Inside the world of CSGO match fixing and why it’s impossible to stop

Valve

It’s a day ending in a “y” so of course there’s some CS:GO match-fixing going on. There are few esports as riddled with it as Counter-Strike and there is no community that seemingly cares less about it.

Even as someone who has written about it for years I really never thought it would reach the stage it has, where not only most secondary tier tournaments regularly raise flags for irregular betting patterns with gambling sites and have matches canceled, but now we even have competitions seemingly for the sole purpose of providing match-fixers with an arena in which to ply their trade. Something like that was a pipedream in 2015 but now is a frequent reality.

A report published in March by betting integrity body Sportradar had esports second only to soccer for the number of suspicious matches with a laughably low rate of 1 in 384. CS:GO contributed the largest number to the annual total, which again was laughably low for anyone who has studied it for as long as I have.

Regardless of the specifics CS:GO has a real problem and it’s one that’s been in the making for a while. The amateur circuit is not only filled with aspiring players but also degenerate gamblers, individuals who got hooked on betting back in the days when unregulated skins gambling was considered not only normal but an essential part of the CS:GO ecosystem. Its proximity to pro players and esports influencers gave it a green light and it didn’t take long for a huge section of the esports pyramid to realize there were more riches in fixing matches than in winning them.

Suddenly every heavy bettor with a player on Steam Friends were fixers and agents, acting as middlemen and trading in information across multiple timezones to ensure maximum profits. Someone’s inventory started to serve as a calling card for their connections and in the absence of any consequences coming from the websites or Valve itself this went on unchecked. By the time pushback came in the form of largely performative bans and cease and desist letters the cash and crypto sites had arrived.

With that, some winners did cash out but most slinked off the shadows to continue what they had started and now we find ourselves here, at a point where it is almost certain that every tier 2 and below CS:GO tournament is compromised on some level for the purposes of fixing outcomes. Because of this getting into a lower league match-fixing circle is hardly difficult. They’re everywhere and to demonstrate that let me tell you about the most recent one I came across.

I try and stay as connected to the grassroots of CS:GO as possible and on an almost weekly basis I will be contacted about the possibility of “throws” or strange betting patterns. As I had been working on a series of articles relating to ESEA, quite possibly the most prestigious brand to be irredeemably compromised, this latest contact was of interest. A player messaged me out of the blue to say that they had been contacted out of the blue to be included in a match-fixing circle for the upcoming 42nd season of ESEA Advanced in Europe.

He was offered the opportunity to place bets on a team that would fix two-thirds of their matches. For the information on which matches would be compromised members of a limited group would pay approximately $400 per match to the ringleader. They would then place bets at multiple sites using accounts with a degree of separation from the parties involved and share the profits between themselves and the group members. This type of scheme is an increasingly typical one as it guarantees a return for the risk taken by the team and also encourages people in the circle to not share the secrets as that would contribute to tanking the odds they need to maximize or maybe even lead to matches being canceled.

The Set-Up

Naturally, I told him to jump into the group and document everything he could before he got out. This isn’t because I thought we were engaging in some high-level sting. This type of activity is so prevalent I could literally do this every day and nothing about the scene would materially change. Rather, for the uninitiated, I thought this would serve as a good breakdown of what modern CS:GO match-fixing looks like.

After being messaged by his initial contact, he was then passed on to the person with direct connections to the organisation itself. They laid out the plan for the season.

“The team name is FlashP0int and they will play 15 matches in the next 40 days. We will fix over 10” they said. “We will share 50% of the profit for both sending money after win in crypto. Also the limits will be not so strong so per book I think you can do 500.”

FlashP0int isn’t a brand you will have heard of, in fact their name has significant overlap with multiple other esports ventures, which is most likely the point. It has no website and barely any online presence beyond its ESEA page and links to match pages on betting websites. Its roster includes a string of journeymen players, mostly from Russia. The founder admitted to having two previous organisations blacklisted by gambling sites prior to this one. It is not a long-term project but it doesn’t have to be. One season will do it as long as they play their cards right. And by “right” I mean they have to walk the CS:GO match-fixing tightrope that is losing but not losing too obviously, ensuring the bets get placed in such a fashion as not to arouse suspicion and then get out with their reputations intact so they can insert themselves into another bogus team next season. This is the dance that hundreds of teams are engaged in at any given moment in CS:GO.

