Australia Investigates Esports Teams over Match Fixing and Mafia Links
The Australian government is currently investigating at least two esports tournament teams over allegations of match fixing and corruption, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) reported.
Counter-Strike E-Athletes Arrested over Match Fixing Allegations
The police in the Australia state of Victoria have issued arrest warrants for members of a local Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team for match fixing at a low-tier tournament. ABC described the team as semi-professionals.
The team came under fire for allegedly throwing a CS:GO match played in the ESEA-Mountain Dew League back in February. As the game continued, the local esports forums lit up with complaints that the team was intentionally losing.
"I have never ever seen anyone throwing this blatantly in the history of low-level match fixing," one fan wrote in an esports forum. Not everyone was convinced though. “It’s not throwing. They are just bad,” wrote another.
The allegations eventually made it into the organized crime division of the Victoria police, which also investigates sports betting. The police have arrested two “young men” in the team, but no one has been charged with crimes so far. Other individuals allegedly involved in the scheme are also under investigation, according to local news.
Esports is a billion dollar industry worldwide, and Australian businesses have high hopes of capitalizing on the industry’s fame. Some brands consider esports the best way to reach a demographic of young men. Others have expressed concern that esports is luring high schoolers and university students into the gambling industry.
Despite the rising popularity of esports, authorities do not take corruption and fraud in the industry seriously, according to local observers. The current investigation was prompted by the size of the jackpot, valued at around 30,000 Australian dollars. Top level e-athletes make millions of dollars. But for the low and mid-level tournaments, the winnings were sizeable compared to what other players usually make.
Victorian police have received complaints regarding at least five CS:GO matches the team was involved in, officials stated in a press release. The Victoria police commissioner told media that the investigation was first of its kind in the country involving esports and match fixing.
Australian Overwatch Team Being Investigated Over Organized Crime Links
Earlier in September, the Victoria police also began investigating a local Overwatch Contenders team. At least one member of the team is suspected of having links to organized crime.
Overwatch Contenders is a major tournament that players can participate in hopes of making it to the major Overwatch League. The prize pool for Contenders is $3 million U.S. dollars. There are currently eight teams competing in the Contenders level in Australia. Police have not named the team under investigation so far.
The police said investigations started after complaints came in reporting “betting anomalies” in Contender games. ABC reported that two players on the team under investigation told others to place bets on fixed matches.
The Overwatch investigation has spanned into two Australian states. Authorities have arrested at least six players and said that there could be dozens more arrests.
Concerns Regarding Integrity in Esports
The vast majority of esports fans are young, in their teens or early twenties. The young demographic paired with vast enthusiasm for esports have made the industry ripe for corruption, advocates say.
There’s little oversight within esports industry itself regarding issues like match fixing. Game developers like Activision-Blizzard, which owns Overwatch, are not actively engaged in keeping the betting landscape fair. Law enforcement agencies are not familiar with esports the same way as traditional sports to promptly open investigations, observers say.
Despite esports being almost a niche industry, the prize pools involved in competitive games are massive. Such factors are not contributing to corruption issues like match fixing, which are usually associated with traditional gambling games.
In Australia, at least, activists want game developers to be involved in ensuring integrity of matches where online wagering is involved. Most are concerned with the young age of those who place bets. In 2016, South Australia considered these concerns when banning all esports wagering.