By Michael P.
A prodigy in his field, Braxton “swag” Pierce’s hands hammer away at the keyboard and mouse, aiming with inhuman accuracy and finesse. The young American has been a competitive Counter Strike: Global Offensive player since he was 15 years old, journeying through the ranks with the aid of big names such as Full Gaming, Quantic Gaming and compLexity.
Pierce boasts tremendous skill and potential; his aim and quick analysis of the field have made him a tactical nightmare to others. Even players such as Kenny “kennyS” Schrub and Jordan ” n0thing” Gilbert have been blown away by this youngster’s raw talent. Rated Number 18th in the world (2014), it seemed that nothing could have stopped his momentous rise to becoming a timeless legend.
Winding several years into the future, however, Braxton Pierce has been removed from his current team, IBuyPower. His license for play has been revoked by all of the largest leagues in the world, and the developers of the game themselves have asked for swag’s expulsion from events that they sponsor. His career and promise have been crushed, his prowess left to slowly wither away. He, and fourteen other players are the first to be punished for a global professional phenomenon known as “match fixing”.
Counter Strike: Global Offensive is a low cost game, but it gets its profit by the sale and trading of weapon skins; customizable looks for weapons that only cosmetically affect the game. Such weapons can range from one cent, to ten thousand American dollars (That’s right.) Professional matches, with teams in a clash of skill, can be bet on with these skins on sites such as CSGOlounge.com or esportsbets.com. Players place their weapons on virtual games, and receive profit based on the percentage of players that bet for that team. Being among the 9% who bet on a winning team will result in tremendous benefit.
However, wherever there is a chance for profit, there is cheating, scandals, and in this case, “match-fixing”. This is a phenomenon in which professional players, with the agreed consensus of the majority of the team, bet weapons against themselves on a website, and proceed to lose on purpose. In most cases, losing one game will not result in any serious consequences, but the unexpected loss, especially against an underdog, can result in a substantial amount of cash.
Previously, nobody had paid any attention to this occurrence, mainly due to the fact that there were numerous small cases and that the game, and its audience were not yet that widespread. Recent crackdowns by both game developers and those affiliated with professional players have shined the light on an entire underground community. What they have uncovered is not only a single time event by a single team, but an interconnected web of pseudo-criminals from a multitude of different teams. A recent ban wave has left the scandalists listed below without a future or a career:
Sam “DaZeD” Marine (IBuyPower)
Braxton “swag” Pierce (IBuyPower)
Keven “AZK” Lariviere (IBuyPower)
Joshua “steel” Nissan (Torqued)
Derek “dboorN” Boorn (Torqued)
Casey Foster (co-owner of NetcodeGuides)
Duc “cud” Pham (LunatiK)
Kevin “Uzzziii” Vernel (Epsilon)
Joey “fxy0” Schlosser (Epsilon)
Robin “GMX” Stahmer (Epsilon)
Morgan “B1GGY” Madour (Epsilon)
Damian “DiAMon” Żarski (ALSEN)
Michał “bCk” Lis (ALSEN)
Jakub “kub” Pamuła (ALSEN)
Mateusz “matty” Kołodziejczyk (ALSEN)
Michał “michi” Majkowski (ALSEN)
These players have not only stolen small amounts of money; several accounts state that single players have won upwards of $10 000. These skins were bet, fairly and under a controlled environment, by people who had accurately predicted the results of the match. Due to the high bet percentage on IBuyPower, many players bet large sums on this team to receive any noticeable profit; instead, they received a massive deficit.
Such actions not only deface the team’s name and the credibility of the players themselves, but also affect how the outside world looks at the face of Counter-Strike. In a crucial moment in its growth, the worst that can happen to CS is for the outside eSports community to dub it as a failed and underfunded sport. So many years of steady popularity increase would simply go to waste. Even if the players were doing it for financial or personal reasons, they are symbiotically leaching from the game they try to support. A game of fun and light-heartedness turns into a competition of prize pools and money.
This doesn’t even stop here. Bans instituted by Valve were also reflected by major leagues ESEA, CEVO and FACEIT. Although not technically banned from the game, their chances of making any profit are slim; the largest and most luxurious tournaments, and even small, spinoff competitions that give unknown teams exposure into the competitive scene, are all hosted by or on the server of these companies. Their punishments, ultimately, seem to follow the old judicial ideals of Hammurabi’s code: an eye for an eye. Valve also appeared to throw a slow-burning bomb at these players. By not researching into the issue, and only acting after the issues flared up in August, they had given time for those players to reposition within the scene. Certain players left and joined other teams. The ban wave acted as a fragmentation grenade, piercing deep into the scene; many more teams were affected than there were actually involved in the issue. Although, in their entirety, only four teams were involved in this scandal, a total of six were affected by the aftershock. A single player banned from a team could result in a month searching for a suitable replacement.
Valve had made a deep scorch in the scene, and has influenced and shown the world that it meant business. But as mentioned above, they left carnage in the wake of their war. Players on teams that were partially involved in the fixing were left untouched, but in singularity, with no team or organization to back them. Rising stars such as Adil “ScreaM” Benrlitom and Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham have been left out of the scene. Basically, these players have been inadvertently punished for staying bright amongst the darkness of corruption. Both players, boasting tremendous abilities, have been left to search for teammates in countries where others of their caliber are either already on teams, or simply do not exist. Latham, for example, is now constantly seen streaming H1Z1, a non-competitive zombie survival game, instead of practising his superb awping skills. Clearly, the ban of his teammates has left him with no motivation to plow on.
Valve has made a huge step in trying to cleanse their game from scandalists and cheaters, but at the same time have accidentally clipped the innocent who were in close relation with the accused. Although it does represent a new stage in eSports, a stage in which the game developers care about the community, and don’t simply “run away with the money”, the have also created unrest amongst the teams. If this is to progress into the future, Valve, and other companies, must be aware of the side effects of their actions. At this stage, it is difficult to say if what they are doing is correct, but at the moment, they are on the right track. The only hope for the future is that Valve will try and balance the fallout of their actions, and reduce the negative impacts of their interference. At least for now, Valve is securing eSports, and turning it into a regulated, but still intertwined community of competitive gamers and video game enthusiasts.