Game On!

Meet the sites taking bets on the future of eSports


Betting on the results of a sporting contest is an age-old tradition, so it shouldn’t be a huge surprise to learn that people are gambling on eSports like Counterstrike: Global Offensive, World of Tanks, Hearthstone and League of Legends too. Albeit with a twist…

Betting on eSports isn‘t a recent phenomenon, although the establishment of trusted betting sites is. Dota2Lounge might be one of the major players in this new marketplace, but it was only founded in 2012. The site and its community was born in the build-up to the second International for Dota 2 and has quickly established itself is a trustworthy middleman, not only for wagers but for item trades.

“We were the first [site] to introduce this type of betting to Dota 2, or even to the eSports world,” says Dota2Lounge moderator Dusan ‘DemiaN‘ Pecic. The Lounge expanded to cover one of Valve’s other titles, CounterStrike: Global Offensive (CS:GO), in 2013.

blade of wandering demon
Instead of betting real money, players on DOTA2Lounge wager in-game items.

Dota2Lounge is a betting community with a twist. Instead of wagering money, participants bet in-game cosmetic items over the outcome of a match.

The site uses a framework developed by programmer Robert Borewik where bots take wagered items from gamblers before the beginning of a match and then transfer those items to the winners.

According to Dusan Pecic, the site does not take a cut from any of the pots.

“It’s funny how everyone in the eSports community thinks that we are taking a cut from the bets,” he says. “I guess because that’s usually how these kind of sites work. But we actually don’t take a single item from the bets.”

Gambling weapon skins on CSGOLounge
On CSGOLounge, players can wager over professional matches with in-game weapon skins.

Dota2Lounge is only one side of eSports betting. Unikrn is the brainchild of Rahul Sood, the entrepreneur behind VoodooPC.

“We had this vision to create a theme park for eSports,” he says, “and we wanted to start with an area where you could bet on eSports.”

You want to ensure player integrity

He admits that starting a traditional bookmaker for the eSports community wasn’t an easy task. “Betting is something that is really hard to do if you want to abide by the law. You want to ensure player integrity and you want to ensure betting responsibly,” he adds.

To help Unikrn navigate the complex laws that regulate Internet sports betting, they partnered with TabCorp, one of the world’s largest betting companies. With TabCorp’s backing, Unikrn is now licensed to take eSports bets in Australia, Ireland and the United Kingdom.

While they’re not yet able to take real bets from the United States or other countries where sports betting is illegal, they offer a free virtual currency that can be used for bets and raffles.

Gambling on eSports using Unikrn
Unikrn allows players in Australia, the United Kingdom and Ireland bet on the winner of matches or tournaments, as well as offering more exotic prop bets, like choosing which player will get the first kill.

For eSports tournament organisers, one of the major advantages that these gambling sites offer is the ability to attract a larger audience to games and competitions.

While both CSGOLounge and Unikrn are unwilling to share the exact number of bets made on each event, both sites claim tens of thousands of users are active each day. This gives smaller events, which might not normally command a big audience, a means to draw in larger viewer numbers and potentially attract sponsorship.

“We like to help smaller tournaments grow by covering some of their games”, says Pecic. “But only if the bet is safe and people are actually interested in betting on those teams.”

However, gambling can also lead to problems for the eSports scene, especially if individuals attempt to influence the results of matches for their own gain.

betting on esports
With betting on eSports rising in popularity, tournament organisers need to be wary of match-fixing and external disruption.

Disrupting events with distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks is not uncommon, whereupon victims find themselves either scrambling for emergency replacements or becoming disqualified from the match.

Match-fixing is more dangerous than a DDoS attack

During the League of Legends European Challenger Series playoffs, for example, Denial eSports found themselves forfeiting a series against Team Dignitas EU after Thomas “Kirei” Yuen found himself unable to continue due to a DDoS attack. This cost the team the chance to qualify for the salaried League Championship Series.

The other risk is that players themselves might attempt to profit from eSports betting by fixing matches. For tournament organisers, match-fixing is more dangerous than the disruptions caused by DdoSs. While such attacks might disrupt tournaments, match-fixing can threaten the integrity of the game and drive away the audience.

Tournament organizers have seen this sort of damage firsthand after Korean StarCraft was wracked by scandal in 2010. In that case, eleven players were banned for colluding with gamblers. Match-fixing also poses a problem to gambling sites, as honest gamblers might stop betting on corrupt contests and their sites’ reputations are tainted by any scandal.

CSGOLounge covers national eSports leagues and big tournaments

The list of tournaments CSGOLounge covers includes regional and national leagues in addition to premier tournaments like Dreamhack and ESL One.

“There is no better way to guarantee player integrity and anti-cheating than to work with a betting organisation”, says Rahul Sood. While Unikrn and Dota2Lounge are unable to share their methods of identifying abusers (because it may help cheats circumvent the measures in the future), both state that they actively work to identify problem cases as well as to communicate with tournament organisers when problems arise.

Another case earlier this year highlighted how gambling organizations can help keep the sport clean. In January, seven people were banned from CS:GO by Valve after CSGOLounge and the DailyDot identified suspicious behavior surrounding an iBUYPOWER vs. match.

iBUYPOWER, the heavy favourite for the match, was defeated by NetCodesOnline, only for it to be revealed that the NetCodesOnline owners had colluded with the iBUYPOWER squad to throw the match and split the gambling winnings. The investigation by CSGOLounge was picked up by Valve and the perpetrators were banned indefinitely by the publisher.

The popularity of eSports is increasing and more spectators means more bets. While gambling brings the risk of collusion with it, tournament organisers will have to accept that gambling will always occur whether they condone it or not. By working with gambling organisations like the Lounge or Unikrn, tournament organisers can do their due diligence to mitigate risk while boosting interaction and gaining a new audience.

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