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Fraud Scandal Rocks Pro Starcraft Gaming

Posted April. 15, 2010 06:41,   


A criminal investigation has begun into the alleged rigging of Starcraft game competitions, Seoul prosecutors said yesterday.

The Korea e-Sports Association and a pro gamers’ group reportedly found circumstantial evidence that more than 10 active and retired pro gamers pocketed bribes by fabricating game results on illegal betting Web sites. Prosecutors were asked to launch an investigation last month.

Betting valuable items on Starcraft games is illegal. People can legally gamble on sports only through Sports Toto lotteries, which are issued under the Public Sport Promotion Act, or bet on horseracing and bicycle and canoe racing.

Fabricating wins and losses of online games are conducted through illegal Web sites called “playgrounds.” These sites are operated by overseas-based servers and are known to a small number of exclusive members through online game cafes and other routes. The sites operate on an ad hoc basis by informing Web addresses to members via mobile phones after switching to other servers if a criminal probe is suspected. This makes it difficult to trace their operators. The stakes reportedly range from dozens to thousands of dollars.

The scandal allegedly started when ex-pro gamers who served as illegal brokers promised money to junior pro gamers. The brokers approached pro gamers with good records in the pro or individual leagues, offering them bribes for intentionally losing games. The brokers are also suspected of exploiting the practice of betters generally making their bets on pro gamers with stellar records by betting on rivals with inferior performance. They also reportedly bribed promising novices on pro gaming teams, illegally acquired video files of training by famous players, and figured out the latter’s strategies in advance.

Pro gamers usually debut in their mid to late teens, and are forced to retire in their mid-20s. Notably, minors on pro gaming teams earn little salary, and find bribes hard to resist. A retired pro gamer who is now a game commentator said, “If young players in their 20s who once lived like a hero start to lose to younger players, they can hardly resist the temptation to make one big bet.”

After the suspicion was raised, the association recently changed its practice of releasing the names of players who play in pro leagues in advance. The list will now be announced on the day of a competition to prevent prior contact and collusion between gamers and brokers. Pro teams will also expel players implicated in the fabrication or block them from competitions until the truth is confirmed.

Of the more than 10 players implicated in the scandal, half of them are famous active players. The remainder comprises players in the minor league and brokers.

bell@donga.com sanhkim@donga.com