[toc]As the skin betting industry fragments and scatters in the wake of Valve Corporation’s crackdown, few sites have had as tumultuous of a final journey as CSGOWild.
The skin gambling site went from being enormously popular and having professional Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players don its logo to facing intense scrutiny over an ownership controversy and abruptly exiting the US market.
That all happened before Valve began to pursue action against gambling sites earlier this month.
On July 23, the site shut down completely. Two days prior, it encouraged users to withdraw their remaining balances from the site. Unresolved allegations of missed payouts and the inability to withdraw lingered in the days surrounding its closure.
An announcement on the site teasing a “secret project” and hinting at future operations is now nowhere to be found.
Wild users looking for recourse over disputed transactions may have to turn elsewhere: All that remains on csgowild.com is a picture of its logo, which links to an irreverent video of two cars (one photoshopped with Wild’s logo, the other photoshopped with Steam’s) driving down opposing forks in a road.
It’s been retweeted more than 2,000 times.
What happened and when
The 30-day period for Wild beginning June 23 was particularly volatile. Here’s a timeline of what occurred, and when. A breakdown of the timeline appears below.
- June 23 – Gamer files lawsuit against Valve alleging the company fosters illegal skin gambling sites.
- June 29 – Wild blocks US users from playing games on the site.
- July 1 – Wild explains rationale for US exit.
- July 13 – Valve tells sites to stop using Steam to facilitate skin gambling, threatens further action.
- July 13 – Wild denies rumors of disabling withdrawals following Valve announcement, says site undergoing “pricing issues.”
- July 16 – Journalist Richard Lewis publishes Skype logs purporting to show that FaZe Clan owns Wild.
- July 18 – YouTuber HonorTheCall publishes Skype logs purporting to show that FaZe Clan hired a web designer to create Wild.
- July 18 – Wild’s Gagey denies FaZe ownership claims, that site gave sponsored players the outcome of rolls in advance, or altered results.
- July 19 – Valve sends cease and desist letters to 23 skin gambling sites, including Wild.
- July 20 – YouTuber HonorTheCall publishes yet more Skype logs purporting to show a FaZe Clan owner telling an associate he owns Wild.
- July 21 – Wild tells users to withdraw balances, says site will shut down in two days.
- July 23 – Wild shuts down worldwide.
‘Voluntary’ US exit
Wild offered casino-style games like coin flips and roulette.
[geoip2 region=’ROW’][show-table name=betway][/geoip2]
Gamblers would use their Steam account to deposit skins on the site in exchange for Wild’s digital currency, Emeralds, which could then be wagered on the games. Players could also convert Emeralds back to skins on the way out.
On or before June 29, it left the US market abruptly, telling American users trying to access the site that their region was blocked from playing games. Users were still allowed to deposit and withdraw from their balances.
Two days later, the site explained its departure, saying it was voluntary and had nothing to do with pressure from Valve (a reference to a lawsuit recently filed against the game maker accusing gambling sites of illegal activity) or regulatory authorities.
It would still be two weeks before Valve would make any sign of cracking down on skin gambling sites. But already, Wild was promising US users a new version of the site, and in a pun-driven tweet, vaguely teased future operations.
A Wild ending
Roughly three weeks later, Wild would cease to exist. The new US product never materialized.
One action that contributed to this was Valve’s announcement on July 13 asking sites such as Wild to stop using its API, Steam, to facilitate skin gambling.
Within hours, Wild refuted accusations that it had disabled users’ ability to withdraw from the site, saying the site was undergoing pricing issues. It would not be the last time Wild faced such accusations.
A second action contributing to scrutiny against Wild came four days later, when esports journalist Richard Lewis published Skype logs between two operators of another skin gambling site, CSGOShuffle.
Those logs incidentally mentioned the fact that the “cod faze guys,” believed to mean professional Call Of Duty players from the esports organization FaZe Clan, owned Wild.
Two days later YouTuber Honor The Call published a video featuring more chat logs, this time between FaZe owners and a web designer, which claimed to demonstrate the organization hired the designer in 2015 to design CSGOWild.com.
Again, within hours, a Wild operator with the Twitter username Gagey, who was mentioned in the Skype logs, defended Wild. He said FaZe Clan had never owned the site, instead maintaining that he and his brother owned the site.
