One of the richest owners in the NFL, Robert Kraft, purchased a pro video game team, signaling another major milestone in the worldwide growth of eSports. Blizzard made the announcement for their hit game Overwatch in July 2017, revealing the first seven franchises to compete in the nascent league.
All signs point to the continued growth of the eSports industry, slated to break the billion-dollar mark in 2019. League of Legends, a popular MOBA published by Riot Games, attracted a larger audience than the 2017 NBA Finals, bringing in 36 million viewers for the 2015 World Championships.
Wagering on eSports has grown alongside the popularity of digital sport, with total handle in 2015 estimated in the $250 million range. By 2020, projections suggest a total of $23.5 billion in eSports betting. If eSports doesn’t follow the strict standards of regulated sports betting, the entire industry will struggle to maintain legitimacy.
eSports Industry Casually Repeats Century-Old Mistake
Nearly a century has passed since the Black Sox scandal. Since then, major league sports in North America have avoided repeating past mistakes. Match-fixing and insider betting in the NHL, NBA, MLB and NFL remain non-existent for all intents and purposes, with Arnold Rothstein types banished from the industry.
Any insider involvement results in excommunication from professional sports, as Pete Rose and Tim Donaghy unceremoniously found out. Floyd Mayweather, as Vegas wouldn’t allow the insider wager, was unable to bet on himself against Conor McGregor. And rightly so.
Insiders, during the early years of the eSports scene, don’t seem bothered that betting for or against their own teams represent a grave conflict of interest. A Dota 2 team analyst openly tweeted about betting on his own squad. An IBUYPOWER CS:GO team laughed and performed erratically while throwing a tournament and betting against themselves through a beard.
These incidents show a casual disregard for competitive integrity, a key component of legitimacy. At the very least, pro players, coaches and insiders need guidance when entering into high-profile eSports competitive scenes, preventing personnel from misguided actions which will end their career and future earning potential.
Established Regulations Nip Corruption In The Bud
The legitimate sports wagering industry implements rigorous checks and balances in the process of conducting lawful operations. Customers need to provide plenty of proof and identification because of a know-your-player initiative to prevent underage and unlawful play. Services provided by online sportsbooks operate in jurisdictions which require operators to
uphold fair play and prevent minors from accessing wagering opportunities.
eSports hasn’t addressed this issue adequately, especially when it comes to skins betting through the Steam gaming platform. Valve, owner of the uber-popular CS:GO, still allows access to an open API which facilitates illicit wagering activity via Steam. Betting high-value virtual items has real consequences for underaged video game fans who don’t fully understand the ramifications of their actions.
Even more troubling, popular YouTube personalities have been caught promoting skins betting sites they own, uploading manipulative YouTube videos to young fans. This type of corruption must immediately be eradicated in the realm of eSports, and companies like Valve must place themselves at the forefront of eliminating the potential of illicit wagering. Restricting the Open API and closing the CS:GO loot crate system to external influence would be a good place to start.
eSports Betting Boom Requires Established Solutions
Open insider betting and pandering to underage wagering are taboo subjects, both of which are prohibited in the sports betting industry. Established protections prevent these problems from affecting analog athletics, maintaining the integrity of the biggest pro sports leagues in the world.
An eSports boom is just around the corner, as inevitable as the wagering which will follow. If they are to establish long-lasting legitimacy and profitability, eSports must follow the strong example set by pro sports leagues and regulated sportsbooks.