With less than 48 hours to the start of The International, the thorny issue of betting on esports reared its head again with a report that Valve have “advised” teams not to partner with betting websites.
There has been no official word from Valve but, as publishers of Dota 2 and CSGO - two of the biggest games in esports - the news, via VPEsports, has potentially significant ramifications, not least for the teams.
Several of those that will contest TI8 in Vancouver, including Virtus.pro, Team Secret, Na'Vi, Vici Gaming and Newbee, are supported by betting companies.
Confirmed or not, it is the latest development in a long-running debate about esports and gambling. The discussion is deep, nuanced and often heated but, put simply, there are two main schools of thought.
There are some who believe gambling is not welcome in esports while others say that betting companies have much value to add. Members of the latter group argue the contribution exists not only in the form of financial support but in providing an enhanced viewing experience for fans, most of whom are adults, at least according to research.
According to the Newzoo 2018 Global Esports Market Report, 74% of esports enthusiasts and 77% of occasional viewers are aged 21 or older.
Paul Chaloner - an ambassador of Luckbox - is among those who believe betting has a place in esports - if it is done correctly.
“I think gambling has a place and it needs to be done responsibly,” he told Esports News UK.
"I think that we've had far too many problems with gambling, both underage gambling and illegal gambling in esports over the years.
"It's always been my belief that we shouldn't condone that and we should actively go out there and get rid of that.
“I don't want to see underage gambling and I don't want to see irresponsible gambling. I want people to be educated so they understand what they're doing and the risks involved.”
Esports is not the first sport to wrestle with such a dilemma and a similar debate around football is topical, with traditional betting companies being very prominent sponsors of clubs, competitions and even stadiums.
However, it is perhaps more acutely felt in esports, which has a relatively recent relationship with gambling, some of which has been negative. The sector has been dogged by a series of high-profile, gambling-related scandals involving companies acting irresponsibly or, in many cases, illegally.
On a mission to clean things up
The past 18 months or so has given rise to companies seeing the opportunity to tackle the issue head-on, companies like Luckbox committed to raising standards by being fully licensed and responsible.
Luckbox CMO Vadim Soloveychik said: “There are a lot of unknowns. What does it mean for existing contracts? What will happen to teams if they don’t follow the advice?
A blanket ban sponsorships from all betting operators is not beneficial for fans
“We believe that credible betting companies - those like Luckbox, which are responsible, fully licensed and adhere to the highest levels of jurisdictions - can benefit esports by enhancing the experience for adult fans and bringing more financial support to the ecosystem.
“Obviously, some fans are underage and it’s fully understandable that Valve wants to protect them. As a licensed betting operator, this is also our position - underage gambling is an issue that has plagued esports in the past and we are committed to cleaning that up.
“In my opinion, a blanket ban sponsorships from all betting operators is not beneficial for fans as it makes it harder to pick out the good guys from the bad guys who operate in the shadows.”
“Longer-term, we hope to see publishers willing to work with teams, event organisers and reputable, licensed operators - perhaps with the support of an independent body such as the Esports Integrity Coalition - to define the industry standards on promotion of responsible betting that will protect underage fans, benefit the industry and allow responsible operators to plan their marketing activities accordingly.”