Esports regulator says there’s been a ‘very significant upturn’ in match-fixing

Few esports teams have achieved the phenomenal success of Fnatic.

Established 16 years ago as a niche project by a Sydney mum-and-son team in Australia, it later spawned a vaunted global brand that boasts a global audience of 55 million fans.

With more than 200 esports championships in the trophy chest, it has become a PR behemoth headquartered out of a muraled alleyway in east London.

Fnatic’s social feeds are populated with a new genus of elite athlete — the hardcore gamers who comprise its teams — adorned in varsity Gucci ensembles and pictured fist-pumping around their custom-branded BMWs.

Esports teams like Fnatic receive lucrative sponsorship deals with luxury brands.(Supplied)

Esports teams like Fnatic rely on sponsorship. So when the team was offered a new lucrative sponsorship deal earlier this year, it might have seemed like a typical day at the Shoreditch office.

But this particular proposal came with strings attached. It required Fnatic to secretly agree to lose matches.

As it happens, this “investor” was a match-fixer.

The esports revolution

The competitive gaming industry has exploded over the last decade and is now worth more than a billion dollars.

But with success has come challenges.

Background Briefing has learned the global agency tasked with combating corruption is under-resourced and failing to keep up with the torrent of complaints.

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Esports viewership has skyrocketed during the coronavirus pandemic, while much of the traditional sporting world was put on hiatus.(Reuters: Aly Song)

While the coronavirus pandemic put much of the traditional sporting world on hiatus, esports viewership has skyrocketed.

Audience numbers have increased by an estimated 50 per cent since March.

In Australia, the industry is still in its infancy, but it’s worth millions and is growing.

Sydney investor David Harris sees a day when Australia’s sporting greats won’t be cricketers or footballers. They will be gamers.

“Part of the decline of traditional sports is that they are having trouble connecting with that younger generation where esports, you’ve got that wave of young fans coming through who are staying with it,” he said.

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David Harris has invested millions of dollars into the esports sector in Australia and abroad.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

Mr Harris has invested millions in the industry at home and abroad. He’s a former NRL general manager who experienced his “light bulb moment” in 2015.

That was when he learned that a website run by one young esports enthusiast in Sydney was getting millions of viewers.

Individual matches have out-rated the Super Bowl and players can earn more than their traditional sporting counterparts.

One Australian player — Melbourne’s Ana Pham — won around the same prize money from a single tournament as Novak Djokovic did for winning the Australian Open.

Across the world, elite gaming houses have sprung up, where talented players can live and breathe video games, and chase the dream of making a high-paying career out of their childhood passions.

Local teams attracting lucrative sponsorship deals

On a suburban road in Kellyville is a rather ordinary-looking family home. But look closer and you’ll notice the lawn is overgrown, the lights are often on until the early morning and the curtains are always drawn.

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The inauspicious headquarters for one of Australia’s leading esports teams.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

Inside this house might just be the future icons of Australian sport. It’s the home of the Chiefs, one of Australia’s most elite pro-gaming teams.

Team captain Tom Henry explained why the team needs to keep the house so dark.

“The important thing is not having glare on the monitors because that can really affect just how much you can see,” he said.

In the living area, where in most houses a couch might sit, there’s a row of expensive gaming computers.

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The Chiefs have attracted financial backing by corporate sponsors.(ABC News: Mridula Amin)

They are illuminated by fluorescent lights and signs bearing corporate logos.

There is also a fully stocked glass-doored fridge filled with one brand of energy drink.

In the bathroom, more merchandise — beauty products provided by a major team sponsor.

Only a ‘negligible’ number of fixed matches are stopped

As esports’ profitability has increased, so too have allegations of match-fixing and fraud.

The Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC) investigates and reports on corruption allegations across the world, and by its own admission, it’s swamped.

ESIC receives around 100 match-fixing, cheating and other corruption allegations every day. And while not all of these complaints are credible, it says it doesn’t have the resources to investigate them all.

“If you look at another sport like cricket, they probably have between four to six major match-fixing investigations annually. We have 14 and that was basically picked up in the span of three months and they are all fairly major,” Mr Hanna said.

He says only a “negligible” number of fixed matches are ever stopped.

In Fnatic’s case, the team immediately rejected the match-fixing approach and reported the incident to the regulator.

