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IBIA: esports’ integrity issues

By - 5 April 2022

Khalid Ali, CEO of the International Betting Integrity Association, details the pressing issues related to esports match fixing and what can be done to prevent it.

How are threat assessments made when it comes to different types of esports?

IBIA’s members have traders with detailed knowledge of the esports landscape. They are experts in their field and understand the varying array of potential avenues to manipulate esports events and corrupt betting markets.

The association works closely with its members and the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) when alerts are raised to address potential integrity issues.

Every alert is treated on a case- by-case basis, assessing the specific attributes of each which, as with all sports and related alerts, can vary widely in the justification for identifying and relaying concerns to ESIC and any regulatory partners.

Fundamentally, there is no ‘one size fits all approach’ to assessing the threat in any sport; esports is no different in that regard, but it clearly also poses potential new challenges as a result of its diverse global governance, regulation, speed of growth and its relatively new emergence into the sporting and betting landscape.

Those are matters that IBIA and its members fully recognise and factor into our operational functions, both from an integrity and business perspective.

Manipulation has an unwelcome and adverse impact on the sport and our members, and we want to do our utmost to work with reputable parties like ESIC to address that with robust sanctions and clear messages to esports participants.

IBIA wants clean sport and a safe and fair betting environment with well- regulated operators committed to upholding integrity.

Do different esports offer different levels of risk when it comes to match manipulation? So do some eSports pose more risk than others?

Certain esports may be offered more often for betting than others. That doesn’t mean that they are necessarily risker, just more attractive as a product, and the vast majority of markets offered have no integrity issues.

The Optimum Betting Market Study published last year showed that of 650,000 events, including esports, offered for betting by IBIA members, 99.96 per cent had no suspicious betting alerts. There was an alert on 1 in every 2,700 sporting events on which betting was offered.

Over the five-year period 2017-2021, IBIA reported 71 cases of suspicious esports betting from a total of 1,222 alert reported across all sports. The esports cases where lead by Dota 2, followed closely by esoccer and CS:GO.

Those three accounted for around nearly 90 per cent of esports alerts. It is important to note that the risk of an esport may be significantly impacted by the rules and regulations (or lack of) governing different esports tournaments around the world, which can vary greatly.

Poor governance and integrity practices provide a conduit for corrupters. Indeed, we would consider tournaments operated by organisers that are not partnered with ESIC, and signed up to their code of conduct, to be at a greater risk of being corrupted.

Is there evidence to suggest that corruption in esports betting is a growing problem?

The number of IBIA alerts has grown, reaching 30 in 2021, but that should be considered in context, notably inrelation to the growing amount of betting activity and the overall number of alerts raised across all sports, which numbered 236 in 2021.

It is clear that as the global popularity of esports has increased so too has the demand for betting on it with offerings by operators increasing significantly in recent years, to include a wider range of competitions and markets.

Esports focussed and esports only betting operators, such as unikrn.com, have also become more commonplace. With the estimated total value of bets placed in the concluded League of Legends mid-season invitational, a 17-day event played in May 2021, at $96m, esports is clearly becoming an increasing focus of betting customers.

Indeed, esports betting is expected to grow fivefold from $0.26bn in regulated market gross win in 2019 to $1.37bn in gross win by 2026 according to H2 Gambling Capital.

To put that into perspective, while it is some way behind the global leader of football (soccer) with an expected $45.85bn in regulated gross win by 2026, esports betting is expected to be higher than traditional sports such as golf ($0.35bn) and rugby ($0.67bn), and not far behind ice hockey ($1.66bn).

While the expansion in popularity and betting markets has been relatively notable in the recent past and continued growth likely, the integrity related challenges that are being posed to the infrastructure in place to combat such problems are being met as stakeholders collaborate and resources improve.

Where is black market betting action coming from when it comes to esports? Is it mainly coming from Asia?

The unregulated market presents a particular challenge for the integrity of all sports. Well regulated betting markets have introduced an infrastructure to combat the threat of betting related fraud and to act as a deterrent to it.

However, there are significant challenges surrounding the proliferation of betting options outside of the regulated market. In that often- opaque space there is little oversight, accountability, or deterrent, for those involved in betting fraud.

Indeed, while the well- regulated market has reporting and investigative mechanisms in place to combat betting related fraud through identifying customer account level activity, the likelihood of such fraud being committed outside of the regulated market increases dramatically.

Without an effective regulatory structure, the propensity for ESIC and esports event organisers to acquire actionable information is greatly reduced, and so therefore is the ability to identify and sanction corruption.

The unregulated market, notably in Asia, is a clear conduit for such illicit activity. However, there are markets where operators are licensed but where there is in effect no regulatory oversight or integrity provisions in place, such as the Philippines and Curacao. Those markets also present a clear integrity threat.

There has to be a question as to whether it is appropriate for esports competition organisers to engage with such operators, notably in supplying data to generate betting markets, and the potential impact on integrity. That is a commercial and integrity issue for them to consider.

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