Esports Integrity Spotlight Part 1 with Ian Smith, Commissioner, ESIC

Massive spikes in viewership and player retention have led esports to firmly establish itself as a popular choice for operators looking to expand their reach whilst safeguard against live sports cancellation.

In part one of our Esports Integrity Spotlight, we caught up with Ian Smith, Commissioner at ESIC to hear his thoughts on the most pressing integrity considerations right now.

What do you think Operators need to be aware of from an integrity perspective?

“I think the key thing to be aware of is that there is no central authority for dealing with integrity issues currently.

What we do is very much a voluntary regulator role by various tournament operators and people involved in the space who voluntarily agree to be bound by our code; there’s no RFU, ICC, FIFA or NBA.

There’s currently nothing that can hold together a global approach to integrity issues. We’re lacking a framework where the betting industry and betting operators can go to deal with issues and align themselves with whatever that governing body is practising.

The integrity threats on the betting side of esports closely resemble the integrity threats in traditional sport. But you’ve got a far more fragmented environment that you’re working in because of that lack of a central authority.

You’ve also got to bear in mind that esports is a broad umbrella term. In real terms, it doesn’t actually mean a great deal. It’s a bit like saying we’re going to open betting on the Olympics, which encompasses a multitude of different sports.

Whilst you’ve got these three very big betting titles that makeup over 80% of handle globally, (Counterstrike, DOTA2 and League of Legends), each of those communities in themselves are very, very different.

They have very different ways of operating and very different ways of presenting the tournaments.

The key to entering the esports space is firstly to do your research very carefully. Understand the audience you’re talking about, but specifically, understand that there are different games that behave in very different ways.

Currently, the only centralised way to engage in an integrity network (to have somewhere to go to both receive information about suspicious and unusual betting, but also to provide information about it and get something done about it) is either directly to the tournament operator, or to use ESIC.

Whilst we certainly don’t cover all tournament operators, we cover the major ones dealing with the major betting games.

It’s different to traditional sport, not in how it behaves, but in how it’s regulated.”

We’ve seen the games publishers start to work with betting companies, for example, the deal between Riot and Sportradar, will this be the first of many partnerships and do you think perceptions are changing with the publishers?

“I hope so.

The Sportradar deal is billed by Riot as an integrity deal, but of course, it’s just a data deal.

From a publicity or community relations point of view, Riot can’t say that that’s what they’re doing or at least they feel they can’t.

One of the things that Sportradar do, in the context of data deals, is to provide (breakeven) access to the fraud detection system.

They provide an overall betting monitoring system that highlights suspicious and unusual betting. I’m fully behind doing official data deals because that does enhance integrity.

It’s a good system used across traditional sport. However, it doesn’t do the same thing as we do.

I hope that it’s a sign of things to come from the bigger publishers.

Historically the big East Coast and West Coast American publishers have done nothing to protect the games they publish from betting-related integrity threats.

But let’s not pretend that it’s about integrity. Integrity is an add on to help justify the entry into the data market for the betting industry.

That’s a good thing and a good step, but we mustn’t pretend it’s some kind of panacea.”

Editor’s note: A key consideration when looking at the esports market is to appreciate that there are very different cultures between the various games and tournaments. Each game and tournament will have a unique audience and require a unique approach, which mustn’t be overlooked.

Furthermore, the publishers seem to be waking up to the fact that gambling is happening on their games, regardless of whether they want it to or not. This has been an important step in the esports discipline, as the creation of official data deals ultimately support integrity and help drive the market forward. Let’s hope this is a sign of the times and we see more official deals trickle through. 

In our next Esports Integrity Spotlight, we assess how bad esports match fixing is compared to other traditional sports and what disproportionate growth has meant to the integrity framework.

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