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Is Riot’s Vanguard Anti-Cheat Software as Invasive as You Think?

Abhimannu Das
17/Feb/2021 06:21 am

Riot Games received a lot of criticism for its Vanguard anti-cheat but is it as invasive as people say it is?
The anti-cheat requires kernel level access to detect any malicious cheats that players may take advantage of.
The anti-cheat is on par with other popular solutions used by games like CS:GO which do not require kernel access when playing.

The build-up to Valorant’s release was almost as big as Riot’s own League of Legends Worlds last year, with over 1.7 million gamers tuning in to Twitch streams during the beta. However, despite all the hype, many were concerned about their data privacy. The problem was that Riot’s Vanguard anti-cheat system looked like it was too invasive. The “always-on” anti-cheat system drew a lot of flak for its kernel-level anti-cheat that would stay on even when you close Valorant. If players closed the anti-cheat manually, they were then forced to restart their computers to play Valorant again!

Riot Games being owned by the Chinese company Tencent certainly didn’t help its case, with the Valorant developers’ parent company being accused of sharing data with the Chinese government. 

All of this sounds scary, but is it a cause to be concerned about? Is Riot Vanguard as invasive as you think?

Is Riot Vanguard Better Than Other Anti-Cheat Software?

CS:GOVAC Ban records of the past 3 months. Image Credit: SteamID

According to Riot Games, 97% of players have never been reported for cheating. The remaining 3% of players were reported, but 80% did not receive more than one report. And 90% of the reported players have been reported by less than three players. Only 0.6% of players have received more than one cheating report, and only 0.3% have received three or more reports. The numbers are fairly impressive, which means Vanguard gets the job done almost always. No anti-cheat system is perfect, and it is nearly impossible to have an FPS title free of cheaters.

GameValorantCS:GO
Player Count (per day)
3 Million  (during closed beta)729,290 (Last 30-day average)
Players Banned (per day)
-2,500+ (Last 30-day average)
Percentage of Players Banned
0.3%0.34%

Riot also deploys manual checks on top of its anti-cheat for esports events to ensure competitive integrity is maintained. The percentage of cheaters in Valorant is about the same as its biggest competitor CS:GO, which puts Vanguard on par with the industry standard at the moment. CSGO currently bans approximately 2,500 players every day, and it has maintained an average of 729,000+ players per day. The percentage of cheaters banned is 0.34%, which is very similar to Vanguards 0.3%, as Riot mentioned. 

So Riot's Vanguard System isn't really anything special compared to CS:GO.

How Does Riot Vanguard Work?

Riot Games has implemented two core components to Vanguard – a traditional scanner that boots with your game and a device driver that fires up with your operating system. However, this driver runs even when you are not playing Valorant, which was the main cause of outrage from privacy-minded users. You can’t even run the game without giving kernel access to your Vanguard. The “kernel” is the heart of your computer’s operating system and controls all hardware and software actions.

Riot Vanguard's Components
ANTI-CHEAT CLIENT (BOOTS WITH YOUR GAME)

What is it: The client is a software that runs with Valorant.
It checks if any cheats are running in the background.

How It Works: It connects to the Riot Games servers and lets the anti-cheat system detect cheats.

It works only when you play Valorant.








ANTI-CHEAT DRIVER (BOOTS WITH YOUR SYSTEM)

What is It: The driver checks your hardware and software for possible cheats.

How it Works: The driver boots with your 

Microsoft's certification process signs the driver, and it is deemed safe.

Note: Players who feel the driver is invasive can remove uninstall Vanguard without removing Valorant.

The anti-cheat driver component will be reinstalled when you next launch Valorant and can be disabled on exit.

The kernel-level access is required for Vanguard to ensure there is no tampering when you boot your computer. Modern cheat makers use “kernel injections” which essentially plant the cheats right in your operating system so that they do not show up as “third-party software,” which gets flagged by all competent anti-cheat solutions out there. Vanguard adds a layer of protection for such cheats by running 24x7.

Valorant vs Other Games

All popular anti-cheat solutions, including BattleEye, Easy Anti-Cheat, and FaceIt, use similar kernel-level checks to ensure players using malicious software are kept away from the general playerbase. Cheats have become so advanced that hardware bans don’t cut it anymore. There are ways to spoof hardware ids, which means cheaters can spoof their hardware and face no consequences when banned. All they need to do is sign up for a new account, and they are good to go. 

CS:GO, Valorant’s biggest competitor, faced a massive scandal back in 2013. ESEA, which calls itself a “cheat-free” environment for CS:GO players, uses an anti-cheat called FaceIt to verify players’ authenticity. A $1 million fine was imposed on the company for installing bitcoin miners on players’ computers. An employee injected mining software and breached the trust of players. There are risks involved even if you install a non-competitive online game, and it is up to players to choose if they are willing to bear such risks.

What Riot Has to Say About Vanguard

Riot Games VanguardImage via Riot Games

After the controversy surrounding the “invasive” nature of Vanguard, Riot responded to community grievances and shared their thoughts on data collection and privacy. Riot Games claims that Vanguard does not collect or process any personal information beyond what the current League of Legends anti-cheat solution does. Riot does not want to know more about you or your machine than what is necessary to maintain high integrity in your game. The game data we collect is used to operate the game and integrity-related services such as Packman (League of Legends anti-cheat) and Vanguard.

They said, “We’d never let Riot ship something we couldn’t stand behind from a player-trust perspective (not that we think Riot would ever try). Players have every right to question and challenge us, but let’s be clear—we wouldn’t work here if we didn’t deeply care about player trust and privacy and believe that Riot feels the same way. We’re players just like you, and we wouldn’t install programs on our computer that we didn’t have the utmost confidence in.”

Bottom Line: Should You Trust Riot Games?

Each time you install new software on your computer, you trust the software publisher not to misuse your data or install malicious spyware without your consent. Riot Games is no different, and it is up to the players to put their trust in the developers or not. Every esports game out there requires constant network connectivity, and Vanguard is not necessarily “more invasive” than other similar competitive titles.

All of the industry-standard anti-cheat software like BattleEye, Easy Anti-cheat, or even downloadable anti-cheat software like FaceIt use similar kernel-level scanning to detect cheats. Riot is not uploading your personal files to their servers or spying on your web browser. But they do have access to your system information, personal information that you provided upon signup, and your gameplay information. If you are comfortable giving up all of the above-mentioned information, you can trust Riot’s anti-cheat. 

Valve's VAC detects the same percentage of cheaters as Vanguard without requiring anti-cheat. Blizzard's Warden anti-cheat is also "non-invasive." Vanguard does not perform any better despite being an "always-on" invasive anti-cheat. 

RELATED:  Why Is Cheating Almost Impossible to Stop in Video Games?


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Abhimannu Das is a part of the content team at AFK Gaming and a lifelong obsessive gamer. He is covering content on esports titles like VALORANT, CS: GO, Call of Duty, Fortnite, PUBG and more. He also writes opinion pieces, cover stories and conducts interviews with esports professionals.