Valorant has been a big success for Riot Games, with hundreds of thousands of people eagerly loading up Twitch to get access through watching streams of the game. However, as much as the hero tactical shooter has appealed to players, it’s been mired by a controversially invasive anti-cheat system, Vanguard, that Riot have implemented.
The company have been bullish about this since it emerged, but have taken a slight conciliatory step to let you disable or uninstall the anti-cheat software more easily. Of course, you’ll still need it installed whenever you actually want to play Valorant.
This is anything but convenient though. The Vanguard driver now has a system tray icon that will appear when it’s running, allowing you to disable it, putting you into an untrusted mode until you reboot, or letting you uninstall it until the next time you run Valorant… at which point it will be reinstalled and you’ll need to reboot.
Cheating is bad, obviously, so why is this a big deal? Well, simply put, Valorant is incredibly invasive, taking kernel-level access to the operating system that is a major risk to the integrity and security of Windows 10. Hackers and viruses will seek to gain kernel-level access to Windows to get up to all sorts of nefarious misdeeds, and any driver or software that taps into the kernel adds additional attack avenues for them to explore.
Riot say that they’re simply taking necessary measures to prevent cheating, insisting that they need to have such low-level access in order to monitor and detect cheats launched before the game is started. Also, in truly creepy fashion, they said to the initial complaints that the Vanguard driver “isn’t giving us any surveillance capability we didn’t already have” and that it “does not collect or send any information about your computer.”
Further to this:
Both the client and the driver of Riot Vanguard have been developed in-house, with both game safety and personal computer safety being a priority. We’ve made this commitment through extensive testing and by reviewing the product both internally and with external security reviews by industry experts.
Our commitment to safety includes our commitment to your privacy. Riot Vanguard was made with Riot Games’ dedication to data privacy specifically in mind, and we worked with our legal and compliance teams to ensure it adheres to regional data privacy laws. Specifics on what data we use and collect are available here.
However, many people have reported it affecting the running of software other than Valorant. There’s users complaining that it’s removing GPU settings applied in common performance tweaking tools, that it’s blocking some software from loading – the driver will now inform you of programs being blocked – and that it’s negatively affecting the performance of other games.
And it’s not as if it makes Valorant immune to hackers. Part of the new FAQ says:
The purpose of Vanguard is to make it difficult for all but the most determined to cheat, while also giving us the best chance to detect the cheats that do work. We’re not going to be able to prevent all cheating completely, but our intention is to raise the barrier to entry so that cheating isn’t a common occurrence in VALORANT.
Our most recent set of changes help increase the bar that cheaters need to operate in.
For those that are willing to solder a computer part from Siberia to cheat, we’re still going to be able to remove them from our ecosystem by leveraging other game systems.
Anti-cheat software and DRM in video games has a pretty awful track record, making concern and caution over Riot Games’ approach valid. While things are probably better and more stable now than they once were, SecuROM DRM to Denuvo and everything in between puts a bad taste in the mouths of consumers. Cheating is a persistent problem in online video games, and Riot themselves have previously gone to court to sue hack makers, but Vanguard is still an extreme measure to take.
Riot have expanded their bug bounty hunting programme to encourage those finding exploits to report them so they can be fixed in a timely manner, but I’m sure many will view Vanguard as a ticking time bomb for Valorant players.