Esports and Match Fixing: A Troubled History But Hopeful Future

match-fixing

As with any sport, esports involve a risk of match-fixing. As esports betting grows, so does the need for integrity-related measures to combat nefarious activities. Abios has put together a new article on match-fixing in esports, past incidents and how industry actors are working to prevent it.

What is Match Fixing?

Match fixing is when someone — an individual or organisation — dishonestly determines the outcome of a match before it begins. A common scenario is a team member betting against themselves and then throwing the match on purpose to win big on esports betting sites. Other times, betting syndicates or other bad actors pressure players to lose on purpose, with monetary incentives or by utilising threats.

As betting has grown in popularity, players have also found ways to game long-tail bet offers. It can entail players killing a certain number of enemies or dying a certain number of times. These are harder to pull off but also tougher to detect.

Why is Match Fixing Bad For Esports?

Match fixing can reduce the credibility of competitive play, which can have detrimental spillover effects on the whole industry.

For teams and pro players, match-fixing creates unfair matches and deteriorates the competitive integrity of tournaments. Sometimes, detected match-fixing can result in teams having to repeat matches or their standing being changed if a previous opponent is caught cheating in this way, making it quite disruptive.

Players or teams caught in match-fixing attempts can be banned from games and tournaments, potentially reducing the trust in the other participants.

Match fixing also impacts the experience for fans and viewers. Watching a match where a team is purposefully losing or behaving in a certain, calculated way creates a dull viewing experience.

Bettors and sportsbooks also suffer from match-fixing. Bettors lose money if a team they bet on teams purposefully loses matches, and sportsbooks lose money as the pricing gets off if teams don’t deliver their expected performance. Overall, match-fixing disrupts the integrity of betting, ruining the excitement of true competition and high-stakes bets.

The Biggest Match Fixing Scandals in Esports

Unfortunately, there have been a few match-fixing scandals in esports over the years, including in games such as StarCraft and Counter-Strike. Here are some of the most notorious match-fixing scandals in esports history.

2010: StarCraft is often seen as a classic esports scene with integrity, but multiple pro StarCraft players were accused of match-fixing in 2010. The investigation left two people arrested, and Ma Jae-Yoon and By, two prominent players, were removed from pro play.

2013: A big Dota 2 tournament was disrupted when pro player Alexey “Solo” Berezin was caught match-fixing against ZRage during the SLTV Star Ladder Season VI. Both teams no longer qualified for the finals, but the match still played out, with Solo betting $100 against his own team and then throwing the match to win $322. Solo was removed from his team and received a ban from StarLadder and competitive play for three years.

The incident spawned a meme in Dota 2 that remains alive until this day, “322”. It refers to throwing or match-fixing.

2014: Dota 2 pros Kok Yi “ddz” Liong and Fua Hsien “Lance” Wan match fixed a game at a tournament. An investigation revealed that their girlfriends bet expensive items against their partners’ team, Arrow Gaming, who intentionally threw the match. The org denied match throwing was involved but they were still removed from Synergy SEA and were disqualified from Summit 2. Arrow Gaming eventually disbanded.

2015: Perhaps one of the most notorious match-fixing scandals in esports involved six CS players and a team owner who were banned over a match between iBUYPOWER and NetcodeGuides. iBUYPOWER was considered the best CS team at the time, so their loss was quite suspicious to fans and experts alike. Well-known FPS veteran Shahzeb “ShahZaM” Khan was close with both teams and revealed to an esports journalist that he had proof of match-fixing.

Later, iBUYPOWER player Derek “dboorn” Boorn admitted to his girlfriend that he purposefully threw the game and then bet against them using alternate accounts on CS:GO Lounge. The texts also revealed that skin gambler Duc “cud” Pham, another pro, had used the same platform to win over $10,700 using nine different accounts.

2021: The VALORANT team Resurgence was suspended, and all six players were found guilty of match-fixing against Blackbird Ignis. Riot went along with the investigations, resulting in the team’s removal.

2021: Soon after, another Counter-Strike scandal occurred when the Esports Integrity Commission announced an investigation of 35 Counter-Strike players for match-fixing. Most of those players had since moved to VALORANT, but that didn’t stop their past from being investigated. From Australia to North America, it was revealed that many pros were match-fixing and cheating by exploiting a bug that allowed coaches to see certain parts of the map they shouldn’t have access to during tournaments.

What is done to reduce match-fixing in esports?

As esports grows in popularity and becomes more structured, organisations like ESIC work with industry actors such as Abios and tournament organisers such as ESL and BLAST to keep tournaments competitive and ensure integrity.

This means cracking down on match-fixing and finding various ways to make it more difficult to make illegal bets. From a betting, data and odds provider standpoint, it means flagging or blocking suspicious betting activity and informing law enforcement, tournament organisers or integrity bodies when it occurs. From there, related parties must investigate the issue and decide on disciplinary action. This often results in bans for specific players and/or teams.

As esports players are often young, education is paramount in preventing match-fixing. Many teams provide support and player education, ensuring individual players know the risks and harmful effects of match-fixing.

While it is important not to turn a blind eye to the instances of match-fixing seen in esports, it is worth noting that the tier-1 segment of tournaments operated by organisers such as Riot Games or BLAST tends to see a high level of competitive integrity and professionalism, propelling the sustainable growth of esports.

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