E-sport attracts millions of players and even more viewers around the world. This number is constantly growing every year. The pandemic caused many people to try their hand at professional gaming, streaming or betting on the results of electronic games. Traditionally, where there is a large, committed community, there are sponsors and great prizes. And there is something to fight for. It is estimated that esports are currently worth over a billion dollars, and this number could quadruple over the next few years.
It may surprise you, but the history of esports is quite distant. The Space Invaders championship was held in 1972 at Stamford University for the first tournament to win a prize (an annual subscription to the Rolling Stones magazine). As many as 10,000 people took part in them, and the tournament itself was widely reported in the media. Since then, prizes in locally organized LAN competitions have only grown. In 1997, you could win $15,000 for winning the CPL. However, a lot has changed with the development of the gaming industry, and more precisely after the premiere of several titles – Counter Strike, Quake III Arena, Unreal Tournament, Starcraft, Age of Empires II, and a bit closer to our times: Fortine, DOTA2, League of Legends.
Big stakes game
What’s been the biggest prize in an esports tournament so far? The 2019 DOTA2 International Championship had a prize pool of more than $34 million!. For the first place in this team competition, a team of five called OG won over $15.5 million. 18 teams and a total of 90 players took part in the entire tournament. However, this is not the end. The Fortnite World Cup Finals 2019 tournament held the largest individual prize. The winner was paid 3 million dollars. The top earning players can be found at esports earnings.
The highest earning Pole is currently Michał “Nisha” Jankowski. He has been playing DOTA2 and won nearly $ 1 million in 53 tournaments. He is only 20 years old and his first esports money went to him at the age of 14. It was just $351.
Such large prize pools act like a magnet and are increasing every year, breaking new records. Thanks to this, there is no shortage of new players, as well as people who have made regular work of playing and train for several hours every day or even more before the next tournaments, or the so-called Showmatch mini tournaments. As in regular sports, many bookmakers began to offer the possibility of betting on the results of individual matches, ladders in entire tournaments, or various detailed curiosities such as: will there be overtime, which team in CS will shoot more opponents with a gun, etc. They are very similar to classic bookmakers’ bets but they do differ in one decisive thing – in many cases the under-18s’ game is being staked out. This raises a lot of controversy and opportunities for abuse. For this reason, esports betting is treated on an equal footing with online casinos and other online betting sites. They are simply banned in many countries, including Poland.
In several European countries, all online betting and casino operations are allowed, but most of the rules are very strict. Many gambling websites offering online betting checks which country the user is entering from. If it is not on the white list – a message will be displayed that no access to any part of the page is available. In mid-2019, there was an unprecedented situation in GTA V online. The creators add new content regularly, and the community of players in GTA V online is huge. Almost 7 years after its premiere, over 100,000 people still play this game non-stop. In July 2019, another update was released that removed access to the virtual casino for some players. A dedicated large game expansion pack has been blocked in many countries around the world due to the gambling theme. Players could not only perform a casino robbery, but also play roulette, blackjack, poker, slot machines, or spin the wheel of fortune. The creators did not cut the content due to the large number of young players (although the game is theoretically from 18 years of age). They just had to conform to local regulations.
Illegal esport match fixing
In the case of esports, some sites allow you to bet not only with real money, but also on virtual items, often difficult to get loot in many games. These are often sold for big money on classifieds websites. However, high prizes and the possibility of betting on results meant that, as in traditional sports, abuses began to occur. Already in 2010, the first match-fixing plague broke out in South Korea. The scandal concerned the game StarCraft: Brood War and ended with a prison sentence. This, however, did not deter players from scheming. In 2014, it was discovered that one of the Epsilon eSports players during a CS tournament, playing against the Overgaming team, had bet against himself. The bet was worth 100 euros, but resulted in a lifetime ban for Joey “fxy0” Schlosser. Joey was one of the better players at the time to be tempted, which meant the end of his career for him at the age of 20.
The bad streak at CS continued. In 2015, the aforementioned Epsilon team, as well as ESC and ALSEN Team were banned for match-fixing. In the same year, another lifetime ban went to iBUYPOWER players, and there was a high-profile case in South Korea. Famous StarCraft player Lee “Life” Seung Hyun was kicked out of the Korean esports association KESPA due to the match-fixing scandal. The player was arrested by the police and sentenced to 3 years in prison and the payment of the equivalent of approximately 50 000 euro penalty.
Games’ lootbox problem
2016 was a flood of many problems on the esports scene. The most famous case was CSGOlotto, which offered the brokerage of skins for Counter Strike: Global Offensive. However, it did it by introducing an element of randomness. Swapping skins has become a real example of the economy in the game. People were paying real money for items that made cosmetic changes to the game. The whole problem was that the player was never the owner, but the VALVE studio that made the game. It was the creators of CSGOLotto who came up with the idea to use the API provided by the creators, they turned real money into “skins” from the game, so that players (mainly minors) could bet on them in roulette. They paid with skins that were technically worthless, but weren’t theirs either. In this way, the ban on gambling was bypassed, and the player had a chance to win the better the item he put into the pot himself. In practice, many minors played and lost virtual items of very high value. It is estimated that items worth several hundred thousand dollars were traded, for which the creators of the site took a 10% commission. However, the biggest scandal was caused by the fact that there were two famous players behind the site: YouTubers and streamers with a large community. They promoted the site enumerating countless benefits, not to mention that they earn a lot of money themselves. In this way, they encouraged their viewers to gamble, mainly minors. The community put great pressure on the publisher of the game to encourage underage gambling.
In mid-2016, Twitch banned streamers from promoting gambling services, and Valve sent a letter to 23 sites that violated Stream’s terms of service and used their API on gambling sites. For this reason, the CSGO Lounge website had to disable the possibility of betting on matches with skins available in the game. It is estimated that in 2016 alone, the value of wagers using skins reached the equivalent of approximately $ 1 million.
How the topic of eSports, penalties, rewards and gambling looked like in the following years – more about it in the next article.