South Korea’s eSports arena is undergoing serious turbulence these days. A professional eSports match fixing and illegal gambling scandal has rocked the South Korean StarCraft scene, with A-list StarCraft celebrity-progamers possibly facing serious criminal charges.
In case you were only introduced to Blizzard’s StarCraft Universe with the recent addition to it, you might be unaware of the size of the phenomenon in Korea. The following will likely constitute a fascinating read – a story that revolves around a 12 year old RTS game and includes big money, government officials, police investigations, corporate cover-ups and illegal gambling – the likes of which have never before been associated with video gaming.
The Executive Summary
Since 2006, illegal gambling syndicates have been busy contacting professional StarCraft gamers with offers to “adjust” their match results in order to comply with certain bets. The highest level of StarCraft competition was in fact infiltrated by people fixing matches for money.
The Good Guys
According to The Korea Times, the Korean eSports Players Association (KeSPA), a body responsible for governing South Korean eSports as well as tracking and publishing player rankings, has filed charges along with the prosecution against the various pro-gaming teams involved. KeSPA is greatly responsible for the current state of StarCraft as an eSport in Korea and has a large stake in the “well-being” of the scene, especially with the release of StarCraft 2 in the near future. However, this might not be a “pure-hearted” move, as KeSPA could be facing a power struggle with Blizzard over the control of the South Korean StarCraft 2 scene. Both parties want the scandal off the table by the time StarCraft 2 hits mainstream professional gaming.
Jeon Byung-Hyun, a Korean congressman, has published an elaborate article about the scandal, mentioning that the Korean Ministry of Culture as well as the press have been aware of the match fixing but had decided to wait for the investigation to come to fruition before exposing it to the public.
The Bad Guys and Their Methods
According to Fomos.kr, which released a massive coverage barrage as soon as it was legally possible, illegal StarCraft betting started around 2006, with bets being placed on matches in both small and major professional StarCraft leagues. After the initial crackdown initiated by KeSPA, they were forced to move to different servers. Unfortunately, this is when retired pro-gamers, coaches and StarCraft reporters jumped in and started using their contacts to lure professional gamers into rigging matches. Entire crews of mediators were busy leaking crucial replays, fixing match-up entries and transferring money to players willing to throw their games.
When eSports organizers caught on, the reaction was not what you might expect from organizations that like their competition clean. Suggestions were made to accept some sort of mode of co-existence with the illegal gambling sites, striving for an acceptable status-quo with their shady schemes.
What’s Happening Now?
The Korean eSports Players Association, along with officials from the government and the police, decided to blow the lid off the story, going public with the details as well as going after the numerous people involved in the match rigging scheme. For the prosecution, the illegal betting sites and their accomplices seem to be the targets, but for most of the public, the interest lies in the pro-gamers that are being accused of selling out and rigging their matches for a quick buck.
The house-cleaning couldn’t be timed better, as the StarCraft 2 beta is at its peak and professional level competition is already taking place in various leagues. According to multiple sources, the players that may be implicated in the scandal are:
Myung Soo (Yarnc), Chan Soo (Luxury), Sang Ho (SangHo), Jung Woo (EffOrt), Yong Hwa (Movie), Jae Yoon (sAviOr), Taek Yong (Bisu), Byong Goo (Stork), Jae Wook (BeSt), il Jang (hero), Myung Hoon (fantasy), Heui Seung (UpMaGiC), Jae Dong (Jaedong), Sang Moon (Leta), Jong Seo (Justin), Chang Hee (go.go)
The scandal broke out just a few days before Korean StarCraft fans were hit with an even more disheartening letdown: Korea’s Games Rating Board, a unit of the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism has officially made StarCraft 2 illegal to play for anyone younger than 18. While officially the reason for the restriction is StarCraft 2′s “level of violence, foul language and depiction of drug use”, rumor has it that it’s actually caused by KeSPA pressuring the South Korean Government to assist against Blizzard’s alleged plans to take over the Korean eSports scene.Google+
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