Editor's note: This story has been updated with comments from Philip "Clever" Lough, who denies the accusations that he's been cheating.
Cheating has plagued video games since their inception, but with the rise of eSports, it's more important than ever to keep it under control. Individual players and carefully organized teams are competing for money rather than egos now, and no recent incident better illustrates the legal troubles with stamping it out in official competitions quite like the campaign against a player accused of cheating in the Pro Leagues for Ubisoft's multiplayer shooter Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six Siege.
The current scandal centers on VwS team member Philip Lough, better known by his in-game handle "Clever." After a month of community protests against him, there's been no action against Clever from either Ubisoft or the Electronic Sports League, the German eSports organization that runs Rainbow Six Siege's multiplayer matches. And players want to know why.
This isn't just a case of getting rid of an annoying player in a forgettable casual match, as Clever and his team were taking part in Rainbow Six Siege's weekly and monthly Go4R6 competitions that award cash for victories. It's not terribly clear what he would be using to cheat, if at all, but YouTube is littered with videos showing how he seemingly has knowledge of what's going on in parts of the map he shouldn't be able to see. These videos suggest he's allegedly using some kind of "ESP" or "wall-hacking" cheat, which lets the player see opponents through walls. The key seems to lie with a presumed second monitor off to his right, which he often sneaks peeks at in Twitch footage of his matches.
Last month, "Canadian," the captain of Rainbow Six Siege's Mythic team, released a video (below) compiling nine of the worst of Clever's alleged cheats. In the first clip, Clever points out that there's an enemy player on the stairs despite never actually seeing or hearing him from his location in another part of the map, and he makes no sight contact with said player until he shoots him. Elsewhere, he calls out that he "hears" a player on the third floor, when Clever himself is actually outside the building on the ground. Yet another video from "King Distilled" shows Clever making all kinds of calls that should be impossible.
In a statement to me via email, though, Clever tells me the video clips that have been offered as evidence against him are "shortened, selective clips that were intentionally picked and pulled by players from other pro gaming teams (which all had something to gain)." Over half of them, he says, make more sense when watched in full, as they show the team making call-outs before the clips start that help him better understand or guess at the locations of enemy players.
"As a player of Pro League caliber, it's my responsibility to play on a higher level and to be very aware of my surroundings," he says. "I was team captain, making almost positive guesses and saying them as stated facts for my teammates is/was the best form of communication to ensure minimizing a players hesitation."
It's also problematic to judge the videos by sound alone, he says, as all of the clips and videos depicting his gameplay were pulled from Twitch, where features the sound from his OBS broadcasting software that doesn't deliver the same quality he gets from his headset.
"In other words, viewers and myself will undoubtedly hear completely different," he says. "So to make the argument 'Clever can't hear that' is, again, a matter of opinion from one side that can't really make that argument."
The argument that's usually thrown out in support of Clever is that he's just looking at information pertaining to his IT business while playing. The curious thing is that Clever does it almost ceaselessly, though furtively, and usually while he's trying to make precise, sneaky kills that would ostensibly require one's full attention. What's more, at least two Reddit users have pointed out that one can find videos of Clever playing other games in which he never looks at the mystery screen at all.
But Clever says there's a perfectly valid reason why he wasn't looking at the second monitor during those videos, as there was no longer a need to look at it for work.
"I usually only played other games on weekends outside of Sunday's Go4 tournaments since we often practice Rainbow all week long," he tells me.
The twist is that the ESL claimed they'd been looking into the issue since "day one" a month ago. But nothing's been done about it since. In a separate thread from Thursday, the ESL responded to a 1,577-word criticism of its general integrity and its decision to take no action against Clever by saying "we were trying to find anything from legal side which could allow us to ban him. Unfortunately we didn't so we can't ban him."
In a statement posted on Reddit on Friday, the ESL addressed the issue by expressing its support of the anti-cheating measures it already has in place, namely FairFight, a server-based anti-cheating engine, and its own MOSS monitoring system and ESL Anticheat. And in the case of Clever, "none of the tools have so far provided a 100% certainty of a cheat being used." Indeed, even Canadian acknowledged in his video that the second monitor isn't showing up in Clever's MOSS files, but it's clear he's looking at a monitor or at least something.
"Public suspicions and circumstantial evidence do lead us to investigate, to double check anti-cheat data, to look at all the material, and to fine-tune our detections, but in the end we need to have proof," the ESL said. "Either in the form of hard data from our tools, or a seamless string of evidence based on recorded material that we feel comfortable defending in court."
