Some publishers are appearing to embrace betting by hiring integrity monitors that also sell data and betting services to bookmakers. For example, in mid-April, Nevada regulators approved Activision Blizzard’s Call of Duty League and Overwatch League for betting. Three weeks later, the leagues announced an “integrity services” deal with the Swiss company Sportradar, modeled on similar deals that Sportradar has with traditional sports organizations like the N.F.L. and the e-sports pioneer Riot Games, the creator of League of Legends, one of the most popular e-sports.
“When we first looked at e-sports it was the Wild West,” said Doug Watson, head of e-sports insights for Riot, which is owned by the Chinese media and gaming behemoth Tencent. “Sports betting is a big part of the ecosystem and was going to happen regardless of whether we said it should happen or not. So we decided to invest to protect the sport and ensure its longevity and legitimacy.”
Andy Cunningham, head of integrity and league relations for North America at Sportradar, said that traditional and e-sports leagues pay his company to monitor betting for suspicious patterns, investigate possible corruption, educate players and officials on proper behavior and establish anti-corruption procedures. He said those integrity services are separated from the company’s other divisions, which sell sports data and betting services to bookmakers. “There is absolutely no conflict in what we do,’’ he said, though some gambling executives, like Blume at Pinnacle, disagree.
Days after Riot announced its integrity deal with Sportradar last summer, the companies announced a separate deal under which a Sportradar joint venture pays Riot for exclusive access to data from the company’s League of Legends e-sports tournaments. The Sportradar venture, Bayes Esports Solutions, then sells that data to other companies, including bookmakers. Sportradar’s relationship with the N.F.L. is similar. Activision Blizzard has not announced a data distribution deal with Sportradar to follow on last month’s integrity deal. But such an arrangement is being negotiated, according to two people close to the companies who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the deal before it was publicly announced.
A separate path for integrity monitoring is also emerging for e-sports.
Gambling regulators in Nevada, Britain and Malta, as well as betting companies including William Hill, have strengthened their ties to the Esports Integrity Commission, a group in Britain that is attempting to become a central authority to help stop match-fixing and other corruption — helping to legitimize the competitions for bettors, fans and sponsors.
But major game publishers have been reluctant to sign up. Game industry executives explained that publishers may want to avoid giving the impression that they actively support gambling or that their games need an international integrity commission in the first place. In Asia, the original home of big-money e-sports, match-fixing scandals have toppled careers, teams and entire leagues.