Are Fantasy eSports Driving DDoS Attacks On Competitive Call of Duty?

The real world is getting in the way the world of fantasy eSports and sports betting.

A recent spate of distributed denial-of-service attacks has wreaked havoc on the competitive community of the game Call of Duty, calling into question fantasy eSports’ role in the attacks and the possibility that contests are being manipulated.

What’s going on with Call of Duty?

In recent weeks, some players and teams who regularly play Call of Duty have been targeted by DDoS attacks.

This, in and of itself, is nothing new. People who play and are involved with the eSports community are also pretty good with computers in general, so this type of attack has been going on for nearly as long as people have been playing competitive video games online.

But the attacks have gotten so bad, and so frequent, for Call of Duty, that it’s having a big impact on the competition. From the Daily Dot:

But in Call of Duty, it’s a recent phenomenon, and one that threatens to ruin the third season of the Major League Gaming (MLG) Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare Pro League.

Today MLG stepped in, postponing this week’s matches to help educate players on how to counter these attacks.

“We’re working with pro players to provide guidance on how best to protect themselves from attack,” a league official told the Daily Dot, “as well as postponing pro league matches until Monday, July 27 as we continue to work through this issue.”

And when the competitions are affected, so are fantasy eSports and eSports betting.

Vulcun + Call of Duty

Some have theorized that the rise of Vulcun and fantasy eSports is the underlying reason for all the attacks. More from the Daily Dot:

One popular excuse is the rise of fantasy esports site Vulcun, which allows fans to win real cash by picking a team of the most successful players every day. Vulcun added Call of Duty to its platform about one month ago, and some believe these DDoS attacks are an attempt to win money in Vulcun by keeping certain players or teams from performing each night.

The DDoS attacks and their possible relationship to Vulcun’s presence was also the subject of a thread at RedditThe original poster points out the correlation (“hitting off” refers to DDoS attacks): 

Since Vulcun and MLG decided to partner, there has been an abundance of pros being hit off during their league matches. Yes, pros were being hit off before this partnership, but it has never been this much. Obviously, Vulcun benefits the community by bringing in money. If you didn’t know, Call of Duty prize pools are nothing compared to other eSports like Dota 2 and League of Legends. Overall, do you think that Vulcun is better or worse for the community after listing all the pros and cons?

Some posting in the Reddit thread agree that it’s plausible, or even likely, that fantasy eSports is the reason behind the attacks, although no one has any direct evidence of that. Some believe there is no correlation, as there are many other plausible scenarios. But it certainly is possible that fantasy eSports is the motivation.

Can the system be ‘gamed’?

There are two ways that fantasy eSports could be manipulated via DDoS.

The first would be by targeting an individual player. If a DDoS attack could delay or knock a key player offline, that would obviously affect the scoring of that player and his team, and in turn could manipulate the scoring accrued by fantasy players at Vulcun.

That scenario has happened more than once in the world of online poker, as DDoS attacks have been used to knock players offline during big pots (examples here and here).

The second way would be to target teams, so that their contests don’t occur. Vulcun has set rules to deal with postponed and canceled matches; from its official contest rules:

In the event that a scheduled game is postponed for any reason after the start of the contest AND at least 50% of the matches are incomplete, then the contest will remain ongoing and all fantasy points will be held until the postponed game(s) resumes to their newly scheduled date and time. If the postponed match(s) does not occur within 10 days of the initial postponed match, the league will be refunded.

When the contest has completed at least 50% of its matches, the contest will remain ongoing for 10 days after the announcement of the initial postponed game. If the postponed match(s) does not occur within those 10 days, then the match will be considered finished; the two teams in that match will get 0 points; and the contest will pay out.

It’s obvious to see that someone playing at Vulcun could benefit from trying to stop contests between two teams from happening, so that some of their fantasy competition gets zero points if an eSports contest ends up not counting for the correlating fantasy contest.

For Vulcun’s part, a representative said the site is active in trying to determine whether manipulation of the fantasy contests is going on:

As you can imagine with all of the contests and leagues we support, we have a lot of data. We’re constantly revisiting and analyzing this data. If there were anything that made us think that there was some unfair advantage going on we have no problem canceling and refunding leagues. We also work very closely with all our league partners to ensure fairness (i.e. pro players aren’t allowed to play Vulcun fantasy for their own CoD leagues).

The rep also pointed out that some of the attacks are occurring in games that do not have correlating fantasy contests.

The takeaway

The DDoS attacks have brought into focus the need for competitive gamers to take every precaution to protect their IP address, or for the leagues hosting contests to set up LANs or take other measures to protect the integrity of the competitions (this is already done at the top level of competition for many eSports). For now, no one knows who the attacks are coming from, or the motivation behind them.

But in the new and exploding fantasy eSports industry, it’s a topic that merits monitoring. If fantasy players feel like the contests being run aren’t fair or are being manipulated, and Vulcun and the competition organizers are powerless to stop it, it could mean serious problems for eSports betting sites in the long term.

ESB Staff

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Various members of the eSportsBets.com staff contributed to this story.

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