Also of note is that a number of the players involved had come close to having significant opportunities at various points in their career. Roman “rommi” Golubev had been part of ESPADA, essentially the Team Spirit academy squad, in 2018 and Quantum Bellator Fire very briefly in 2020. Aleksey “1uke” Zimin and Ilya “tr3vl” Globa, known as “rhythm” in this season, were also with Golubev on the same ESPADA line-up.

Anyway, shortly after agreeing to the terms, my contact was added to a Discord group with eight other members. There the alleged owner and founder of FlashP0int reiterated the terms of the agreement for the people participating.

“Hello to everyone, my name is Excaliber and I’m the owner of the FlashP0int organization. We have two matches tomorrow and will most likely be fixing both of them. We will have to see tomorrow depending how many sites add them and on the limits, the price would be $890 for both matches, if only one it would be $400. As Depa said you [all] are trustworthy the payment will be done after the matches are finished.

“You are not allowed to share this information with anyone or you will be kicked from the group when we find out. The primary reason is not only the safety of the players but also know that if many people know sites will start removing the matches because of high bets on opposite teams against them, lower limits, odds, it will turn terrible and they might be removed from bookies forever (It has already happened to 2 of my other teams where I have done this.

“It is very important to keep this yourself [sic] and not be greedy so we can all be winners longterm.”

Initially, you can see the first problem with trying to get a handle on a story like this. Who is this Excaliber guy? Outside of a Discord account good luck finding anything else about him. I was informed that he had told the other people in the group he was an “investor” in the team. Well, in lower-tier esports an investor can mean anything from bankrolling a team to throwing a few mousepads someone’s way. They are certainly never on paper but neither are the majority of teams anyway.

Despite his particular version of spelling King Arthur’s legendary sword, you won’t find anything about him online in any capacity that relates to esports. It’s impossible to tell if he is even associated directly with the players and that is either because he isn’t or because there’s a deliberate degree of separation between the parties. All we can say for certain is that he claims to be and that they were able to call results accurately (except the wins) for the period the group was active. As I’m sure everyone would say if you were to ask them, it’s just one big coincidence, and good luck trying to prove otherwise.

The assembled members he was addressing are a typical mafia of the mediocre, made up of tipsters, owners of bedroom organisations, and amateur players who love to gamble. Very few of these types of Discord groups ever feature anyone of serious importance. Discord is not the place for private conversations. That is now mostly the preserve of Telegram due to their founder’s commitment to privacy. The Discord groups are for the chumps and the posers and only a handful will ever get into a conversation with a member of a crime syndicate or a millionaire bankroll.

However, what it does reveal is a very common symbiotic relationship between two entities that exist in the lower echelons of CS:GO. Tipsters like to have incredible records of accuracy as it encourages more people to sign up to their group, sing their praises publicly and potentially subscribe for future information. Match fixers can fix matches and then pass this information on to the tipsters. One of the more common avenues for leads on potentially fixed games comes from people who run or are in these tipster communities.

Many people don’t mind beating a bookie with inside information but get squeamish if they think they are betting on rigged games.

Ahead of each game someone who goes by the Discord username Depa (more on him later), would post about FlashP0int’s upcoming matches, the team’s intentions, and the current odds. These would be made to the wider group and occasionally directly. An example of one direct message from the start of the season read:

“Hey man! Today we have match against 00prospects (Academy of 00nation). Odd on us is not the best to do on the first match + not many bookies listed cause 00prospects clearly fixed their 1st match when they were most likely to win (they lost 16-3). So we cheer for them in a match today and next game is on the 19th August which is in 2 days. Just patience! Have a god [sic] day!”

That match would finish with FlashP0int losing 16-13.

Another example of a group message read:

“Hey guys, Today we have match at 6pm CET (50 mins) and 8pm. Odd on us in the first match is not the best (2.25) and we will try and win today. However there are 14 matches in this tournament and we are about to play the 2nd so there is no need for rush. WE WILL SKIP IT. Matches are posted on gamdom and 22bet if anyone is willing to test his luck and bet on us. Good luck!”

That match would finish with FlashP0int losing to MayBe– 16-7.

The same day, for their second game, they signaled their intentions to lose.

“1.7 odd on Monad Esport. FlashP0int vs Monad Esport – Monad ML 1.7. This is only start odds will be better no worries.”

That match would finish with them losing to Monad Esport 16-6.

