*Three days after publication of this article, on April 21 2016, the Changwon Regional Prosecution Service’s special investigations division released their official report regarding match-fixing in StarCraft2. Although no names are given, it is easy to determine that Life is one of the ProGamers implicated. Original document HERE, partial translation HERE.
Prime Scandal Verdict
Back in October 2015 the Head Coach of the now shuttered StarCraft2 professional team Prime, Park “Gerrard” Wae-Sik, along with ProGamers Choi “YoDa” Byung Hyun and Choi “BboongBBoong” Jong Hyuk (and SC1 progamer and journalist Seong “Enough” Jun-mo) were all charged with illegal betting activities related to throwing/fixing professional matches of StarCraft2 (More details here).
The Changwon District Court handed down sentences this past March(1). Gerrard, YoDa and BboongBBoong all received similar sentences: an 18-month suspended prison sentences, being served as three-year probations. “Enough” was handed a 2-year suspended sentence, also a three-year probation.
These former ProGamers were also hit with heavy fines. BboongBBoong (5 million won / $4363 USD), Gerrard (10 million won / $8426 USD) and YoDa (30 Million Won / $26,000 USD) were all fined amounts greater than their match-fixing proceeds. Together with legal fees and potential upcoming lawsuits, the message being sent is that Match-Fixing Doesn’t Pay.
Oh, about those potential upcoming lawsuits. They’re from their former players union, The Korea e-Sports Association, KeSPA. According to their Official Statement, KeSPA plans on pursuing civil-lawsuits, probably more fines, as a preventative measure meant to discourage others from being persuaded to engage in illegal betting activities due to the severity of the monetary punishment if caught. Not only will they never play StarCraft again, they’ll be literally paying for their mistakes for years to come.
While these proceedings surely provide a measure of closure for StarCraft2, and esports fans in general, it now seems like these are only initial precedents being set for a far bigger show.
What’s bigger than a scandal that took down an entire ProGaming team?
Lee”Life” Seung is the elephant in the room. Although the Prime match-fixing trail was obviously conducted in isolation from other cases, the question everyone is bound to ask themselves when they read the sentences handed down has to be:
“What does this mean for Life?”
The nineteen-year-old Zerg prodigy was arrested, under warrant, by the Changwon Regional Prosecutor’s Office on match-fixing charges at the end of January, 2016 (2, 3, 4). Although few details are available at this time, the charges stem out of matches played in 2015, the year he won his second GSL Title.
Innocent until proven guilty, Life has been suspended from playing by KeSPA until the charges are dropped as per their policies.
Perhaps some context is needed to set the perspective here. YoDa was arguable the most successful of the indicted players from Prime, he about $26,500 USD from match-fixing, and made approximately $84,119.07 USD in prize money from StarCraft2 tournaments(5). YoDa’s crowing achievement was a IEM World Championship title from IEM Season VII in 2013.
Life was on a whole other level with 10 Premier Tournament titles from every major StarCraft2 organization, including two GSL titles and a WCS Global Championship from Blizzcon(6). He had made $475,300.67 USD from tournament prize pools alone(7). Lee Seung was arguably one of the best to play the game, and he may never play again.
So how much do you pay a champion, to many the champion, StarCraft2 player to throw a match in a tournament he could potentially win?
One of the matches YoDa was prosecuted for could have allegedly been against Life, for which YoDa received $17,650 USD in illegal compensation. No details have been released to confirm if the YoDa/Prime-cases are related to the charges against Life however.
There are so few details available at this point that speculation can easily run rampant: If they got to Life, how many other big-name players could be involved; was Life really that good or were his performances a result of illegal manipulations; if one of the most successful players in StarCraft2 could be lured into match-fixing what does this say about conditions in the Korean professional scene? These and many more valid concerns should be addressed as this case unfolds, but at this point we need to focus on what we do know.
If Life is found guilty, he will most likely face both a suspended-prison sentence, to be served as probation, of at least two years. He will be fined, the minimum amount would likely equal that which received as compensation for the matches he fixed. He would receive a lifetime ban by KeSPA, his titles may well be revoked. KeSPA would launch a civil-lawsuit for damages, increasing the monetary fines and most likely wiping out any earnings Life made during his ProGaming career.
The precedents have been set with the Prime-Case, as well as with 2010 BroodWar Match-fixing scandal. Ma “sAviOr” Jae Yoon was convicted in that scandal, and he is the closest player to Life’s status that we can compare to. He won four Premier championships and had earned $338,901.24 from tournament winnings, the third highest earning player in BroodWar (8). sAviOr had his titles stripped and was banned for life from professional StarCraft.
But then again, they could also throw the book at him. Life seemed to be on the path to being crowned Bonjwa of StarCraft2 (debatable, of course). Between tournament winnings, lucrative professional team contracts and the ability to compete at the highest level, Life seemed to be the last person who could have been bribed to throw games.
The question might not be, how much do you pay a champion to throw a tournament, but how do you get a champion to throw a tournament.
There are many questions that will most likely not ever be answered outside the courtroom, but the verdicts handed out in these cases will have massive implications for the professional StarCraft scene, and possibly eSports in general.
The Life fanboy in me wants to believe he hasn’t played his last professional game of StarCraft2. Lee Seung is innocent until proven guilty. But it doesn’t look good.
WCS 2016 Win-Trading & Blizzard
Don’t worry foreigner fans, Korea isn’t the only place that has issues with deliberately throwing games!
During the 2016 WCS Circuit Spring Challengers/Qualifiers some instances of win-trading occurred and Blizzard acted according to their rules and regulations (9, 10, 11). Alexis “MarineLorD ” Eusebio, Juan Carlos “MajOr” Tena Lopez, and Adrien “DnS” Bouet have been suspended from all Blizzard-sponsored events until June 30, 2016, their WCS points stripped and their accounts closed. MarineLord was also removed from his seed at the WCS Circuit Spring Championship at DreamHack: Tours(12).
Blizzard identified some issues with their own response and the setup regarding
the new Ladder-Based qualifiers, the full release can be read here.
Blizzard won’t budge on their End User License Agreement, which is reasonable considering their public ladder is being used for professional qualifiers. This new use of the Ladder will require a cultural adjustment among established ProGamers given the apparently habitual nature of account sharing.
In the end these suspensions seem to be more an issue of old habits conflicting with new rules, not a match fixing conspiracy on the level seen in Korea. Hopefully the lesson about account sharing are learned, by these three players, their peers, and the teams that sponsor them.
Until next time,