Any player who has been a part of the CS:GO community for a good amount of time will tell you that Valve does not take kindly to players accused of match-fixing. One of the most prevalent cases of this has to be the iBUYPOWER Match-Fixing Scandal of August 20, 2014.
Without rehashing old news, the story of the team is a cautionary tale in the Counter-Strike community: a number of players on iBUYPOWER’s North American CS:GO team, the two founders of NetcodeGuides.com, as well as then-Torqued player Derek “dboorN” Boorn were permanently banned from Valve events for fixing a CS:GO match. (For more details on the iBUYPOWER matchfixing scandal, head to this Liquipedia page.)
In the years following this scandal, the CS:GO community has been actively campaigning for Valve to unban Sam “DaZeD” Marine, Braxton “swag” Pierce and Joshua “steel” Nissan. Valve disagreed with the community’s pleas and on January 5, 2016 published an article titled “A Follow Up to Integrity and Fair Play” which made the players’ bans permanent. This is not the only instance of a team getting caught match-fixing.
Two months later, a Polish team by the name of ALSEN was caught betting on their opponents and throwing a match that took place during the ESL Pro Series Poland 9. Three of team’s players, Damian “DiAMon” Zarski, Michal “bCk” Lis and Jakub “kub” Pamula were instantly banned following CSGOLounge proof of their betting on the opposing team. There was no evidence that the team’s remaining players, Michal “michi” Majkowski and Mateusz “matty” Kolodziejczyk, were in any way implicated with the betting. Despite this, they were both permanently banned by Valve in the same way their other teammates were. This is very similar to what happened with Cloud9’s current player Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham. Skadoodle was a part of iBP at the time of the scandal but refused to accept any skins from the match fixing and was thus left unbanned by Valve.
On April 30th, Reddit user throwaway2934543 posted a thread showing that the aforementioned michi and matty played for ZWIERZETA against Kinguin at the ESL Polish Championship. This led to the Vice President of ESL, Ulrich “theflyingdj” Schulze replying to the thread and stating that “Those two players were banned indefinitely by Valve, but not by us. As you can see in the HLTV post that was linked, their involvement in that specific incident was unclear. Those two players received limited bans which are up so they can play again now.”
Additionally, theflyingdj stated: “Ultimately, we believe that there should be a more nuanced policy for these incidents, the same way it exists in traditional sports. We have in the past weeks talked to players, teams and other tournament organisers to find a community wide policy for dealing with match fixing. There will be a public element to the discussion which is going to start soon and will make sure the community is aware of what is being discussed and decided. The existing indefinite bans for players such as Dazed or steel will also be reviewed as part of that process (outside of what Valve has decided for Valve sponsored events).”
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While I appreciate that an official took the time to respond to this, I see three issues with his statement. First, Ulrich is contradicting himself by stating that the two players were banned indefinitely, then in the same sentence stating they received limited bans. Indefinitely, by definition, means “for an unlimited or unspecified period of time. In other words, it’s the exact opposite of limited.
Secondly, he writes: “Those two players received limited bans which are up so they can play again now,” which is not true. According to this post on ESL’s own website, Valve stated that michi, matty and a number of other players will not be allowed to “participate in any capacity in Valve-sponsored events,” which translates to permanent bans with no chance of them being lifted. This directly contradicts Ulrich’s statement of the bans being “limited.”
The third problem is Ulrich stating that there is a chance that players such as Dazed and steel will be able to participate in ESL events that are not Valve-sponsored, such as IEM, ESL One and ESL Pro League. While he didn’t state that this was a surefire thing, it does go against a new rule ESL created back in March of this year. According to this HLTV post, ESL “will now bar players from competing in its standalone tournaments only if the ban has happened in the past two years.” The last sentence of the article also states that “Players who have been banned for match-fixing do not fall under this rule, however, and will remain suspended indefinitely.” This also goes against his statement that “Those two players were banned indefinitely by Valve, but not by us” since the HLTV post clearly states match-fixing players will be “suspended indefinitely” by ESL as well, not just by Valve. Perhaps WESA, not ESL, will call the shots on this one.
The last issue is in the first sentence of Ulrich’s third paragraph, where he writes: “Ultimately, we believe that there should be a more nuanced policy for these incidents, the same way it exists in traditional sports.” By definition, nuanced is “a subtle difference or distinction in expression, meaning, response, etc.”, which in layman’s terms means ESL sees other teams or players as not deserving of the same strict punishment as others.
ESL: The Dangers of Repeating History
This wouldn’t be the first time ESL, specifically ESL Poland, has been involved in a controversial situation. Back in 2014, the organization removed commentator/analyst Duncan “Thorin” Shields from his role at EMS One Katowice due to hateful comments made by Thorin about Poland on his “Unfiltered” podcast. Later, Thorin defended his comments, giving further context in a Facebook post.
By allowing certain players who have been banned for match fixing to participate in their tournament, ESL are basically playing favorites and treating other players in the same situation unfairly. While some users have stated that ESL Poland has different policies from their parent company, this could also lead to the same kind of unfair treatment towards certain players as well as to a bad public image for ESL/Turtle Entertainment. In short, as Reddit user GrantismHD stated, “ And it doesn’t matter who is running what. ESL is ESL. If you set a precedent, stick with it, and if you change it, change it for all. Otherwise, it’s like saying ‘Tough shit brax, azk, steel, and Dazed – you’re not Polish.’
If ESL wants to be fair to the community and its players, everyone should receive the same punishment for their offense. That means, either keep all players accused of match-fixing banned from ESL events or unban all of them. Having a middle ground where some are unbanned but some are not is simply bad practice for any business, especially one as big and well-known as ESL.