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Illegal Bets, Match-Fixing, Doping: The Dark Side of Esports

The fast-growing business of online video-game tournaments comes with a health warning for fans.

Teams compete during the ESL ONE Counter-Strike video game tournament in Cologne, Germany in 2019.
Teams compete during the ESL ONE Counter-Strike video game tournament in Cologne, Germany in 2019.Photographer: Ina Fassbender/AFP via Getty Images

Last August, police in Australia’s Victoria province arrested six young men competing in the popular online video game “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.” The authorities, who had tracked the suspects for six months, said they had deliberately lost at least five tournament matches after illegally betting on their own defeats, in Australia’s first police investigation into esports match-fixing. If convicted, the men face up to 10 years in prison. 

With most sports on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, watching the world’s most talented gamers do battle online has never been more popular. The average number of viewers on Amazon’s Twitch platform has roughly doubled in April from a year ago. Fans use Twitch and rival services such as Google’s YouTube and Microsoft’s Mixer to watch professional gamers clash in anything from Electronic Arts’ best-selling FIFA soccer franchise to Activision Blizzard’s violent “Call of Duty” shooter.