E-Sports_header

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_XR_20mgAdderall 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.

Las Vegas, the new home of eSports?
Las Vegas, the new home of eSports?

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.

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Josh Bray
Josh has worked in IT for over 15 years. Graduated Broadcasting school in 2012 with a fo­cus on A/V pro­duc­tion. Amateur pho­tog­ra­ph­er with a pas­sion to make things work… by any means nec­es­sary. Editor-in-Chief and do-er of tech things at SuperNerdLand