Integrity in Australian Esports

Updated: Jan 28, 2020

A comment on behalf of the EGAA by Mat Jessep following the match-fixing & gambling investigation of esports players announced on Friday 23 August 2019 by the Victorian Police, in response to questions received from the public.

Q: How will governance and structure be formed around integrity in esports as regards to things like match fixing? 

A: (In answering this important question, I do so in my capacity as Interim-CEO of the EGGA and make no comment on the investigation announced by the Victorian Police or on the players who allegedly fixed matches & bet on the fixed outcome.)

Integrity in Esports

There are integrity arrangements in esports, as in traditional sports.

Integrity measures and processes may be implemented by a publisher (owning the IP in the titles esports are based on) running their own leagues or by a tournament organiser (TO, operating under a license from the publisher to use the IP to run events) (both publisher and TO acting as the “governing” or controlling body of their esport), supported in some esports by integrity specialists, such as ESIC and Sportradar. Depending on the publisher and TO, integrity measures may be strong, less strong, or virtually non-existent. 

However, even if the publishers & the TOs have the tightest integrity programs and the best resources, players may still breach integrity measures and cheat (as players in traditional sports may and often do) to throw or fix matches, gamble, or take substances to improve competitive performance.

What are some integrity risks in esports?

As in traditional sports, and often in cases of match fixing, an integrity risk will sometimes arise where players are poorly paid and some may become susceptible to external influences, often driven by organised crime, accepting financial inducements to effect an outcome.

Players may also cheat on their own volition, driven by greed or some other motive to fix a result and profit from it.

It is also worth noting that without formal agreements between leagues and TOs, betting companies may determine their odds offered on esports events based upon internal reviews using arbitrary measures, such as ladder position in a league or event. Superior knowledge of a match-up, or inside knowledge of a team or player, could result in these odds being beaten. 

How do the betting companies respond?

Betting companies obviously don’t like their systems being manipulated. In response to these risks, they typically employ resources and sophisticated technology to monitor betting activity and alert relevant authorities to irregularities including suspicious payouts. 

What about legal responses?

We also have very strong sports integrity laws in place in Australia and the Victorian Police operate a Sporting Integrity Intelligence Unit (SIIU), who work with 3rd party integrity agencies and may investigate tip-offs from the public.

As in the recent case currently under investigation, prison sentences of up to 10 years are available to Australian Courts when sentencing those found guilty of offences of engaging in conduct that corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome of event or event contingency, or use of corrupt conduct information for betting purposes.

Bans and other sanctions - the need for natural justice in esports

As well as criminal laws and processes, offending players may also face sanctions from a publisher running a league or a TO in the form of fines, suspensions, and bans. Such action taken against a player found guilty may include lifetime bans from competitive play in that esport or from the event run by the league or TO. These steps are obviously serious and should not be taken lightly.

Further, rather than a publisher or TO simply make a seemingly arbitrary call to fine, suspend, or ban a player, as in matters in traditional sports where players face fines, suspensions, or bans, for full transparency the individual esports player should be afforded procedural fairness, or natural justice within their esport. By this we mean that, just as in sports disciplinary matters, esports players accused by a publisher or TO of breaching integrity in an esport should receive (at a very basic level):

A fair hearing before a fairly constituted tribunal:

  • notice of the hearing date, time and place;

  • notice of the alleged breaches, in as much detail as possible;

  • the right to appear, produce evidence, and have it considered by the tribunal;

  • the right to not face duplicitous (i.e. multiple overlapping) charges; and

  • the right to be heard separately on the question of penalties;

as well as

An honest verdict that is reasonable and fair:

  • the tribunal must come to its decision honestly and without actual bias; and

  • the tribunal decision must be bona fide in the esport’s interests and not for some other purpose.

Being afforded the right to legal representation is also recommended, especially for serious matters including alleged integrity breaches.

Should natural justice be lacking in an esport's decision against an offender, a court may invalidate the decision.

What if the individual is found guilty in a court of law? Where a legal process also plays out in relation to the same issues at hand, a publisher or TO may streamline the above hearing process in accordance with their clearly established rulesets and codes of conduct. For example, where serious conduct is alleged, and the individual is found guilty by a court of law applying a very high standard of proof (i.e beyond reasonable doubt), if the rules or codes in that esport/event clearly state that this legal determination will trigger a fine, suspension, or ban, then natural justice may still be preserved without an additional process and hearing.

How can esports integrity be improved in Australia?

Beyond the response of betting companies, the investigation powers of law enforcement authorities, and legal and tribunal sanctions, integrity in Australian esports may be enhanced by:

  1. developing a national framework for integrity in relation to esports;

  2. working closely with relevant law enforcement, sports and gambling regulators in relation to integrity related concerns;

  3. educating players on handling integrity risks; and

  4. formalising arrangements between league and tournament owners and betting companies (with product fees payable and strong information sharing and other arrangements), which may provide for better monitoring and allow faster response to incidents.

On behalf of the EGAA, we are happy to discuss the issues and our recommendations further, feel free to Contact Us.

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