Week of cheating, exploits, and match-fixing cast industry unrest
Sharpr is a weekly newsletter covering the intersection of esports and betting
Hello to my readers and Happy Thursday.
It’s been a great few days here in Washington DC for the Esports Insider summit, but while industry members congregated at the National Press Club for a day of panels and networking, the esports industry was dealing with a number of integrity-related flare ups.
With ESIC sanctions setting the backdrop of CS:GO’s PGL Major Antwerp, we’ve seen several cases of attempted match-fixing and bug exploitation unfold. The match-fixing incidents reported date back several years, with one of them having implications for a very prominent Counter-Strike player.
Meanwhile, another player was caught exploiting a smoke grenade bug during the PGL Major, with tournament organizers, the players’ association, and Valve concocting a quick fix to keep the competition going.
I’m bound to catch my train back home, so let’s waste no time jumping into the action from this week.
In this week’s edition of Sharpr…
Whistleblower names CS:GO Major winner in spot-fixing allegations.
Australian police arrest two men in Chinese League of Legends match-fixing case.
A bug exploit that was initially allowed before back-and-forth led to patching during PGL Major.
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CS:GO Major winner H0bbit implicated in alleged spot-fixing
Former CS:GO player Rustam “5TRYK#R” Älımqūlov made allegations of match-fixing conducted by his former team back in late 2015, per an extensive report from esports reporter Richard Lewis.
The claims released evidence that implicates himself and his fellow Kazakhstani teammates, alleging the team, named “PARTY,” conducted spot-fixing during competitive matches – where players fix a specific outcome, usually on a side market.
PARTY included a number of strong players from the region, including Bektiyar “fitch” Baqytov, who has carved out a professional career; and Abay “HObbit” Khasenov, a key member of the hugely successful Gambit Esports squad now owned by North American esports organization Cloud9.
Lewis draws comparison to the “first throw in” spot fixes that took place in the English Premier League back in 2012. In this case, it is alleged that members of the team bet and deliberately lost their T-side pistol round across three matches in the StarLadder CIS Minor Championships. Said pistol round takes place either at the start or halfway point of the match, and the team would attempt to overcome the loss and win the match anyway.
The bets in question were placed via Kazakh operator Olimp (now Olimpbet).
The wagers were canceled when the operator caught wind of suspicious activity, including PARTY player “fitch” allegedly telling people outside the team of their intentions.
Audio recordings released by Älımqūlov are the most damning evidence of the incident; in those recordings the team argues about their match fixing activities, eventually leading to the breakup of the team. According to the whistleblower, his future career was impeded, having been iced out of the Kazakhstan CS:GO scene because he didn’t want to be involved in future match fixing.
While most of the players associated with PARTY have since fallen out of pro play, HObbit has reached the apex professional CS:GO, including winning the PGL Major Kraków in 2017, being ranked the 6th best player in the world last year according to HLTV, and now currently competing at the Antwerp Major with Cloud9. HObbit has publicly denied the allegations.
As noted by Lewis, the timing of the allegations raises a few questions. Älımqūlov’s career is in its twilight and he has been previously diagnosed with a serious illness. Lewis noted in his report that Älımqūlov was bitter with the outcome in light of the success of his peers. Additionally, the release of information during the Major while H0bbit is currently competing has the potential to damage the team’s performance should any immediate ramifications be implemented.
🦈 Sharpr Take: As Lewis notes, there may be some damaging intentions behind blowing the whistle, especially so many years later–but it doesn’t discount the substance of the allegations. The players behind PARTY have allegedly collaborated as a team on these efforts, and in doing so, potentially compromised the competitive integrity of the matches they participated in.
As to the merit of these spot-fixing allegations, that will be left up to ESIC to investigate and come to a conclusion. There is a large body of evidence to comb through, and it’s good to see that HObbit is happy to comply with the investigation.
More broadly, spot-fixing cases like this are a symptom of the economic precarity of being a semi-professional athlete or player. In the same ways we see match-fixing issues in semi-professional leagues across sports like soccer, we see it in esports too. It’s the nature of competition that the best thrive and continue to climb, but as noted by former PandaScore writer Thomas Lace, better infrastructure, working conditions, and contracts are a key component to mitigating the risk of match-fixing in the future.
New Counter-Strike bug exploit adds to ongoing controversy at PGL Major
With spectator bug bans dominating the conversation going into the PGL Major, professional Counter-Strike was hit with yet another in-game exploit – this time during a match in the tournament.
During a May 14 match between G2 Esports and Imperial, G2 player Ilya “m0NESY” Osipov exploited a buggy interaction between smoke grenades to essentially look through smoke uninhibited. As seen below, m0NESY throws a smoke on a specific part of the map on Mirage so that he can see out while others can’t see in, often labeled a “one-way smoke.”
m0NESY uses the bug to secure two kills in the round, giving his team an advantage using an unintended feature of the game. m0NESY is on the record saying he checked with tournament organizers PGL on the specific use of this bug.
Following a viral and visceral reaction online, PGL initially came out and announced that it will still allow smokes, including the smoke bug. In a quickfire response, the members of the Counter-Strike Professional Players Association (CSPPA) collectively announced a handshake agreement that “all teams at the Major have agreed to not use the smoke exploit.”
You might be asking, where is the publisher in all of this? Valve has traditionally remained very hands off with the professional esports scenes of its titles, be it CS:GO or Dota 2. Opinion is divided on this approach, with some preferring the very hands-on work that Riot Games does with its esports ecosystems.
At this stage there has not been any repercussions for use of the smoke exploit, but G2 has since been knocked out of the PGL Major, failing to qualify for the knockout stage. Whether there will be any retrospective judgements made on the use of the exploit remains to be seen.
Australian police arrest two men in Chinese League of Legends match-fixing case
Police in the Australian state of Victoria have released a statement detailing the arrest of two men in connection to suspicious betting activity on professional matches in the League of Legends Pro League (LPL), China’s top-flight competition.
The Sporting Integrity Intelligence Unit (SIIU) acted on information received from a betting agency, with the investigation finding suspicious activity taking place on matches taking place on June 8, 2021.
Police allege that the two men taken into custody were arranging to throw matches, and indeed impacted more than one match.
Dexerto’s Australian Managing Editor Andrew Amos noted the matches that were potentially impacted.
The police report notes the two men were charged with differing offenses. One man is being charged with “use of corrupt conduct information for betting purposes,” and the other “engaging in conduct that corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome of event or event contingency.” With Amos speculating that one man “bribed a player to match fix, and then both parties bet on it.”
Both charges carry up to 10 years imprisonment, with the two men to appear before Melbourne Magistrates’ Court on Sept. 26.
🗞 In the news
Esports included in passed Minnesota sports betting bill that faces bumpy road in state Senate.
Hitmarker’s Adam Fitch lays out the financial performance of key esports organizations.
React Gaming Group’s LOOT.BET to hit the Philippines through white label deal with HHRP Inc.
OG Esports signs a sponsorship deal with bookmaker 1xbet.
UK research suggests safer gambling messages do little to change betting behaviors.
📈 By the numbers
Bayes Esports receives $6.29M “strategic investment.”
GRID Esports CS:GO circuit to feature a $3.4M prize pool.
EBET nets $7M gross profit following numerous European B2C acquisitions.