Face off: Is betting bad for e-sports?


face off

Evan Lahti, Editor-in-Chief, US
Evan is legitimately afraid of CS:GO becoming the horse racing of e-sports.

Tyler Wilde, Executive Editor
Tyler really hopes he comes out on top in this debate, because he’s got five dollars on it.

In Face Off, PC Gamer writers go head to head over an issue affecting PC gaming. Today, Evan and Tyler argue whether or not betting on e-sports is a healthy part of its growth, or if it will only lead to more problems like the recent match fixing scandal.

Evan: UH, YEAH. Every week seems to bring another shocking revelation that more professional Counter-Strike players have thrown matches in order to win in-game skins through CSGO Lounge, a third-party betting site. These players have thrown their careers away in order to earn hundreds or a few thousand dollars’ worth of weapon skins. Their actions have devastated CS:GO’s integrity as a competitive game. It’s unclear how long these events will leave a scar on the scene, but for many, it’s already gutted their interest in what was a thriving, growing e-sport. “Say it ain’t so, ShahZam.”

Tyler: NO WAY! Sports and gambling go together like pure rocky mountain spring water and the best High Country barley! Where there are sports, there are bets (and watery, ice cold beer, mm). So, if e-sports are in fact sports, it follows that betting is inevitable, and I say it’s healthy. Except when it’s compulsive (unhealthy gambling is a problem of its own), betting on sports is an expression of passion. It’s saying, “I follow this so closely I can out-predict you.” And it’s just fun. It adds a layer of excitement and investment in the game, even if you’ve only got a buck down.

Evan: If an e-sport needs that extra layer of “excitement” to survive, it doesn’t deserve to.

Tyler: I don’t think betting is necessary—people are still going to watch the Super Bowl even if they aren’t in a pool—but the fact is that it does increase investment and help the sport grow. And that’s good! Tomi “lurppis” Kovanen said himself: “There is so much evidence in terms of viewership growth that betting is great for CS:GO that this really should not be a discussion.”

Evan: Here’s the difference: most e-sports don’t have a singular governing body like the NFL or FIFA (which have their own problems, certainly!) to police these issues. Riot does the best job of it—they committed themselves to manicuring every aspect of their game a long time ago. But in CS:GO’s case, it was actually CSGO Lounge—the betting service itself—that exposed players’ wrongdoing after noticing suspicious betting. That’s completely absurd! That’s like relying on the Mafia to report on racketeering.

Tyler: Even if CSGO Lounge is the wrong entity to police this, it still did. Clearly there are people who want to make this work, and e-sports just needs to grow into it. We’ll figure out which players and teams can be trusted, which ones police themselves and promote fair matches. There’s a demand to put money on e-sports, and that demand is increasing viewership and getting more people into it. Because of that, it will get better. There’s money to be made, which means cheaters won’t be tolerated. Capitalism at work!

Evan: It’s greed and immaturity at work. Look, I like that CS:GO and Dota 2 have open markets for items. It’s generally a good addition to their ecosystems. But the extent that the CS:GO scene has given betting a full-on, legs-wrapped-around-each-other embrace makes me uncomfortable. Teams make their own weapon skins in hopes that they’ll get officially released so they can get a cut of their Steam Market income. Leagues like FACEIT feature CSGO Lounge as sponsors and talk about betting like it’s just another, normal aspect of commentary.

I’m sure that betting has attracted a larger audience, but it’s also permeated competitive CS:GO with paranoia. Was that poor performance by LDLC just them having an off-day? Was that victory by North American underdog Cloud9 legitimate? In the same way that “hacks!” has been a ubiquitous accusation, these events have undermined competitive play for the foreseeable future.

Tyler: But that’s just the thing: over time, people will stop betting on matches clouded with doubt. No one wants to put money (or skins that cost money) on a suspicious competition. They’ll take their money to tournaments and matches they can trust, and in return, those organizations and teams will get bigger viewership and the untrustworthy will falter. And the whole CS:GO skin thing is just one little part of this. I truly believe that right now we’re just seeing growing pains. We’re seeing a sports scene which hasn’t quite matured discover the consequences of poor behavior, and it’s going to get better.

Evan: In the meantime, betting’s affecting everyone’s spectating experience. It’s gotten better, but DDoSing still disrupts matches to the point where they’re rescheduled or need to be cancelled altogether.

Tyler: I’ll return to lurppis to field that one. “It is easy to blame DDoSing only on betting, but it was already taking place in the CS 1.6 days when betting didn’t really exist,” he said. “Some people just want to see the world burn.” And it’s true, DDoS attacks are difficult to counteract, and they happen all the time for no reason whatsoever. Betting is just another excuse for dicks to be dicks, but they were already dicks.

Evan: If e-sports—CS:GO in particular—want to become truly mainstream, they need to kick their reliance on gambling for growth. They need to stop embracing betting as something that’s married to the metagame. Match fixing remains a threat to competitive games, and more betting and fantasy e-sports sites are popping up. Consider this: there are no real safeguards in place to prevent underage people from using their parents’ money to buy in-game skins, then gambling with them.

Tyler: I agree that that’s a problem. But hell, it’s a problem in gaming as a whole. How many purchase systems in free-to-play games could be considered gambling? What about buying TF2 keys? One thing I think needs to happen is a move away from things like skins. Stand-ins for money won't do—there should be no way to pretend gambling isn't gambling. If you want to bet on CS:GO or any other e-sport, you ought to have to do it properly... you know, with a company that legally takes your money.

It may be seen as a low form of entertainment, but with safeguards against abuse (both from players and betters), betting is just a bit of fun and it’ll do a lot to grow the scene. I admit that, right now, I wouldn’t want to bet on CSGO or any other e-sport—I’ll probably stick to hockey—but give them a few years and I think the market will figure itself out.

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