It wasn't so long ago we were talking about how the eSports
market in general is making major gains, how it's gaining viewership and sponsorship and all those things that make it a truly viable alternative to actual sports, and potentially even the future of gaming as a whole. But now, one part of the action that perhaps we might have hoped would never arrive seems to have done just that. I'm talking of course about scandal, and it's reared its ugly head in our eSports system, this time in South Korea.
The results of an investigation staged by the Korean eSports Association (KeSPA) seemed to find corroboration of match-fixing efforts involved in the Korean leagues. This was a development that one of the biggest names in Korean eSports, Cheon Min-Ki, actually confessed to last week just before his attempted suicide. The story, reportedly, went down like this: once Cheon's team, AHQ Korea, had achieved a strong reputation in the field, its manager would then bet against the team heavily, and the team would subsequently throw the match, allowing the team manager's bets--which would basically all have been long shots thanks to his team's strong reputation--to come in in his favor.
Sounds bad, but then we found out the reason why the gambling would take place: Cheon's team wasn't covered by a corporate sponsor, thus the team's manager had been covering the team's living and training expenses with a private loan. What's more, the team's manager, Noh Dae Chul, reportedly told the team that the team would have to lose at the OnGameNet Champions Spring 2013 event because a fee that should have been paid by the team's sponsor wasn't paid, thus the event sponsor required the team to lose to big names who had paid the fee. But KeSPA noted that this itself was a lie, and designed to get AHQ Korea to throw the match without knowing just why.
Tragic by most any measure, and only made more so in Cheon's attempted suicide following the event, it's an event that shows us a critical point in eSports in general. Many rail against the huge salaries paid to players of other sports, but the point remains that the players have to eat and live indoors just the same as anyone else would. Sure, this isn't the first example--some have noted the Starcraft BroodWar "sAviOr" concept as being a predecessor to this--but with eSports in general just starting to come into their own, it's clear that measures of oversight are needed and the protection of the players should be ensured. Thankfully, Riot Games is working with both KeSPA and OGN to figure out what should be done here, but it's clear that the players need some protection as well. I find myself wondering if KeSPA and similar organizations shouldn't be getting a central marketplace into play so that corporate sponsors can more readily find teams to sponsor, which would be a great marketing effort in the field. If Mountain Dew isn't sponsoring a different team for at least three different flavors, then I say a serious marketing opportunity is just gone. Pizza Hut
! Domino's! Doritos! Taco Bell
! Guys, this is the gaming market on the hoof, and you want in on this!
We don't need another AHQ Korea having to support itself on the strength of loans and illicit gambling. We need corporate sponsors getting in on this action. The numbers are there and the prices are still likely pretty low; corporate sponsorship may be one of the best methods to reach the gaming market yet, and the opportunity has never been clearer.