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James "PhantomL0rd" Varga, a popular Twitch streamer and YouTuber has been booted from Twitch. Varga's streams involved a substantial amount of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CSGO) skin gambling prior to Twitch's ban of that content last week.
Yesterday, Varga's channel was replaced with a simple message. "The community has closed this channel due to terms of service violations," it says. When we reached Twitch for comment, a representative told us it does not comment on TOS violations.
Because Twitch is remaining silent, speculation about the reason behind Varga's ban is swirling. A popular theory surfaced by esports reporter Richard Lewis is that Varga promoted without disclosure another skin gambling site, CSGOShuffle. Lewis came into possession of transcripts that allegedly paint a picture of Varga's ownership of the site, betting with house money, and rigging auctions.
We have been provided the entire transcripts, but we cannot verify their provenance. Requests for comments sent to both Varga and CSGOShuffle owner Duhau Joris have gone unanswered.
Last week, Twitch outright banned gambling streams. This comes after multiple popular influencers were found to have been engaged in rigging and deception.
In April, Twitch appears to have quietly instituted a rule that limited gambling streams to less than 30 minutes of every hour. When we inquired about this, Twitch declined to address our question and pointed us instead to its new terms of service. Valve has also taken a firm stand against skin gambling, and has indicated it is issuing cease and desist orders to sites.
We continue to investigate this story and are working to verify Lewis' claims and the transcripts he provided. Until that time, we can only confirm that Varga has been at least temporarily banned from Twitch for unspecified offenses.
This isn't the first time Varga has manipulated Twitch's platform for his own gains. In 2013, he conspired with a group initiating distributed denial of service attacks against a number of online games. During that day, his stream was the most popular on Twitch, as the service took no action to intervene and cease his activities.
YouTube needs to take similar steps to Twitch. How Tom "ProSyndicate" Cassell, Trevor "TmarTn" Martin, and Lewis "PsiSyndicate" Stewart still have their accounts after multiple disclosure violations, outright deception, and fraud is a travesty. Despite repeated requests for comment, YouTube has declined to engage with the media on this issue.
Twitch isn't blameless here, either. The ban is a necessary step, but the company claims gambling streams were in violation before that. Despite claims that gambling has been considered "non-gaming content," the platform was slow to act on its policies. Varga and other partners were seemingly exempt from action, but the ban signals that these double standards may have come to an end, at least for this issue.
Update: After Jihad Al-Mofadda's situation took Reddit by storm and got a small signal boost from the media, Sony has stepped in to offer a solution. Unfortunately, the company is still making him change his name, which is likely to reset trophy progress, wipe social connections, and essentially reset him to zero but with his purchased content.
"Good news (Technically only OK news). I just got of the phone from Playstation UK, they re-offered changing the name and apologised," Al-Mofadda told me via email. "Also said I still cannot keep my actual name though. And they said their name changing system has many issues!(What a nice thing to hear!) I will loose all my friends, might be trophies also and any social appearance or interactions! I hope fellow Gamers don't have to go to the media to get their service handled properly!"
It seems that Sony is simply creating a new account for Al-Mofadda and transferring his licenses. Until Sony devises a method to allow users to change their PSN IDs, this is a "service" that seems to only be offered to those targeted. After more than five years of play on that PSN ID, Al-Mofadda will have to start over with friends and trophy progress.
Original Story (June 27, 2016 @ 11:36 a.m. Central):
One of the most common requests since the PSN’s inception is the ability to change user names. People outgrow their childhood handles, words take on new meanings over time, and sometimes your given name is “Jihad.”
Jihad Khalid Al-Mofadda has been a PlayStation Network member for more than five years, with his first trophy earned in 2010. His PSN ID, iJihad, is directly taken from his given name (which I verified via his passport). The name directly translates as “struggling or striving” (typically toward a goal that is noble and good). In recent years, the term has been associated with some terror groups.
Despite his years of membership, Sony banned Al-Mofadda yesterday. This, of course, disables any use of online services. It also has locked him out from use of his purchased content offline.
Its True people! If a SONY employee feels like BANNING you, you loose access to your Digital Assets! Even Offline!!! pic.twitter.com/SniJpr6m8q
— جهاد؟! (@iJihad) June 27, 2016
While average users can’t change their PSN ID, Sony did offer Al-Mofadda the option to select another one due to his longstanding membership. He submitted a list, at which point he says that Sony rescinded the offer.
In order to support his case, Al-Mofadda sent a copy of his passport to Sony as evidence of his legal name. He also reminded Sony that there are many PSN IDs with the name Jihad. As you can see below, those number at least 9,800.
Sony’s response suggests sympathy, but no action to remedy the ban. “As stated in our previous email, we have to consider the network as a whole and we need to take every ones (sic) feelings in account,” writes a player support specialist named James. “I can appreciate that your name has many meanings but it has one meaning that lot of users find offensive and there for (sic) when a report was submitted the decision to ban your account was taken. I sympathize with your situation but the ban remain (sic) on the account.”
Al-Mofadda can’t put a specific value or number of games that he’s purchased digitally. However, he says he has spent quite a bit of money on FIFA Ultimate Team cards that he can no longer access.
We’ve reached out to Sony for official comment from a representative placed higher than a “player support specialist.” We’ll update should we receive a response.
There are two things at play here. First is the apparent offer of an ID change that was then rescinded. The second is the uneven application of the logic behind the ban. Yes, “jihad” is a word that has a particular meaning, but it is this person’s given name.
With 9,800 other accounts bearing that name, it’s unclear how Sony can claim this word is on its prohibited list. Sony owes Al-Mofadda a response and his account back. We can debate whether he should have to change his name (my opinion is that he should not have to), but walling him off from years of purchased content is not a customer-friendly solution.
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Users banned on Xbox One will not lose access to the games they’ve purchased, Director of Programming Larry Hyrb (Major Nelson, colloquially) told Reddit Games during an E3 video interview.
This became a popular question following an Xbox Support Twitter answer from June 13 that read, “If your account is banned, you also forfeit the licenses to any games that have licenses tied to it as listed in the ToU.” The question specified Xbox One, but later, Xbox Support said this answer was in reference to Xbox 360.
Major Nelson had a clear answer for future banned users on Xbox One: “Absolutely not, you will always have access to the games you purchased.”
As for what will happen if, down the road, Xbox One’s authentication servers are shut down, Major Nelson couldn’t say. “I’ll get the real answer, I just don’t know it yet,” he said.
The All Pakistan CD, DVD, Audio Cassette Traders and Manufacturers Association banned Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 and Medal of Honor: Warfighter in Pakistan, claiming that the games depicted Pakistan in a bad light. All stores were ordered to remove the games from their shelves, or face the consequences.
“The Association has always boycotted these types of films and games,” the Association wrote in a notice translated by Fox News. “These (games) have been developed against the country’s national unity and sanctity. The games (Medal of Honor: Warfighter and Call of Duty: Black Ops 2) have been developed against Pakistan, and the Association has completely banned their sale. Shopkeepers are warned and will be responsible for the consequences if found purchasing or selling these games.”
President of the Association, Saleem Memon, further explained the ban when speaking to a foreign media outlet: “The problem is that there are things that are against Pakistan and they have included criticism of our army. They show the country in a very poor light.”
The owner of Pakistan capital Islamabad’s largest retail game store said that he hadn’t heard about the ban and that both games were “hot sellers.” Black Ops 2 sold more than 5,000 copies since its launch and Warfighter sold 1,000 in Pakistan, the owner said. Pirated versions of both games were still available in Pakistan, some selling for less than $ 2, and these figures didn’t contribute to official sales numbers.