A spokeswoman told the ABC the team takes a zero tolerance approach to any form of cheating, and this policy is spelled out in its player contracts.

Australian player banned after he ‘didn’t read the rules’

Joshua Hough-Devine, 19, is a semi-professional Counter-Strike player known online by his gamer tag, JHD.

“I like winning, especially when it’s against someone that talks a lot of sh*t,” he said.

He had hopes of making it big, until last month, when he learned via Twitter that he had received a 12-month ban for gambling offences.

“I just laughed it off, it was just a shock,” he says.

JHD had been caught betting on his own matches — he says he only ever bet on himself to win and he never threw a match.

“When you do that sort of stuff, it’s basically just stealing money, it’s a scummy thing to do,” he said.

He says he takes responsibility for his actions and his only explanation is that he didn’t read the rules.

It’s young emerging players like this that are often the target of match-fixers. Josh says he’s been approached online to throw matches, but he refused.

“I’ve been offered like $2,000 a match to throw, but I just don’t take it because it’s just not what I’m about,” he says.

“Like why would I take $2,000 when you have a possibility of getting arrested.”

Esports’ governance issues compound risk

In Australia, players caught match-fixing can face serious penalties, including jail time.

Last May, five men from Melbourne’s outer suburbs were charged with match-fixing offences as part of the first Australian criminal investigation into esports.

The police unit responsible for the arrests was Victoria Police’s Sporting integrity intelligence unit.

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Detective Superintendent Stephen White says poor player education puts the industry at risk.(Supplied)

The head of the team, Detective Superintendent Steve White, says esports players are potentially more likely to be easily corrupted by criminals because of poor education amongst players.

“Due to lack of education by leagues, tournaments, or the game publishers, players will be potentially unaware of the rules governing betting on esports or even how to recognise the match-fixing approach or how to report it,” he said.

Detective Superintendent White told the ABC that the risk of match-fixing is compounded by the lack of a single esports governing body; there’s no videogame equivalent of the International Cricket Council.

In Australia, there are some associations which advocate for the sport.

One, the Australian Esports League conceded that the industry was fragmented, leaving individual players vulnerable.

Another, the Esports Games Association, told Background Briefing the Government should speak to video game publishers and tournament operators about integrity measures.

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The global audience for esports has grown by an estimated 50 per cent since March 2020.(Reuters: Aly Song)

Often the job of educating professional gamers and setting consistent standards is left to tournament organisers or the game publishers themselves.

The two biggest names in esports are game publishers Valve Corporation and Riot Games, which control the intellectual property of their games and often administer the esports leagues.

Background Briefing asked them whether the absence of a governing body was putting young players at risk. Neither responded.

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Guild Esports Signed A $19 Million Deal With David Beckham Before His Investment

A new report from The Esports Observer has suggested that soccer superstar David Beckham will be paid almost $20 million over the next five years by Guild Esports, a company he recently invested in. 

The report states that before Beckham invested in Guild Esports, a deal was made between the company and Footwork Productions, a company owned by Beckham that is used to license his name and image rights. The deal is worth a minimum of £15.25 million  ($19.78 million) over five years, with Beckham becoming the face of Guild Esports in return. The report states that this deal was signed in May 2020, well before Beckham invested in the company. 

The deal allows Guild to use Beckham’s name, image and other assets to market the company, and the man himself must be a part of promotional photoshoots, video shoots and events, as well as making social media posts about Guild Esports. Already we have seen the fruits of this deal, with the company heavily promoting the investment Beckham made in the company a few months ago. 

Beckham will receive an annual fee equal to 15% of the proceeds of all of Guild’s merchandising sales and sponsorship revenues, but there are guarantees, which rise every year, starting at $2.92 million and ending with $5.15 million. These payments are reportedly due in advance, so at the signing of the deal, Beckham’s company was paid almost $3 million, before he even invested in Guild. 

On June 12 this year, after the licensing deal for Beckham’s likeness was signed, the man himself invested around $319,000 in Guild Esports in a very heavily publicized deal that was done through another of his businesses, DB Ventures. The investment makes him the fourth-largest shareholder in Guild Esports. 

