By Kenneth Williams
The Esports Integrity Commission is the most prominent fair-play organisation in esports. We caught up with its integrity commissioner, Ian Smith, who has overseen several cheating scandals in esports, including the 2020 coach bug and screen-sniping fiasco, both in Counter-Strike.
Betting markets and data
Betting operators can help mitigate cheating in sports competitions, in particular match-fixing, in a few principal ways.
The first is to be a lot more careful about what markets they put up because one of the big problems is the prevalence of markets, both in number and value. There’s tremendous temptation these days for players at the bottom end of Tier 2 and Tier 3 to look at a betting situation and discern very, very easily that they can earn more money betting against themselves, manipulating the market, than they can by winning the competition.
Take that, alongside the fact that many of these low-level competitions are very poorly organised and the data being derived from them is not particularly reliable on many occasions, and you can see there is an issue. So the betting operators need to take responsibility for the fact that, at that level, they are, to some extent, facilitating or at least asking for betting fraud, especially if they’re not using official data. They should avoid using unofficial sources of data such as a data scrape or a Twitch feed for something like that.
I would ask the industry to be a lot more careful about what markets they put out. I know I’m speaking into a strong wind here because operators need to put markets up to retain their clients, and the more they put up, the more lines they get and retain. I know I’m being unrealistic in asking for that, but I don’t think it’s unrealistic to make attempts at betting operator levels of data to do official data deals. At least make sure you’re getting reliable data and that those markets are properly monitored for unusual and suspicious betting and that is then reported to us or, at the very least, to the tournament organiser.
Communication and engagement with ESIC
At the moment, with the best will in the world, the Esports Integrity Commission is the only show in town when it comes to betting integrity. There is nowhere else to go unless, as a betting operator, when you detect something, you go directly to the tournament organiser. In my experience, betting operators don’t tend to do that. We have a central function around a suspicious and unusual bet alert network which currently has about 23 or 24 betting operators globally. It also has betting regulators, like the United Kingdom Gambling Commission, the Maltese Gaming Authority, the Nevada Gaming Control Board, New Jersey DGE, Isle of Man and Australian regulators. And we work with many of the data companies that provide official and unofficial data to the betting operators as well as the monitoring services like the International Betting Integrity Association and Global Lottery Monitoring Service.
In other words, we take as best we can all the interested parties and create a network for exchange of suspicious and unusual betting information so people can protect their own company position, and then we can protect the esports industry and tournament operators by doing something about it at the other end with our tournament organiser members. That way, at least we’re all working together for the same purpose.
It’s definitely a truism that betting operators have a direct interest in competitive integrity. They just come at it from a different direction. From their point of view, it’s the betting operator’s money that is getting stolen by the betting fraudsters, the guys who are match-fixing or facilitating the match-fixing. So they have a direct commercial interest in esports having competitive integrity.
Then the esports industry, the tournament operators and publishers, obviously have a direct interest in competitive integrity because, without it, the product is tainted, and they will haemorrhage fans. If people don’t believe what they’re watching is real, a genuine competition between two players or two teams trying to win, then what are they watching? They’re watching something made-up, like Pro Wrestling or something like that where it’s just a show, its just entertainment. They have a lot of choices as consumers, and if they abandon your platform, your game, your match, what happens is your sponsors leave, your broadcasters leave, your prize money drops, you can hold fewer competitions with lower prize money and the whole scene dies. It’s the players who suffer most in that situation. We all have an interest in competitive integrity; we just come at it from different directions. I’ve always taken the view, right from the beginning, that we have to work in close cooperation with betting operators.
Those are the two things they can do. First, be a lot more careful about what they put up on the boards in terms of markets, make sure to use reliable data and not inadvertently put temptation in the player and team’s way. Second, join with us in terms of the suspicious betting alert network and participate actively in that, both to protect their own business and also to protect the esports industry itself.