Match-Fixing in eSports and the Effect of the Supreme Court’s Gambiling Decision on the Industry

Jan 18, 2019

By Christopher C. Schwarz
Sports have an amazing ability to bring us together. They also have the appealing characteristic of being rather profitable. Typically, when considering the beneficiaries of that sports revenue, we may first think that it is only the big fish who reap the financial benefits of sports demand: the owners, the players, the advertisers, the employees behind the scenes, etc. However, sports fans themselves have continued to increasingly tap the economic honey pot of sports by wagering on the very games they love. Sports wagering is a multibillion-dollar industry both domestically and abroad. The opportunities to strike luck in a big way by betting on a favorite sport’s team or game are endless and obviously quite fruitful. As such, it comes as no surprise that match-fixing has become somewhat of an epidemic in the sports world. This is true not only of traditional sports like football, basketball, and baseball, but also of less popular sports and sports many may have never considered or heard of. Some of them may be surprising. For example, one of the most corrupt sports, by many evaluators’ standards, is none other than… tennis.[1]
What about eSports? From a pure revenue standpoint, total eSports prize money awarded in 2017 surpassed $110.6 million (USD) from a total of 3,765 worldwide tournaments.[2] That number more than quadrupled for 2018.[3] eSports revenue is projected to hit $1.5 billion by 2020.[4] Members of the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC), an organization which aims to provide safeguards from eSports cheating, estimates that illegal betting in eSports may be worth several billion dollars. eSports wagering is no joke, so much so that eSports are getting a notorious reputation for their susceptibility to match-fixing.[5]
Enter the United States Supreme Court’s relatively recent sports gambling decision: Murphy v. National Collegiate Athletic Association.[6] In a 6 to 3 decision, the Court ruled that the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA)—which sought to protect the integrity of sports by outlawing sports betting nationwide with the exception of a few previously established wager-friendly states—was unconstitutional as it violated the anticommandeering rule of the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.[7] In short, the Court reasoned Congress was not regulating with PASPA, but rather was commandeering state sovereignty. With the ruling, the gates unlocked for states to chart their own destinies in the sports wagering arena. It may have also unlocked the doors for criminals to abuse the expected proliferation of sports wagering systems nationwide.
Accordingly, Murphy is poised to transform sports betting forever, setting the stage for cataclysmic changes to many sports gambling outlets and popular professional sports. The decision will also revolutionize eSports and eSports gambling. eSports and its wagering are in dire need of some sort of regulation given the immense match-fixing occurring both in the United States and abroad.
Take for example Life. No, this is not a tangential digression into the meaning or purpose of why we are here. Rather, this is a brief look into the life of Life, otherwise known as Lee Seung-Hyun, the prolific former professional eSports player from South Korea who was mired in controversy for allegedly fixing matches of the popular video game, StarCraft II.[8] In simple terms, Life was believed to have purposely lost two of his matches for the lucrative wagering money waiting for him if he did so.[9] Eventually the South Korean government arrested Life and proceeded to prosecute and convict him for match-fixing.[10] Only around 20 years old, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison, suspended three years, and fined KRW 70,000,000 (presently worth approximately $62,000 USD), as well as receiving a lifetime ban from South Korean eSports.[11] Life’s meteoric rise and fall is just one example of the fast-lane, boom-bust, chaotic environment match-fixing has created in eSports.
The Murphy decision alone will not prosecute video game players for match-fixing. The decision does not even expressly refer to eSports. But it provides states the flexibility to institute policies and regulations that could impact video game match-fixers in a similar manner to Life in South Korea, if regulators may be so bold.
Nevertheless, the barriers blocking a successful set of laws and prosecutorial system for eSports villains remain high as there is no sure-fire solution to tackle eSports match-fixing across international borders or even across state lines. However, if states learn the fundamentals behind eSports, how the technology works, and what tendencies eSports match-fixers bring with them to their virtual arenas, they may quickly realize that eSports match-fixing shares many similar characteristics to traditional sports betting and match-fixing, which, in many circumstances, is already being prosecuted and regulated. Local lawmakers will then have the tools to implement laws that can begin to experiment with serious consequences for match-fixing in eSports.
Life is a learning experience. Whether or not we choose to adopt what we learn is the true determination of our progress. Maybe I am talking about our purpose here after all.
[1] Tennis match-fixing: Corruption review to be published Wednesday, (last accessed Jan. 3, 2019); see also, Tennis is plagued by significant’ corruption, report warns, (last accessed (Jan. 3, 2019).
[2] Esportsearnings, (last accessed Jan. 3, 2018).
[3] Id.
[4] Bountie Gaming, The History and Evolution of Esports,, (Jan. 3, 2018); 2017 Global eSports Market Report
[5] ‘It’s incredibly widespread’: why eSports has a match-fixing problem, (last accessed Jan. 3, 2019).
[6] 584 U.S. ___ (2018).
[7] Id.
[8] ‘It’s incredibly widespread’: why eSports has a match-fixing problem, (last accessed Jan. 3, 2019).
[9] Id.
[10] Id.
[11] Id.


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