2015 Match-Fixing Scandal
The 2015 Match-Fixing Scandal was the first of its kind for StarCraft II, it included participation of several Korean pro-gamers and a coach, namely YoDa, BBoongBBoong, and Gerrard, who had been involved in fixing competitive StarCraft II matches. They were subsequently banned for lifetime by KeSPA. In early 2016, more players in Life and Bbyong were charged for match-fixing. It is often compared to a similar incident in StarCraft: Brood War.
Rumours foreshadowing Match-Fixing in StarCraft II
Voided bets for San vs Dark
First suspicions of match-fixing in competitive StarCraft II came to light on January 20, 2015, when PinnacleSports, an online betting website, released a statement about voiding all bets on the 2015 ProLeague: Round 1 match between San and Dark, playing for their teams StarTale-yoe and SK Telecom T1, respectively. This was done due to "suspected manipulation". Additionally, TL.net user "Swoopae", who had originally notified KeSPA and PinnacleSports about uncommon movements of the so-called betting line, posted more details on why this match was regarded as suspicious, mostly due to heavy movement of the so-called betting line.
Voided bets for INnoVation vs Super
Only 3 days later, on January 23, 2015, PinnacleSports voided bets on the 2015 GSL Season 1 Code S match between INnoVation and Super. It was later confirmed that betting lines for the first map had rapidly changed shortly before the match started. While there are differences in racial balance regarding maps, it is usually not that significant. INnoVation indeed lost the first map on Overgrowth, but went on to win the series with a score of 2-1.
Small Online Tournaments Sponsored by Korean Gamblers
A few days later, on February 8, 2015, the organizer of the weekly online cup series OlimoLeague as well as manager of the team Axiom, Olivia "Olimoley" Wong, released multiple tweets stating that illegal online betting had massive influence on the Korean StarCraft II scene. She claimed that multiple online tournaments were sponsored by gamblers, who in return were allowed to watch the matches as in-game observers through the StarCraft II client, thus surpassing the delay on live streams to get an advantage over other betters. She furthermore released a list of tournaments allegedly sponsored by these gamblers. It comprises small online tournaments, usually featuring a prize pool of 1,000 to 2,000 USD, including MAL presents: Smallest Map Possible, PughCraft Invitational 1, Dragon Invitational Tournament 1 and others. In the following days, several tournament organizers such as SC2Improve, Conn.Si, Mal, and Pughy released statements about the issue. While John "TotalBiscuit" Bain, owner of Axiom, stated that it is unknown whether any match was actually fixed, he pointed out that Korean progamers very often get approached for doing exactly that. Additionally, Olimoley accused unnamed players of helping the gamblers as well as Blizzard for not taking action against it despite being informed several times. Other people in the StarCraft II scene contrarily said that Blizzard was investigating. It was also stated that many organizers had sent proofs to Richard Lewis, an esports reporter, for an upcoming article. That article has never been released though.
Suspicious line movement for YoDa vs Bunny
On March 17, 2015, TL.net user "StarGalaxy" reported heavy changes to the betting line of the 2015 Proleague match between YoDa and Bunny, playing for Prime and CJ Entus. He pointed out that - even though YoDa was favored because of his recent games as well as their overall ratings on Aligulac, a StarCraft II ranking page - the betting line heavily shifted towards Bunny's side just shortly before the match started. YoDa lost the match, CJ Entus won the series with a score of 3-0.
YoDa was later prosecuted for match-fixing, this match was not listed in the Prosecutor's report though.
Voided bets for ByuL vs MarineKing
Another few weeks later, on March 24, 2015, PinnacleSports once again voided all bets on a StarCraft II match, this time between ByuL and MarineKing in their 2015 Proleague: Round 2 Round-Robin match. Just before the match started, it had extraordinary betting lines. Most notably about the match itself is that MarineKing did not react to a proxy hatchery build by ByuL, despite having the Zerg's proxy Spine Crawler in vision as well as seeing creep on the minimap. Due to a lack of adequate action, MarineKing subsequently lost the match. Due to the way the game was played by MarineKing and the odd line-movement, allegations of him fixing matches became public. A few weeks later, MarineKing's team MVP reacted by posting a statement about the match and the following allegations claiming that they took the incident very seriously. In an internal investigation, they interviewed their Terran player several times about that match. Due to him denying match-fixing and looking into the replay, they concluded that MarineKing lost the match due to personal stress and pressure. There has not been any statement by KeSPA about that incident. Also, there has not been any final evidence about this match being fixed or not.
