Valve clamps down on China's 128-tick 5E CSGO client with bans

Nick J. October 16, 2020

Valve is delivering VAC bans Chinese players who use the third-party client 5E thanks to the "special assistance" it offers to its premium members. 

5E is China's FACEIT, offering the country's CSGO players with 128-tick servers and detailed post-match statistics. But unlike FACEIT, who parse each match demo and then return it to the player minutes later, 5E has essentially hacked its way into the CSGO client, claiming to have developed an improved anti-cheat and to provide in-game statistics recording.

Unfortunately for the Chinese provider, it turns out that the company's "improved" VAC also ran afoul of CSGO's recently introduced Trusted mode.  Up until August 1, Valve allowed third-party processes like OBS to hook into CSGO as the game ran, providing things including streaming overlays and voice comms. But in an August patch, CSGO took the nuclear option to combat cheaters. That included 5E's CSGO client.

The patch completely wiped out any type of third-party integration that didn't possess a digital certificate from Microsoft. While most programs and overlays were innocent, Valve decided that in the wake of what seemed like an influx of hacking in CSGO that it had to do it.

5EPlay gives Chinese CSGO players ways to get around VAC

Most third-party applications just applied for certificates and were verified, but China's 5E platform relied on using CSGO processes to give players in-game data on smokes, flashes, and even their opponents. Additionally, the same company that claims to have hosted events for ESL, StarLadder, and DreamHack also offered something special to its premium subscribers.

5E had cracked Counter-Strike so thoroughly that it wasn't, and still isn't, simply recording stats. 5EPlay gave premium subscribers what amounted to complete access to every piece of data available in CSGO, similar to how some cheats would. The server provider then found itself in hot water. Instead of complying with Valve's new Trusted Mode procedures, it went in a very different direction.

5E posted several ways to circumvent CSGO's Trusted Mode and even VAC itself in troubleshooting posts on its official forums. 5E's client offered a bonus to paying players, allowing users to have the enemy team's economy automatically read to them out loud so that they didn't need to tab out.

Even though 5E's exploitation of CSGO's open memory paths amounted to a hacked version of CSGO, 5E still tried to reassure players that the hooks weren't cheats. But Valve's tweet made it clear that 5E's very public attempts to bypass both Trusted Mode and VAC were the reasons for the software giant handing down new bans.

A translation of the 5E premium subscription touts that the client would never actually show a player where an enemy was, but would instead read relevant information to the player without ever providing "any features embedded in the game screen" that would disrupt a match. Unfortunately for 5E, Valve clearly disagreed with the the claims that its "priority game assistant" isn't actually just a fancy word for "cheat." 

The Chinese server provider had also been offering premium queues and what it called a brand-new, Valve-approved anti-cheat client that was supposed to be better than VAC. 5E has hosted several events for major tournament organizers, with notable events from DreamHack and WESG as the most recognizable. Its promotional materials include famous players from the region, including CSGO pro players YuanZhang “Attacker” Sheng and Ke "captainMo" Liu.

Valve has certainly drawn a line in the sand, but with 5E's most recent client released in the first week of October, the company doesn't seem to be taking it very seriously. Valve has made it clear that if and when players connect to VAC-secured servers they will receive bans, and it's put the power in 5EPlay's hands to get the bans removed. 

With production on Steam China still steadily moving forward, the CSGO team's official word on the bans means the new client could be right around the corner.