In North America, the prize pool for top tier events is in the $45,000-$50,000 USD range at the moment. So when NA Summer Shuffle came along, with a $15,000 prize pool for lower-tier teams, it must have seemed like a good opportunity.
There were red flags right from the start. The event seemed to spring out of nowhere. The Twitter account has 17 followers and is following no one.
A single sponsor, Towa-Digital, is touted, but oddly is not followed by the @ShuffleNA Twitter account. They link out to the German company's website, where we could not locate a mention of the sponsorship. It seems strange that a German-language organization would want to sponsor a low-tier Dota 2 event, but maybe?
As scheduled, the event kicked off this evening, June 29, on an official Valve tournament ticket. The first series had Doze Reborn and Infinity Esports playing a quick best-of-three. Infinity took the series 2:0, with 45 minutes and 31 seconds of in-game time.
Doze Reborn alleges in their tweet that the tournament organizer couldn't prove they had the funds or a real sponsor. Doze then pointed to those games played tonight were played on fake accounts. Given that they were one of the two teams alleged to have played, it's pretty telling that they've sounded the alarm here.
To complicate the situation further, matches from this event were picked up on popular betting sites, such as ggbet.com:
During the publication process of this article, the matches were removed from the betting site.
In addition, another series ran at the same time as the one we've chosen to highlight, and two more series are currently on-going. All are or were conducted with first-time Dota 2 teams and first-time player accounts, mimicking the names of actual teams and their rosters.
We did reach out to the tournament organizer, but they had not yet responded as of the time of publication.
So what's going on here?
Why would a tournament organizer go to all this trouble? Why run what seem to be fake matches?
This could certainly be a betting scam. With an official ticket, is it possible the organizers were relying on betting sites to automatically pick-up their event? The strange twist to this story is the running of the fake series. That would certainly have opened the door for bets to be placed on fixed matches.
In January 2019, Casino.org ran an article citing research NJGames.org had done that stated the "total amount bet on esports competitions is expected to hit $12.9 billion by 2020." More recently, Esports Insider published "ESI Gambling Report: Esports betting, a global lifeline for operators" in April 2020. This article discusses the anticipated growth of esports betting during COVID-19. In the same report, Ian Smith of the Esports Integrity Commission, cautioned, "The issue of integrity within that competition will be a hell of a long way down list of priorities. And while some will address it, others won't because there's so much urgency."
Our current quarantined circumstances have forced every event online, put people into even more precarious financial situations, and have generally amped up the atmosphere that leads to scams. We would love to see more prize money pumping into the Americas Dota 2 ecosystem, but clearly, caution is required at this stage.