A match-fixing scandal is rocking the CS:GO scene in the CIS region. It implicates several well-known Kazakhstani players, including PGL Major Krakow winner Abay ‘HObbit’ Khasenov, who is currently playing for Cloud9.
Rustam ‘5TRYK#R’ Älımqūlov has not had the most glittering career in Counter-Strike. In fact, to call him a journeyman would be somewhat generous. Since 2015, the Kazakhstani national has swapped in and out of playing and coaching, at one time even enjoying a run of 18 months at the Russian organisation ForZe. Currently he finds himself without work at the age of 31, a greybeard in esports player terms, and with the current geopolitical situation in the region where he would most likely ply his trade, his prospects were looking bleak.
Yet it wasn’t always like this. 5TRYK#R used to rub shoulders with some of the best players his country had produced and that is no small boast. Kazakhstan has always punched well above its weight when it comes to producing Counter-Strike talent. However, according to him at least, it would be this promising start that would effectively end his career before it had a chance to begin.
At the end of 2015, 5TRYK#R created a team called PARTY with the aim of qualifying for a CS:GO Major through their regional qualifiers. The roster featured two players that would go on to enjoy success at the highest level of the sport, namely Bektiyar ‘fitch’ Baqytov and Abay ‘HObbit’ Khasenov. The former would go on to play for the likes of AVANGAR and Gambit Esports and the latter is currently representing Cloud9 at the CS:GO Major at Antwerp after also playing for Gambit over two spells.
The squad was rounded out by Magzhan ‘fANTASTIKA’ Temirbolat and Adlet ‘keeN’ Nyrseytov, both of whom would end up representing the most well known Kazakhstan organisation, k23. It was a roster not without some potential, but after a woeful performance in the open qualifier for their region’s CS:GO Minor, the team didn’t survive much longer and petered out just a few months later. 5TRYK#R would never play with any of these players again.
It was just a few days ago that 5TRYK#R announced that he was suffering from a serious illness and that he wanted to leave nothing unsaid should the worst happen. Specifically he wanted to talk about match-fixing and in much detail.
He wrote: “The tests came back with a serious diagnosis. I will fight to the end and try to win this confrontation. Since 2016 my playing career has ended due to certain actions. For 6 years, I have not been able to let go, and periodically, this situation strains me mentally. The situation due to illness is different, so I want to put my morale in order by telling the whole truth about the former PARTY team and live with peace of mind. Good health to you!”
This would be the opening salvo in a series of tweets and videos that showed compelling evidence that the roster he had assembled had engaged in the practice known as spot-fixing. If you’re not familiar with the term it is basically where players fix an outcome of aspect of the game that is unrelated to the final result. For example, former footballer Claus Lundekvam claimed in 2012 that he, his Southampton teammates and opposing captains in England’s Premier League would fix the time of the first throw in or corner by simply kicking the ball out of play. These types of activities are becoming increasingly popular in the world of match-fixing because they arouse less suspicion than an underdog loss. After all, even the best players make mistakes.
PARTY was simply a name for the team to play under. They weren’t an esports organisation. They weren’t funded. No-one was earning a salary. The plan, as it is for so many in esports, was to play well until they were noticed and then either obtain sponsorship or be recruited by someone that could financially reimburse them for their efforts. However, in the immediate absence of any income, the team allegedly agreed to use spot-fixed bets to earn some money on the side.
The plan was to deliberately lose the T-side pistol round in each of their group matches of the Starladder Regional Minor Championship closed qualifier, with players placing bets on this outcome. They would then try and win despite this disadvantage, ultimately over-confident in their abilities as they would end up losing one of the group matches. This meant that they had to face HS.GG in the decisive Round of 8. With qualification on the line, PARTY were defeated 0-2 and failed to book a spot at the Minor. According to 5TRYK#R, the bets would have netted each of the players approximately $5,000.
The compromised matches, which all took place on December 21, 2015, were:
5TRYK#R has also publicly released commentaries for each of the pistol rounds he said they intentionally lost, explaining the actions and highlighting things that don’t make sense. Russian news has a tendency to be slow in coming Westward, and so as things stand they haven’t gone viral on English speaking social media sites yet.
The footage alone, regardless of commentary, shows many strange decisions made by the players. This isn’t damning in and of itself. Anyone who has watched low tier Counter-Strike matches knows that you will see all manner of suboptimal play and that’s putting it politely. However some of the play in these rounds borders of the farcical, including moments such as refusing to plant the bomb when it is completely safe to do so or a single player running towards the enemy without any regard for his life.
