BOS Speaker Profile: Ian Smith – ESIC – Curbing the esports cheats

The ESIC (Esports Integrity Coalition) was created in order to elevate integrity within esports and cut all forms of cheating including the doping and match fixing practices that have blighted competitive gaming for years. 

Ian Smith, ESIC
Ian Smith, ESIC

It was created following extensive investigations into the most pressing issues for esports in general. Ian Smith, of Sporting Integrity Matters, was appointed Commissioner with Bryce Blum of Unikrn and Esports Law and Anna Rozwandowicz of ESL joining him on the board.

We caught up with Ian ahead of the Betting on Sports conference (September 15-16) at which he’ll be speaking on the wider matter, to discuss why ESIC is needed and how they’re going about tackling such a mammoth task.

SBC: You have a background of over twenty years in sports and integrity. How different are esports and its issues to anything you’ve tackled before? How much crossover is there?

Ian: The areas that affect integrity are largely the same. What I mean by that is that in esports people cheat to the same degree as they do in traditional sports, though there is a different attitude to it in esports.

For example in many traditional sports it depends what form of cheating you’re engaging in as to the response to it, ball tampering in cricket for instance is a major no no whilst other elements of rule breaking aren’t considered serious. In esports all forms such as software hacks, DDos attacks and the rest are heavily frowned upon by the community.

Match fixing is another primary issue in esports, and the methods are precisely the same as in traditional sports. In general it’s very similar. The big difference between traditional sports and esports is the lack of governance and central control in the latter. There are no agreed upon standards for tournaments and matches. There are no standard contracts and there’s little cooperation. Whilst most sports have a recognisable structure throughout, from player to club to country, in esports it’s more akin to a mass of islands which are sometimes connected by a rickety bridge, but more often than not, they aren’t.

Importantly though all other sports I’ve worked in over the past two decades have only begun implementing integrity measures as a response to a crisis or scandal. What esports is trying to do is anticipate problems and deal with the issues before they occur. I know there are many that view some past cases, such as that in South Korea, constitute a scandal but the truth is that they pale in comparison relative to what traditional sports have been through.

It’s unique, and highly positive, that esports is addressing this now.

SBC: What are your thoughts on Valve’s recent announcement on skins betting? Will this lead to a surge in traditional esports betting?

Ian: In the past week CSGO Lounge is now offline, Valve has issued over 23 cease and desist letters, Twitch has banned the streamers which were ripping off their viewers so in a way this market is already dead as it existed.

This isn’t to say it won’t reinvent itself in a different way as there’s undoubtedly still space for this type of betting. As long as there is a relatively easy way to convert skins to cash then it’s just betting with a different currency.

In regards to traditional esports betting I think there’ll be some but I think it’s largely a different market. There’s also the issue of those that were gambling with skins. Many were from the States who are legally prohibited from real money gambling online, and moreover many were underage. I also believe that huge numbers of the accounts on these sites were duplicates.

I do think there’ll be a small migration to the traditional bookies but it won’t be hugely noticeable from their side volume wise.

SBC: How do you differ from the WeSC?

Ian: I only found out about the WeSC recently. Coming from outside esports I did a fair amount of research into the industry but during this the WeSC failed to come up once. It was only mentioned to me imminently before the launch of ESIC.

The main way we differ though is that the ESIC is only focused on integrity, and integrity alone. My impression is that the WeSC saw itself as having a wider mandate in that they get to tell esports stakeholders what minimum standards should apply to hold a league, to run a tournament, the qualification procedures and the rest.

We’re focused on cheating; match fixing and betting fraud. We’re not impeding anyone’s choices in how to run things, we’re simply trying to deal with and eradicate a common problem and we’re not trying to make money out of it.

In particular the one major barrier to achieving integrity efforts in any sports is if you mix commerce with integrity. As soon as you have one body which is responsible for making the money, or raising money for the sport, and promoting its integrity there’s immediately a conflict of interest.

ESIC is funded by the members, for the members and is run as a democracy. ESIC will never interfere with any one member’s commercial operation.

SBC: A number of companies from betting firms, to game developers to league organisers have already signed up as partners. Was it difficult to get them on board, and what will be their mandate?

Ian: Some were easy and some were difficult, and it’s very much an ongoing process. I would love for all tournament organisers to be partners; FACEIT, MLG, Gfinity and the rest to be engaged.

With ESL for instance it was one meeting and one presentation and they grabbed at it. Others were trickier with an extended back and forth, and in a way it has been harder than I anticipated.

What I hadn’t considered fully was how deep the politics runs in esports, and you find yourself swimming against the tide in this way just as you do in other sports. It’s a high priority to get new partners in and I expect to announce some more in the next few weeks whilst others will take months or longer.

After all this is something which is only able to achieve its full potential when the entire industry is involved.

SBC: You’ve high profile board members in Bryce Blum and Anna Rozwandowicz, what will be their involvement and how big is your wider team?

Ian: I’m currently in discussion with the other members about them appointing somebody to the board so I expect within ten days or so we’ll be announcing new board members.

The founding directors, Bryce and Anna, they’re helping me through to the first AGM which should be in July next year. They’re there to guide, direct and help me whilst we get the structure in place for the formal board. We still have to appoint a chairman. It’s up to the members to make the appointments, it’s their association and my own role is up for grabs as much as anyone’s!

SBC: You’re speaking at Betting on Sports in September, what can attendees expect from you?

Ian: Attendees can expect an honest assessment of the integrity risks posed to esports by increased gambling and the risks esports presents to the gambling industry as well as some ideas on how those threats can be minimised.

We’re working on some very interesting proposals at ESIC, particularly with a view to addressing cheating and potential corrupt approaches as LAN events.

Ian Smith – ESIC Integrity Commissioner

Want to hear more about esports integrity? Ian Smith is speaking at Betting on Sports (September 15-16) in London at Grange Tower Bridge.

He’ll be on the panel ‘Corruption and how to avoid it – protecting esports integrity’ alongside Khalid Ali from ESSA and Eric Konings from Unibet. Ensure your place today. 


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