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More allegations of match-fixing and illegal betting activity in pro StarCraft

The famous "contender" speech from On the Water Front, with Brando staring his brother in the eye in the back of a cab.

A couple weeks ago, betting site Pinnacle Sports voided all bets on a Proleague match based on what they deemed suspicious betting patterns that made them think some bettors had some foreknowledge of the match’s results. Now, over this past weekend, Axiom eSports manager Olivia Wong vented on Twitter that match-fixing has become endemic in the Korean StarCraft 2 scene.

She implicated several tournaments in her comments, and suggested that some pro players were even working with bettors to fix match-results.

Olivia Wong is the assistant manager for Axiom eSports, the StarCraft 2 team owned by TotalBiscuit, and her frustration boiled over on Sunday. She posted a Tweet saying, “I enjoy my job/SC2, but this gaming community is worse than CS:GO’s match fixing. The Korean scene is being funded by illegal betters.”

While the CS:GO scene has found itself embroiled in match-fixing scandals, Wong pointed out that the StarCraft scene has recently had a proliferation of small tournaments from minor streamers with prize pools of a couple thousand dollars, and hinted that the money was coming from Korean bettors. She then listed a bunch of minor tournaments to illustrate her point.

Team owner John “TotalBiscuit” Bain released a statement backing-up his employee and going into more detail about the team’s growing concern about the integrity of Korean StarCraft 2. It’s a good summary of the murky behavior that’s swirling around the lower-tier StarCraft tournament scene right now.

As TotalBiscuit explains it, betting sites (like Pinnacle) don’t close betting until a match actually starts, but the average tournament stream is running a few minutes behind. Bettors are getting into the observers in some cases, or by simply harassing and bribing players to throw matches.

But the people sneaking into tournament lobbies is the real problem, because those people will have access to the game playing out in real-time, and can place bets based on what they see happening. Because the stream hasn’t caught up, betting sites are still open to take wagers on these matches.

Bain writes:

A lot of these smaller tournaments online are getting mysterious sponsors from Korea. They almost never list a company or product that’s sponsoring the event, but they have prizepools of $1-2k that come from a mysterious benefactor. More often than not these are Korean betters and they give the money in return to access to the game. These events often require than an “admin” will be in the game. That admin is either a better himself or is feeding information to a selection of betters, bypassing the stream delay. How deep this goes remains to be seen. It’s entirely feasible that these people are also approaching players to fix matches.

These accusations have already caused a bit of a panic among small tournament organizers. SC2Improve.net releaseda statement saying that they were cutting ties with their sponsor. The organization also confirmed that their sponsorship deal did, in fact, look an awful lot like what TotalBiscuit was describing:

The set-up is very similar to what others have described for the illegal betting. He asked to observe in-game, which is something I knew they previously did for the Connecting Slovenia tournaments, and asked for a five minute delay to be set (which is less than what other tournaments have been running on, apparently.) Personally I found both requests fairly reasonable, though I didn’t really know why they wanted to be in the game I assumed they just wanted to be around should something happen or perhaps they were collecting the replays. The delay I found to be perfectly reasonable as well. Usually I run SC2ITL broadcasts with a 2-3 minute delay, but a 5 minute delay for a larger tournament with a higher prize pool at stake seemed fair.

So far, no pros have been implicated in match-fixing and throwing games. But this is an incredibly toxic mix of poor oversight and illicit money that’s washing around the StarCraft scene. It seems like a matter of time before a larger scandal breaks. If there isn’t yet a major fire behind all this smoke, Blizzard and eSports oversight bodies in Korea need to take some steps to contain the damage and put a stop to this before we see a repeat of the Brood War match-fixing scandal.

Update, February 10:So the Korean eSports Association (KeSPA) has started to take action. According to a translation posted on Team Liquid, KeSPA is now going to be vetting online tournaments before allowing its players to compete.

KeSPA is one of the few eSports regulatory bodies in the world with actual teeth. The best players in the world are allowed to participate in foreign and online events at KeSPA’s discretion. While KeSPA has become increasingly permissive in the last couple years, these betting problems may cause the orgnization to clamp-down once again. It would be a shame if it makes it harder for great players to compete in tournaments but, clearly there are questions of integrity that KeSPA is quite right to address.