Whenever someone mentioned Counter Strike: Global Offensive in recent years, there was always one thing that came to most players' minds: the game's rampant cheating problem. CS:GO was always susceptible to hackers and exploits, to the point that even professional players demanded some sort of action. Well Valve has delivered in the form of 1700 CPUs that are working constantly to crack down on cheaters. Meet VACnet, Valve's all-in strategy to destroy cheating in online games.
VACnet is an ever-learning tech that can analyze a player's in-game behavior. With this data, it has become able to identify what cheats look like. Using a dynamic set of criteria on what cheating is, VACnet reads data such as how a player shoots with a specific weapon to identify hacks. From there, it works alongside human watchdogs to report cheaters.
To understand why cheating was such a problem in CS:GO, one has to know that CS:GO is a game from a long line of Valve games. It uses the same Source engine as other classic Valve games, such as Half-Life 2. As such, experienced cheaters could easily transform years-old Source hacks to work in CS:GO and make those tools available to the greater community. That lead to another huge issue in CS:GO: aimbots. The game is very skill-based and dependent on powerful weapons that kill quickly. As such, a player with a tool that guides their aim has an even bigger advantage than they would in other shooters. These factors combined made hacks for CS:GO easily accessible and game-breaking.
With aimbots being one of the biggest problems, Valve decided to target that first. From its initial build, VACnet was taught to analyze a player's shot. It factors in how accurate it was, what weapon was used, and where the player was looking directly before and after the shot. It then catalogues 140 points of such data, a number Valve ensures is enough to form a strong conclusion on whether or not a player used a bot.
To keep track of all that data for all the players, Valve needed a lot of computers. There are 600,000 5v5 matches of CS:GO happening per day, and that's where the 1,700 computers come in. As PC Gamer reports, that equals 64 server blades, with 54 CPU cores each and 128GB of RAM per blade. While that seems like a huge cost for Valve, it's paying off. VACnet-reported cases of cheating are met with punishment 80-95% of the time, as opposed to human reports which only net a conviction 15-30% of the time.
Valve seems quite pleased with these results and how the conversation around CS:GO has begun to shift away from the cheating problem. VACnet, with its 1,700 computers, is taking the fight to the hackers, and winning. It's doing so well that Valve bought another 1,700 computers, with vague plans to expand. Perhaps VACnet will become the Valve standard for anti-cheating in online games. Only time, and a whole lot of calculations, will tell.