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Valve literally gift-wrapped its permanent bans for Dota 2 players this Frostivus

The Dota 2 team had a chance to do the funniest thing possible, and did

Artwork of the King Kringle cosmetic for Wraith King in Dota 2 for Festivus 2023 Image: Valve
Michael McWhertor is a journalist with more than 17 years of experience covering video games, technology, movies, TV, and entertainment.

Some Dota 2 players are receiving a special gift from Valve as part of the game’s current Frostivus holiday event: a thoughtful, gift-wrapped, permanent ban from playing Dota 2.

As forewarned by Dota 2’s latest patch notes and the Frostivus 2023 event page, players are receiving a special seasonal reward called a Frostivus Gift in their armory during Valve’s holiday event. Some players will receive free cosmetic items, while others will receive bans from the game for smurfing or sharing accounts. (Smurfing refers to creating a new account to play against low-level players, or intentionally losing to derank into matches with lower-level players.)

The unwelcome version of that special Frostivus surprise is a Highly Toxic Lump of Coal that informs players they won’t be playing Dota 2 this holiday season, or any holiday season. Some players are receiving temporary bans as warnings to correct their in-game behavior.

The most high-profile incident of a permanent ban is former pro Dota 2 player and two-time The International competitor Mason “mason” Venne, who streamed the opening of his Frostivus Gift on Twitch on Thursday. The surprise inside? No more Dota 2 for Venne.

As seen in the clip above, Venne’s Highly Toxic Lump of Coal informs him that he’s been banned for “Smurfing, or other violations of the Steam Terms of Service.” Venne immediately tries to test that ban, which he clearly cannot believe, and is rebuffed by Steam matchmaking and Valve Anti-Cheat. He later took to the Dota 2 subreddit to defend himself and explain why he thinks he might’ve gotten banned, but also admits wrongdoing in the form of behavior score boosting. He says he’s reached out to Valve to file a support ticket, hoping for leniency.

Valve rolled out changes to Dota 2’s behavior score system earlier this year, adding a separate communication score which “reflects the quality of their in-game chat and speech interactions.”

Other players have also brought their ban messages, in the form of receiving lumps of coal, to the Dota 2 subreddit to vent and gloat.

A screenshot of the Highly Toxic Lump of Coal seasonal reward in Dota 2
Here’s that coal you didn’t ask for
Image: Valve via masondota2 on Twitch

Why are Dota 2 players getting banned?

According to Dota 2’s patch notes for Dec. 14, game bans are being issued to players who have shared their accounts with other users or services (likely, that means third-party services that would violate Steam’s terms of service), and to players with alt accounts used for smurfing. Valve is also handing pieces of coal with warnings to players’ main accounts that are associated with a banned smurf account.

Other players will get free cosmetic items, with “higher behavior score accounts receiving higher-tier items,” Valve said.

Valve’s Frostivus 2023 event page included this warning to players, saying that King Kringle is delivering presents to all Dota 2 players, be they naughty or nice:

There’s no sense denying it. King Kringle knows. He’s checked your behavior score twice, and he’s coming with his ban hammer to pulverize the smurf accounts of all the naughty boys and girls, before handing out penalties to their associated main accounts.

What has Valve said about Dota 2 smurf accounts and bans?

A lot. Ahead of the launch of Festivus 2023, Valve warned Dota 2 players that anyone on the developer’s “naughty list” will be part of a “bloodbath.”

“You might remember back in September, we got out the ban hammer and permanently banned 90,000 smurf accounts,” Valve said. “Since then, we’ve continued to invest in player behavior monitoring, on both the manual and automatic analysis fronts. Over the last few weeks, we’ve engaged in an even more aggressive ban wave, including many tens of thousands of smurf account bans today alone.”

Valve said that at this year’s The International, some pro Dota 2 players reached out to the developer “to talk about their smurf accounts.” As part of those discussions, “there’s broad agreement amongst pros that banning pro smurf accounts is a win for Dota as a community: The rules should apply to everybody, and from now on they will.” In its warning on Wednesday, Valve even specifically called out toxic players who were “hiring behavior score farmers” — like Mason.

“As we’ve said before, smurfing (and other negative behavior) makes matches worse, and we want to make sure your matches are as good as possible as we head into the new year,” Valve said. “So we’d like to wish everyone a Happy Frostivus Update! Except smurf accounts, who we assume will not enjoy the update as they choke on their richly-deserved coal-flavored just desserts.”

Frostivus 2023 is running in Dota 2 through Jan. 11, 2024. Hope you get what you asked for!

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