A Short History Of Match-Fixing In eSports

eSports match fixing brief history
“All of this has happened before, and it will all happen again.”

It isn’t an original thought to say that history has a strange way of repeating itself, but sometimes it does seem odd to see how accurately some choose to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Life and Savior

This leads into the story of Lee ‘Life’ Seung Hyun. Prodigiously gifted at the game Starcraft II, Mr. Hyun has collected prize monies of over $475,000 (USD) over his career.

But the Starcraft II world was shocked to find out that this was not enough for Mr. Hyun. On April 21, 2016, the Changwon Regional Prosecution Service’s Special Investigations Division released a report that confirmed that Mr. Hyun had engaged in match fixing in two games, netting him approximately $62,000 (USD) for his services.

While it is yet unknown what the punishment will be for Mr. Hyun, past precedent would suggest that he will repay the monies earned from match-fixing and he will be banned for life from professional gaming.

All of this is amazingly reminiscent of another talented player that became embroiled in a match fixing scandal. Ma ‘sAviOr’ Jae Yoon was almost without argument one of the best to ever play Starcraft: Brood War, the predecessor of Starcraft II.

Although by 2010, Mr. Jae Yoon was a little past his peak as a player, it still rocked the world of eSports when he was revealed as one of ten players implicated in a match fixing scandal. Ultimately, the ten South Korean pro gamers were fined, and banned for life by Kespa – the South Korean eSports authority.

It’s hard to ignore the similarities between ‘Life’ and ‘sAviOr.’ Both were extraordinary players that had legions of fans. Both were financially successful; the website esportsearnings.com pegs ‘sAviOr’s’ career earnings at approximately $338,901.24 (USD). ‘Life’ had earned more than that still.

Both even played the same race, Zerg. While it is always sad to see any player in any sport resort to match-fixing to gain income, it is perhaps even more sad to see two well-respected players – who should have had enough money – succumb to the simple greed of wanting more.

While the growing media attention to eSports has brought more interest into eSports wagering on these contests, it must be remembered that match-fixing has a history almost as long as eSports itself.

A brief timeline of other match-fixing incidents

On October 19, 2015…

…the Chanwon Regional Prosecution Service’s special investigations division released a report about match-fixing in StarCraft II. The report stated that a professional coach as well as two of his players had fixed five matches and all three were arrested.

Park ‘Gerrard’ Oi Shik, Choi ‘YoDa’ Byung Hyun, and Choi ‘BBoongBBoong’Jong Hyuk were sentenced to 18 month prison sentences, fined, and banned from eSports for life. Financial brokers that were involved in match fixing were also sentenced as well, receiving similar punishment as the players.

Earlier this month, KeSpa announced that they will pursue charges against all parties involved in the match-fixing scandal, potentially getting damages from the involved parties.

On January 20, 2015…

…the eSports betting website Pinnacle, which has offered eSports betting since 2011, refunded all bets on a match that was played between Park ‘Dark’ Ryung Woo and Kang ‘San’ Cho Won.

In a statement, Pinnacle defended its actions stating:

“In accordance with this policy, the match between Dark and San on 20th January 2015 has been identified by our fraud prevention team as being manipulated. The bet placement pattern clearly indicates that the match was not played on a fair basis.

As a result all bets on this match have been voided. We apologise for the inconvenience this causes for anyone betting on this match in good faith, but hope you will appreciate that protecting the integrity of eSports is of paramount importance.”

In March 2013…

A coach of the League of Legends team ahq-Korea attempted to convince his team to lose at the OnGameNet Champions Spring 2013 event.

The Kespa investigation determined that only one of the players followed through on attempting to lose on purpose, Cheon ‘Promise’ Min-Ki. Kespa has filed a lawsuit against the coach that attempted to pressure his players to fix matches; the lawsuit is ongoing as of the publishing date.

Sometimes it is not even the players or coaches

In 2010, the South Korean broadcaster MBC, apparently concerned that its Warcraft III tournaments were being dominated by one of the game’s races, changed the game itself.

The maps upon which the tournament was being played were altered, buffing the other races, while nerfing the dominant race. Once this was uncovered, the reputation of Warcraft III in South Korea was forever tarnished.

MBC promised to make changes to ensure that such an event could never occur again. Further reading can be found here.

In August 2014, multiple members of the Counterstrike team iBUYPOWER bet against their own team and then lost to underdog team NetcodeGuides.com. In a statement in January 2015, the game’s developer, Valve, reacted, punishing six players and banning them from Valve-sponsored events.

Is match-fixing a serious problem in eSports?

The straightforward answer here would be no.

While one cannot deny that the above incidents took place, there does not seem to be a widespread problem in the industry. Simply put, the growing professionalism of eSports will make such incidents less and less likely to occur.

While not to downplay the above events, the chances of an average game of League of Legends or Counterstrike being fixed are probably about on par with your average NHL or NBA game, that is to say, not likely.

Games like League of Legends, Dota 2 and Counterstrike are often played on stage with the communications between players being monitored by referees.

The increasing profile of eSports has led to more investment and more professionalism, which has led to larger salaries  and better support structures – which, theoretically at least, would make players less susceptible to the lures of match-fixing.

Industry reactions

Much like any major sports league, major eSport publishers seem very much intent on cracking down on any sort of collusion or match-fixing.

These publishers have reacted swiftly to accusations of match-fixing, conducting internal investigations and usually publishing the results for public consumption.

Publishers of eSport titles are cognizant of the history of eSports and are very obviously interested in increasing the perceived legitimacy of their games. They are aware of the damage that a large match fixing scandal could do to the image of their competitive scenes.

Bookmakers have also been proactive in monitoring betting patterns for suspicious betting patterns. In particular, sites like Pinnacle have a history of returning wagers to bettors if they have legitimate suspicions of games being fixed.

Conclusion

Overall, while one should be cognizant of the history of match-fixing within the world of eSports, there is no need to assume that match-fixing is rife. Yet inevitably, some will choose to repeat history, with predictable results.

Alex Whiteman

About

Alex Whiteman is a law clerk at Levine Associates in Toronto, Canada. He is a long time eSports enthusiast and has written articles for Quantic Gaming and Team Liquid. He occasionally tweets at @datfirefly.

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