Suspicious line movement for Soulkey vs Creator
On April 15, 2015, once again extraordinary betting lines aligned with the results of a Korean StarCraft II match. According to betting odds and most SC2 viewers, Soulkey was the favorite to win his 2015 GSL Season 2 Code A match against Creator. The latter however was heavily favored by bets to win the first map, in this case King Sejong Station. Indeed, Soulkey lost that map, but he went on to lose the complete series with a score of 1-3.
KeSPA statement on Match-Fixing
On May 7, 2015, KeSPA released an official statement regarding recent match-fixing allegations. They claimed that there have been attempts to fix matches, but the players, who were approached by brokers, declined the offers. Additionally, that incident had been reported to the police, several brokers were arrested and KeSPA was stepping up its efforts to combat manipulations. Also, they asked the fans to not make any inappropriate accusations to players. This statement was released only hours after Korean media had reported that Soulkey might be involved to match-fixing. According to later media reports, Soulkey had been approached by a broker, but declined the offer. After the broker had lost his money, he felt threatened by his investor and asked the police for help. In the following investigations, Soulkey was questioned as a witness.
In-Game Clock removed from Proleague Broadcasts
Starting from July 27, 2015, SpoTV removed the in-game clock from their Proleague broadcasts to "to counteract illegal betting and/or match-fixing". This was done after bets on certain time-based events (e.g. "no unit dies under 5 minutes") had gained more popularity in illegal online gambling in Korea. The removal of an official clock makes it harder for bookmakers and gamblers to track these bets.
Arrest of YoDa, BBoongBBoong and Gerrard
On October 19, 2015, the Chanwon Regional Prosection Service's special investigations division released an investigation report about match-fixing in StarCraft II. They reported that a professional coach as well as two professional players had fixed five matches and were arrested. Later that day, Korean media reported that they were in fact Gerrard, YoDa and BBoongBBoong, coach and players of Prime, respectively. Additionally, one ex-progamer, identified as Enough by Korean media, four brokers and two financial backers had been arrested as well. Also, two recruiters for gambling clubs had been indicted but not arrested, and another one was wanted at the time of their press release.
They further explained that their investigations had started in August 2015, when they arrested a financial backer called "I.". The report stressed that, even if there had been similar cases in StarCraft: Brood War and other offline sports, it was the first time that an active coach worked with players from his team to fix matches. It is also notable that YoDa had previously won international tournaments such as IEM Season VII - World Championship.
Subsequently, KeSPA announced that YoDa, BBoongBBoong and Gerrard were banned for life. It was also stated that they had been informed about potential match-fixing of YoDa and Gerrard by anonymous sources and were investigating internally when they learned that the Prosecutor's Office had made arrests. KeSPA announced that they would pursue legal measures against the alleged match-fixers and that they would keep a philosophy of zero compromise towards illegal gambling and manipulation of matches.
On March 31, 2016, the sentences were reported.
The report lists five matches which had been manipulated. It is highlighted that a manipulation can be an intentional loss, going over/under a certain time regardless of result, or other similar ways. It was not released how each match had specifically been manipulated. For some cases, it is not known to which match or matches in the series the report refers to.
- 2015 Proleague
- 2015 Global StarCraft II League Season 1
- 2015 Global StarCraft II League Season 2
The official prosecutor's report reveals that Gerrard had been approached by brokers in different ways. Some acted as sponsors and provided operating funds for the team to earn his trust. Korean media reported that Prime and Gerrard were in serious financial trouble, and players had their salaries withheld. More specifically, Enough used his connections as former progamer, journalist and broadcast host to approach Gerrard and YoDa. YoDa sometimes dealt with the brokers directly, sometimes through Gerrard.
