Esports, as I’ve stated before, is still in its infancy. And Esports has gotten quite far: becoming much closer to regular, real-life sports in terms of popularity, rules and professionalism. And, when rules are broken, or suspicious/immoral activity are spotted, you bet that people are going to clamp down on the guilty parties and guarantee some type of punishment. Even if not directly punished by say, the tournament organizers of the game developers of the specific Esport in question, the community backlash can be more than enough to tarnish and ruin a player or organization’s reputation.
So what types of huge scandals or drama have caused such quakes in the community to make it common knowledge for those who follow the competitive scene? Why exactly are some of these scandals even scandals at all? It’s just a video-games right? Well, not really. Any time something or someone becomes popular and generates so much revenue, attention and acknowledgement, anything that might hurt the integrity of their brands will become public knowledge as soon as it comes to light. Think of all the recent scandals of real-world celebrities in the past couple of months. Esports personalities and players are also human, also capable of being disgusting cheaters and people. And this is what I’m here to talk about.
So when it comes to cheating, it’s quite difficult as a professional player to use external programs during official matches to give you a in-human advantage in the game. Most competitive Esports game these days have anti-cheat systems built in to automatically detect this type of activity and stop it from even happening. But there are other ways of playing the system, a much easier way to do so, and one that’s quite difficult to prove. Match-fixing.
Match-fixing is the act of either a player or an organization going on a betting site that is holding bets for a match that they will be/are already playing and betting against yourself. Now why would people want to do that? To bet money on themselves if they want to win? Well that’s the issue: They don’t want to win the match. They want to win the money, and if the team that wants to get all of that money is expected to win the match, then anyone who bet against them will get a much bigger profit from betting on the team facing them.
This means that by betting for the team they are playing against, and intentionally ensuring that they lose the match, usually purposefully playing worse than expected, they guarantee themselves a lot of money, seeing as the normal odds of them losing to a team that may be significantly worse than them in skill were very low to begin with. Instead of making 1000$ by winning the next series of matches and the tournament overall, why not win 3000$ by betting against yourself on a high-risk, high-reward bet, when in reality you can guarantee that reward without any risk by intentionally losing the series? It’s the real life equivalent to being the coach of a very successful boxer going up against a very inexperienced and bad boxer, yet betting on your opponent, knowing that the good boxer you’re coaching will make sure to lose so that the money is guaranteed. It’s scummy and immoral: essentially trying to show that winning isn’t important. The views and passionate fans feel disrespected, as if the competitors that they spend their time watching and supporting are willing to throw all of that away just for a bit of extra change. It ruins the integrity of the sport/game they are representing, and is unacceptable.
A case of this happening in Esports happened in 2013, when a Russian Dota 2 player Alexei Berezen, of his online pro-name “Solo” had bet money against his own team during an official match, and purposefully played bad so that his team would lose, and he would receive a sum of money. The amount of money that he won from the bet was 322$ dollars, which might not seem like much, but that didn’t stop that scandal from becoming a PR nightmare for the organization hosting the tournament, Starladder, and the developers of Dota 2, Valve. Solo had been given a lifetime ban from playing in any Starladder tournament, which had later been brought down to only a one year ban, and for about the next two years found it very difficult to to play in multiple tournaments. Nobody wanted to play with someone like this, and the phrase “three-two-two” is a very common term used within the Dota 2 community, being thrown around in the chats of tournament Streams or during public matches whenever someone matches a questionably bad play. It’s become a standard when someone thinks of Dota 2’s competitive scene, and that’s never a good thing, for both Solo, and the organizations/companies involved.
And as Esports continues to grow and become more mainstreamed and recognized as an actual sport, these match-fixing scandals and other drama of the like can very easily undermine them and act as a barrier: preventing them from being truly respected. But then again, the opposite can also be true, seeing as real sports like basketball and football have also had their fair share of match-fixing scandals. And in Esports, these things are treated just as seriously in most cases, opting life-time bans from playing in tournaments or in some extreme cases, having legal action taken against the guilty parties.