In effect, this deal means that for a $319,000 investment, Beckham’s companies will make at least $9 million thanks to guarantees put in place for year two and three payments in the deal with his licensing company. And that is only a worst-case scenario, with the likely value being the full $19.78 million contract value. He also owns a significant share of the Guild Esports company, which he could sell for even more money. 

Guild Esports was floated on the London Stock Exchange earlier this month, raising $25.94 million, potentially further raising the worth of Beckham’s ownership stake. Even if disaster strikes and the company loses all its value, Beckham and his companies will still have made millions in profit through these deals.

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Cycling esports powering off and taking the leader’s jersey on gender parity

Jess Pratt had given up on her dream of becoming a professional cyclist.

She began racing at the age of 11 and competed in several events before pursuing a career in nursing.

“It was a massive goal of mine to turn pro but I just thought coming from Australia, working as a nurse, it’s not going to be possible,” Pratt said.

But a spontaneous decision to take part in a virtual cycling competition changed the course of her life.

She initially signed up to help improve her fitness while juggling shift work, but the grand prize of a professional cycling contract was in the back of her mind.

Once she became a nurse, Jess Pratt thought her cycling career was over.(Supplied)

“It felt too dangerous to ride after working all night and it’s quite dark in the mornings too, so this filled the barrier,” she said.

“It was much easier to get on the trainer and do a solid work-out.”

The online cycling and training program, run by the Zwift Academy, offers everyday people from across the world the chance to secure a 12-month contract with the Canyon SRAM team.

The fitness app allows users to interact and compete in virtual worlds, while the video gaming aspect is attracting younger people to indoor cycling.

A new breed of e-athletes

“It’s a different discipline compared to traditional road cycling,” Wesley Sulzberger, general manager of Zwift Australia, said.

“It’s aggressive, short, sharp racing, so we’ll see some unique athletes emerge on the world stage from the living room or wherever they may be.”

Wearing a blue and pink jersey, Jess Pratt has her eyes straight ahead while riding her bike
Jess Pratt has rediscovered her love of competitive cycling.(Supplied)

Pratt went on to win the coveted contract and is now based in Spain, riding on the Women’s World Tour.

“I couldn’t believe it,” Pratt said.


“Coming from Australia and racing people from all over the world felt surreal. I’m still pinching myself.”

It has also paved the way for a career in esports.

Pratt has been named in the Australian team for the inaugural Cycling Esports World Championships in December, an elite competition that will be raced from competitors’ homes.

Game-changer for equality

During lockdown, Pratt took part in the world’s first Virtual Tour De France.

The event was an historic step towards gender parity.

It featured a women’s race alongside the men, with equal coverage, sponsorship and prize money.

“To be racing the virtual Tour de France from my own living room against the world’s best was unbelievable,” Pratt said.

“We raced equal distances to the men, which is pretty crazy because there’s obviously no women’s Tour de France.”

The actual Tour de France has been a male-only event since its inception in 1903.

The world’s top female riders’ race in La Course — a one- or two-day race that started in 2014 and was added into the World Tour for the first time in 2016.

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Highlights from the first Virtual Tour de France.

Sulzberger competed at the Tour De France in 2012 and represented several teams, including Australian pro team GreenEdge, during his professional career.

He said the virtual adaption is a landmark achievement for gender equality in sport.

“It’s a real game-changer,” Sulzberger said.

Like the virtual Tour De France, the esports World Championships will take place on the Zwift platforms.

Both the men’s and women’s events will be raced over equal distances, on identical courses and with equal prize money.

It’s a move hailed by many, including Olympic cyclist and former world champion, Kate Bates.

Wearing an Australian jersey, Kate Bates smiles and waves while riding her bike
Former world champion Kate Bates says esports can help cycling achieve gender equality.(Cycling Australia)

“Sport across the board has some trouble in equity, certainly women’s cycling is probably a decade behind the men’s,” Bates said.

“What esports offers is absolute equality, from the broadcast to the prize money.

“There is no other sport in the world that can say that.”

COVID-19 esports boom

The coronavirus pandemic has fuelled esports meteoric rise, helping fill the massive gap left by traditional sport.

“In a challenging year, esports has provided riders with an opportunity to continue to train and compete at all levels, resulting in a virtual cycling participation and racing boom,” Steve Drake, chief executive officer of Cycling Australia, said.

Sulzberger said the boom was an unexpected but welcome surprise.