With a record now of 3 wins and 7 losses there are now just two matches left of the regular season, both of which they would need to lose to come close to the promised ten fixed matches for those in the group. The best part? On August 27th, people started to leave the group, including the two members that claimed to represent the FlashP0int organisation. As I would find out the venture hadn’t proved to be as profitable as first hoped, if indeed it was at all and there were allegations of scam attempts between the two parties.

This is another vitally important thing to remember when you are confronted with esports matchfixing. You are rarely dealing with criminal masterminds and often with people who don’t know what they are doing at all. Someone always fucks it up either through incompetence or getting greedy and certainly when it comes to keeping secrets, well, as you can see that doesn’t happen either.

Interview With A Grifter

After confirming the messages and involved accounts on Discord, the name of the person that invited my contact and handled the dissemination of information to the group was a Croatian named Roko “Depa” Depolo, someone whose Steam page advertises a small and now defunct esports organisation named Doc Esport. They were briefly active in CS:GO and Rocket League earlier in the year. They competed in a number of ESEA cups between April and May, mostly losing their matches. Their CS:GO team has now rebranded somewhat appropriately as “NOPAYNOPLAY” and features one player on the roster from the Doc Esport Steam Group. In addition to that, there are a number of players at the amateur to semi-pro level on his Steam Friends, which raises questions but obviously isn’t incriminating in and of itself. The principle way that he makes his reputation now is via his betting tipster service “AlphaBet 2.0”

My contact told me that “Depa” communicated across a number of Discord accounts depending on who he was talking to. After that fixing group seemed to dissipate he had created another Discord account so he could continue providing his tipster service without having to log into the account he had used to communicate with the Russians. I took the new account he had created to ask for comment. Out of the people I attempted to contact he was the only one to reply. I told him who I was and what I was writing about. There wasn’t a moment’s hesitation in his replies.

“I know some stuff. I can get you every single detail” he said in response to me asking about FlashP0int fixing matches. “If you want to post I can tell you every single payment if it’s paid.” And then he said it again. “I can tell you everything if you wanna pay.”

I explained I couldn’t pay him for information as that would be unethical. He waited before replying.

“Will they get banned if I tell you stuff? If they will I can tell you more.”

I explained I’d pass everything on for further investigation and that there’s a chance they might get banned but that would depend on people other than me. It seemed, in the absence of him getting paid, that he didn’t want to be as open as he had initially suggested.

“I coordinated the team in terms of CS. I never placed a bet on them. I told my guys (meaning his friends that he brought into the circle) that matches were fixed and we splitted [sic] up. I am into betting a lot. With ESEA Advanced you can’t profit much unless you have access to private sites. No bookie is going to offer good limits to some Russian fuckers.”

I asked about people paying money up front ahead of losing the games and he said that people stopped doing it.

“Those 2 guys are scammers” he said, referring to the Russians that represented the FlashP0int team. “I don’t know who they are I just know they exist… I know they are not a team, like an org, they are just undercover fixers. I wanted them in my org but things happened when I saw what’s happening… I can confirm they are matchfixers.”

It’s about this point the interview went a bit weird but not in an unsurprising way. He had decided now to deny that the Depa account in the group was actually him, despite all of his intimate knowledge of the FlashP0int team, the proposed matches being fixed, and his admission that he had indeed been in a group with the alleged representatives from that team.

“I was in a Discord group but I didn’t post any stuff there related to match fixing. I had some teams in the past. I had opportunities to fix but not into it. Big risk, small money… We [him and the investors] had some calls I guess that’s the group… But no I didn’t post match fixing stuff.”

I posted him the messages around odds and intentions he had sent to people and waited for his response.

“I don’t see that anywhere” he said. “I have lots of connections in CS. I had better opportunities than this.”

I asked again about that being his account in the chat.

“It’s basically not true…This account posted it? That’s basically not true. That’s not my account, check again.”

Of course, it was a different account. Apparently, his account had got banned from that group after an argument relating the aforementioned scams that supposedly took place between the two parties. To deny the account was his though was incredible. Not only did it link directly to his Steam account, the other members in the match-fixing group included admins from his Alphabet 2.0 tipster Discord, which would presume they knew two Depas. Crucially, and what he didn’t know, was that I had a conversation of him talking to my contact explicitly saying the account in the match-fixing group was his and that he had to create a new one, a detail he himself confirmed to me apropos of nothing as soon as I added him. Despite all this and the fact he immediately knew exactly what I was talking about our conversation would end with him still steadfastly denying any involvement.

