The International is the biggest event in esports, run by the biggest company in esports, and to be honest, the best company in esports. Blizzard and Riot do a fantastic job making sure nobody talks out of school, on pain of death (cough xQc), but generally Valve are happy with a more hands off approach, as we’ve seen with the recent rehabilitation of Matthew ‘Sadokist’ Trivett, among others.
However, there is one area where to be honest, Valve are a bit of a joke right now. They made a well-intentioned post about conflict of interests in Counter Strike Majors this year, and there is a plan to prevent The International having this issue in future, but that looks like a smokescreen when you see the sheer scale of match fixing, collusion and potential conflict of interest in Asian esports right now.
Sure, it is not going to be easy for Valve to take control of every low-level CS event, and force every player to play their best, but there are definitely areas they can improve. Like, for example, not having a qualifier for the biggest event in esports contested between two teams with the exact same owner, who could easily influence the result if that benefited them at the time.
The match in question is TNC Predator vs TNC Tiger, and for those not aware, the former triumphed 2-1 over the latter to take the qualifying spot for South-East Asia (with both teams and their parent company based in the Philippines). Both teams are owned by TheNet.com, a Philippine Cyber Café company that claims to be ‘your gateway to the Cyberworld’, which makes it sound like some kind of hacking groomer in a 90s film where everyone wears fingerless gloves and says ‘man’ all the time. Of course, we are already talking about a nation where the President brags about murdering people, so it’s not going to be a simple task to get this fixed on a national level, which is where Valve need to step in.
Follow the money
If you were struggling to work out which of those is the ‘main’ TNC team, the cynical among us would simply say ‘who won the game?’ and work backwards from there, assuming the money men would protect the larger investment. And as it turns out, yes, TNC Predator are the first team, which makes their progression to TI itself more logical, regardless of your overall position. If you are a glass-half-full person, then yes, they would have the best players, in the same way you’d expect Man Utd to beat Man Utd reserves, and if you are more cynical then you already have your answer. Just follow the money.
Now, it should be said here that we are not accusing the TNC owners of fixing this or any other results, but the reality is that they easily could, and that is too much for esports to carry. If the scene is to be respected and treated like any sport, it must adopt the same principles and maxims that encourage fair competition as much as possible, and the most basic of those is that owning two teams in one game is not a good look.
Perhaps madder still is the fact that in forum posts and conversations about the game, fans of Dota can be seen actively stifling conversation about conflict of interest and the possibility of a throw. And remember, from the first par, this is not a minor event with little to no betting trust and no real outcome, this is a game that decides who goes to the biggest stage in esports.
So, in short, Valve need to actually get their act in gear for this one, and not just in terms of The International. That event is the crown jewel, sure, but if they allow team ownership rules to be set event-by-event outside of TI, which should never have had this issue in the first place, the scene itself will never shake the reputation for being an unregulated joke that threatens to hamper so much potential progress
Esports gambling is a growing sector and can be a huge boon to the scene, but it has to exist in a clean ecosystem, and to be honest, conflict of interest is more like faeces in your food than chances of rain. Even if you don’t know for sure there is poo in your pasta or match fixing, the tiniest possibility that someone passed a log into your linguini is too much for even the hardiest of souls to risk taking a bite.