SINGAPORE - Several professional gamers here have been banned for match-fixing and betting against their own team in a regional tournament held last year.
Six players, including five from the Singapore team Resurgence, were handed bans of between six months and three years last week by tournament organiser Valorant Esports.
One of the players was found to have made $3,000 worth of illegal bets against his own team, and tried to pay off other members in his team to keep quiet after they lost.
Resurgence had competed in the Valorant Ignition Series' Epulze Royal Sea Cup held last year.
The tournament was part of a larger international competition for the first-person shooter game Valorant, and saw Resurgence play against the Japanese team BlackBird Ignis.
The match, held on Sept 22 last year, saw the Singapore team lose 0-2.
As the loss resulted in Resurgence being kicked out during the group stage, they did not get any part of the US$25,000 (S$33,600) prize pool.
Allegations of match-fixing had surfaced online in April this year, with leaked screenshots of chats and bets by Resurgence player Malcolm Chung, who goes by the user name Germsg.
According to the screenshots, he purportedly placed $3,000 in bets on an illegal online gambling site, wagering that his team would lose 0-2 to BlackBird Ignis.
After the loss, he also allegedly told an unknown person that he was "not even trying" during the matches, and that he was safe as long as his team manager did not have any suspicions about what was going on.
The players were suspended on April 22 after the allegations surfaced online.
In a statement last week, Riot Games, which owns Valorant, said Mr Chung had initiated the scheme, roping in fellow competitive gamer Ryan Tan, who goes by the user name dReamy.
Mr Tan, who is currently a full-time national serviceman, was not part of Resurgence, but had provided Mr Chung the money for the bets. Both men have been banned from participating in Valorant competitions for three years.
After the bets were placed, Mr Chung told four members of his team about his plan to lose. But he kept it from one other member of the six-player team.
Riot Games said the four others did not want to lose, but hid what they allegedly knew from officials as they were concerned about penalties and risking their professional gaming career contracts.
The four were identified as Mr Justin Wong Chong Cheng, Mr Sengdala Jamnalong, Mr Du Min Yeo and Mr Benedict Tan, who respectively went by the user names Boplek, Jabtheboy, Mortdecai and Benaf.
Mr Wong and Mr Jamnalong have been banned from participating in Valorant competitions for a year each, while their two other teammates were handed bans of six months each.
Mr Chung had purportedly tried to pay off his teammates after the loss, but they rejected him. The team disbanded a month after the tournament.
Riot Games said the bans were handed out based on the level of culpability and cooperation during investigations.
"Competitive integrity is a top priority for Riot Games and we aim to uphold this quality in all of our e-sports tournaments," a spokesman for the American video game developer, publisher and e-sports tournament organiser told The Straits Times.
"We want to provide our professional teams with a fair and transparent environment to compete both regionally and globally, so we take any violation of our rules of play very seriously."
Resurgence rebranded itself in November last year to RSG, and recently secured US$1 million (S$1.35 million) in investments. It is currently sponsored by brands such as Lenovo, Secretlab, Pizza Hut and Malaysian telco Yoodo.
A spokesman for RSG told ST: "We take a very firm stand on player integrity and do not condone match-fixing. When we found out about the incident, we alerted the organisers immediately and cooperated fully with the investigations."
This is the first known case of e-sports match-fixing reported here.
In February last year, Interpol's Match-Fixing Task Force emphasised the need for global action against match-fixing in e-sports.
It said because profits from matches have moved into the millions of dollars and euros, match manipulation has become increasingly attractive and a lucrative area for criminal networks around the world.
In response to queries from ST, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) said it could not confirm or deny if the players are being investigated due to "confidentiality issues".
However, its spokesman added that all forms of corruption will not be tolerated here.
"Singapore adopts a strict zero-tolerance approach towards corruption," she said. "The CPIB will not hesitate to take stern action against any parties involved if evidence of match-fixing through bribery is established."
Under the current anti-corruption laws in Singapore, those found guilty of match-fixing may be jailed for up to five years and fined up to $100,000.
Those found guilty of illegal online gambling may be jailed for up to six months and fined up to $5,000.