In October 2015, news broke that as many as eleven people were indicted for match-fixing charges in the Korean StarCraft 2 eSports scene. The latest release of the full report, names two of the players who received lifetime bans were made public.

One of which is Lee “Life” Seung Hyun, one of the game’s greatest pros and 10-time tournament champion. However sordid the details are, it’s critical to understand why this scandal is not endemic to Korea or StarCraft 2. Instead, it is indicative of the potential for widespread match fixing scandals across the competitive video game landscape.

Current headlines surrounding the StarCraft 2 scandal read along the lines of “match fixing making its way into competitive video games,” with an undertone that recent developments are some sort of validation of emergence as a “real sport.” Unfortunately, unlike traditional sports, eSports does not have the benefit of standing as a widely accepted social institution. Meaning even spot instances, like this, damage overall competitive integrity and hinder general progress. Furthermore, there are several factors, prevalent across all eSports titles, which effectively raise the odds of similar scandals occurring; if they aren’t already in play. None of these are more impactful than current prospects for professional players.

Despite rising levels of industry investment and revenue, professional players continue to receive the short end of the stick. From being classified as contract labor, to the void in formal representation and lack of players unions, eSports pros are exposed to the raw reality of a global marketplace with zero safety net. While this variable is likely to change with continued growth of the domain. In the meanwhile, eSports remains a breeding ground for match fixing. A leading reason: the threshold for integrity is too low. In the StarCraft 2 scandal, throwing matches in the KeSPA Cup paid over $61,000 USD, which was seven times the prize money for first place ($8,800 USD). Facing propositions like this, it’s not difficult to see how the temptation to engage in match-fixing is strong.

Pavol Krasnovsky
“I think it is important that eSport athletes are well compensated. This will eliminate some of the financial motivation behind match fixing/cheating.”
– Pavol Krasnovsky, CEO of RTSmunity – “eSports, a safe bet for operators?

Obviously, there are notable differences between prize pools inStarCraft 2 and other game titles. For example, five members of the winning team of the Defense of the Ancients 2 (DOTA 2) International 2015 were instant millionaires, splitting $6.6 million USD of the over $18 million USD total pot. Yet this was the largest moneyed eSports tournament of all time. In fact, the second largest eSports prize pool in 2015 was $2.6 million USD. The top heavy nature of tournament winnings combined with the absence of guaranteed contracts, minimum salaries and full benefits leaves pro players as sitting ducks for nefarious influences. Not to mention, outside of the Korean e-Sports Association (KeSPA), there are zero independent organizations with oversight functions across the competitive scene; a reality that leaves the threshold for integrity in eSports, not just low but, essentially non-existent.

Ultimately, should the growth of eSports betting (legal and illegal) continue to outpace the general prospects for professional players, match fixing will inevitably become an unfortunate fixture. And lacking organized governance, it will continue to slip under the radar. While there is solace in leveraging integrity solutions typically employed in traditional sports, until the price of integrity is higher in eSports, this will remain an exercise in flagging the symptoms instead of treating the actual ailment.

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About ‘eSports IQ’

The ‘eSports IQ’ is compiled by Alex Fletcher, the founder and president of Entiva Group, LLC, and features insights on the latest emerging trends in eSports. By curating invaluable content from a wide range of information sources you get the leading edge in the business of eSports.

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Image source:, Photographer: Helena Kristiannson