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Several orgs face potential Blizzard rule violation by partnering with gambling sponsors

by Josh Bury Jan 13
Thumbnail image courtesy of Blizzard Entertainment

Update: The HGC rule set for 2017 has been made public, and does not contain any provisions regarding gambling sponsorships. An earlier, non-public version of the rules did contain the same provisions as the qualifiers, prohibiting gambling-related sponsorships. The 2017 Hearthstone rules remain unchanged. theScore esports has reached out to Blizzard for comment, and will update the story accordingly.

Original story: The official rules for the Hearthstone Championship Tour and other Blizzard events have prohibited gambling sponsors since the circuit's inception in 2016, but some major esports organizations with players and teams in Blizzard esports are sponsored by gambling website gg.bet. The sponsorships could potentially violate Blizzard's ruleset for official leagues if they compete in 2017.

Section 6.10, subsection B of the 2017 Hearthstone Americas Championship Tour Official Competition Rules states that "gambling, or websites that offer gambling" are one of the sponsorship categories that "will not be allowed for any player participating in the Tour and/or Tour Events." While the 2017 version of the rules for Europe were not available at press time, the 2016 rules for both regions included this same restriction.

Similar rules exist for the Heroes of the Storm Global Championship, which Blizzard listed in section 6.9 for the EU qualifiers for the 2017 HGC Pro League as well as for other 2016 HGC events. They state that gambling sponsors "will not be allowed for any Team Member participating in the Qualifiers and/or Qualifier Events."

Gambling website gg.bet has partnered with a number of high-profile esports organizations since November, including several that sponsor Hearthstone players such as Alliance and Luminosity Gaming. Virtus.pro were also formerly listed among gg.bet's partners but have since been removed from the organization's website.

None of the organizations' teams or players have participated in official Blizzard events since signing on with the gambling website.

When reached by email, Luminosity Gaming CEO and founder Stephen Maida declined to comment on the matter. Alliance player logistics manager Erik Barge told theScore esports that he was not yet prepared to make a statement on the situation and Fnatic did not respond to a request for comment.

A representative for Blizzard Entertainment was not able to comment on the situation by press time.

Alliance entered Hearthstone on Sep. 28 with the signing of Jon "Orange" Westberg, and their partnership with gg.bet was announced on Dec. 22. Luminosity re-entered Hearthstone on Aug. 4 by signing Keaton "Chakki" Gill, Frank "Fr0zen" Zhang and Muzahidul "Muzzy" Islam, while their gg.bet sponsorship was announced on Nov. 5.

Fnatic, who partnered with gg.bet on Dec. 2, have one of the top ranked Heroes of the Storm teams in Europe. Their team did not have to participate in the qualifiers, however, as they placed Top 2 in their region.

gg.bet allows users to gamble on numerous esports, including Hearthstone and Heroes of the Storm. The gg.bet page for Hearthstone says that the esport "offers unpredictable competitive matches, where the underdog can easily defeat a tournament favorite. This creates some amazing e-sport betting opportunities, which you can try on gg.bet!"

It's unclear if gambling sponsors will be prohibited for Blizzard's upcoming Overwatch League, as the rule set has not been made public. But given that the other official Blizzard leagues in both Hearthstone and HotS have seen the same restriction, it wouldn't be surprising to find it among the league's eventual ruleset.

Fnatic's HotS team has their first Week 1 HGC 2017 Europe Pro League match on Jan. 21, at which point they will have violated the anti-gambling sponsor provision in the current rules. While the HGC 2017 ruleset has not yet been made public, theScore esports has been able to verify that the gambling sponsorship rules remain intact.

While the dates for the regional HCT events have not yet been announced, the HCT Winter Championship is set to start Mar. 23 at the Melia Nassau Beach All-Inclusive in the Bahamas.

The situation likely puts Blizzard and the teams at a sort of impasse and it is unclear if Blizzard will enforce the rule and mandate that teams drop all gambling-related sponsors or come to a different arrangement altogether.

Josh "Gauntlet" Bury is a news editor for theScore esports. You can find him on Twitter.

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