You’ve just finished a Battlefield 3 match with a 15-kill streak, but you didn’t just earn braging rights and the lamentations of your opponents.
You’ve also earned cash.
WarZone Secure is a new real-money tournament platform that enables gamers to compete in PC shooters to earn virtual credits and cash prizes. Players must buy into matches or tournaments — the ante price varies from a few bucks to $75 depending on the skill level — and WarZone pays out real cash to competitors that finish in the top three spots.
“We wanted to create a business that was based upon online, PC gaming tournaments and matches for first-person shooters,” Cyber Holdings chief executive Rick Burgoon said. “I looked around, and I couldn’t find anything that was doing things the way we wanted to do it.”
WarZone Secure is currently in beta. It will go into a final release in the near future.
Competitive gaming, also known as e-sports, is a rapidly growing market. While large associations like Major League Gaming offer professionals a place to ply their trade on a big stage, few are available for the skillful weekend warriors who want to put a few bucks on the line but don’t have the time to compete on the pro circuit.
For those types of players, WarZone Secure solves one of the biggest problems in online gaming tournaments: cheating.
The reason cheaters never prosper
“Because of the cheating issue, we wanted to use server-side anti-cheating technology,” said Burgoon. “There is a lot of anti-cheating software for PC first-person shooters, but most of those are client-side, so unless everyone playing is using the same software, there’s still a chance someone could cheat.”
WarZone wanted to provide a fair, cheat-free environment without forcing players to coordinate or even worry about how to stop cheaters.
“Our tech lives on the server, so it monitors all of the matches,” said Burgoon. “You don’t have to download anything or install anything. It’s just there overlaying the entire process.”
The company’s anti-cheat software uses a specialized algorithm to determine if a player is cheating by using something like a bot that aims for them or if the player is just very good.
“We don’t look at any one aspect of a player’s record,” said Burgoon. “We look at everything, and the algorithm helps us determine if the player is using some sort of hacked software.”
If WarZone catches someone cheating, it boots that person from the system, and it terminates the current match. The legitimate players that the cheater affected then get a free match that is hopefully free of cheaters.
“We also don’t just collect the cheater’s personal information, we also get the proprietary ID for their copy of the game, so it’s easier for us to keep them out of the system,” said Burgoon.
WarZone also has a reporting system where the players in a match can determine if someone is cheating.
“Our anti-cheat technology might not perceive someone’s cheating behavior, but if a player does, they can report it,” he said.
We asked if this could create situations where players gang up on someone who is much better than them to create a false positive, but Burgoon confirmed that his team goes back and looks at the data to make a final call.
Making betting comfortable
People can wager and make money off of skill-based games in most states in the U.S. Just like someone can pay to enter a golf tournament, players can pay to enter a Battlefield 4 match since skill is more important than luck.
Creating a platform that is legal is one thing, but WarZone knows it needs to make players OK with putting their real money in a pool without feeling like they might get scammed. Cheating was the biggest barrier, and the company put a lot of resources toward overcoming that. Now, it must accomplish the much more nebulous task of enticing players to come back again and again to risk their real money in virtual games.
“What our gamers like about WarZone is that it is an all-encompassing and enclosed community,” said Burgoon. “It’s not just matches. Gamers can interact with each other. They can chat. In the future, we’ll enable them to post clips of their best matches.”
Burgoon and his team at WarZone know that if a player is winning and making money, they’re likely going to stick around. The real challenge is keeping around players who lose more than they win.
“Not everyone can win,” he said. “So we have very good prizes. For most of our matches — ones that have more than four players — third prize always pays out at least the entry fee. If you win or get second or third, you’ll come out even or ahead. For everyone else, they get participation credits, which accumulate and can go toward other matches.”
If you’re always on the bottom rung, you’re likely not going to stick around to continue losing money on WarZone. If you consistently finish around the top three, you might take a few losing matches for the chance to get that big win.
In its beta form, WarZone currently doesn’t enable gamers to bet on matches, but some of the site’s members want to give that a try.
“I’m looking forward to putting real money on the line actually,” WarZone Secure player Hillary Tobin, who goes by the name Butterkuhp, told GamesBeat. “The wagering of real cash gives incentive to improve. It’s almost like an investment in yourself.”
While Tobin is an amateur, the site also provides a platform for pros to keep their edge.
“WarZone makes it simple for a guy like me — who has competed for around 11 years in several shooter titles — to find a way to still fit in some real competition without having to commit to an entire season,” former pro player Jimmy Wisenhunt told GamesBeat. “I’ve been around for a long time playing, but I’ve moved on to a career that I enjoy outside of competition. Warzone really gives me a way to easily compete with the excitement of something to gain whenever I’m ready.”
Games and getting paid
WarZone Secure officially launched in December. It currently supports Battlefield 3, Battlefield: Bad Company 2, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Team Fortress 2, Counter-Strike: Source, and Counter Strike: Global Offensive. Battlefield 4 support is coming so, and the company promises more games will get integrated in the future.
Finally, the company doesn’t want to give players a hard time with getting their real money. A few hours after a match, winning gamers will see the money they won from a match in their WarZone account. The only reason the process takes even a few hours is to give players an opportunity to report cheating.
If players decide cash out of WarZone, the company will instantaneously send the funds to the player’s PayPal account. No waiting for checks in the snail mail — although that option is also available for players that need it.