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Jess Pratt is hoping to one day compete in the Olympics in esports cycling.(Fame and Spear)

“No one could predict that we’ve have a Virtual Tour de France and now, in the same year, an esport world championships utilising the Zwift platform,” he said.

The investment value of the Zwift platform recently surpassed $1 billion for the first time, after $625 million in funding was secured from investors.

By 2025, the global esports market is tipped to be valued at more than $3 billion, and there are plans for it to feature at the Olympics.

“We’re definitely on track to making this an esport for the 2028 Olympics,” Sulzberger said.

Esports at the Olympics?

It’s a goal Pratt’s already eyeing.

“The idea that it could be at the Olympics sounds pretty awesome,” she said.


“I think a lot of people would love to see that and it’s 100 per cent something I’d aspire to.”

Bates says the advantages of cycling as an esport are many and varied.

“I think esports have a big future in the Olympics and even for the next generation,” Bates said.

“It’s gaming, so they’re very engaged and it’s really a way to combine physical abilities with the virtual world.”

It’s not just for the younger generation.

Bates believes esports will provide more longevity to female athletes who want to return to their careers after having children.

“You can now have maternity leave and continue to be a professional athlete in a way that we’ve just never had access to before,” she said.

It may even bring some athletes out of retirement.

“To think they’ve got a world championships and potentially an Olympics,” Bates said.

“I never considered pinning on a number again in the real world of cycling but esports it is luring me back.”

Kate Bates and two other women stand arm in arm and smile with medals around their necks
Kate Bates says esports could key keep athletes in cycling for longer.(Cycling Australia)

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Esports competitors need same mental strength as elite athlete, QUT study finds

Esports competitors need to have the same mental toughness and stress-coping processes as elite athletes to succeed in the gaming world, a university study has found

It is hoped the findings will help top level gamers in Australia reach their full potential, by incorporating resources into an Esport athlete’s training regime that are usually only utilised by traditional mainstream sports.

Esport researcher Dylan Poulus said he judged a player’s mental toughness through a series of questions carefully selected from four different sports psychology surveys.

“We have young people making millions of dollars, with millions of people watching them and there’s millions of people playing these games and we don’t know what determines player A from being better than player B,” Mr Poulus said.

Esport researcher Dylan Poulus is hoping to show that sports psychologists can benefit Esports athletes.(ABC News: Craig Berkman)

“We really want to know what’s happening in the mind of these athletes that’s causing player A to be better than player B.

“Their mental tough scores are high, they’re playing better.”

Mr Poulus hoped his research would show that Esports athletes would benefit from tapping into resources used by traditional sports like psychologists, dietitians and strength and conditioning coaches.

“In traditional sports we have sports psychologists and all of these support networks that are both researching and supporting the players to become better psychologically,” Mr Poulus said.

“None of that exists in Esports.

“I’m hoping to show there are similarities psychologically between traditional sports athletes and Esports athletes and therefore sports psychologists, working in traditional sport, can benefit Esports athletes to increase their development and increase their performance.”

‘Two pathways’ of an Esports career

The Queensland University of Technology (QUT) now has scholarships that give Esport athletes access to all of those resources.

QUT Sports Coordinator Emily Rosemond said it was justified, given the popularity of the sport on campus.

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QUT Sports Coordinator Emily Rosemond says more students play Esport than any other sport at QUT.(ABC News: Craig Berkman)

“The number of students that are involved in playing Esport, whether that’s here in our Esport arena, or at home, is significantly greater than any other sport that’s played at QUT,” Ms Rosemond said.

It could lead to a potentially lucrative career for Esport athletes Allister Proven and Jason Nguyen who both won scholarships to take part in the QUT Esport program.

“This program allows me to look into the professional side because it leads me towards two pathways,” Mr Nguyen said.

“I can either fulltime study or fulltime go professional.

“If I ever had the chance to go professional, I would definitely take it.”

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Esport athlete Allister Proven says studying Esports means his parents aren’t mad about him playing video games.(ABC News: Craig Berkman)

“If you don’t have mental toughness, you can’t play on the team at all, it will crush you down,” Mr Proven said.

“It’s so much better than just studying because I love playing video games and that can be part of the university.

“So my parents won’t get mad when I’m playing video games,” he laughed.

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