Following an investigation that began in March of this year, six individuals have been arrested in Australia by detectives from the Sporting Integrity Intelligence Unit and the Organized Crime Intelligence Unit for suspicious betting activity relating to esports.
The investigation began after information was passed on to police from a betting agency about a tournament for Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), where it is alleged that players would arrange to throw matches while also making wagers on the outcome. Estimates are that give matches were affected and over 20 wagers were made by the Australian players.
All six players were interviewed regarding the offenses of engaging in conduct that would corrupt a betting outcome of event contingency or use of corrupt conduct information for betting purposes. The maximum punishment for these offenses is 10 years imprisonment. The players have since been released, and the investigation remains ongoing.
While the type of offense investigated is certainly well-known, its application in esports is a somewhat recent phenomenon that is only starting to pick up with the emergence of more gaming tournaments.
Speaking on the matter, Assistant Commissioner Neil Paterson stated that, “Esports is really an emerging sporting industry and with that will come the demand for betting availability on the outcomes of tournaments and matches.”
The financial state of esports as an industry has been growing continuously for years. Most consider the first significant competitive games to have sprung from Starcraft in 1998. In that year, $7.8 million were awarded in total prizes across a total of 536 tournaments. Today that number is far larger, with estimates placing esports to provide revenue streams of $1.8 billion by 2022. As more and more money becomes involved in esports, which shows no signs of slowing down in its growth, the more tempting it may be for individuals to try and fix games towards their own financial benefit.
The demographics are different from that of traditional sports as well. Players of esports are often young at their peak and young to retire. Given the small window of time that one may have to turn a profit in esports, there may be an even greater incentive to participate.
This case showcases low stakes matches are not worth much money. There have been previous scandals that involve high-profile players, as seen in 2016 when Starcraft II player Lee “Life” Seung-Hyun was arrested and prosecuted for throwing two matches. For his actions he spent 18 months in prison, was fined KRW 70 Million, and banned for life from South Korean esports.
When we consider how Fortnite recently saw the competition of its first World Cup finals with a prize pool of $30 million, there is no doubt that other cases will arise in the future.