings in this capacity.

Imad Khan  07:32

You know, the other thing that comes to mind, you know, when you’re talking to these controller manufacturers, you know, using controller on a mobile game is against the rules are forbidden. And I wonder to what extent why because, you know, on PC esports, right, they don’t really care if you’re, you know, using the fanciest keyboard or the crappiest keyboard or the fanciest mouse, etc, etc. You know, it’s kind of up to you to use the tools that are allowed, why our external tools not allowed in mobile esports? I mean, couldn’t anybody just connect an Xbox or PS4 controller and, you know, have the most accurate and competitive gameplay possible?

Rishi Alwani  08:06

I think a lot of it has to do with the sanctity of the sport itself, right? So they used to be a point in time early on in PUBG Mobile life where the best Indian team is like that when it started one of the best indian teams is a bunch of college kids called terrifying nightmares. When I had spoken to them and asked them how they got so good. Their logic was we were playing against guys who are on emulator because it made us play better even though the rules are saying play with touchscreen, we are playing against people who are on keyboard and mouse so we can train better while playing on touchscreen. That was one use case where it worked for them and they they ended up represent representing India at a global level. But fast forward a few years later, when it comes to you know, teams like Team SoloMid Entity, their managers themselves and managers and team owners themselves are very clear cut that because of the way the rules are structured, and because of the way it is we It doesn’t make sense to play against someone who’s on an emulator because that’s not the response time you’re gonna see on a tournament online or a tournament online. And it’s it’s reached the point where it’s very well pronounced, you can tell when someone’s on an emulator, and when someone’s not because of the response time and how fast they turn around or being shot from the back. So it’s a situation where, from a developer standpoint, they want to make sure that everyone’s on an even keel. So for them, the best way to make sure everyone’s on even keel is to prevent any use of third party controllers, or any controllers for that matter. And from an athlete standpoint, they’re pretty happy playing along because it evens out the situation as well for them, and particularly for team owners that that’s becoming a thing because for a lot of them also when it comes to using the tector, to train rightly, those are trying to do with honesty, they all prefer playing on iOS, because you know, those devices run longer with less heat and less dissipation issues. So while your sponsors are usually you know, an Oppo or Vivo, or OnePlus, most of the training happens on iOS devices, because they’re easier to you know, work with.

Imad Khan  09:54

Well, yeah, let’s put it let’s put me into like a whole different conversations in which I want to ask you know, why not play on OnePlus or Vivo devices that have 90 hertz refresh rates or, you know, even 120 hertz refresh rates. But it’s like the battery efficiency on iPhone that people prefer to practice on, man. It’s so fascinating. Rishi, thank you so much for jumping on definitely like to have you come back again sometime.

Rishi Alwani  10:14

No worries. Thank you.

Imad Khan  10:16

And now I’m joined by Hawken Miller. He’s a freelance journalist, streamer and producer for Snapchat at the Washington Post. How’s it going Hawken?

Hawken Miller  10:23

Good. Imad, good to be with you.

Imad Khan  10:25

So, Rocky Stoltenberg has now signed with Luminosity Gaming. This is somebody that you interviewed for an article last year for The Washington Post, first of all, as a signing like this ever been done? And if not like, what are the impacts of this signing?

Hawken Miller  10:37

Yeah, I mean, I’m not aware of any signing like this, especially with someone who’s a quadriplegic. I think Rocky’s in a great position because he’s had such a great following from his skill at the game, even despite his physical disability, and I think that’s really awesome. And I think it’s a great step forward, especially for representation in the game in an esports community because, you know, there’s a lot of talk about, you know, representation as far as sex, which is very important female representation. But, you know, on top of that there’s also representation for the disabled community. And I think signing a deal like this with the Luminosity is just an incredible step forward for that process.

Imad Khan  11:14

And, you know, he’s like, not a small stream by any means, you know, you go to his twitch channel, he has 65,000 followers, and probably a large number of subscribers. So he’s definitely a large personality. And, you know, I think to kind of maybe brush away any skeptics, but it’s not just that he’s a good streamer, but he’s actually a very good player, right?

Hawken Miller  11:33

Yeah, exactly. You know, I watched some of his streams, and I play Warzone Call of Duty quite often and I look at what he’s doing. I’m like, I don’t really have I could still use my arms and everything. And I don’t really have an excuse when I see him, you know, pulling off headshots for 300 meters away. It’s just blows my mind.

Imad Khan  11:52

You know, another article he published at the Washington Post, relatively recently was how you explained kind of traveling around the world in a wheel chair. And with Rocky now being part of Luminosity and you know, once a pandemic is over likely being asked to go and more in-person events, is this something that’s appreciably more difficult? Or is it that like maybe other people don’t really understand that, you know, there are systems in place to really get around much more easily than before,

Hawken Miller  12:17

Things are a lot better than they used to be. But they’re, I think, is still a long way to go when I’m traveling, especially with my power wheelchair. And I know Rocky uses a power wheelchair as well as, you know, the fear of the airlines breaking those parts. Yes, they can replace them. But if you’re kind of stuck without a certain part in a different city, then that makes things a bit more complicated. And the funny thing is, there’ll be a lot of places that say they are wheelchair accessible, but then they’ll have a step to get in, or it’ll be something like, please go up the stairs, ask someone to help you to use this lift. And obviously you can see why that would be an issue. So those those are a little things, but I’m sure you know, Rocky has it nailed down. I mean, he’s been paralyzed. I think since 2006 so I’m not concerned about him. But yeah, it definitely is extra burden, an extra challenge to travel with a disability for sure.

