The non-profit Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) will aim to curb fraud and match-fixing issues, and has the support of esports league ESL, digital esports festival DreamHack, technology giant Intel, data company Sportradar, esports book Unikrn, sportsbook Betway, and headphone maker Plantronics.
Contrary to earlier reports from the ESIC, online streaming service Twitch is not an official partner.
Who are the coalition’s key leaders?
British esports lawyer Ian Smith will serve as the coalition’s integrity commissioner. Smith is also the director of esports integrity consultancy Sporting Integrity Matters.
ESBR reported in May that Swedish company MTG, the parent of both ESL and DreamHack, commissioned Smith to develop the anti-fraud group.
Esports lawyer and director of esports at Unirkn, Bryce Blum, and ESL communications director Anna Rozwandowicz, will serve as membership directors.
Michele Verroken, the founding director of Sporting Integrity, and the former director of ethics and anti-doping at UK Sport, will serve as the coalition’s anti-doping advisor.
The commission will also have a chairperson, who has not yet been appointed.
What types of cheating will the coalition combat?
In response to a threat assessment it says it carried out in 2015, the coalition’s key mission will be to combat match-fixing throughout all esports.
The group will also work to combat doping, the disruption of players’ computer connections to hinder gameplay, and in-game manipulation that enables cheating.
Several recent incidents have illustrated a match-fixing trend. Those incidents include:
- South Korean StarCraft 2 players being charged earlier this year with accepting payment to throw matches in 2015.
- Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team iBUYPOWER throwing a match during season 5 of CEVO.
- Two Dota 2 teams from the Philippines being accused of match-fixing in 2014.
Each of these incidents involved relatively small amounts of money. But as the esports industry expands (matches are projected to approach billions in betting handle by 2020), and if players continue to earn a small fraction of the total amount of money generated by tournaments, stakeholders are concerned that the sums of money used to tempt players to throw matches could grow to sizable to resist.
Indeed, recent match-fixing incidents have been influenced by more than just fans hoping to influence the outcome of a match so their favorite team could win. They’ve been influenced by gambling on the matches’ outcomes.
Blum wrote Tuesday on Unikrn’s website that the unprecedented size of esports betting market wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, and noted that it can drive important consumer engagement across esports titles.
Rather, he said, underage gambling and match-fixing are “real problems.”
Much of esports betting happens online and is unregulated, especially skin betting. That segment of esports betting is by far the largest, accounting for $7.42 billion in global handle in 2016 according to a report from Narus Advisors and Eilers & Krejcik Gaming.
How will the coalition combat match-fixing?
It’s unclear what specific guidelines or practices the group will produce in order to achieve this goal, but a press release directing users to its website indicates ESIC has developed a participant code of conduct, an anti-corruption code and an anti-doping policy.
“ESIC has created a Programme for acceptance and implementation by professional esports stakeholders – primarily tournament organisers and platforms, games publishers and licenced and regulated bookmakers offering esports betting markets – that consists of a Participant Code of Conduct, an Anti-Corruption Code, an Anti-Doping Policy and an independent Disciplinary Procedure based on principles of natural justice.”
In May, Smith noted the need to develop a common code of practice for esports organizers, teams and players. Such an effort could be reliant on the efforts of data companies, such as Sportradar, which utilize data to allow its clients to better detect fraud, such as match-fixing.
Will ESL matches be affected?
ESL is the largest and oldest esports league in the world, and organizes competitions such as ESL Pro Leagues, ESL One and the Intel Extreme Masters Series across titles like CS:GO and Dota 2.
Even if independent data companies detect suspicious betting activity on a match that could signal match-fixing, that detection does no good if the match’s organizing body isn’t receptive to the activity. And just as esports teams have been solicited to develop training models for aspiring esports players, teams similarly can be solicited to develop prevention workshops and other modules.
It remains unclear, however, if ESL or DreamHack constituents will be compelled by the league to comply with whatever policies and procedures ESIC promulgates during ESL competitions.
Will other leagues opt in?
Dozens of other esports leagues exist worldwide, including CEVO, ELEAGUE, the E-Sports Entertainment Association League, the ESports Championship Series and Major League Gaming.
ESIC’s formation also re-raises a question facing all emergent esports integrity and regulatory bodies: How will they develop regulatory authority over components playing a global game, and how will they enforce it?
Of the nine “members and supporters” ESIC mentioned in its press release, none were game makers. Game makers, such as Valve, whose games CS:GO and Dota 2 drive the vast majority of the unregulated skin betting market, could constitute a vital demographic to partner with for the purpose of curbing betting-related match-fixing.
A recent lawsuit against Valve accused the game maker of participating in and fostering an illegal gambling market.
What is the ESL’s track record on promoting integrity?
This is not the first ESL-related effort at “further professionalizing” esports. The league launched the World Esports Association (WeSA) in May in order to “bring much needed structure, predictable schedules and transparency to the scene.”
WeSA launched with the support of eight of most well-known esports teams in the world and resulted in the formation of a player council it said will, “represent, strengthen and advocate on behalf of pro gamers on a number of important topics, such as league policies, rulesets, player transfers and more.”
Despite esports growing into an increasingly global industry, there is no globally recognized governing body. It remains to be seen how or if ESIC can fill this void while establishing regulatory authority, and how it will work with national regulatory bodies, such as the Korean Esports Association and the recently formed British eSports Association, a UK-government backed entity.