Match Fixing
Featured image via Gamezone.

Lifetime Bans for Esports Match-Fixing: Too Harsh?

Jan 27, 2017
Featured image via Gamezone.

Dota and CS:GO have a checkered history when it comes to match-fixing. Valve’s current policy is to ban players for life, no questions asked, from participating in events that it sponsors. That being said, there’s a history of inconsistency when it comes to match-fixing and how individuals, regions, and organizers choose to punish players for throwing or placing bets on the outcome of their own games.

What’s the origin of the 322 meme?

One of Dota’s most infamous match-fixing scandals took place in 2013. Alexi “Solo” Berezin, a player on Rox.Kiss’s Dota squad at the time, bet against his team and threw a Starladder match. Solo’s cut of the winnings totaled $322. After the match-fixing came to light, Solo was initially banned from Starladder events for life. (Solo’s sentence was later commuted to one year.)

If you’ve been keeping up with Dota, you might notice that Solo is currently playing on Virtus Pro. What happened? At the time of the 322 throw, Valve didn’t have any policies in place about punishments for match-fixing. After TI4 (2014), they announced that they would permaban any player implicated in match-fixing, but as Solo had already committed his crime, Valve decided, it seems, that they couldn’t retroactively punish him.

iBUYPOWER and the North American Match Fixing Scandal

The year following the incident with Solo, the CS:GO community was in an uproar over a high-profile scandal involving several players. Valve has reaffirmed the lifetime bans on the players implicated in the iBUYPOWER match-fixing scandal and urged organizations not to involve themselves with the individuals. As time has passed, fans are more amendable to the idea of the lifetime bans being lifted–in the case of CS:GO, this sympathy is especially directed towards Braxton “swag” Pierce, who was underage at the time of the iBUYPOWER throw.

At the time it was suspected that many North American teams were fixing matches, and iBUYPOWER were simply the only ones “unlucky” enough to get caught. They’ve lost out on two years of competitions at this point and some believe that it’s time to let them back into the club rather than let their talent go to waste.

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“Smash ya no es mi pastor”

Valve has been true to their word. In the last two years they’ve banned Arrow Gaming (who later tried to register for the Majors as Team Redemption and were banned again), Elite Wolves, and several players from Mineski from competing in Valve-sponsored Dota tournaments. Unfortunately, compared to the players from CS:GO, most of these guys aren’t high-profile and don’t have large fan bases outside of their regions. While SmAsH enjoyed some popularity in North America following Not Today’s stint at The Summit 2, fans definitely lost interest after the match-fixing incident.

And some fans are still pretty angry. 

Can match-fixers be rehabilitated?

Is a lifetime ban for match-fixers in esports too long? Or should permabans be given to the professional gamers who orchestrated the event, and smaller punishments doled out for those who merely profited from it? That sounds like the American legal system’s way of dealing with corporate fraud–in other words, it’s probably not a great idea. It’s unfortunate, especially for the underage players involved who may have been under financial and emotional pressure to go along with it. If it were up to me, I think Valve should be amendable to re-opening some of the cases. For example, if swag could produce evidence that he was coerced into complying, the ex-iBUYPOWER player’s banned status could likely be revisited. Valve elected not to ban Skadoodle, based on the evidence that he declined to accept any profit from the fixed match. Valve also did not remove Mineski-X from the qualifiers for the Shanghai Major, despite the fact that a banned player [Jacko] was locked into their roster. Mineski-X had to replace him, but were not sent down to open qualifiers as penalty for the roster change.

Clearly, Valve is willing to negotiate to an extent. And it seems like the community is ready to welcome (some) past offenders back into the fold. Maybe it’s time some of those lifetime bans were revisited.

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Kara Jacobacci
Kara has been following professional DotA2 since the TI4 qualifiers. When not watching matches on Twitch, she can be found working (or attempting to find work) as a geologist and enjoying nature.
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