Few western gamers can truly appreciate the level of intensity that the game StarCraft illicits in South Korea. It is more than just a pastime, it is becoming a national obsession with televised events, championships, and big stakes gambling quietly going on behind the scenes. Players have the chance to win big cash prizes, and the top gamers all receive sponsorships. So when news comes of game rigging and illegal betting emerges, the repercussions could be massive.
The StarCraft game, made by Blizzard, the developer behind World of Warcraft, is at the center of a potentially explosive scandal. Wildly popular in Korea, the game receives national attention and has spawned a new type of illegal betting called e-sports gambling. But now the BBC is reporting that investigations have begun over allegations that players and officials have been fixing matches, illegally betting on the results, and that e-sports officials have known about it for years.
The e-sports market is still a relatively small one in Korea, but it is growing, and many have likened the current scandal to the 1919 Black Sox scandal when eight players on the White Sox took bribes to lose the World Series. The scale is much different, but the impact on those that love the game may be the same.
Although the investigation is still underway and no formal charges have been filed, Gamepron is reporting that many teams involved are naming names and forcing players to retire from the sport.
Allegedly, e-sports bookies began to contact retired gamers and gaming coaches as far back as 2006 to find contact information of current players- for a fee. By 2008, the match fixing increased in scope to the point that e-sports officials not only knew about the match fixing, they held a closed door meeting to discuss the possibility of coexisting with the illegal betting sites.
Now that the police are officially involved, Korean law dictates that once a person is formally accused of a crime their names will not be released. Unofficially though, several StarCraft sites have already begun to name – and blacklist – players for all upcoming professional events.