The Changwon Regional Prosecutor’s Office in South Korea has released a report of its investigation of match-fixing in StarCraft 2 competitions (English summary here). The report provides a detailed explanation of how eSports bettors bribed top competitors in order to win large sums of money.
The report followed an initial investigation in October 2015 which resulted in 12 people being identified as involved in match-fixing. Nine were arrested and indicted. A second investigation began in January 2016, after one of the brokers identified in the first investigation was apprehended.
Eight more people have been arrested and charged, and two more have been charged with related offences.
Starcraft 2 world champion charged
The players involved are top gamers in the StarCraft 2 world, and their supporters have expressed their shock and anger on various forums.
Lee “Life” Seung Hyun won the 2014 StarCraft II World Championship Series, and is a Global Starcraft League (GSL) champion. He has been charged with receiving 70 million Korean Won ($60,900) to lose two matches in May 2015.
Bung “Bbyong” Woo Yong has been charged with taking 30 million Won ($26,100) to manipulate the outcome of one match. He turned himself in to the authorities when the investigation was announced.
Gambling is blamed for the loss of sporting integrity
According to the report, the match-fixing scheme was carefully organized. Financial backers “hired brokers to put up the compensation for match-fixing, brokers to solicit the match-fixing and transfer the funds, and an employee in charge of receiving gambling funds and placing bets on gambling sites.”
“The only good thing is that they seem to have caught a lot of brokers and financial backers too, which is even more important than catching a player imo,” commented one player on the TeamLiquid gamer forum.
“This is 100% accurate,” another player responded. “Life and Bbyong are the symptoms, the gambling syndicates are the disease.”
The Korean eSports Association is reported to have banned both players for life. In a statement related to the investigation, it said that “illegal betting threatens the foundations of the sport.”
Self-regulation, state regulation or prohibition
While most media have reported the match-fixing in a negative light, there is a positive aspect to the situation. The fraud was identified and the perpetrators have been charged.
In the Eilers Research report, “eSports Betting: It’s Real, and Bigger Than You Think,” the authors identify game integrity as a critical risk to the growth of the industry.
However, there is a powerful mitigant as the industry grows. “The wholesale entrance of mainstream sportsbooks into eSports will introduce a robust suite of anti-fraud tools,” suggests Eilers, adding that, “increasing spotlight from both media and regulators will render eSports a less-appealing environment for match-fixing or similar chicanery.”
In the meanwhile, the fear expressed by Eilers that “eSports may see its reputation permanently tarnished by a critical amount of high-profile fraud before those counterweights can be brought to bear,” is a real one.
If eSports follows the path of other online gambling growth stories, there is an inevitability that more state regulation will be introduced, although some of that regulation may well ban eSports betting entirely.
At this stage in the industry’s life, self-regulation looks to be essential if the full potential of the business is to be achieved.
In the meanwhile, the burden of preventing match-fixing fall upon the eSports event organizers themselves. They will only be effective in doing this if they have the support of the eSports betting industry which can communicate with event organizers whenever they see unusual betting patterns which could indicate fraud.