If you’ve played any of Valve’s multiplayer games for any amount of time, you likely know about the almighty Valve Anti-Cheat (VAC) system. It’s a system that scans players connecting to VAC-supported servers for cheats (third-party programs that give players a competitive advantage over others being the most general definition) according to its database; if caught, players will be hit with the almighty VAC ban. In Valve’s words, “if a user connects to a VAC-Secured server from a computer with identifiable cheats installed, the VAC system will ban the user from playing that game on VAC-Secured servers in the future.” Valve takes a hardline stance to cheating, too: a VAC ban is permanent, and can never be lifted.
While VAC is usually quite vigilant in its quest to stamp out all forms of cheating, it’s inevitable that some cheats will slip through the cracks. Such was the case with LMAOBOX, a popular program developed for the PC version of Team Fortress 2. LMAOBOX was available in free or premium versions, and offered a bevy of cheats that would assist players in many of the game’s more mechanically demanding nuances. According to its official website, these cheats included “customizable Aimbot features, including Invisible Aimbot and Projectile prediction for Bow, Rocket Launcher and others, specific Sniper options for instant headshots or legit gameplay, Auto-Airblast feature for Pyro with ping compensation and more!”
You can read a full list of LMAOBOX’s features here.
As of yesterday evening, though, many of LMAOBOX’s users are no more. With no prior warning, Valve issued a wave of VAC bans that swept TF2 with the intent of catching players who used LMAOBOX. Their haul was bountiful: all over the Internet, players who used LMAOBOX posted in shock as they found that their Steam accounts had been struck by the VAC banhammer (see above link). This was especially surprising, since LMAOBOX’s official website stated that the program was “protected against VAC”; a dubious statement, considering how all Valve needs to add a program to its VAC library is its source code.
Even more shocking was the fact that a large swathe of competitive players in UGC (TF2’s largest competitive league) had been struck down by the ban wave. Their skill levels spanned all tiers of the competitive spectrum, including those residing in UGC’s highest echelons: Platinum-level players.
A full list of said players can be found here. As others have pointed out, many of these players incidentally mained Sniper, a class known for its high execution requirements.
According to this article by PC Games Network, the bans had been backdated by nearly a year. However, UGC members miggy and smobo postulate that the bans had only struck those who had used the ban within the past two weeks or so.
miggy, it should be noted, was allegedly the individual who alerted Valve to the hack’s source code. Their full statement can be read in the link above.
Meanwhile, the creator of LMAOBOX (posting under the name lmaobox) had stated in a post on Unknowncheats that they would no longer be supporting the project. As a parting gift, they uploaded the source code to the program. The thread has since been taken down, but lmaobox’s farewell can be seen below.
This Reddit user, though, claims that the above user was not lmaobox, but instead someone else who had posted in his stead while he regained access to his PC.
With this knowledge, it would be naive to state that LMAOBOX is gone for good. VAC may have stamped out recent users of the program, yet its source code still exists somewhere on the Internet. Moreover, the LMAOBOX forums are still alive and well. Like a ghost, traces of LMAOBOX may come back to haunt TF2 servers, with its erasure being only temporary.
This latest chapter in TF2 history marks signifies Valve’s dedication to keeping its games as cheat-free as possible, especially in an era where Valve seems to be stepping up the ante for its competitive games. Cheating in online games will exist as long as technical loopholes invite intrepid programmers to circumvent their rules; which is to say, cheating will always exist. But each incident better equips companies like Valve to combat any future cheating grievances, whether they be in Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, DOTA 2, or elsewhere.