What causes an online gaming community to abandon the games at its core?
There are probably several answers to this. In some cases the game just becomes old and boring such that other games seem more attractive. In other cases the cheats find and exploit all the weaknesses such that no decent players wants to play. Then there are the cases where some game communities just attract abusive players and the abuse gets out of hand. But the ability to cheat in a game was always fatal to that game in the long run.
Truth be told, HalfLife Deathmatch did have flaws that were waiting to be exploited. These were documented and easily identifiable. Game Server administrators were briefed on these. I know because I was a server administrator for the Ozlife Gaming Network. We were shown videos that helped us identify behaviour associated with hacking (as cheating was called). The good thing about HLDM was that any player could record a game and submit it to the administrators for assessment. It made the identification of cheats fairly easy. Top players such as [MKK]Major or [DS]Nasty were constantly accused of hacking and administrators would constantly study recordings of them: nothing was every found to suggest they were anything other than simply phenomenal players.
Starting around early 2002 a player named MissBee entered the Australian HalfLife Deathmatch scene. MissBee was both abusive and a cheat. The person who played under that alias targeted elite players, coming onto servers when they were playing and seeking them out. MissBee would abuse them and soon that server would see players disappearing.
Already the Australian HLDM scene was losing players to CounterStrike and Team Fortress Classic (had been for a couple of years), and Day of Defeat was gaining momentum. Having MissBee deliberately make Australian HLDM servers unpleasant was a death knell. So remaining players sought out the culprit.
High on everyone’s suspect list was Queensland player (and my old friend) [uY]Horendus. A rough and tumble sort of fellow in his thirties, he took no nonsense from anyone, would repay abuse with abuse, and was well known for disliking players in [MKK], [GoG] and [DS]. He was approached and denied it, but his denials always sounded supportive enough of MissBee that no one believed him. So the virtual lynch mob that were the elite players put Hori (as we called him) squarely in their sights, and flame wars erupted where ever he played.
Problem was that this actually amused Hori to some extent and he just egged on his accusers. This peaked when, one year, he handed over a copy of his config file (the file used to configure his game playing in HLDM) to show someone how to maximise their network settings and there for all to see was some scripting showing that he could alternate his name to “MissBee”. The tongues wagged that day.
By about 2004 MissBee had vanished, but then so hand most Australian players of HLDM.
In 2010 (or thereabouts) I was told by a source that shall remain nameless than a regular player called JohnK was actually MissBee. This source knew for a fact and I believe them – although I cannot tell you why I do without identifying the source.