But Clever ended up disappearing from the scene anyway, and the ESL itself noted on Thursday that he hasn't played any matches since the accusatory videos started to surface. Clever says the players' barrage of "hatred and spite" and some "death threats" led him to delete his Twitch and Twitter accounts. He took a hiatus, telling me he started a "very nice job" during the middle of the Pro League season that conflicted with the play times. "It was a terrible coincidence," he said, although he says "anyone who knew of my actions" already knew about it weeks before the videos came out.
"This in itself just made me not want to be a part of it anymore, regardless of the outcome after that," he says. "Despite whether players think I cheated or not, I am a person with a life to live just as much as the next person. I can't deal with endless amounts of trash like that."
And while the community was expressing their anger, he was expressing his as well through different venues.
"I spoke to ESL admins almost daily during the entire incident, I was just as vicious and insistent on a decision and public announcement being made of my innocence as the players who requested my banning," he says. "The issue is, the administration did nothing to quell or even take down Reddit posts, such as the one that 'leaked' the video of my accusation which was made by pro players, who signed contracts agreeing to keep such things internally. So regardless of guilt or innocence, my chance to play and enjoy my favorite passion was destroyed before it was even investigated."
Clever tells me he also recorded a video of his last match against the Astral team in which he positioned the monitor on the other side of the room in clear sight and sent it off to the ESL. As luck would have it, his team lost the match, but he notes he was "inhibited with the hate of a community for a solid week" that affected his and his teammates' gameplay.
"The community still roasted me, saying that we lost because I didn't cheat, whereas I dropped almost 8 frags in both games and top fragged for VwS in both of those games," he says, adding that he usually doesn't perform as well at that. "They even argued that me looking down at my phone only a few times in the video was simply 'putting cheats on my phone' It was at this time it became apparent to me that, no matter what I did, [I] was never going to be anything but 'guilty' in the eyes of a community full of unfairness and trolls."
The kind of cheats that Clever is accused of using are especially hard to detect if used wisely. It's not as if he enabled a "god mode" that allows him to soak up bullets without worry. Wall-hacking simply lets cheaters see other players through walls, and unless they're being very obvious about it—for example, by constantly looking at the walls instead of checking their corners—they could get away with it for a long time before being caught.
We don't know if Clever is using that kind of cheat, but a quick Google search shows that this type of Rainbow Six Siege cheat is currently for sale, and that the people who sell it claim that it is currently undetected, meaning ESL's anti-cheat won't be able to find it. You can see what it looks like in the video below.
Rainbow Six Siege's PC release, in fact, has been dogged by problems with cheating since its release last December. Ubisoft released a patch addressing some of the worst issues only a couple of weeks in, followed by another in February. It then released another just a couple of weeks later. With such a flurry of patches, it's easy to understand why the community might be on edge. Even if Clever isn't actually cheating, there's a good chance someone else is.
In Clever's case, though, there's cause for reasonable doubt. That'll matter in a court. One of the problems with simply banning people like Clever based on supposed evidence like we see on YouTube, the ESL notes, is the absence of any kind of built-in arbitration system for the newborn field of eSports. As a result, any lawsuits go to the regular courts, where there aren't any specialists on cheating or eSports. ESL mentioned an unspecified, "much clearer," previous cheating case when it still had a rough time in local German courts because it was difficult to point out the "super fine-tuned aimbot, that was just barely visible on the replays."
Such subtle hacks recall a similar problem faced by Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players in 2014, when three of the game's most high-profile players were caught using a hack in their matches. And as in the case of Clever, it led to what eSports commentator Duncan “Thorin” Shields called a "witch hunt" in the community to sniff out other cheaters. The subtlety itself added to the scare.
“So if you’re already one of the best players in the world, it’ll make it so you just look like you’re having your best game. It won’t even seem like you’re hacking and that was an impossible movement,” Shields said. “This is a cheat that doesn’t have anything visible on the screen. The only way you’d know if someone did it is if you caught them at the point they installed it on that machine and activated it.”
Try explaining stuff like that in a German courtroom to some random Joe Blow—you know, the kind of guy who's fond of making quips about how the last video game he played was Pac-Man in '82. And then imagine millions of dollars resting on his or her opinion.
Yeah, it's not too surprising that the ESL has chosen to limit itself to "material-based cheating bans on cases where we know how we can present the evidence."
Correction: The headline for this story has been updated to reflect additional comments from Philip "Clever" Lough. This story's original headline was "'Rainbow Six Siege' eSports Scandal Shows That Cheaters Might Be Winners"