Match fixing in Dota 2 reminds us of long-running problem in esports

Match fixing in Dota 2 reminds us of long-running problem in esports

One of the biggest Dota 2 organizations in the world is in even bigger trouble. 

The International 2014 winning team Newbee is facing accusations of match fixing from a number of prominent figures in the Chinese Dota 2 scene. The Chinese Dota 2 Professional Association and ImbaTV have both barred the organization and its players from competing in future events. This could be extended further, as Valve and Dota 2’s Chinese sponsor Perfect World have both been alerted to the news.

The news was a shock to Dota 2 fans. Though match fixing is common across all of esports, it is most commonly seen these days in smaller events with unknown teams. Seeing a prominent organization like Newbee hit with allegations of match fixing and multiple highly credentialed players being banned is a shock.

With that in mind, it’s worth looking over match fixing in Dota 2, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, and esports in general, as well as its history in traditional sports.

What is match fixing?

Match fixing can mean a number of different things, but it ultimately boils down to one side of a competition trying to influence the result with something other than pure victory in mind. 

In both esports and traditional sports, match fixing is most commonly done for betting purposes. A seedy betting outlet will encourage a player or team to intentionally lose in order to guarantee strong profits, or people within the team will bet against themselves and then assure their bet wins.

One prominent example of this came over 100 years ago, when Major League Baseball's Chicago White Sox intentionally lost the 1919 World Series. Numerous members of the team were frustrated with ownership of the team and were unable to leave due to the MLB’s restrictive contracts at the time. When the team was approached by a gambling syndicate about throwing the series in exchange for a cash payoff, they took the opportunity.

That said, match fixing doesn’t necessarily involve money, or even losing.

Spanish organization cuts CS:GO team after match fixing scandal

In tournaments and events with seeding, competitors may try to manipulate their seeding by intentionally losing games in order to change who they will face. Olympic badminton was rocked in 2012 by a match fixing scandal where numerous individuals were discovered to be intentionally losing games in order to avoid specific opponents. This was also seen last year in CSGO, with Team Queso intentionally losing group stage games of the Liga de Videojuegos Profesional Superliga 2019 in order to get a preferable opponent in the playoffs.

Competitors don’t necessarily need to lose in order to have fixed things. Point shaving scandals have occurred in basketball on numerous occasions, and they involve teams guaranteeing that they only win by a certain number of points. This is done in concert with betting interests, specifically in the handicaps market.

Esports has a long history with match fixing

Match fixing is a concern with all sports. The relative newness of esports combined with the massive betting industry and low income levels for the majority of competitors is a perfect recipe for match fixing scandals.

One of the earliest and biggest cases of match fixing in esports came in 2010 in StarCraft: Brood War. A number of top professional players including star player Ma "sAviOr" Jae Yoon were discovered to have been part of a ring of players that received payments for losing games, or had placed bets against themselves. A similar incident then occurred five years later in StarCraft 2, with numerous pro players being given suspended prison sentences.

The biggest match fixing scandal in CSGO came between iBUYPOWER and NetcodeGuides.

It was discovered that IBP had betted against themselves through proxies. When reports began circulating about this, Valve banned many of the players and team staff from competition indefinitely. 

Dota 2 has seen a slew of match fixing scandals over the years.

In 2015 and 2016, Valve banned numerous squads over match fixing allegations. The most notable example of this was the Peruvian Elite Wolves squad in 2016. 

Valve has not taken action since then, but that isn’t because there haven’t been abundant match fixing scandals in Dota 2. Just a few weeks ago, CyberTRAKTOR was banned from the WePlay! Pushka League for allegedly throwing a game against Cyber Legacy. Accusations have run rampant, particularly in the Chinese scene.

Newbee is easily the biggest name to be involved in a match fixing scandal in Dota 2, with Zeng "Faith" Hongda and Xu "Moogy" Han being two of the most prominent names to be involved.

Former TI champion Newbee receives lifetime match fixing ban in China

The biggest name in Dota 2 to be involved in a match fixing scandal so far is Virtus.pro captain Alexey "Solo" Berezin. The five-time major winner admitted to fixing a match in 2013 and was banned from StarLadder events as a result. Despite this, he never received any punishment from Valve.

League of Legends isn’t immune to match fixing, either.

China’s LPL league has seen numerous huge match fixing scandals just within the last year. In march, Wang "WeiYan" Xiang and Rogue Warriors were sanctioned by the LPL. In June 2019, LGD Gaming’s Xiang “Condi” Ren-Jie was banned from competition for 18 months due to his alleged role in match fixing.

Why is match fixing in Dota 2 and other esports bad?

One might not think of match fixing as a particularly great offense. Nobody is physically hurt by it, and it doesn’t actually involve cheating. The trouble is that undermining the integrity of competition is one of the most surefire ways to kill a sport. 

Major League Baseball was devastated by the scandal surrounding the 1919 World Series, and nearly collapsed as a result. More recently, the iconic sport of sumo wrestling has been reeling from a number of scandals, many of which involve ties to betting rings and match fixing.

Fans should be disturbed at the thought of it seeping into gaming. Esports titles like Dota 2 and CSGO heavily rely on the popularity of their professional scenes in order to stay afloat. Undermining those scenes with match fixing would have a devastating impact on each games’ staying power. 

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