Followers of competitive Counter-Strike were dealt a heavy blow last week when OpTic India member Nikhil ‘forsaken’ Kumawat, was caught cheating on LAN at eXTREMESLAND Asia Finals; the incident itself was covered far and wide with further investigations conducted by the Esports Integrity Coalition (ESIC) uncovering more unnerving details regarding this case. Although the ESIC’s five-year ban seemed pretty cut-and-dry, there’s a number of implications stemming from the incident that will inherently affect the industry as a whole – we’re taking a closer look in this week’s ESI Gambling Report.
OpTic Gaming’s attempt to branch out into the budding competitive Counter-Strike space in Asia led to the formation of OpTic India – an organisation which was under heavy-fire on October 18. The player in question, forsaken, had triggered both anti-cheat software as well as the attention of a tournament
administrator, prompting a more detailed look at his computer. Findings confirmed the use of a cheating program which was essentially an “aimbot” being used at the LAN event; after some deliberation, OpTic India was disqualified from the event and the team would later disband as a result. The incident stirred a formerly placid pot, raising questions and concerns of combating future cheating as well as other integrity issues.
Competitive integrity in esports
Integrity is critical to all sports. It ensures us that the matches were watching are real and impassioned as opposed to some scripted narrative written by a network executive. Without checks and balances and maintaining honest sportsmanship, these leagues could more closely resemble a sitcom than a competition. Match-fixing is one thing, but cheating is another – and on the virtual playing field, sniffing out cheaters is an entirely different minefield. What a cork in the bat to baseball is an aimbot to CS:GO – both give significant advantages for the player and are illegal in the big leagues. Given the nature of esports’ computerised facilitation, identifying cheating in competitive games is a progressively difficult battle, perpetuating it to be somewhat of an ongoing problem. Unfortunately, with cheating code in Counter-Strike becoming increasingly more elusive and available, its use continues to pose a serious threat to the industry. One facet of esports that was certainly feeling the heat from the cheating scandal were bookmakers.
Bookmakers treading lightly
Betting can be scary territory for those unfamiliar and uneducated with its workings – however, instances like this are not only troubling for a punter, but oddsmakers face a unique set of threats as well. Chief Marketing Officer at Rivalry, Kevin Wimer, told Esports Insider exclusively that the incident “has many layers” when it comes to a bookmaker’s outlook on the scenario at hand. There’s a level of risk in this line of business on both sides of the coin – however, generally for sportsbooks, they can feel confident facilitating wagers at this level of competition.
“We pride ourselves on only offering betting lines on matches that have our integrity stamp of approval, and with a brand like OpTic, and the level they were playing at, we are comfortable offering those matches.”
Wagering outside of high to premiere level esports can bring an element of uncertainty that most punters and oddsmakers wouldn’t want to roll the dice on; in the case of OpTic India’s forsaken, the news breaking sent an unexpected shockwave considering the team’s link to global esports organization, OpTic Gaming.
“Integrity for us means integrity for everyone.” Kevin explained. Assuring that fair play and proper oversight is a crux for bookmakers and bettors alike. “Specific to us, when you have all these elements it means we can have total comfort offering lines on that game, and our customers feel comfortable betting, and again you start to build a healthy, integral, and mature ecosystem.” Needless to say, with Counter-Strike’s prosperous betting handle and millions of dollars trading hands every year as an upshot of its competitive space, those involved in its foundation need to get it right. When an incident like this occurs however, the industry collectively takes a step back together.
Citizens destroying our own city
It’s not just OpTic Gaming and professional Counter-Strike that’ll feel the force from this blow. These complications hinder the development of esports and its prospect of being vaulted into more of an accepted and accredited position.
“When people cheat, they destroy the credibility we are all collectively working toward, and prove all the bias and stereotypes that outsiders still believe esports to be.” Kevin pointed out. As big as esports are today, there’s an even wider population of individuals who are ignorant or unaware of its mechanisms. Thus, its clean and neatly-packaged presentation is critical in enlisting investors and major corporations – especially those who are non-endemic. “This now validates those concerns from major brands and groups that perhaps wanted to get involved in esports, but now will see this as case and point of everything that has concerned them.”
Whether involved directly in esports or looking to become apart of it, there simply needs to be an established trust in the process if we expect it prosper for years to come. Players, developers, organisations, leagues, and bookmakers should all be involved in moving away from these occurrences.
As the scene has matured over the years, the frequency of cheating and other integrity issues has truthfully been on the decline. The ever-growing professionalism of esports inclusive of salaried positions, large cash prizes, sponsorships and stardom has generally diminished motivation to cheat with so much at stake. Controversies such as the one at hand peel back a layer of trust from this ecosystem, an ingredient Kevin believes is of utmost importance. “When you have that trust, brands feel comfortable allocating ad budgets behind that game title, the orgs invest in it, the scene builds, publishers can get behind it more, investors step in, and it becomes a very positive virtuous circle.”
Despite diminished incentives to participate in foul play, it’d be naive to say forsaken will be the last documented case of cheating in a top-tier esports competition. Looking ahead, collective efforts to combat cheating needs to be continuously fortified to meet the prestige of these tournaments and events. There’s a bit of pressure on developers, Valve, to bolster anti-cheat measures in the game now – but again, with cheat code getting harder to detect by the day, it’ll take some herculean thinking to outsmart these hackers.
Luckily, with organisations like the ESIC governing integrity in esports and the continued support from professionals in the industry we can achieve what we’re all setting out to build. While the damages have already unfairly been done to the Indian Counter-Strike landscape, making sure the next steps are in the right direction is paramount.