ESL lifts lifetime ban against Counter-Strike: Global Offense match fixers

Following an Esports Integrity Coalition survey on "community opinion on the appropriate sanctions for those caught cheating in esports," ESL has announced a decision to lift its lifetime ban on players, including those of the former iBUYPOWER team, who were caught throwing matches. 

The sorry tale stretches back to early 2015, when Daily Dot posted evidence of collusion between CS:GO teams iBUYPOWER and NetcodeGuides.com to fix matches and then place bets on their outcome. Following a deeper investigation, Valve issued an "indefinite" ban against the involved players, an injunction that both ESL and ESEA [Esports Entertainment Association] said they would uphold. Valve later clarified that the bans were in fact "permanent." 

But the ESIC survey found that, while match-fixing is cheating and cheating is bad, the CS:GO community doesn't really see it as an especially big deal. "It is clear from the hundreds of 'FreeIBP,' 'FreeSWAG,' and 'FreeBRAX' comments that a very significant number feel that the lifetime bans handed out in the IBP and other historic match-fixing cases were too harsh and, while a significant number of comments support lifetime bans for such activity overall, many more are critical of the publisher’s decision in these cases," it wrote in its Statement on Appropriate Sanction for Cheating in Esports

"ESIC is concerned that the community does not regard match-fixing as serious an offense as cheating to win. ESIC believes that match-fixing is as serious as cheating to win and is, consequently, committed to engaging with the community to try and persuade them that their current perception ought, perhaps, to change." 

The community's willingness to overlook the transgression is not "the only view that matters," but combined with a review of the "publicly available facts," it led ESIC to recommend that the lifetime bans be lifted on August 1 of this year.   

"Our reasoning here is that, whilst the players are clearly culpable and should have known better, the rules surrounding this sort of activity were not clear at the time, no education had been provided to the players, and the procedures used to sanction them were not transparent and did not comply with principles of natural justice," it wrote. 

ESL said in its own statement that it and the ESEA held their own meeting with CS:GO pros in June, as part of the ESIC process, to get their perspective on the matter. As a result, ESL said it will "align its official stance on the topic with ESIC’s guidance": Rules for all IEM, ESL One, ESL Pro League, and ESEA Leagues and amateur events will be updated to reflect the recommendations, and "all indefinite match-fixing bans placed on players before February 15, 2015, have been lifted," including those of former iBUYPOWER players. 

"We believe that integrity and fair play are of the utmost importance in esports, and our updated catalogue of sanctions reflects that commitment”, ESL senior vice president Ulrich Schulze said. The slate isn't being wiped completely clean, however: ”All of these adjustments do not apply to bans and punishments issued by Valve directly though, which will still be in place for all Valve sponsored tournaments run by ESL, such as Majors.” 

Addressing the issue of unclear rules, ESL also announced that it will adopt ESIC's recommended sanctions for future offenses. 

  • Cheating: Disqualification from the tournament, results voided, forfeiture of prize money, ban between 2 year and lifetime depending on age and level of player and nature/size of tournament and how the player cheated (this offence includes “smurfing” where both parties involved are liable to sanctions). Cheating at a competition played above an amateur level (i.e. where significant prize pool is involved or qualification for a professional event is at stake) should normally result in a 5 year ban, but, in aggravating circumstances, can result in a lifetime ban.
  • Match-Fixing/betting fraud: Results voided, 5 year ban unless significant mitigating factors in line with the ESIC Anti-Corruption Code or, in the presence of aggravating circumstances, a longer ban, forfeiture of prize money and monetary fine (if discovered before the end of a tournament, disqualification).
  • Doping: Results voided, ban of between 1 and 2 years, forfeiture of prize money (if discovered before the end of a tournament, disqualification).
  • Competition manipulation and bribery: Results voided, ban of between 1 and 2 years, forfeiture of prize money and monetary fine (if discovered before the end of a tournament, disqualification).

The above penalties will be applied for first offenses. For subsequent offenses, ESL and ESC warned that "participants should expect far harsher sanctions and, in the cases of (a) and (b) above, in all likelihood, a lifetime ban from esports." 

ESL said in February 2015 that it would abide by Valve's bans against the players in question, "until these cases are reviewed by Valve." That clearly happened last year, when the bans were declared permanent—and while this might be backing into it a bit, that presumably opened the door for ESL and ESEA to chart its own course, and ultimately lift the bans. I've emailed Valve to ask if it plans to grant a reprieve of its own, and will update if I receive a reply.