But what about drama that might completely change the way that we look at someone? That makes a person that was formerly respected and adored by the community be barated with pitchforks when evidence of either foul-play or of their true demeanor comes to light.
Well, again, focusing on the Dota 2 Esports scene, as it is one of the largest ones out there as well as the one that I’m more specialized in, there has been one notable scandal of this type that happened only about a year ago. Clement Ivanov, his online named being “Puppey”, is part owner of the Esports organization called "Team Secret", as well as being the captain of their Dota 2 team. He’s a highly skilled player who’s been in the Dota 2 competitive scene since its humble beginnings, having been one of the players on the winning team of the International 2011, the biggest Dota tournament at the time, winning his share of a million dollar prize pool.
And having always been considered to be an amazing captain, trustworthy and hard-working and all around great guy, things changed when Jacky Mao, a former Team Secret member, released a blog post in September of 2016, where he shed some light on the Team Secret organization, as well as on Clement himself and how he is as a person. After the blog was made public, other people who had been former team members of Puppey in the past also started to speak up about his true personality. The blog can be found here:
Long story short, the Team Secret organization had said that it was an organization that would provide players with food and housing when travelling to play in tournaments. This meant players wouldn’t have to pay for any of this, right? Well turns out, the Team Secret organization partook in particularly shady activity, including being late in paying their players their tournaments winnings, in some cases taking several months before being paid their thousands of dollars in hard-earned money. So that’s already a red-flag and very unprofessional, but that’s not even the worse part.
The organization that promised to pay for the team’s needs when going to tournaments was technically not paying for it from their own pockets. Team Secret was taking a 10% cut of their players’ tournament winnings and using that money to pay for those costs, without the players knowledge. In fact, the only player on the team of five players who knew about this practice was Clement/Puppey himself. This kind of thing is the real life equivalent of your friend taking you out to a restaurant and saying he’d pay for it, but actually paid the bill with money he stole from your wallet before even going out. It’s essentially stealing in a very scummy way. Not only that, but Puppey himself had been accused, with sizeable proof that he was a lazy captain, often times not even showing up to practice because he was too busy sleeping, or worse, sometimes being verbally abusive to his teammates, and threatening physical confrontations. You can read all of this in Jacky’s blog post, but this is just the more notable and awful things that Puppey has done, even though he had been seen and thought of as a true role-model in the Dota 2 scene.
And this surely wasn’t the first scandal of this sort, and it most likely won’t be the last. But the same is true with real-sports. But what’s going good for Esports right now is that it hasn’t reached that same standard as regular sports: it’s not as mediated and covered publicly, and the consequences given to the people who do engage in these scandals or cheating/fixing aren’t as shamed or shunned as would a sports-star or celebrity in similar circumstances. It won’t affect their long-term life outside of the Esports scene all that much if at all, and that’ll stay true for as long as Esports is still in its infancy.
But it is growing, and it’ll keep growing. Eventually, Esports will be respected and as popular as regular sports, or maybe even more so. And that’s when these scandals could become a far bigger deal and dangerous for the scene and the people involved. The viewerbase will rise higher and higher, and more people will know about these things as they come up. The people involved will then have to deal with their public image and reputation being ruined, and possibly even losing their career and loved ones. It’s not like it hasn’t happened in the past in real sports, and it could very easily happen in Esports. Those are the dangers of the rising media, but then again, any publicity, even bad, is good publicity. If Esports can start being talked about by even the people who don’t know anything about it, then the growth will never stop.
Here's a podcast by Dota 2 personalities giving their thoughts on scandals and match-fixing, and throwing around ideas on how to deal with it or punish it: "WARNING: STRONG LANGUAGE"
But Esports has so much more to offer than drama and scandals: it gives people an opportunity to follow their passion in multiple ways and feel accepted in a community. Gone are the days of kids in school being picked on because they are always alone playing video-games. They always have something to turn back to, and that’s the community of people that they have learned to appreciate and play with.
When he’s not desperately trying to climb the Dota 2 MMR leaderboards, Francis can usually be seen playing on his Nintendo 3DS or Switch, or writing long and short fiction on his limited spare time. Oh, and he’s on Youtube 24/7.