It is generally the agreed upon standard that no matter how suspicious in-game play is, that alone cannot be enough to issue any punitive measures. Usually all that happens is the bookies decide to stop allowing matches involving the offending team to be bet on their site. For whatever reason, though, 5TRYK#R kept other incriminating evidence about the matches, such as screenshots of the betting site they would use, chat logs from other players talking about the fixed match and even voice recordings that speak openly about the nature of the plan.
The screenshot shows that the website they used was olimp.kz, which is now olimpbet.kz, the Kazakh offshoot of the Russian sportsbook Olimpbet. 5TRYK#R explained that some of the team actually placed cash bets at bookmakers in a bid to not leave a digital trail. You will also notice the karmic aspect to the story. “матч носит договорной характер” – meaning “the match is a sham.” The bookmaker cancelled all bets on the match, meaning the players earned absolutely nothing despite having hindered their own chances of qualifying.
“We did not earn anything from the match because Fitch told other people [outside the team] and so the bets were cancelled,” 5TRYK#R explained. “We also had our team and clan tag banned by the bookmaker.”
I contacted fitch and asked if he agreed with the characterization of these events. At the time of publication he had not replied.
In addition to these screenshots confirming the match was called off due to suspicious activity, he also included a screenshot of HObbit discussing the proposed bets.
“Bet the house on gameplay, buy another one. Easy,” the message read. Attached were the odds from the various matches in the tournament, again using the website Olimp.kz. 5TRYK#R also sent a screenshot that he says is from when their chat group was disbanded following the cancellation of the bets. “This is it? It’s over?”
Again, these conversations could be viewed as circumstantial at best. All this would really tell us for sure was that HObbit was willing to bet on games in a tournament he was playing in, an infraction that would likely carry a minor penalty but would not be treated the same as any form of match-fixing. It doesn’t end there, though. The most damning part of the evidence 5TRYK#R decided to release was a lengthy recording of a TeamSpeak conversation. He explained that this took place on February 10, 2016 and was essentially the official breaking point of the team. The recording features all five of the PARTY roster.
The conversation is long and winding, but there are key parts that directly appear to corroborate 5TRYK#R’s story. At 7:58 he is speaking with fANTASTIKA, who is connected to TeamSpeak under the name “Maga”. The player confirms that there was indeed an issue with Olimp and that the team had to forgive fitch for an unspecified transgression.
5TRYK#R: Look, when fitch had the situation with Olimp, we haven’t talked like this as 5, didn’t question him like this. You had a grudge against him very strongly, I tried to calm you down, if you remember, I was the only one to try and calm everyone down –
fANTASTIKA: Yes, that happened
5TRYK#R: You held a really big grudge against him, told that you won’t play with him, Adlet (keeN) held a grudge, Abay (HObbit) held a grudge – I was the only one who tried to make you reconcile, I told you “fuckk that, it happens, that it’s a human factor”, told that it was the first time we did something like that – did that happen? fANTASTIKA: Yes
Then at 19:40, 5TRYK#R talks with keeN and fitch about the matches in question. In this conversation, fitch also states that they wanted to outright lose other games but had elected not to due to poor odds. The transcript of that part of the conversation is as follows.
keeN: Yesterday I was shocked that you could even ask me that question – whether the match was honest or not –
5TRYK#R: Yes, I had doubts
keeN: We always decide things as five, together
5TRYK#R: I asked, you answered, fine by me
keeN: I’m fucking flabbergasted you could even ask that
5TRYK#R: Well, it’s because you and Abay always talked like “we need money, let’s throw, let’s throw”
keeN: Yes, “let’s throw”, I was all for it, Abay was for it as well, guys wrote me and asked if something’s up, I told that I’ll ask the guys – I asked, Fitch told he’s fine with it, he needs money, you, you told that you’re against it, that’s it
Fitch: We wanted to throw against 8-bit actually – right? – but lost the game against Arcade actually, and it made no sense to throw it, the betting rates were weak, it made no sense money-wise.
Later at 38:42 in the recording, 5TRYK#R also states: “Fuck, that shit… happened once, but we lost fuckloads of money because of you, everyone forgave you.”
