The South Korean eSports scene has been rocked by a StarCraft 2 match-fixing scandal that involves professional players, organized crime, and a journalist, the Korean eSports Association (KeSPA), the organization that regulates eSports in South Korea, announced on Sunday.
Nine people have been arrested so far, and at the top of the list are Park "Gerrard" Oi Shik, a former StarCraft Brood War player and current coach for team Prime, and Prime Terran player Choi "YoDa" Byung Hyun.
According to a translation of KeSPA's announcement on the Team Liquid forums, two members of an unnamed criminal organization paid Oi Shik and Byung Hyun between $4,400 and $17,000 to throw StarCraft II matches, which they then bet on online illegally.
Sung "Enough" Jun Mo, a former StarCraft professional player and current journalist, helped broker the deal, according to an official report from the Changwon Regional Prosecution Service.
You can see one of the five matches Byung Hyun is accused of throwing here, though I doubt you'll be able to tell he's doing anything wrong unless you're very familiar with high-level StarCraft 2 play (I couldn't).
This is the first time an active coach was busted in a match-fixing scandal, and the best look we've seen at what seemed like an organized effort designed to profit from eSports match-fixing in South Korea. The prosecutor's report lays out a network of players, brokers, financial backers, and illegal betting sites.
KeSPA learned about the match-fixing while conducting its own investigation. In 2013 (after a match-fixing scandal in 2010), KeSPA established an anti-corruption education program for all coaches and players, and in 2014, it started a program that rewards people for reporting such activities. KeSPA learned that the Changwon Regional Prosecutor already made arrests while it was following a tip from someone seeking a reward.
Match-fixing is not a problem that's unique to South Korea, where eSports has been a big business since 2000, long before than the recent, growing popularity of eSports globally. Earlier this year, we learned that American Counter-Strike: Global Offensive players were involved in a similar match-fixing scandal.
However, since South Korea has a longer, more established relationship with eSports, it also has more punitive means to react to these scandals. KeSPA operates under the South Korean government's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and issues official licenses to professional eSports players. While the American
players were banned from developer Valve's future events, KeSPA announced that Oi Shik and Byung Hyun have been banned for life, meaning their eSports careers or over, regardless of what sentencing they'll face in court.