Integrity and Fair Play: Valve’s Role in CS:GO eSports

It is often said that the key to integrity is the consistency of actions that are viewed as honest and truthful to inner values. In sports and eSports, this is imperative to ensure the longevity of the game itself and its competitive scene. Unfortunately, the culture of gambling that often exists can lead to various instances of match-fixing. A prominent case in eSports would be the StarCraft 2 match-fixing ring, other games are prone to similar disasters.

On 26th January 2015, after an investigation into an alleged throw in a best of one Counter-Strike: Global Offensive match between iBuyPower and NetCodeGuides, Valve announced in a blog post entitled Integrity and Fair Play that they would be instructing their CS:GO event partners to ban 4 of the former iBuyPower team from participating in future Valve sponsored events. The 4 players implicated were Sam “Dazed” Marine, Joshua “Steel” Nissan, Braxton “Swag” Pierce and Keven “AZK” Larivière.

This was a huge blow not just to these players whose careers had essentially been ended, but also to the North American Counter-Strike scene which at the time had been struggling against their European counterparts at international LANs. And to make matters worse, most of the top tournament organisers at the time banned the players from also participating in any of their non-Valve sponsored events.

“All together, the information we have collected and received makes us uncomfortable continuing any involvement with these individuals. Therefore we will be directing our CS:GO event partners to not allow any of the following individuals’ participation in any capacity in Valve-sponsored events:

Duc “cud” Pham
Derek “dboorn” Boorn
Casey Foster
Sam “Dazed” Marine
Braxton “swag” Pierce
Keven “AZK” Larivière
Joshua “Steel” Nissan

“Professional players, their managers, and teams’ organisation staff, should under no circumstances gamble on CS:GO matches, associate with high volume CS:GO gamblers, or deliver information to others that might influence their CS:GO bets.”

Valve Official Statement

In this part of their initial statement, Valve did not state the period of time in which the ban would be in effect. This led to many people in the CS:GO community, as well as many of the banned players themselves being under the impression that at some point in a year or two, Valve would lift the ban.

This never transpired. In a more recent statement entitled A Follow Up to Integrity and Fair Play on 5th January 2016, Valve clarified that the bans issued were permanent, and that any players found to be match-fixing in the future would also be permanently banned.

Source: HLTV
Source: HLTV

The decision to make the bans permanent sent reverberations throughout the CS:GO community; with many of the current professional players arguing a case for rehabilitation and a lighter punishment. And if Valve’s intent with their follow up was to bury this discussion, they did not succeed. This debate has reignited after one of the banned players, Sam ‘DaZeD’ Marine appeared as an analyst and caster in the most recent season of the ESL Pro League.

This shocked many as ESL had been seen by many in the community as Valve’s de facto teacher’s pet, despite the fact that Valve themselves have stated they have no jurisdiction in telling the organisers of non-Valve sponsored events who they can and can’t have participating. In addition to his new role at the ESL Pro League, Marine has also taken up streaming CS:GO on Twitch.tv as a full time job.

Other members of the former iBP lineup have become full time streamers or have pursued other career paths within eSports. Joshua ‘Steel’ Nissan and Kevin ‘AZK’ Lariviére have since sought to become professional Overwatch players, with Nissan still streaming CS:GO regularly having been cut from Splyce’s Overwatch squad while AZK continues on the Team Liquid equivalent. Swag was the youngest player on the team.

Only 17 at the time of the bans being issued, Pierce become a prominent point of contention in the debate surrounding these players and their punishments. Information has also surfaced since the bans that Pierce was under pressure from his family to start making money from his eSports career or he would be forced to quit. At the time the players of iBP were not making any salary, but Valve has chosen not to look at the bans on a case-by-case basis, instead issuing a blanket ban on all involved.

Source: ESEA
Source: ESEA

The match-fixing scandal can be seen as one part of the wider debate regarding Valve and how they handle CS:GO as an eSport. The lack of communication between them and the community as well as the banned players is pretty striking. Valve is notoriously hands-off when it comes to how they approach CS:GO as an eSport, especially when compared to games like League of Legends. However this hands-off approach is often reflected in Valve’s involvement with the community.

It seems incredible that Valve took nearly a whole year to clarify that the bans for the ex-iBP players were permanent, especially when a quick browse of the front page of the CS:GO subreddit at any point in 2015 would show how dominant a topic this was within the community.

Similarly, when the French professional player ‘KQLY’ was handed a VAC ban just a few days prior to the Dreamhack Winter 2014 major championship, no statement was given by Valve to the community, and nor have they (even to this day) clarified when he cheated; be it at LAN or only online.

600px-kqly
Source: HLTV

There often appears to be a lack of understanding by Valve when it comes to CS:GO as an eSport. Updates for CS:GO often leave many in the community, as well as some professional players, scratching their heads. When Overwatch receives a sizeable patch, there is often a clear understanding that Blizzard is listening to the criticism and feedback from the community, and they are preceeded with video presentations by one of the key developers, who will then break down all of the major changes and their intentions behind them. Overwatch’s increasing popularity alongside Valve’s lack of communication seems to have had an impact on the CS:GO player base, which dropped to under 10 million last month.

Some things have improved since however, with Valve giving CS:GO a beta client to the joy of those who requested it for so long. And after numerous scandals involving various gambling sites, Valve issued cease and desist letters to them ordering them to end their operations. However new gambling sites have since emerged and unless Valve stays on top of this and many of the game’s other issues, then they put CS:GO’s reputation and longevity at risk.