[toc]Match-fixing allegations out of South Korea are putting the spotlight on Overwatch and esports match integrity.
The Gyeonggi Bukbu Provincial Police Agency Cyber Bureau has charged two people with an offense related to match fixing an Overwatch tournament.
Korean police allege that both the player manager and coach of Overwatch team Luminous Solar tried to bribe team UnLimited to deliberately lose a qualifying match in the APEX Overwatch League.
The player-manager Jin Seok-hoon and coach Baek Min-jeh have already been banned by Korean TV channel and tournament organizer OGN.
Blizzard can’t afford to ignore match fixing
This is the first high-profile case of Overwatch cheating. It poses a reputational risk to Overwatch developer Blizzard Activision.
Blizzard is planning its own major Overwatch tournament series, the Overwatch League. That is expected to debut in September this year.
The league depends on investors buying team franchises linked to major cities around the world. The franchises will likely cost up to $15 million each. Any reputational risks arising from a cheating scandal are likely to have an adverse effect on investor sentiment.
A month ago, Nate Nanzer, Blizzard’s global director of Overwatch esports, said:
“In terms of the actual nuts and bolts of the league in 2017, and content production, all that, there’s no delays there at all. You probably understand the amount of legal work that goes into doing this, and that time between BlizzCon and today has been spent finalizing legal documents.”
To what extent this preparatory work focuses on match integrity is not known.
But this match-fixing case will undoubtedly focus the organizers’ minds on minimizing risks for the Overwatch League.
Esports betting promises rich rewards for cheaters
Esports tournament prize money is on the increase. That creates big incentives for crooks thinking about match fixing are the gains available from esports betting.
The Overwatch League is likely to attract significant handle as total esports betting wagers are rising at an increasing rate.
A graphic produced by Pinnacle shows how rapidly the business vertical is growing.
— Pinnacle (@PinnacleSports) April 23, 2017
Extrapolating from this, Pinnacle expects to take its 10 millionth esports bet in January 2018.
The rewards for successful match fixing are growing in line with the total betting handle.
Traditional sports have taken the risks of match fixing seriously. To maintain the same level of credibility, esports must do the same.
Solutions are available from BetGenius and Betradar
The two leading companies offering technological counters to cheating and match fixing are BetGenius and BetRadar.
“Furthermore, as FACEIT’s chosen technology partner, we have a responsibility to safeguard the integrity of their events by providing systems that monitor and safeguard against the threats of match-fixing and betting-related corruption.
As FACEIT and the wider esports community understands, protecting the integrity of games is fundamental to the continued success and explosive growth of esports around the world.”
BetGenius introduced its Sport Integrity Monitor (SportIM) in 2015. Since then it has pushed for common integrity standards across the esports world.
Betradar also engages in the prevention of esports match fixing. In its white paper on esports, Betradar explains:
“Bet monitoring is a key weapon in the armoury of eSports. As an example, Sportradar’s Fraud Detection System already monitors all ESL competitions by monitoring the odds movements and patterns across 450 betting operators worldwide. It spots anomalies in both the pre-match and live markets.
Those anomalies are then analysed by members of a 35-strong team of Expert Analysts, who lead the process into understanding whether the anomalies can be legitimately explained or whether they are indeed suspicious and worthy of further investigation – either by the sport rights holder or the relevant law enforcement agency. Bet monitoring gives a clear indicator of participants or teams that are involved in match manipulations and consequently give peace of mind and reassurance to all stakeholders.”
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Match fixing solutions are more than technical fixes
Betradar was one of the founding members of the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC), which launched in July 2016.
ESIC aimed to bring industry stakeholders together to create exactly the common integrity standards that BetGenius supports. In ESIC’s initial launch announcement, the organization said:
“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.”
Most recently ESIC produced a position paper on the disciplinary standards it proposes for industry adoption. A consultation on these is ongoing.
Many of the measures are procedural rather than technical. However, they are an essential underpinning if esports are to operate with the highest levels of integrity.
Game developers can’t ignore esports betting
Whether esports game developers support esports betting, or oppose it, they can’t choose to ignore it.
It is the potential gains from esports betting that provide the motivation for cheaters and match fixers, As such, esports match integrity — and the reputation of games like Overwatch — is dependent on the integrity of esports betting.
Blizzard’s new Overwatch league will certainly implement the necessary integrity measures. But for those tournament organizers that think they can skimp on the expense, it is only a question of time before they encounter another scandal.