The eSports industry, despite the skepticism of many, is a huge market, with Newzoo claiming that in 2018 the market will be worth over $900m and will reach an audience of 340 million people. The most impressive feat of the industry is its rapid growth. Despite the protests of some that eSports are not ‘real sports’, the industry went from a fledgling market to a media phenomenon followed by millions. With culture shifting in the Western World, and video games being taken more seriously as a form of entertainment, gamers came out of the woodwork to start showing their support for their favorite teams, packing out stadiums and exhibitions to see them compete for huge prizes. Professional gamers are gathering huge followings on streaming websites like Twitch, and have become celebrity athletes in their own right, with sponsorship deals and merchandise to rival their traditional sport counterparts. The financial figures are also impressive, with DOTA 2’s 2018 International tournament having a prize pool of over $25m.
Although as a gamer it’s great seeing the industry reach such heights and bring with it the spirit of competition, the eSports world is not without its share of controversy and scandal. Whilst the industry has legitimised itself, it has also brought with it the same problems as traditional sports, and with so much money up for grabs, it’s unsurprising that such issues exist. In 2015, 12 people were arrested in connection with a number of Starcraft 2 matches being fixed. In another match-fixing story, Valve banned several players from competing in any of its sponsored CS:GO events due to match fixing, clarifying that the bans were permanent in 2016. With eSports gambling being such a new concept in the betting world, many are concerned that the regulation will not keep up with the growing market, and opportunities to corrupt gaming competitions will be rife. As with traditional sports, manipulating the result of a match could result in major financial gain for those involved, and it is perhaps unsurprising that several players have accepted money to throw matches in the past. Ian Smith, Integrity Commissioner at the ESports Integrity Coalition, said in a recent Guardian article that:
“If you’re looking at sporting integrity … in eSports you’ve really got to look at betting fraud and match-fixing as the biggest threats,…”
As well as match fixing incidents, cases of players cheating during games for self-benefit are also taking place. In 2017, several players were banned from a CS:GO Major qualifying tournament, with some players being banned mid-match. CEVO, who were involved in the running of the tournament, apologised for numerous problems during the event, including technical issues causing brackets to be delayed. Also in October 2017, ESL posted that a Rainbow Six Siege player named ‘beGenius’ was found to have been using macros during the Rainbow Six Pro League. The player recieved a two year ban, and his team was disqualified. League of Legends, another top Esports title, faced a smaller scale scandal in 2012. A design flaw with the stage allowed players to glance up at the spectator screen, which showed both team’s positions on the map, which would give an unfair advantage to a player’s team if they managed to sneak a glance. Riot released the results of their investigation, and although they saw several instances of players attempting to view the large screen, only found one instance to have affected the game, and the offending team, Azubu Frost, was fined $30,000, although the match result ending up standing. DOTA 2 team Virtus.Pro removed themselves from the Summit 5 Qualifiers when they admitted that one of their players who had lost connection earlier in the match had been replaced by a different player when they reconnected later on. Virtus.Pro won their match 3:2, but voluntarily tweeted their guilt and withdrew from the competition after suspicion arose from spectators about the differing playstyle of the player after he had reconnected.
So what does this mean for the industry going forward? In terms of teams cheating during games, whilst there are a few examples you can find quite easily, in terms of high profile competitions over several years, the instances are actually reasonably low. CS:GO has certainly had some instances of cheating, but the well known incidents seem to be players being caught out by anti-cheat software, such as during the aforementioned incident in 2017, and another incident in 2014 when a player by the name ’emilio’ was VAC (Valve Anti-Cheat) banned midgame whilst his team were winning a match 8:4. Whilst it’s a shame to see these events occuring, it’s good to see that software designed to catch cheaters in high-profile tournaments seems to be having an effect, although there is counter argument to be made that those being caught are a small number of a larger group of players who are attempting to cheat in tournaments. Both DOTA 2 and League of Legends, two of the most popular and lucrative eSports titles on the market, have managed to avoid having many high-profile incidents of cheating. League of Legends has not had many noticeable occurrences of cheating since the screen watching incident in 2012. DOTA 2 had a recent ban of a team for one of its players using a mouse macro, but has also seemingly managed to avoid cheating incidents, at least at major tournaments. It’s possible that the increase in security and viewership of tournaments has discouraged players from attempting to cheat, particuarly as most eSports are run as team events, and a single player cheating generally involves the disqualification of that team, even if the other players were not aware of their teammates trying to gain the upper hand by breaking the rules. There has been debate about how severe punishments should be for players, as some incidents result in fines or disqualifications, whereas other organisers decide to dish out permanent bans for players who are caught. The ESIC has noted in a canvassing survey in 2017 that many in the community feel that some bans that were given have been too harsh. In terms of match-fixing, the problem may be primarily with unregulated betting markets and the lack of transparency in smaller tournaments. Sam Gommersall, from online betting company Pinnacle stated (also in the aforementioned Guardian article):
“the further you go from the pro-scene the more susceptible any given match is to match-fixing.” “We generally have no issues with events that are run by the games developers themselves,”
We can also hope that understanding of match-fixing and digital betting markets in games has grown from the CS:GO match fixing incident in 2015, and by the CS:GOlotto skin betting scandal of recent years. There will be some that will argue that problems are still endemic in the industry, but eSports seems to have been a victim of its own success, and its rapid growth has caused corruption that organisers were initially unable to keep up with. As the industry develops and starts to be taken more seriously, new and more effective measures can be implemented to maintain the integrity of the competition.