Gagey offered a password-protected link to journalists containing what he said were ownership documents that would prove his claims.
He attributed FaZe’s proximity to the site to his friendship with FaZe Clan owner FaZe Banks, who Gagey said helped promote Wild because of their friendship. Gagey reiterated the site had never fixed its results or cheated its customers, as other skin gambling sites were found to have done (see below).
The following day, Valve sent a cease and desist letter to 23 skin gambling websites including Wild, following up on the July 13 notice and ordering them to stop using its API for commercial purposes.
The day after that, Honor The Call published another video featuring yet more Skype logs, this time purporting to show FaZe Banks telling an associate he owned Wild.
Less than 24 hours later, Wild tweeted that it would be shutting down and told users to withdraw their balances. It did not attribute the shutdown to Valve’s crackdown, mounting ownership allegations, withdrawal issues, or the regulatory environment that informed its US exit.
The four days between Valve’s C&D and Wild’s global shut down appeared especially chaotic. Users made extensive complaints about the site’s withdrawal process on social media during this period.
On July 21, the day Wild announced its shutdown and urged users to withdraw Emeralds, ESBR compiled a snapshot of allegations by users against the site.
The allegations broadly fit into four categories. Perhaps most prominently, users complained they couldn’t withdraw their balances.
Others vented that their balances were small enough that they were unable to buy anything on the site. Without the ability to gamble the remainder of their balances to potentially win more Emeralds to buy something, their remaining balances were effectively worthless.
Even if users could have gambled on the site and raised their balances so they ostensibly had enough Emeralds to buy something, they still might not have been able to purchase skins. This is because, several users alleged, the prices of items on the site skyrocketed without warning.
Users then indicated that the website and the @Wild Twitter account were unresponsive to their complaints.
With no other front-facing options for consumers to turn to, the situation grew even more hazardous when scammers apparently posed as Wild employees.
The scammers attempted to get players to send them skins for trades that would then go unfulfilled.
Allegations didn’t just surface on Twitter, either. Here’s a screenshot of the most recent entries on CSGOWild’s Reddit page (click to enlarge).
Who’s minding the store?
Unregulated skin gambling is just that: unregulated.
There are no standards and practices, for example, mandating that skin casinos ensure they have sufficient liquidity to withstand a proverbial “run on the bank.”
Further complicating matters is the sites’ use of unmonitored fake currencies. Wild is not alone in this.
Wild users needed to use the currency to purchase skins in order for their assets to have any conversion to real world values. No entity exists to monitor the management of Wild’s or other sites’ virtual payment systems.
Similarly, there is no regulatory agency to monitor skin gambling sites’ withdrawal and payout processes. This is something that licensed casinos and their regulatory boards take extremely seriously.
For example, the Nevada Gaming Control Board last week hit sports book operator CG Technology will pay a $1.5 million fine and its CEO will step down after it was found to have not fully paid out customers’ winning wagers.
Accusations of mis-payment, nonpayment or other malfeasance don’t stop merely at unregulated skin gambling sites.
Kotaku on Tuesday reported that an Australian company that ran Call of Duty tournaments and owed potentially tens of thousands of dollars to players abruptly dropped off the map without paying up.
Accusations not isolated
Wild was bookended in the shadow of scandals from websites like CSGOLotto, CSGODiamonds and CSGOShuffle, which form the triptych of recent skin betting controversies.
In those cases, two owners and one sponsored player, respectively, were found to have gambled on their sites with house money in the name of advertising.
One of the owners and the sponsored player were found to have used back-end information to dramatically increase their chances of winning. It is possible the second owner did this as well.
None of said offenders disclosed any of these facts to unassuming customers they bet against, nor did they disclose their paid relationship to the sites. While it is suspected the owners took their virtual currency winnings and transferred them to real-money winnings in some form, that accusation has not been proven.
Wild claims it never engaged in any of these practices.
But one of the many points highlighted by its July tweets and subsequent departure is that whatever is left of the skin gambling industry remains the wild west, unanswerable to any authority save Valve, which appears at this stage to have an interest only in shutting skin gambling down as opposed to regulating it.