Esports industry experts have said they need a global governing body to tackle the sports integrity issues that still haunt the sector, as growth drives risks to new heights.
Integrity concerns surrounding esports are nothing new, but risks grew as the sector exploded in 2020 and 2021 during nationwide lockdowns, Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) commissioner Ian Smith said.
“There is no governing body, any solution to integrity challenges has to exist, unfortunately, at a private level, and this is where we stepped in to try and bring some form of standardisation and regulation,” Smith said, speaking at ICE London on April 13.
In 2019, ESIC received 46 suspicious betting alerts across its network, which informs the group of any matches that may have been fixed.
In 2020, it received 126 suspicious betting alerts, a trend that continued in 2021 and the start of 2022, according to Smith. The volume has exceeded ESIC’s capacity.
Paul Mendelsohn, the director of strategy and transformation at Entain, explained in a separate panel that when other sports were cancelled in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, fraudulent and bad actors needed a way to make money and esports was the only thing going.
A major integrity concern emerging during the pandemic esports boom was the creation of hundreds of new unknown tournaments being offered to operators to take bets on.
Thomas Rosander, CEO of Luckbox, said that when it comes to these new tournaments, “99 percent of them are just created with a lot of money and no oversight, no control of the players or teams participating, etc.”.
“The only thing that can help would be a governing body, that is what the business needs. We need some kind of rating system for integrity so everyone knows who they can work with. We must create this together as businesses,” Rosander said.
Antonio Zerafa, sports-betting integrity manager for the Malta Gaming Authority (MGA), said operators in his jurisdiction, and the majority of others regulating esports, can play their part in keeping bad actors at bay during onboarding processes by undertaking the anti-money laundering checks required by their licences.
“Betting operators must also ensure any events they are offering bets on are not pre-recorded and the integrity of a tournament can be verified,” Zerafa said.
According to Zerafa, existing onboarding checks are focused on preventing financial crime; however, he does now see some operators doing additional sports integrity-related assessments.
For instance, some operators in Malta have halted onboarding customers when they discover they are professional athletes or they block them from betting on any event related to their profession.
“From the prevention side of things, all stakeholders need to play a part. Sports governing bodies typically do integrity education campaigns. It is important esports has a governing body to promote this too,” Zerafa said.
Separately, North America’s first two specialist esports betting platforms launched earlier this week in New Jersey and Ontario.
However, both believe the nature of the U.S. market and high marketing spend from rival operators means a rapid expansion across the dozen-plus states permitting esports betting is unlikely.