Imad Khan  13:07

You know, when it comes to a team sponsoring a player, like we don’t know, the contract that was signed between Rocky and Luminosity. And you know, usually these teams when they sign players, you know, they offer them a salary and health insurance and other benefits and whatnot. When it comes to maybe signing somebody who is disabled. Do you think that it causes pause on the teams end knowing that, like it might be more difficult to give them what they need?

Hawken Miller  13:31

Yeah, absolutely. Unfortunately, you know, that is, you know, the way the world works sometimes. I think people are a little bit concerned about having someone with a disability, like, obviously, they’re not going to say it straight out, but there’s things that you have to provide for them. And medical expenses, for example, are a lot higher for some of the disability especially when we talk about travel and transportation, you have to have a vehicle that can fit a power chair in and often that is more expensive than, you know, a typical Uber or something like that. So there’s all these little expenses that add up to a lot especially If someone has a disability, but you know, if they sign them I think they’re going to work with him through whatever needs he has.

Imad Khan  14:06

You know, what are some other prominent eSports athletes that have disabilities that are really ascending the the one that comes to mind is I believe his name is BrolyLegs who’s a Street Fighter player?

Hawken Miller  14:17

I think this is part of the problem is that I don’t really know any other big streamers that that have a disability and so I think this is a good step in the right direction to have more representation and then there’s a lot of you know, visible disabilities and it’s kind of hard to tell you know, sometimes and and some people are a little bit more private about it as well so it really depends on that person but yeah, I really don’t know that many other you know, big streamers with disabilities but I think this deal with Luminosity is paving the way for that to be more of a an occurrence these days.

Imad Khan  14:47

You know, in the show Ramy on Hulu, one of the recurring characters also is in a power wheelchair. And you know, he’s really funny. He’s a comedian as well. And he talks about how like in the in Hollywood or in the writing world, because there aren’t enough writers in the room writing disabled characters that often many times, you know, the movie industry gets it wrong. And I guess I’m asking you to what extent would having more prominent figures like Rocky or even FaZe Clan’s Ewok, who I believe is deaf can help educate or shed light on people with disabilities and trying to make the industry more inclusive and better?

Hawken Miller  15:22

Yeah, that’s interesting you mentioned I forgot that she was deaf. But that just goes to show it doesn’t really matter. Right? Like she is an amazing streamer and very good at Fortnite and doesn’t matter whether she’s deaf or blind or, or whatever it might be. So I think with Rocky specifically, this means that people with disability is gonna be like, oh, like I see someone who’s doing what I want to do. Now I could do this. And I think the same applies to whatever minority community you’re talking about. And I think that is an opportunity to inspire more people with disabilities to do whatever they want to do, especially with video games and start streaming and then contributing to a landscape that is more representative of that community. proportional then people disappear aren’t the majority obviously, but I think proportionately speaking have them represented more. So I see as some of the disability I see this person being successful in video games. Now I want to do this myself. And so then I add my voice into it, and then someone else might see me and then they add their voice into the conversation. So it’s kind of a compounding effect, so to speak.

Imad Khan  16:20

You know, I see that Rocky is also 33 years old, which is above the median age for a professional Fortnite player. And, you know, there’s this kind of narrative in esports that, especially for high twitch games, that after a certain age, the mind just isn’t as sharp as younger players. What do you make of his age?

Hawken Miller  16:38

I think we’re streaming like age doesn’t really matter. People are most likely going to I mean, there’s obviously skill involved. And Rocky’s very skilled, I’ll put that out there. But I think it’s also just seeing how he interacts and you know, seeing how he plays with the quad sick and that’s something that people aren’t normally used to. So I think, being able to see that informs people and his personality shines through and I think that’s why people continue to go back to the stream. And generally speaking with age, obviously the competitive players you know, as you get older your reaction time just slows down and that’s part of life. But you know this a lot of older streamers sent the tap man he’s he’s past 30. Like he just said this huge social media frenzy over Fall Guys, and it didn’t have anything to do with his reaction time at all. So if you’re trying to be the highest school player, I think age definitely comes to effect. But if you’re a streamer, I think your personality is what makes or breaks you.

Imad Khan  17:32

So you don’t feel I mean, based on your conversations with Rocky like you don’t feel that you know, he’s gunning to be going to the Fortnite World Cup, but he’s more just wanting to stream on Twitch.

Hawken Miller  17:42

Well, I mean, I can’t say but what he wants to do, and if he wants to do that, that’s awesome. I mean, I think he’s definitely capable of competing on that level. But generally speaking for age like it definitely plays a role, but it’s not the only variable that you need to take into account.

Imad Khan  17:58

Well, thank you so much for coming on.

Hawken Miller  17:59

Yeah. For sure.

Imad Khan  18:01

And that was FTW with Imad Khan. If you liked the show, please rate subscribe and share. Full transcripts of the show and links to our Patreon can be found at ftwimad.com. To find Rishi and keep up to date on all gaming and esports news out of India, follow him at Rishi Alwani on Twitter. To keep up with Hawken and all the work he’s up to, you can follow him at Hawken Miller on Twitter. If you want to follow my writing over at the New York Times, the Washington Post, and elsewhere, you can find me at Imad on Twitter. Annie Pei is our producer. If you have any questions or would like to submit a question for our Fan of the Week segment, message her at Pei_Annie on Twitter. Joe Domeq is our outreach manager and Ron Lyons is our researcher. With that, we’ll catch you guys next week.

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