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Match fixing exposed in eSports 11/05/2016
• Lifetime ban for 21 players

A flood of money into the eSport world has brought an unexpected innovation in the way players are cashing in (and cashing out) in the vast virtual world of online gaming — match-fixing.

Long an unfortunate fixture in other professional sports like boxing, snooker, basketball, football and even golf, the eSports world isn’t immune from the phenomenon. In fact, a case from earlier this year shows just how deeply … and quickly… match-fixing has embedded itself in global competition and how seriously sponsors are treating the problem.

Game developer and competition sponsor Valve announced that 21 Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players who were accused of willingly participating in match-fixing in competitive matches back in early 2015, have been permanently banned from the professional gaming events.

According to Valve, the bans were imposed on seven players after their accounts were investigated following a match between NetcodeGuides and iBUYPOWER. Valve learned that the players exchanged several high-value items among themselves after the match.

However, the motive of match-fixing was not just to trade items among each other. Instead, bets valued at $10,000 were also placed on players and they received around $7,000 worth of skins too.

This incident underscores a major problem with online multiplayer games, which is that they have an in-game economy which allows players to trade off high-value items for real money. It’s created a fertile ground for illegal betting as some players risk their reputation and career to get these high-value items from other players.

DOTA 2, Valve’s second most popular competitive game, has also seen its fair share of scandals. Back in 2013, a Russian player named Aleksey “Solo” Berezin bet against his own team in a major event and won $322. Since then, the number “322” has become synonymous with bad plays and is a common nickname for players who deliberately throw away a game for money.

A similar 322 scandal came into the spotlight back in 2014 after MSI Evolution and Mineski, two popular DOTA 2 teams from Philippines, were accused of match fixing. The matches were played between Team Immunity and Mineski and another between MSI and Mineski. Since these were Star Ladder games, both teams found it more profitable to trade the playoff spot for money.

This may explain why Valve has finally decided to take stern action and dish out harsh punishment on players involved in match-fixing or illegal betting. By bringing down the hammer on the 21 CS:GO players with a permanent ban, Valve intends to set an example to discourage players from engaging in such illicit acts.

Valve’s decision should ideally have dissuaded all professional eSports athletes around the world from engaging in match-fixing. However, another scandal has rocked the world of eSports this year.

The latest scandal happened in South Korea, where a famous eSports athlete hatched an ingenious plot to increase earnings through match-fixing. The player is none other than Lee “Life” Seung Hyun, a favorite for this year’s season of World Championship Series StarCraft II, and inarguably one of the best StarCraft players in the world.

“Life” was detained by police for several hours and was also questioned by match-fixing investigators for his alleged involvement in illegal betting and match-fixing. There’s a reason why this scandal is bigger than the ones that shocked the online gaming world last year.

Previously, the players who were implicated in match-fixing scandals were low-tier profiles like Team Prime or waning superstars like Ma “sAviOr” Yoon. “Life”, on the other hand, is a big name in the world of eSports and his involvement should be enough to open the industry’s eyes to the growing problem of match-fixing.

The report, as translated by Team Liquid, alleges Lee "Life" Seung Hyun received 70,000,000 South Korean won (roughly $60,000) to intentionally lose two matches in May 2015, and Bung "Bbyong" Woo Yong, 23, was paid the equivalent of $26,000 to throw one in January of this year. Another former StarCraft pro, Sun "Enough" Jun Mo, 34, was accused of being Life's benefactor, and also of profiting from bets on the fixed match.

Six others, characterized as those who made the payoffs, others who brokered the arrangements, and a third who bet on the inside information to win money, were also indicted. An 11th person, described as a financial backer, is at large and has yet to be indicted.

Life, 19, is a 10-time tournament champion with victories in the Intel Extreme Masters, the Blizzard Cup, Major League Gaming and other circuits. For purposes of comparison, his winnings in 2015's premier and major-class tournamentswere $110,000, or about $50,000 more than he was allegedly paid to tank the two games.

This investigation began in January following the apprehension of a broker connected to an earlier case from October, in which another 11 were indicted and two players from the same team, Prime, were handed lifetime bans by the Korean eSports Association, or KeSPA. In that case, Sun ("Enough") has already been convicted and was given a two-year prison sentence, suspended for three years.

The latest report describes in detail how the fixes were arranged and paid off. Brokers reached out to pro gamers under the pretense of being fans, and after striking up a relationship, arranged meetings with the financial backers for the purpose of fixing games. These brokers later transmitted the funds to the pros on the take, and placed bets for the backers, using multiple online betting sites to place multiple bets on the same match. Bets paid out at roughly 1.3 to 1.5 times the the original amount, and the largest individual bet was 1 million won, or roughly $87,000.