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