The match that fitch refers to when he says “8-bit” was from the 2016 Binary Dragons Hellstore Winter Cup. Like so many matches at this level, it too was compromised in multiple ways. PARTY did indeed lose the bo3 2-1 but suspicious betting activity for 8-bit had occurred. One conversation log from a Fanobet admin at that time stated that new accounts from one IP address placed 16 bets of $50 each. In addition to that, there were serious concerns that one of the players from 8-bit, Anton ‘psyduck’ Tyurin, was using a wallhack for his team, with several incriminating clips being posted to YouTube. In the end, despite PARTY having lost the game, all bets were refunded and PARTY were awarded a forfeit win.
5TRYK#R told me this was the last time he played with anyone from the roster. He claims that this was because they still wanted the option to fix matches but he had made it clear that he would no longer be willing to do this. He also says that because he was the one saying he was against the idea of fixing the matches the breakdown in trust meant it was him, and not fitch, that was considered to be untrustworthy.
It is rare in match-fixing cases to get so many different pieces of evidence that combine to tell a relatively complete story. This is about as close to that as you can get. It is worth stating though that I am not oblivious to the obvious motivations of the whistleblower. Hit with the shock of a serious illness diagnosis and thinking about his legacy within esports, he has watched players he once played with ascend to the highest levels of the game, while he told me his career was impeded because he had confronted the players and said he never wanted to be involved in anything like this again. He was clearly bitter, perhaps not without reason.
“In 2016 my career was strong as a captain and a player” he said. “I was in the elite Kazakhstan CS:GO players. I knew AdreN, mou, hobbit, fitch, keen, fantastika and others but after I stopped talking with the [members of PARTY] due to them wanting to fix matches I was pushed out. I did not get into the national team anymore and players from my country stopped talking with me. I was denied access to participating in Kazakhstan CS:GO. Imagine a similar situation, that if you stopped talking with karrigan, cadiaN, gla1ve and Snappi in Denmark then you don’t have a CS:GO future in this country.”
Yes, this would be a valid grievance, the loneliness of the whistleblower, yet our conversation did send some mixed messages. He intimated that he had never wanted to go along with the fixed matches and that a refusal to do so further after this tournament was what caused the friends to part ways. However, it is also undeniably true that it was his team and he didn’t have to participate in any of it. It is also very clear from the recording that he was not willing to participate in any more fixing but from his line of questioning he clearly wanted the players to self incriminate for the purposes of having evidence to use at a later date. The unfortunate circumstances surrounding his choice to release the information notwithstanding, it was clear he always wanted the option to do so.
It is also clear he feels some anger at becoming something of a forgotten man in the scene. His Twitter feed, along with the evidence included above, has seen him spending time arguing with people over just how much of a role he played in building the forZe team we know today.
"This forZe roster, powered by the stars of xsepower and almazer, would go on to produce some hugely impressive results in 2019, and this was the first example of Jerry building a powerful squad from nothing." – Its my work(@KingDempz analyze better) 2022 its @Jerrycsgo1 work! pic.twitter.com/N4Nh5lcwMq
— Rustam Alimkulov (@Stryk3rCSGO) May 8, 2022
The timing is also going to cause people to question the purity of his motives. At the time of writing this, one of his former teammates is currently competing at the CS:GO Major in Antwerp for Cloud9. For them, these revelations could not come at a worse time. Not only has the North American organization recently acquired the roster containing HObbit from Gambit, they have also gone to great pains to begin the relocation process for the team to ensure they are not caught up in the issues resulting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It is also unquestionable that HObbit has been instrumental to the team’s success, so the prospect of potentially losing him to an ESIC (Esports Integrity Commission) or Valve investigation will cause some trepidation in the camp.
We contacted Cloud9 to make them aware of the allegations and request for comment. They stated they would need to conduct their own investigation before replying with any statement.
Something like 5TRYK#R sharing his story is incredibly rare in any sport because it relies on self-incrimination. During our interview, I wanted to make sure that by highlighting his role in fixing these matches he too would likely receive a ban of some sort. “Yes, I know,” he said “but for now I need to focus on my health. With my knowledge and experience I should be able to get a job in CS:GO in the future.”
All the evidence and material contained in this report has been forwarded to ESIC, who told us that they are taking the matter very seriously and have already begun their preliminary investigation process.
In a tweet posted on Monday, May 16, HObbit denied the allegations and said that he will assist ESIC during the investigation.