Esports is becoming a major global sport and is growing at a formidable rate, attracting an audience of just under 400 million people and growing at a rate of over 20% per year. Esports has an associated economy that is growing by 35% year on year and expected to be worth $1.5b by 2020 according to Newzoo.
Such a lucrative and growing market inevitably attracts organised criminals, looking to influence match outcomes and then profiting from them in betting markets. Match fixing is a problem that afflicts all major global sports such as tennis, cricket, football, rugby, and snooker. Sports typically have independent integrity organisations that have been setup to tackle such threats, and esports is no different.
The Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) is a not for profit members’ association established in 2015 by key esports stakeholders to deal with issues of common interest – in particular the threat that match manipulation and betting fraud and other integrity challenges pose to esports.
“…the grey and black (betting) market will be running at around $130 billion or more. At that point esports becomes interesting to the types of people we really don’t want interested in esports – primarily organised crime.”
“Last year esports betting ran on the visible, easily accessible markets at around $4 billion, which means the illegitimate invisible markets probably ran at around $30 to $40 billion, possibly more,” reveals Ian Smith, the commissioner for the Esports Integrity Coalition. “Credible forecasts expect this to grow to a visible of around $13 billion by 2020. This means the grey and black market will be running at around $130 billion or more. At that point esports becomes interesting to the types of people we really don’t want interested in esports – primarily organised crime.”
Organised crime gangs will typically target vulnerable esports players and offer players an incentive to deliberately lose a match – or part of a match if there is in-play betting. A unique factor for esports is the extent and nature of the cheating opportunities which are often digitally orientated and technologically advanced. Alongside this, however, is the fact that data does not lie. Smith continued, “For example we are able to undertake sophisticated player data analysis and cross reference their performance in a match with suspected match fixing against their career performance statistics. We are also able to electronically scrutinise players during many of the major tournaments to proactively identify potential cheating threats. We also need to separate match fixing from players simply cheating in their desire to win, which is also quite common in the lower aspirational levels of professional and semi-professional esports and gaming more broadly”
“With a community of over 400 million tech savvy players and fans, all of whom have grown up in a digital world, it is unsurprising that a criminal element exists looking to profit from the commercialisation of esports”
ESIC are using Clue to help manage and investigate cases of suspected match fixing and cheating. “Esports is the next frontier of sports integrity investigations,” comments Thomas Drohan, Commercial Director at Clue. “With a community of over 400 million tech savvy players and fans, all of whom have grown up in a digital world, it is unsurprising that a criminal element exists looking to profit from the commercialisation of esports”. We are pleased that ESIC have chosen Clue to assist with the investigation and management of this very real threat.
Clue is an intelligence, investigation and case management application, used widely across law enforcement, government and the private sector. Clue users investigate everything from fraud, corruption, terrorism, environmental crime, child protection, organised crime, economic crime, extremism, animal crime, match fixing, and more.