Its troubling how easily match-fixers were able to access these players, and influence them without anyone else becoming aware there might be a problem.
In total, eight people have been arrested and charged, including some of the financial backers behind the scheme and their employees, as well as the brokers who helped arrange the deals. With that kind of disparity between what players can make honestly versus what they can make cheating, it seems like guaranteeing StarCrafts competitive integrity is an uphill battle.
Life with the 2014 WCS trophy at BlizzCon, by Blizzard EntertainmentThe Korean prosecutors office leading the StarCraft 2 match-fixing investigation released its report this week, and the results are not good for fans of the sport. The other half is that for those thrown-matches, Life was offered about $60,000. Confirmation that Life did, indeed, take bribes to throw matches pretty much shatters whatever illusions StarCraft fans may have had about the security or sanctity of the game in Korea.
Obviously, ultimate responsibility for match-fixing lies with the players who take part in it and the gamblers who arrange it. Life is only 19 and was 15 when he won his first major championship. A precocious talent who took down some of the best players in the world as a young teen, Life seemed like the kind of person who would never be caught match-fixing. The runner-up? $9,600. Ominously, the report indicates these are not crimes of opportunity. Which, given the trend in match-fixing allegations in StarCraft, might not be a huge exaggeration!
Team Liquid has a complete run-down and translation of the summary report, with helpful glosses about who is who in this story, since the report itself makes an attempt to conceal the identities of those involved.. In GSL Season 1 last year, the tournament in which Bbyong threw his match, the first-place finisher received about $36,000. Life wasnt just a great player, but a central figure in several of the most exciting moments in the sports recent history.
The crimes were perpetrated with clear division of roles: Financial backers to put up the compensation for match-fixing, brokers to solicit the match-fixing and transfer the funds, and an employee in charge of receiving gambling funds and placing bets on gambling sites, the report stated.
Thats only half the bad news. Too much to lose, too much money, too much potential for future success. In other words, as TeamLiquid editor Kwanghee Woo pointed out, Life made seven times as much money throwing two games than he would have for winning the entire tournament. Depressingly, they were convinced in part because the brokers told them, in so many words, that everyone was doing it. What is losing a single game in the round of 32 or 16 next to $30,000, when most players would be lucky to get a quarter of that playing honestly? And when the math is skewed that badly towards cheating, how do you clean up the game?
Yet somehow, even a leading organization like KT Rolster failed to prevent a star player from falling under the influence of shady characters. One of the games greatest players, Lee Life Seung Hyun, now stands convicted of match-fixing, as well as another leading player, Bung Bbyong Woo Yong.
The other thing thats striking here is that these werent huge matches that were fixed. Despite the heroic way in which some of these players are portrayed in hype reels, they remain little more than kids who operate under some truly immense pressures within controlling environments. The Changwon Regional Prosecution Services report noted that these match-fixing conspiracies follow a clear and established pattern.
Second, Korean StarCraft organizers have repeatedly kept prize-pools skewed heavily toward the top. Life apparently received a suspended prison sentence, so he doesnt have to go to jail if he avoids further legal trouble.
Both Life and Bbyong were approached by brokers under the guise of being a fan and, later, their new friends convinced them to join in match-fixing schemes. This is the kind of gambling money flooding into esports in Korea. What these players threw were the tournaments or games that didnt cost them much.
There may not be enough money to go around StarCraft to create a financial incentive to resist gambling rings. No doubt Life is going to receive a lifetime ban for this, and a lot of his results and achievements will likely be vacated. But theres some important context here that shouldnt be missed amidst all the moralizing. But right now, it feels like StarCraft is drowning in gambling money, and the compensation for all but the winning players is so poor that a brokers offer could look like a very attractive way of mitigating risk. First, many StarCraft players are extraordinarily young. And if you were knocked out in the quarterfinals? You got $2200 for the season.
In other words, the backers put up the money, the brokers arranged things with the players, and then employees went around to online gambling sites and placed a series of smaller bets on the rigged games so as to not run afoul of max-bet limits and (presumably) to conceal what was actually happening from the sites themselves.
Life greets his fans at BlizzCon in 2014, where he was crowned world champion, by Blizzard Entertainment.
While Life was paid about $30,000 per thrown match, the gambler behind it was putting up about $44,000 in online bets at 1.3-1.5 odds, which meant he would have cleared about $56,000.
Its a bleak outcome for StarCraft fans. When Blizzard tried to make the cash distributions more equitable via the WCS, Korean organizations pushed back and eventually restored their winner-takes-most-of-all prizing. Right now, the evidence suggests that the big matches are on the up-and-up