How do you spot a cheat? How do you look at a match and say with certainty that it’s been fixed, that the results could not have been the outcome of a fair competition? How does a player watch a match between, say, the mediocre Russian Dota 2 organizations Fantastic Five and Team Bad English and determine that the play style of the losing team wasn’t just bad or unlucky but in fact the result of that gambling buzzword, famed of boxing rings and horse races: match fixing?
What is match fixing, the purported cheat that may or may not have occurred in this round of the Dota 2 WellPlay Invitational? It’s a competition played despite the winner being known in advance, like a round in professional wrestling but with fewer folding chairs and more money exchanging hands. The key to match fixing is in the gambling, and esports gambling is on the rise.
The key to match fixing is in the gambling, and esports gambling is on the rise.
Traditional sports have historic issues with match fixing—if you’re hitting up a horse track without an “uncle” on the inside to feed you info, you could instead just set your money on fire. Esports have recently come under attack for similar issues, though on a decidedly smaller scale. While there have been higher profile match fixing scandals, as in horse racing, the match fixing isn’t happening at the Kentucky Derby. It’s happening at a small track with a smaller pot, with horses who are going to make far more money losing the race than they would winning the championship.
It’s easy to forget that most esports salaries are quite small—the bright lights of the International prize pool and it’s obscene wealth obscure the fact that not everyone in Dota 2 is playing for the big leagues. For every tournament with a $19 million dollar prize pool there are another dozen like the WellPlay Invitational, which boasts a mere $3000 purse. The thoroughly meme-ified case of Alexei “Solo” Berezin, who bet against his own team for $322 and spawned a culture of nicknaming match fixing off of his fraud (i.e., “Team Bad English 322’d the game”), showcases a problem in esports betting. When a team’s total earnings is under $20K (which is the case for Fantastic Five and Team Bad English), it’s easy to see why fixing the match for a sure monetary win would be a better, or at least understandable, decision than waiting to win a $3K pot. This isn’t even the first time that TBE has been accused of cheating—six months ago they were accused of cheating in an otherwise meaningless match against Enso.The easiest way to track a cheat is to follow their money./
The difficult thing about esports, indeed any sport, is that match fixing the better a given player is, the harder it is to tell whether their game losing error was a simple mistake, a misstep and what is actively throwing a match. The easiest way to track a cheat is to follow their money rather than sit and ruminate why they’d run solo into a team fight without backup. Ultimately, there’s no telling whether Team Bad English or Fantastic Five were involved in match-fixing. The closest we have to confirmation that there was something shady afoot in the WellPlay Invitational is that bookmaker Pinnacle removed odds on the match and refunded users the money they bet. Hmm.