Lost in Translation: On a Boom and a Roll, Esports Looks to Avoid a Bust for Cheating

By some credible accounts, esports will be worth around US$2 billion (£1.51bn/€1.81bn) this year alone — almost double its value in 2021.

So it’s a measure of esports booming success that, increasingly, around the world gaming authorities are taking a keen interest in the dynamic sport to prevent match-fixing, point-shaving, cheating, call it what you will.

Powered by its youthful players and young fan base, boosted, paradoxically, by the Covid-era suspensions of traditional sports, esports is growing, exponentially, into a mega betting platform.

According to Newzoo, who regularly produce Global Esports Market Reports, the sport has over 200 million dedicated “enthusiasts” and around 250 million “occasional” watchers.

Earlier this year, in further indication, a Saudi Arabia-backed group, Savvy Gaming, bought esports organiser ESL for a cool US$1 billion (£757,000/€908,000).

The biggest participation is in South East Asia, North America and Europe, with big mobile interest in India and Brazil.

Microsoft’s recent acquisition of Activision Blizzard for US$69 billion (£52.23bn/€62.66bn), followed by Sony buying games developer Bungie for US$3.6 billion (£2.72bn/€3.27bn), is proof positive that pioneering video games technology, cryptocurrency and Non-Fungible Tokens, will form integral building blocks of the coming virtual reality metaverse.

In the United States, Las Vegas, unsurprisingly, has emerged as the centre of the esports gaming industry.

Action is centred at the HyperX Esports Arena at the Luxor Hotel and Casino on The Strip and the Downtown Grand, operated by Fifth Street Gaming, whose CEO, Seth Schorr, co-founded the Nevada Esports Alliance in 2016 — the same year the state’s Gaming Control Board legalised gambling on the sport.

Now, because of the big surge in esports wagering, Nevada legislators plan to add greater oversight and regulation to competitive video gaming.

Cheating and Integrity

Earlier this month the Control Board’s new Esports Technical Advisory Committee met for the first time to discuss Nevada’s Senate Bill 165 that aims to tighten safeguards and eliminate the possibility of cheating.

Sam McMullen, Founder and Managing Partner of Las Vegas-based FiveGen, a consultancy that connects esports developers and vendors, told the committee that “92 per cent of match-fixing is driven by betting fraud” — as it is in traditional sports.

Committee member Brett Abarbanel, Director of Research at the University of Nevada’s Las Vegas International Gaming Institute, called for a registration system for players, coaches, team owners and game officials, and punishment for players caught cheating.

Ian T. Smith, commissioner with the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC), which is headquartered in Shrewsbury, England, also addressed the committee.

He asked legislators: “To promote and facilitate competitive integrity in esports to prevent all forms of cheating or match-fixing.”

Jeff Cohen, Vice President of Strategy at Esports Entertainment Group, argued: “Overall, we do not believe there is any greater level of integrity risks inherent in esports than are in more accepted sports.

“[But] if large amounts of unexplainable money is bet on esports competitions, sportsbooks should be compelled to alert regulators.”

Match-fixing

The first case of major match-fixing in esports was reported in South Korea in 2010 when 11 “StarCraft” players were found guilty of cheating. They were banned, permanently, from pro-gaming by the country’s esports regulators and fined. Some of them were given jail terms.

In 2014, South Korea was also the site of the next biggest scandal to rock esports after 17-year-old Lee “Life” Seung Hyun, the “StarCraft 2” World Champion, was deemed to be guilty of cheating. He was arrested in 2016 and jailed for his transgressions.

Last April authorities in Australia and the US investigated match-fixing and illegal betting in “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive” (CS:GO) competitions, with millions of pounds of prize money at stake.

The FBI has recently set up a sports betting investigative unit.

“They are good but they are inexperienced because sports betting has never been a big thing in America,” said ESIC Commissioner Smith.

Also last year, 37 esports coaches, who lead teams of players, were banned for exploiting a bug that gave them an unrestricted view of certain parts of the CS:GO game’s maps.

With all virtual roads leading, inexorably, to the metaverse, esports can look forward to continued explosive growth.

But integrity remains a vital component of credibility and success.

And esports still has a long way to travel.

Even if the esports platform hits a value of US$5 billion (£3.78bn/€4.54bn) in the next five years it will still only equal the worth of American football’s Dallas Cowboys.