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What Smurfing in videogames is and how to fight it

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Smurfing, in the context of online multiplayer video games, originated as a practice that allowed players to train without risking their high-level profiles.


onsidered by the majority to be a toxic behavior, developers and user communities strive to minimize smurfing impact on the game. The industry should focus on implementing the best digital identity solutions and promoting a culture of responsibility among users in the virtual environment. 

Legitimate tactics or dirty play? 

The origin of smurfing can be traced back to the mid-90s when the video game “Warcraft II: Tides of Darkness” was released. In this game, players had the option to choose smurfs as a “race” of characters to play with. Certain experienced players started using secondary accounts with names related to smurfs to compete against less experienced players and gain an unfair advantage. Since then, the term “smurfing” has spread to other online games and different competitive contexts where players use fake identities or low-level accounts to easily win. It is often used by players who want to show off their skills or who are simply looking for an easier challenge; they get quick wins and increase their ranking or reputation in the game. 

Although some fans defend it as a method to “help” beginners, play with friends of similar skill level, or discover a game from a new perspective, this tactic is widely regarded as unsportsmanlike and unfair. It usually ruins the experience for less skilled players and distorts the game’s ranking and balance. Smurfing undermines the ranking matchmaking systems popular since 2004, creating inequality and favoring exclusive environments. 

Preventing, detecting and improving new players onboarding

Smurfing is often difficult to detect because smurfs adapt their techniques to appear as beginners. Moreover, the same person can disguise their identity across multiple profiles, making it challenging to work out which ones are authentic. To prevent the success of fraudsters who take advantage of platforms with weak onboarding protocols, it is important for identification processes to be 100% reliable and for solid Know Your Customer (KYC) practices to be established. 

Many communities and developers take strong measures against smurfing, considering it a rule violation. For example, they strive to adopt monitoring and smurf detection systems. This involves massive profile cross-referencing and tracking suspicious behavioral patterns, such as rapid account progression or a discrepancy between performance and account level. Machine learning has proven to be a valuable tool for this purpose, as demonstrated by a 2022 experiment in North America that reduced smurfing by more than 30% in record time. Machine learning models can understand typical player behavior and detect significant deviations. By analyzing multiple characteristics and variables, they can identify accounts or player profiles that do not conform to expected patterns, indicating the presence of smurfs. 

Strengthening security through digital identity verification 

Requiring reliable digital identity verification emerges as a powerful tool in this context. Requesting a verifiable identity credential, such as a unique phone number or email address, makes it difficult to create multiple smurf accounts as it discourages players from using fake identities and adds an extra layer of security to their online behavior. By establishing a direct link between players’ identities and their accounts, a safer and more equitable environment is created where sanctions and penalties can be applied more effectively. Identity verification, as part of KYC, ensures that the player’s true identity is known, preventing the use of fake identities. 

Digital identity verification not only acts as a barrier against smurfs but also strengthens the integrity of the gaming community, promoting a more authentic and fair gaming experience for all players involved. 

The sanctions and penalties for violating the game’s rules that smurfs risk, range from restrictions on accessing certain features or game modes to temporary account suspension or even permanent bans. In certain games, such as Fortnite, these penalties depend on players who report others, carrying also the risk of false statements. To maintain maximum transparency, it is crucial for platforms to offer their users the safest and most comprehensive digital onboarding, with robust KYC measures in their identity verification process. 

A smurfing-free future 

Exciting trends are emerging in the future of digital identity that promise to further strengthen the fight against smurfing and improve the gaming experience. One of these trends is biometrics, which allows identity verification through unique individual characteristics such as fingerprints, facial recognition, or voice recognition. This mechanism greatly hinders the creation of fake identities and establishes an unequivocal connection between the player and their account. 

Another advancement is real-time verification, which uses advanced techniques to instantly and continuously verify players’ identities, always ensuring a reliable and up-to-date digital identity. Additionally, this method provides frictionless user experience, a highly desired goal for any service provider. 

The use of blockchain technology is also emerging as a promising tool in the fight against smurfing. By registering players’ identities on a decentralized and immutable blockchain, a secure and transparent digital identity system is created, where fake accounts and smurfing are more easily detectable and removable. These trends provide hope for a future where smurfing is virtually eliminated, and players can enjoy a fair and authentic gaming experience. 

A conscious community 

Promoting a healthy gaming community and raising awareness among players about the negative effects of smurfing is a path to reducing its incidence. However, an awareness strategy must be accompanied by the adoption of expert digital identity technologies capable of conducting robust verifications, establishing a trust score in record time. 

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