Illegal Bets, Match-Fixing, Doping: The Dark Side of Esports

The fast-growing business of online video-game tournaments comes with a health warning for fans.

Last August, police in Australia’s Victoria province arrested six young men competing in the popular online video game “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.” The authorities, who had tracked the suspects for six months, said they had deliberately lost at least five tournament matches after illegally betting on their own defeats, in Australia’s first police investigation into esports match-fixing. If convicted, the men face up to 10 years in prison. 

With most sports on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, watching the world’s most talented gamers do battle online has never been more popular. The average number of viewers on Amazon’s Twitch platform has roughly doubled in April from a year ago. Fans use Twitch and rival services such as Google’s YouTube and Microsoft’s Mixer to watch professional gamers clash in anything from Electronic Arts’ best-selling FIFA soccer franchise to Activision Blizzard’s violent “Call of Duty” shooter. 

As money pours into the nascent industry, the temptation for players to break the rules is growing. Corruption is rife, with gamers caught cheating and illegal betting syndicates trying to fix matches. Because much of the action takes in a virtual world that spans multiple jurisdictions, it can be harder to stamp out than graft in regular sporting competitions. 

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