Video game tournaments—sometimes referred to as “eSports”—are relatively new but increasingly popular. In these tournaments, players compete for cash prizes. In certain U.S. states it is now legal to place bets on eSports tournaments, though in other states such betting is prohibited. The growing popularity of eSports and the rise of eSports betting unfortunately gives rise to the risks of the same sorts of corruption that we have seen in traditional sports, such as gamblers (including organized criminal betting syndicates) bribing players to fix matches. And this is not purely hypothetical: Recently the FBI obtained evidence that criminal betting syndicates were bribing a group of players to throw matches in certain eSports competitions.
Responding effectively to bribery-related corruption in eSports is complicated by the fact that, unlike traditional sporting leagues, eSports do not have a central governing body. Rather, each game publisher controls its own tournaments, and many tournament operators have not taken the steps necessary to implement effective mechanisms for identifying betting-related match-fixing activities and levying punishment on bad actors. In 2016, a group of eSports stakeholders tried to address this issue by establishing a nonprofit association called the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC), which is tasked with investigating and disciplining individuals involved in corrupt eSports activities. But ESIC only has authority over competitions organized by its members, and players sanctioned for match-fixing activities within an ESIC member tournament can still compete in non-ESIC member competitions.
More effective measures are therefore needed to prevent the spread of corruption in eSports. In particular, those states that permit betting on eSports tournaments should require, as a condition for betting on such matches to be lawful, that the tournament and betting operators join an authorized eSports governing board equivalent to the ESIC. Authorized governing boards should have the following responsibilities and obligations:
- First, the governing board should mandate that each operator adopt and implement a general code of conduct, together with comprehensive policies and procedures to prevent and punish corruption. The code of conduct should identify prohibited corrupt acts and specify the potential administrative and legal penalties associated with those acts.
- Second, the governing board should provide participants with guidance and training to support members in eradicating all forms of corruption. In order to design effective trainings, the governing body should conduct a risk assessment of the types of corruption prevalent in the industry and design programming geared towards providing guidance on how to handle situations that might arise. Directors and officers should also be involved in these trainings in order to make clear the governing body’s commitment to integrity.
- Third, betting operators should be required, as a condition of operation, to provide the governing board with detailed reports relating to betting activities.
- Fourth, the board should create effective whistleblowing channels that guarantee confidentiality and anonymity. (This could take the form of a smartphone app akin to the “Red Button” whistleblower app endorsed by FIFA.) This way, whistleblowers afraid of retribution can submit complaints or evidence anonymously and the governing body can investigate the provided information’s veracity.
- Fifth, with respect to its internal governance and operations, an authorized eSports governing board should be required to have strict conflict of interest policies to ensure that key decision-makers are not affiliated with member organizations and provide adequate transparency.
Overall, the current fragmented landscape of eSports in the United States makes it difficult to investigate and rectify the occurrence of corrupt practices. The time and expense associated with enacting policies and procedures for tackling corruption is too great for individual tournament operators hosting eSports competitions on their platforms. As a result, bringing eSports stakeholders under one governing body is critical. Such multilateral cooperation would help the community fashion effective strategies for identifying eSports-related corruption and enforce integrity standards uniformly across all eSports platforms.