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Boosting

Boosting – Boosting, or account boosting, is the practice of improperly increasing one’s player rating with the assistance of a third party (the “Booster”).[1] The Booster achieves this either by playing on the user account of the player being boosted or by utilizing user accounts that do not correspond to their own player rating (“Smurfing”) leading to an advantage against weaker opponents.

In online gaming, a player’s performance is quantified as a Match Making Rating (MMR), which adjusts based on their game outcomes.[2] Winning a match increases the MMR, while losing decreases it. This rating then determines the player’s rank. The matchmaking system uses this rank to pair players against opponents with similar or equivalent rankings, ensuring balanced and competitive gameplay. The ranking system in online gaming serves a dual purpose: it ensures fair matchmaking based on skill and carries notable social implications.[3] High ranks are synonymous with prestige within gaming communities.[4] Games frequently incentivize reaching higher ranks with exclusive rewards, ranging from cosmetic in-game items[5] to physical items[6]. Since these rewards are typically season-specific, possessing them can greatly elevate a player’s social standing in the game. In some cases, a high player rating ensures a qualification for a tournament with monetary prizes.[7]

Boosting services offer a shortcut to achieving these goals, bypassing the time and effort typically required to improve through regular play.  Players are drawn to boosting services for various reasons, key among them being the desire for a competitive edge, time-saving measures and the pursuit of prestige.[8] In highly competitive gaming environments, where every incremental improvement can make a significant difference, players often feel pressured to maintain or advance their rank. However, the practice of boosting carries detrimental impacts on the gaming community and game balance. It undermines the fairness and integrity of competitive play, as boosted players attain ranks and rewards that do not accurately reflect their skill level. This mismatch leads to unbalanced games, negatively affecting the experience of other players who compete based on their actual skills.

Boosting in gaming raises several legal questions that intersect with different areas of law.

Boosting often violates the End User License Agreement (EULA) set by the publisher.[9] These terms typically prohibit sharing or transferring accounts, a common practice in boosting. Typical sanctions include the reset of the infringing player’s MMR, the revocation of rewards, or the temporary or permanent exclusion from the game.[10] Given the publisher’s legitimate interest in maintaining fair gameplay, there are supportive arguments that such sanctions, as outlined in the EULA, are legally permissible. However, a case-by-case assessment is necessary to confirm their legal validity and incorporation.

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Commercial Boosters often infringe the publisher’s copyrights because most EULAs only grant a right to play the game for non-commercial purposes. In addition, Boosting can constitute an unfair competitive practice under competition law. German Courts have held the distribution of bot-software to ease leveling up in World of Warcraft as a targeted obstruction under the German Act Against Unfair Competition (UWG) in the past.[11] Given that Boosters disrupt the game’s concept on equal opportunities, there are good arguments to compare boosting to the distribution of automated means to level up. In both cases of copyright infringement and unfair competition, the violators face potential claims for injunctive relief and damages. However, enforcing these legal actions presents challenges, as providers often operate covertly and not under their real names. To tackle this issue, private investigators are sometimes employed to identify and take action against these providers.

Due to the international nature of online games, there are challenging questions regarding the applicability of respective national laws. This complexity arises because players, Boosters, service providers and publishers may all be located in different countries, each with its own legal framework. Websites offering boosting services to consumers in the European Union usually do not comply with consumer laws.[12] Courts are particularly strict with the lack of information on the right of withdrawal. This could entitle consumers to withdraw from the contract without having to pay for revocation after contract fulfilment.[13] Enforcing such claims can be tough due to the anonymity of the operators.

In contrast to other countries, South Korea explicitly criminalizes the provision of boosting services.[14] Violations of these provisions can result in severe penalties, including fines up to approximately 15,000 Euros or imprisonment for up to two years.


[1] Nothelfer/Trunk, Die Verletzung der Wettkampfintegrität im eSport durch Umgehen spielinterner Ranking-Systeme [2022] SpoPrax, p. 341.

[2] Conroy/Kowal/Toth/Campbell, Boosting, Rank and skill deception in esports, p. 2 (https://doi.org/10.1016/j.entcom.2020.100393).

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[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] As an example, players in Rocket League receive a season-specific in-game cosmetic such as wheels, boosts, decals, goal explosions, in-game banners or titles dependent on their rank.

[6] Summoner’s Inn, Season 6-Belohnungen: Challenger-Spieler erhalten Jacken (October 17, 2016) https://www.summoners-inn.de/news/45406-season-6-belohnungen-challenger-spieler-erhalten-jacken-summoners-inn accessed January 30, 2024.

[7] Nothelfer/Trunk (n 1) 342.

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[8] Dignitas, The Individual and the Community – Research on the Motivations behind Elo Boosting (December 25, 2014) https://dignitas.gg/articles/the-individual-and-the-community-research-on-the-motivations-behind-elo-boosting accessed January 30, 2024.

[9] For instance, refer to section 5.3, items 18 and 19, of the Ubisoft Services Terms of Use (available at https://legal.ubi.com/termsofuse), and section 7.1, item 14, of the Riot Games Terms of Service (available https://www.riotgames.com/en/terms-of-service) both accessed January 30, 2024.

[10] Nothelfer/Trunk (n 1) 344-345.

[11] BGH GRUR 2017, 397 – World of Warcraft II.

[12] For instance, Directive 2011/83/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council on consumer rights, amending Council Directive 93/13/EEC and Directive 1999/44/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council and repealing Council Directive 85/577/EEC and Directive 97/7/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council, better known as Consumer Rights Directive.

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[13] Cf. Case C-97/22, ECLI:EU:C:2023:413. (https://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=273787&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=lst&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=9304273).

[14] Article 32, Section 1, Number 11, and Article 45, Number 5-2 of the Game Industry Promotion Act.

Author

  • Daniel Trunk

    Daniel Trunk is Associate at ADVANT Beiten’s Frankfurt office and member of the IP/IT/media practice group. His areas of practice includes industrial property, copyright, IT and consumer protection law. He focuses on advising national and international clients from the computer games sector and the media industry. His activities include both out-of-court advice and litigation. Daniel Trunk studied law at the University of Gießen. He was admitted to the German Bar in 2022 and has been working with ADVANT Beiten since then.

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