New Esports Integrity Coalition takes aim at underage gambling and match-fixing

by Josh Bury Jul 5 2016
Thumbnail image courtesy of Esports Integrity Coalition

A new coalition of tournament organizers, esports sponsors and legal experts is looking to take on some of the biggest legal and ethical problems plaguing the esports industry.

The new Esports Integrity Commission, or ESIC, launched Tuesday in London with ESL, DreamHack, Intel, and betting sites Unikrn and Betway among its founding members. According to a release on the organization's new website, it is a not-for-profit members' association created to provide "an overarching integrity function for professional esports."

ESIC lists its chief areas of concern as betting fraud, cheating and doping. "In response to the rapidly increasing threat of betting fraud arising from a burgeoning esports betting market," the release states, "the aim of ESIC is to be the recognised guardian of the integrity of esports and to take responsibility for disruption, prevention, investigation and prosecution of all forms of cheating, including, but not limited to, match manipulation and doping."

ESIC says it has developed an integrity program for members which includes a code of conduct, anti-corruption code, anti-doping policy and independent disciplinary procedures. The organization intends for the program to be adopted primarily by tournament organizers, platforms, betting markets and publishers. Members will have a responsibility to report infractions or perceived infractions as part of their obligation to the coalition.

ESIC's first commissioner, Ian Smith, is a UK-based lawyer who served as legal director for the Professional Cricketers' Association starting in 2004. Anna Rozwandowicz, ESL's director of communications, is also a board member, as is esports lawyer Bryce Blum.

"This is a lofty goal, to be sure," Blum wrote in an article published today on Unikrn promoting the new coalition. "And if I’m being honest, I can’t sit here today and guarantee ESIC will be successful. But the threats to competitive integrity are mounting, the stakes have never been higher, and it’s time for the industry to take a concrete first-step toward the type of self-regulation it desperately needs."

Though ESIC appears to have been in the making for several months, its launch coincides with a CS:GO betting scandal involving prominent YouTube personalities, one of them a minority owner of Team EnVyUs, as well as a class-action lawsuit against Valve over their alleged support of skin betting. A recent Bloomberg News article estimated that skin betting sites took in as much as $2.3 billion in 2015, much of it coming from gamers who are under the legal age to gamble with real money.

"More than 90% of the esports betting market comes in the form of skin-betting, where the operators are neither licensed nor regulated in any meaningful capacity," Blum says. "In this environment, underage gambling is allowed to thrive and match-fixing goes largely unchecked — not to mention the potential for fraud, rigged results, and other misconduct that has recently come to the fore in the controversies surrounding CSGOLotto and CSGODiamonds."

He argues that regulated real-money gambling sites like Unikrn can serve as examples of how unregulated skin betting sites should operate. According to Blum, Unikrn bettors are required to undergo rigorous account verification to ensure they are of legal gambling age, and Unikrn uses monitoring services to detect and flag suspicious betting activity that could identify match-fixing or other forms of betting fraud.

In its release, ESIC says it will be open to all professional esports stakeholders and will attempt to operate as transparently as possible. However, it will have a long hill to climb.

Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a member of the Sushi Consumption Coalition. You can find him on Twitter.