A stunning report from veteran esports reporter Richard Lewis says more than half of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive’s top teams would have been barred from competition for cheating without the intervention of tournament organizers in an attempt to save face. The report comes just days after a strange ruling by CSGO’s self-proclaimed governing body, the Esports Integrity Commission, stated that it would give “a pass [to] coaches, players, and teams” it suspected had cheated.
An animated Lewis spoke for over three hours on December 8 on Twitch, explaining a detailed web of lies and manipulations by nearly every entity involved in CSGO, including its players, teams, and tournament organizers. Usually, a game’s developers take control of its property to prevent these types of conflicts of interest and to ensure that competitive integrity continues. But that hasn’t happened in CSGO thanks to Valve’s unique approach, and Lewis thinks CSGO is set to pay the ultimate price.
Viewers count on matches to be real contests, where the only thing separating two teams is pure skill. But even public evidence from the second half of 2020 has shown that there is a case to be made that CSGO’s competitions are today’s version of the wild west. Lewis’s tell-all stream gave more weight to what many had already suspected, asserting professional teams are cheating in live tournaments through steam sniping, that match fixing in CSGO’s lower divisions is widespread, and that everyone from CSGO’s tournament organizers to its teams and players are playing a delicate game of who can get away with the most.
In early 2018, CSGO’s professional matches started to move from online competitions to real-life venues. There, the tournaments were held live under the watchful eyes of administrators who collected phones to prevent hacking and monitored player behavior both in-game and in real life with the intention of preventing cheating. But travel restrictions mean that tournaments have been forced back online, with players and coaches working under an honor system instead of an admin, Lewis said that many teams have taken advantage of the lessened security.
Lewis said that many of CSGO’s top teams have taken advantage of the lax enforcement by “stream sniping,” the act of watching their own match using a delayed stream meant for viewers. Lewis says that at least ten out of CSGO’s top twenty teams should have been penalized by the ESIC, but weren’t thanks to the CSGO tournament organizers who fund it.
Early signs that something had gone terribly wrong inside CSGO’s top matches came in the first week of December after ESIC failed to take action against teams it suspected of stream sniping during competitions. The decision was strange, especially in light of its earlier punishment against 37 coaches banned in CSGO’s first real cheating controversy in September 2020. Much like in this report, several coaches involved in the scandal were associated with CSGO’s top teams such as mousesports and MIBR.
But whether or not the ESIC can be a third-party ruler is the issue at hand. The commission is supported by what it calls “membership fees,” which it receives from CSGO’s many tournament operators. Betting providers also pay these fees, and it all comes together to create a conflict of interest for any rulings handed down by the ESIC. It’s unknown as to whether the Commission’s actual intent is. UK Business filings for the Commission lack any financial details thanks to its filing status.
The organization is also headquartered in Australia as a private company. It has four registered business names, some of which are listed under different business IDs: ESIC Global Holdings, Esports Integrity Coalition, Esports Integrity Commission, and as the World Esports Federation.
Along with news that top teams may have cheated their way to tournament wins, Lewis also reported that match fixing is a poorly-kept secret in CSGO’s semi-pro scene. The journalist made it clear that it wasn’t only one region that was the problem, but that it was a worldwide issue. Lewis says that he has received numerous chat logs to prove it.
Nothing made that more clear than when the journalist read an excerpt of his next article directed towards Riot Games and its new shooter, Valorant. In it, Lewis asked the company not to make the same mistakes CSGO and its developers at Valve already have.
“We’re paying a heavy price in Counter-Strike for our inaction… We’ve had dozens of coaches banned for cheating and there are more to come. Our semi-pro scene is riddled with match fixing and there’s no one capable of investigating it all. The one entity that can [the ESIC] has had to admit defeat… I don’t know how many bricks it has before it comes crashing down,” Lewis said.