“I can help you getting them banned but I am really mad cause I am telling you I have nothing to do with matchfixing. Cause I know a lot, I had many opportunities. They should get banned but they are small fish my guy. Check Elisa and stuff like that with people making 100k. I don’t want to talk to you anymore and destroy my reputation… Why would I risk my reputation for 300 bucks. If you want to beat match fixing I can tell you where to start even if I can fuck up for this. [sic]”

I again reiterated that denying the account in the match-fixing group was silly and that I’d be happy to listen to any stories he wanted to share. He told me he didn’t want to talk to me anymore. Fair enough. Then he added that it “wouldn’t be smart” if I mentioned him publicly. After some brief pleasantries, he went offline.

Here’s another part of chasing all this shit down. I could have spent all day pandering to this guy, listening to his bullshit, feigning interest at his anecdotes and conspiracies, then asked for evidence of his claims that would, by definition, be coming from an unreliable narrator. I would then have to crosscheck and confirm every detail of that and you know what you get at the end? Absolutely nothing. The same denials, the same days spent chasing ghosts on the internet, the same indifferent community and even if punishment is handed down to the first-rung-of-the-ladder esports hustlers, two take their place the very next day.

In the end, I was happy to let this guy embarrass himself for a while. He seems to be out of his depth, incompetent, and may actually incapable of turning a profit for himself, however enthusiastic he might seem about the prospect of being involved in a match-fixing enterprise.

A Waste Of Time

So, if you’re feeling disappointed and like reading this was a complete waste of time then I have done my job. This story, containing virtually anonymous people barely connected in a digital landscape, all lying to each other to move moneylines a fraction for their secret side bets and misrepresenting themselves as tenured criminals, this is what esports match-fixing looks like. And it’s this that journalists would have to wade through to just get enough information to then have to pass it on to an investigative body that doesn’t care.

So let me tell you what happens next. It’s mostly nothing. The wider CSGO community will just shrug their shoulders. The players aren’t high profile enough for them to care about and if for some reason they are invested in the careers of any of the named players they’ll simply maintain that this is all fake, something for me to do on a wet weekend before the pubs open. Others will immediately enter into the mode of saying none of this constitutes real evidence. It’s hilarious to think that in the eyes of the average esports fan the standard for journalism goes beyond any other type and that when it comes to match-fixing to convict someone in the court of public esports opinion you need a higher evidentiary standard than most courts of law. This is a large part of why it never stops. The fans really don’t want it to, no matter what they say.

But what about punishments? You must be joking. Even if ESEA decided to investigate this (spoiler: they won’t and will instead point out as an ESIC partner it MUST be done by ESIC) and find corroborating evidence, it’s a matter of time before those involved simply come back with different names, different accounts, and a fresh start. They’ll remain free to play in non-ESEA leagues, ladders, and cups and ply their trade there. So ESIC will get them, right? Well, let’s assume they will… The waiting time will be so staggeringly long that it will almost be meaningless when it arrives. Not to mention public support for ESIC evaporated long ago and almost certainly any attempt to punish anyone, no matter how brazen or obvious those individuals are, will inflame the people who have lost their patience with ESIC.

And honestly, what does any of this prove? Did they try to fix some matches? Maybe, sure. Can we prove any bets were placed? Not without bookies’ cooperation and for the legitimate ones they can’t confirm anything publicly due to data protection laws. In honesty, there’s not even a 100% clear chain of connection to the players. Results can certainly be coincidental. Someone would have to take this off my hands and use tools a journalist could never have access to but there is no appetite to do that, just like there wasn’t all the way back in the days of skins betting. People will make the effort to take down a few big-time fixers, especially if they have ties to organized crime. The rank and file plebs outlined in this pathetic and all too common enterprise just get to erode the integrity of leagues that are designed to develop talent with impunity.

There is a way to stop it immediately and that is simply for bookmakers to stop offering action on these bush league matches but they won’t and we all know why they won’t, so this is what we live with. The cost of doing business in an esports ecosystem, with parasites and bottomfeeders all looking to skim something off the top for themselves and meaningless games that can’t be trusted playing out solely for the purposes of greedy teenagers, gambling addicts, and cyber criminals.

It’s a broken system and yet the only thing anyone wants to fix are the matches.

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