With the overall gaming market getting larger every year, we’ve seen a similar rise in the prominence of eSports. A near $100 billion dollar industry is spawning $20 million dollar DOTA 2 tournaments, and coverage of Street Fighter V hit ESPN2 this year — captivating some skeptics. While competitive Starcraft is a cultural phenomenon in countries like South Korea, to me one of the main signifiers of the rise of eSports are the scandals. Any serious “sport,” with any serious financial backing to it, is also going to be prone to scams and frauds as it becomes a lucrative business.
Thus it’s become increasingly important to regulate and monitor this industry with-in an industry as eSports grow. When you look at the recent history of scandals, it can seem like a wild wild west out there. But this article isn’t to scare people away. In fact, stay tuned to the end of the article for what is being done to address the very real concerns inherent in a growing competitive scene that is on it’s way to having it’s odds gambled on in Las Vegas.
In a scene that had an estimated $143 million flowed through it in 2015, eSports is very serious business. While it has gone through some recent growing pains in regards to how much sponsorship money is available, all signs point to more money than ever being spent in competitive gaming in 2016. The amount will go through the roof if Las Vegas starts betting on eSports, and if the industry isn’t quick to regulate itself, then they are begging for State and Federal authorities in the United States to come and regulate for them.
Hearing about individual cases of fraud in eSports can be an interesting afternoon read, but when researching this piece the sheer amount of recent scandals had me mildly surprised. Just about every type of malfeasance that you would see around physical sports competitions has been reflected in the line of recent eSports scandals in the past three years. Which then makes it no surprise that legislators in Las Vegas would like to model eSports gambling regulation after sports. It’s not only easier to just amend current laws, but the scandals look like enough like sports scandals to make it look like prudent action.
And the scandals do run the gamut.
Gambling in connection to an eSports title came to the mass attention span recently when it was found that a Counter Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) gambling site was blatantly misleading users, having company owners making “testimonial” style videos while not disclosing the fact it was their own site they were gambling on. While that was bad, it didn’t affect actual competitive play like some of our other scandals.
Like when players from NetcodeGuides and iBUYPOWER were banned by Valve for allegations of game fixing in CS:GO when it came to light that they exchanged several high priced gifts among themselves after their match. The same TechCrunch article linked above also talks about one Aleksey Berezin who bet against his own team in DOTA 2. While the amount of money was only $322, it reflects a bit on the Pete Rose betting scandal. Being in a position to influence events and benefit from them is the foundation of game fixing.
ESports fixing, or rigging, came to global awareness late last year when South Korean authorities started investigating and prosecuting on a high-profile Starcraft 2 game fixing investigation. What started out with the banning of three people and the arrests to two “financial backers,” turned into perfect movie script material as a total of eight people became indicted, some with ties to organized crime. One poor guy even attempted suicide over his shame in being connected to the scandal. Tell this tale to next person who says that eSports is no big deal.
That’s just the most recent, and highest profile game rigging scandal. The practice abounds, and sadly we only know about those who happen to get caught. Like when two League of Legends teams were disqualified for collusion when battling for 1st and 2nd in a tournament. The allegation being they agreed to split the winning pot with the other team no matter the outcome.
Hell, we even have people attempting to switch out players for “ringers” in tournament play. For those who don’t know, a ringer is someone who is switched out improperly in competition.
You can’t talk about sports scandals without talking about doping. If you thought performance enhancing drugs in competition was controversial in physical sports, what happens when drugs that some people may have prescribed to them become against regulations. This is what is happening in eSports, and in particular with an ADHD medication called Adderall.
Adderall has been named time and time again as being used, and abused, in a rampant manner in eSports. Adderall is an amphetamine that has been abused for years for it’s ability to increase concentration and keep people awake. This is perfect for getting a bit of an edge in competitive gaming, but this is also a drug prescribed to millions of people in the United States (exact numbers are hard to find, but PBS reports six million prescriptions for Adderall in 1999).
It’s not just some out of context fear of abuse, as we found out last year when competitive CS:GO player Cloud9 bluntly stated, “We were all on Adderall. I don’t even give a fuck.” The Electronic Sports League (ESL) does actually give a fuck, though. They will begin policing drug use at their tournaments, as stated to Motherboard by their Head of Communications. The ESL revealed their policy, and it seems fair to people who have legitimate prescriptions as those folks just need to let the ESL know before hand about their situation.
It did reveal something they were not quite ready to take into account. With recreational marijuana use being legal in a number of states, what do they say about this commonly used drug? Well they say that it’s use is not allowed for the duration of the event, which seems wells enough on the surface. But marijuana can stay in the body for up to a month after use in some cases. What happens when a player is randomly tested and comes up positive for a drug they used legally weeks before the event? We’ll find out when the next scandal happens I suppose.
We can’t just shine the spotlight on players and teams trying swindle some extra cash. Venue’s for gambling themselves are not entirely safe from their own scandals, or the consequences of their actions in those scandals. This is what ESEA Gaming found out when they were caught red handed using players computers to mine bitcoin in the background. ESEA let people play games competitively for cash prizes. But unknown to most, the anti-cheating application ESEA used also happened to utilize player’s computer resources for bitcoin mining. The punchline at the end of this story is that the company was fined $1 million for a measly $3,700 in bitcoin mined. The company also paid twice that mined coin value to the American Cancer Society in an attempt to repair their PR.
I wish I was ending it here, but in my research for this article I found an instance of — honest to God — actual misogyny. PC Gamer details a bit of a saga regarding a Finnish Hearthstone tournament ran by the IeSF World Championship. They were stipulating that only male players were allowed to compete, with the excuse that they segregated player tournaments by sex like physical sports competitions do, and there just wasn’t a Hearthstone tournament for women in their league. This… is frankly retarded. It’s also a reason I don’t want old politicians with no knowledge of gaming regulating eSports like regular sports. There is zero reason why women cannot compete in the same eSports competitions with men, and thankfully the IeSF listened to the mountain of complaints and have rethought their stance on segregated Hearthstone play.
On that hopeful note of change, it’s important to point out that these events did not happen in a vacuum. There are responses, and organizations forming, to help self-regulate an industry of growing importance before the government is forced to intervene with it’s own possibly flawed protections.
We have not one, but two different bodies forming to help legitimize the eSports scene, and smooth out some of the growing pains. From the looks of it, they aim to be complementary instead of overlapping bodies. The eSports Integrity Commission (ESIC) wants to provide a regulating body to eSports, while it’s counterpart The World eSports Association (WESA) aims to be an overall governing body. Both have a lot of talk on how they plan to straighten up the scene, but so far it has yet to be proven how effective they will be.
Time will tell on that.
Meanwhile back in Las Vegas, where eSports is on the cusp of becoming a real thing people bet on, they are looking at technology that has been used to analyze possible rigging and fraud in more traditional sports already. Sportradar announced earlier this year that they would be expanding their APIs to cover eSports betting. Having a proven method available to identify cheats in this brave new world is a great thing, but it has also yet to be determined what to do with violations. If Las Vegas is successful in lumping eSports in with traditional sports betting, then we already know due to existing laws, but if they have to form regulation from scratch then only the future knows what will happen to eSport frauds in the City of Lights.
With gaming itself becoming exponentially bigger year by year, so will eSports. Some still scoff at the thought of online games being likened to sports, but people involved in the scene are laughing on their way to the bank working an eSports scene that is going nowhere but up.