In August, Australian police arrested six Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players on suspicion of match-fixing: The players allegedly made a deal to throw matches, and then placed bets on those matches themselves. Now an Australian Broadcasting Corporation report says that police have also received reports about corruption involving a pro Overwatch team.
Victoria Police assistant commissioner Neil Paterson said that other reports of CS:GO match-fixing have been received by the force's Sporting Integrity Intelligence Unit, and there are also allegations that the owners of an Australian-based Overwatch Contenders team have links to organized crime. That team has allegedly been involved in matches where "betting anomalies" were reported.
"There is no test of a fit and proper person to be engaged as an owner of an esports team. We are seeing people encroach on that area that have reputations that [mean they] probably … shouldn't be involved in this part of esports," Paterson said. "I could absolutely guarantee that this wouldn't be the only [alleged] incidence of match fixing or betting anomalies on esports environments in the Australian market."
University of Sydney lecturer Mark Johnson said that one of the reasons corruption is spreading is simply that esports remains largely misunderstood by mainstream audiences. "The video game industry is worth more than films and music combined, but they are still not taken seriously," Johnson said. "I don't really watch traditional sports but I know what they are, whereas if you don't watch esports you don't know anything about them."
But even those who are familiar with esports may not fully perceive the seriousness, and potential consequences, of their actions. Paterson said that five of the people recently arrested were 20 years old or younger and had no criminal history, but were now facing up to ten years in prison for corrupt conduct relating to a betting outcome.
"They're getting involved in [corruption] offences ... at quite a young age that have serious consequences for them," he said. "The sheer volume of young men involved in gambling, both in high school and in universities, is at epidemic proportions. What I'm not seeing is anyone doing anything particularly about that."
The amount of money involved in the CS:GO match-fixing case is estimated to be $30,000, but the potential for far greater losses is obvious given the potential prizes up for grabs in top tier esports competitions: 16-year-old Kyle 'Bugha' Giersdorf recently won $3 million in the Fortnite World Cup, and The International 2019 prize pool is currently sitting at $34.3 million.
For now, the Victoria Police investigation into CS:GO match-fixing allegations is ongoing: Paterson said he believes that "dozens" more people could be arrested a result.