While there already were rumours about match-fixing in professional StarCraft II, many players and fans were still surprised, especially that an active coach had worked together with his own players. In particular, pro-players felt heavily betrayed on a personal level. It was also commonly stated that multiple players had been harassed online by brokers before. Interestingly enough, Wolf "Wolf" Schröder, an American caster living and working in Korea, hinted that more players of even higher caliber might be involved.
After the Prosecutor's report had been released, many called the integrity of the Korean StarCraft II competitive scene into question and felt disappointed. There was also a certain notion of relief that the match-fixers had been caught.
On March 31, 2016, it was reported that sentencing was passed down on everyone involved in the match-fixing scandal, including former Prime members Gerrard, YoDa and BBoongBBoong, who were sentenced to 18 months of prison on three years suspension, each. Enough, a former progamer, host and journalist who acted as broker, was sentenced to two years in prison, suspended for three years. Other brokers and backers received similar punishment with sentences between 10 and 18 months, also suspended. Additionally, YoDa, Gerrard and BBoongBBoong were fined 30,000,000 KRW, 10,000,000 KRW and 5,000,000 KRW, respectively.
In the Korean judicial system, suspension is a period of probation for prison sentences of one year or less. If the convicted person does not infract against the law in that time, they are are exempted from the original sentence.
About one week later, on April 8, 2016, KeSPA announced that they will pursue legal measures against everyone involved in the match-fixing scandal, possibly including suing for damages caused by the scandals. They will also continue player education as well as illicit-website monitoring programs to prevent further incidents.
Arrest of Life
On January 29, 2016, KeSPA announced - just a few days after Life's requested transfer to Afreeca Freecs - that he had been arrested by the Changwon prosecutor's office, which had already handled the YoDa, BboongBboong and Gerrard incident. At the time, it was not clear whether his arrest was related to that, but he was already prevented from playing any official StarCraft II match until he is acquitted by cooperating with the league organizers. It is also noted that neither his former team KT Rolster nor Afreeca Freecs were aware of any incident which could have led to his arrestment.
Two days later, it was indeed confirmed by the Changwon Regional Prosecutor's office that they had arrested Life on charges of receiving money for match-fixing. No specific charges were revealed by the Prosecutor's office, except that they are related to the match-fixing in 2015, claiming that the investigation was still ongoing.
Life was considered by many to be one of the greatest StarCraft II players of all time, having won 10 premier tournaments, including 2012 GSL Season 4, 2014 WCS Global Finals and 2015 GSL Season 1, and received in total over 460,000 USD in prize money, making him the player with second most tournament earnings behind MC.
Prosecution of Life and Bbyong
On April 21, 2016, the Changwon Regional Prosecution Service released an official report, charging Life and terran player Bbyong with match-fixing. Additionally, 11 brokers and financial backers, including Enough, who had already been involved in the Prime match-fixing scandal, were indicted.
They state that investigations relating match-fixing in StarCraft II had recommenced a few months after the first arrests in October 2015, when a broker was apprehended at large in January 2016, bringing to light that match-fixing "is occurring on a broad scale" within the korean StarCraft II scene. It is mentioned that Bbyong turned himself in to the authorities, which is the reason why he had not been arrested, contrary to Life.
Enough, a former StarCraft: Brood War player, esports host and journalist, who had already been involved and convicted in the match-fixing scandal of October 2015, was charged with paying money to compensate Life for match-fixing as well as betting on these manipulated matches. Additionally, he was charged for using informations of a manipulated match for betting. The match in question is called "P" vs "J" on May 13, 2015, in 2015 Global StarCraft II League Season 2. The report uses "J" as abbreviation for Bbyong, but "P"'s real identity remains unknown.
The report lists three manipulated matches, with the charged player losing one map on purpose per match.
Sentencing and Dismissal of Life's Appeal
On July 14, 2016, it was reported that an appeal for more lenient sentencing, which Life had filed earlier, was dismissed by the Changwon District Court. Also, Life's sentencing was revealed: 18 months of prison suspended for three years as well as a 70,000,000 KRW fine. Life had argued that he had already been imprisoned for two months during the investigations and has been banned from any KeSPA progaming. However, the court decided that the damage he had caused to the esports scene and its credibility weights more than his status as a minor. It was also reported that similar appeals for BBoongBBoong and Enough had been dismissed.
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