Is esports winning the war on match-fixing?
In March this year, Sportradar Integrity Services released a report titled: ‘Betting corruption and match-fixing in 2022,’ which provided an overview of suspicious betting activity in sports, including esports.
The report is filled with data on match-fixing across 12 different disciplines, with football (or soccer) standing head and shoulders above the rest – followed by basketball, tennis, table tennis and esports.
There’s plenty of talk about match-fixing in esports and if you’re unfamiliar with the space, seeing cases of match-fixing can look like a bigger red flag than in other sports. When looking at the number of cases and the scale at which they’ve occurred, it serves as food for thought for how we look at match-fixing in esports.
“The Chinese Basketball Association recently expelled the Shanghai Knights and Jiangsu Dragons for match-fixing in the playoffs, while the Coaches and GMs from both sides were also banned for periods of three-to-five years”
Just how big of a problem is match-fixing in esports?
Cases of match-fixing understandably generate a lot of noise and headlines, and there have been some high-profile cases of late in esports. One of the most recent incidents of alleged match-fixing occurred at the Dota 2 Lima Major that ran in February-March.
Chinese squad Knights had been repeatedly accused of match-fixing even before Lima and at the Major itself, there were reports of abnormal betting activity around their matches as they finished bottom of their group. The Knights’ players have since been banned by Dota 2 publisher Valve as part of a sweep through the Chinese competitive scene – with over 40 players receiving a mixture of permanent bans or one/two-year suspensions.
This scandal should, of course, be treated with the gravity it deserves, but it isn’t necessarily an outlier. It appears that Dota 2 is experiencing similar integrity challenges that can be found throughout China. The Chinese Basketball Association recently expelled the Shanghai Knights and Jiangsu Dragons for match-fixing in the playoffs, while the Coaches and GMs from both sides were also banned for periods of three-to-five years.
A recent report from Sportradar on the state of match-fixing across the globe found that no single sporting code (including esports) had a suspicious match ratio greater than 1% across all of 2022.
Of the 1,212 suspicious matches reported last year, football accounted for 775 (roughly 64%), with esports seeing just 36 (just under 3%). The report did add the caveat that their esports coverage didn’t cover every title but did include Counter-Strike and Dota 2, which have generally been the biggest sources of suspicious activity historically.
The challenges that match-fixing poses in sports and esports are very similar and there are many common strategies from sports that can be deployed in esports. There is one key difference though – esports is digitally native, which brings a host of added benefits.
“This depth means that traders and risk management have more resources available to them to spot match-fixing, in turn making it easier to build tools to detect suspicious activity in these digital ecosystems”
How being digital-first impacts match-fixing
When we say digital-first, we mean that everything in esports can be boiled down to individual data points. Every click, movement and action is recorded as it happens, providing a depth of data that’s far beyond what’s currently capable in traditional sports.
This depth means that traders and risk management have more resources available to them to spot match-fixing, in turn making it easier to build tools to detect suspicious activity in these digital ecosystems. In esports, you can control and monitor the digital ecosystem better, making cheating easier to eliminate.
The recent Sportradar report noted that improvements in technology have been hugely beneficial to improving match-fixing detection in sports, especially increases in the amount of data processed for each match. Data at this scale is something that the esports sector has been working with for many years and uses regularly to track suspicious activity.
Esports suppliers already have a wealth of data to hand, which could be enhanced through deeper collaboration with operator partners. Supplementing supplier-side resources with account or customer-level betting data directly from bookmakers to get a complete end-to-end picture is a surefire way to better combat match-fixing – and stamp out suspicious activity before it gets off the ground.
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