Earlier this week, Fortnite pro Damion “XXiF” Cook was accused of colluding with other players during a World Cup open qualifier match in which he took second place, earning $4,000 in prize money and a spot in the eventual finals this summer in New York. In a statement, XXiF denied any wrongdoing, but that hasn’t stopped calls for him to be banned amid a climate in which fears about cheating are running rampant.
On April 29, another pro player by the name of HighSky shared a clip on Twitter of the beginning of a match in which XXiF drops into the same area as two other players, “Bad and Wuji” and “gestyy.” The footage shows Bad and Wuji hitting the ground near XXiF and beginning to pickaxe a chest rather than immediately pick up a nearby gun on the ground and find cover.
After XXiF makes short work of him, gestyy, who has seen the two fighting, decides to drop into the same area. Gestyy reaches for a low quality gun, then appears to fire at a wall before XXiF finishes him off as well. In the video, HighSky suggests the two players purposefully made themselves easy targets for XXiF because they lacked enough points in the rankings to have a shot at qualification themselves.
“Some really good [plays] from XXiF though on two insanely talented players that were not in the running anymore,” he said. He went on to share clips from two previous matches which appear to show Bad and Wuji and gestyy being similarly eliminated all too easily.
The clips went viral, blowing up on social media as well as the Competitive Fortnite subreddit, where many called on Epic Games to investigate and ban XXiF for appearing to team up with other players in a game that’s integrity relies on everyone fighting equally hard to be the winner.
On April 30, XXiF posted a statement on Twitter denying the charges, saying that while he was friends with Bad and Wuji, gestyy was just a random fan and none of what happened in the video was in any way planned. “I had no idea he was going to land there and have no control over where he chooses to land, but in 1 out of the 10 games I played he chose to land in the same spot as me,” XXiF wrote. “I can’t speak for the second guy, as I would never land on two people fighting - it’s something I can’t comprehend or put reason/meaning to.”
Bad and Wuji also released a statement on Twitter trying to explain the bizarre encounter, chalking it up to poor decision making and a bug that prevented him from immediately picking up the gun when he first tried to. “Please stop slandering my name,” he wrote. “I’m tired of these threats and messages going around when I’ve done nothing wrong. Don’t waste my time anymore with this bs.”
Lots of Fortnite players remain unconvinced, though. A post last night on the Competitive Fortnite subreddit linked to a video showing XXiF playing a random match while on a team with gestyy, seeming to contradict XXiF’s claims that he and gestyy weren’t friends in any way.
In the end, this is all a determination for Epic Games to make, and this isn’t the first time the community has gotten ahead of itself in calling for bans. Earlier in April, allegations of cheating were leveled at another player called Dubs fn when a screenshot surfaced of him appearing to be discussing cheats in a Discord channel. Video footage was later shared that showed him making some incredible shots during a qualifier match in which he went on to earn second place. After confirming that it was looking into the accusations, however, Epic eventually dismissed them.
Unlike banning people for using aimbots to gain a competitive advantage, teaming up requires a more subjective analysis. The World Cup rules define collusion as players working together to deciever or otherwise cheat other players, including by agreeing to land in specific locations, communicating in some way, or intentionally dropping items for opposing players to pick up. Given how much the existing allegations against XXiF rely on assumptions about what kinds of decisions talented players should and would make in various circumstances, it’s both easy for conspiracy theories to multiply and hard to arrive at any sort of definitive answer.
That’s part of the difficulty in running an over $30 million, multi-month tournament for a relatively young esport without much infrastructure in place. In addition to how many open qualifier matches take place each weekend in the lead up to the finals event in July, the battle royale genre in general, and Fortnite in particular, is especially messy to regulate. Every match contains 100 players making moment-to-moment decisions about where to find better equipment, when to fight, and when to run. Unlike other battle royales, Fortnite also includes building, exponentially increasing the number of ways a player can react to any given situation. Any sort of cheating related to match fixing can be difficult to root out, but Fortnite provides many more layers to sort through.
On April 19, Epic announced that it had caught 1,163 cheaters in just the first week of open qualifier matches. We’re now headed into only week four of ten. Every week consists of three hours of play across two separate days, with the top competitors from the first sticking around to compete on the second. The top scoring players on the second day not only earn spots in the World Cup, they also take home thousands in cash prizes. Even once a player has qualified, they can continue competing, and why wouldn’t they with the chance to win more money on the line. With so many matches, so many players, and so many different motivations going into matches, there are all sorts of opportunities for untoward behavior. Perhaps it’s not entirely shocking that one of the community’s pastimes during the lead up to the World Cup now revolves around trying to find and call out instances of cheating.
Epic has not yet publicly weighed in on whether it’s currently reviewing the case involving XXiF and did not respond to a request for comment.
[Update - 11:20 a.m. 5/3/19]: Epic Games announced today that a group of players who participated in week three of the World Cup Open Qualifiers indeed colluded.
“All players involved will receive a 14 day competitive ban and will be ineligible for any Week 3 prizes,” Epic said. “This group also included a player whose score would have qualified them for the Fortnite World Cup finals in New York. Consequently, in addition to the competitive ban and loss of prizing, this player will also forfeit their Fortnite World Cup Finals qualification spot.”
Though Epic did not name him, that player does appear to be XXiF, who has since been removed from the week three leaderboard. His World Cup qualification slot has now gone to MSF Clix, the next highest ranked player of that weekend. XXiF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.