Ethics in eSports applies to businesses sponsoring games and competitions and to individuals and teams who compete.
Like conventional sports, eSports is also facing multiple ethical challenges and dilemmas when it comes to performances in the field.
When two players from the same team are pitted against each other in a competition, then a potential conflict of interest occurs when one player does not put in his or her best effort and allows the player to win.
Manipulating The Playing Field
The looser in such a case puts his team above himself. This situation was encountered in the 2013 MLG tournament when two team members, Paulo “CatZ” Vizcarra and his teammate Sam “Kane” Morrissette were pitted against each other and CatZ decided to forfeit his match and allow Kane to advance. CatZ’s loss was for his team’s cause. There were disagreements and arguments amongst the public about the decision, but CatZ’s withdrawal was open to public knowledge and within the tournament rules.
Another ethical conflict arises when two team members are competing against each other and one player who has already advanced to the next round plays below his full ability, thereby allowing his team mate to also win and advance to the next round. In the 2014 GSL Season 3 Eo “soO” Yoon Su who many considered the best player in the world was paired off with his team mate Lee “INnoVation” Shin Hyung.
soO had already reached the next round and there were fears that he might underperform and let INnoVation move to the next round. Unlike in CatZ’s case, it would be difficult to prove that the loser deliberately played below par and lost for his teammates cause.
The Role Of Performance Enhancing Drugs
There is rampant use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PED) in the world of eSports which poses another serious ethical challenge. The use of drugs like Adderall and Ritalin which are used to treat issues of the Central Nervous System and alter chemical composition in the brain are now being used by players to attain more self-control and achieve more focus.
Then there are drugs like beta-blocker propranolol which block the release of adrenaline in a person during pressure games causing him or her to remain calm under moments of pressure while performing. Selegiline, a drug used to treat Parkinson’s, is used as a PED because it improves a player’s mood and helps with motivation. It has been noticed that players pop these pills an hour before the competition. Though use of these drugs is unregulated in the eSports industry and many can be obtained legally it still creates an uneven playing field.
It makes spectators wonder whether the most qualified person won or not. Apart from the serious side effects that these drugs pose, there is a possibility of escalation in the usage of these drugs such that players start taking a higher dosage than the recommended allowance thereby causing severe injury to themselves.
The Impact Of Match Fixing
Match fixing issues in which a player takes money to underperform and lose is another threat that the eSports world is facing. Recently eSports betting site Pinnacle Sports accused a player for having thrown his match. The player accused, Kan “San” Cho Won was playing against Park “Dark” Ryung Woo. According to the company the bets placed on the match indicated a certain pattern that the match had been rigged. Even though Dark was favoured to win, the company saw some unusually large bets in favour of Dark, which raised suspicion.
To ensure fairness and integrity, the company cancelled all the bets that were made on the match. Again, unless there is hard evidence proving that the match was indeed rigged, it would be extremely difficult to prove otherwise. In this case also, San issued a statement denying any wrong doing attributing the loss to reduced practice time and poor health.
Match Fixing Could Hurt The Popularity of eSports
There have been other instances of match fixing in eSports. A serious match fixing scandal broke out in Korea where players were approached by online betting agencies to throw away games in return for monetary gains. This news was confirmed in May 2010 by Korean news websites and was widely reported all over the world. The consequences from this match fixing allegation resulted in the ban of eleven players along with fines and penalties.
Such instances of match fixing leads to distrust and disappointment in eSports and leaves the public with a feeling of betrayal. It also leads to a loss in reputation of the sport in general and limits the growth of the sport, especially a nascent sport like eSports.
Compromising Business Ethics
Businesses which sponsor players and tournaments and are associated with the eSports industry in general should stress to its stakeholders the importance of ethical conduct. The brand image of the company might take a big hit if any of the stakeholders involve themselves in unethical behaviour. This will have a cascading effect and demoralize staff and management leading to unnecessary finger pointing and loss in productivity. And it might also lead to monetary consequences through loss in revenue from selling merchandise or the inability to procure financing from potential investors.
The Rules & Governance Of eSports
Currently there is no single overarching centralised governing body in eSports. There are various organizations which host and operate eSports tournaments like the ESports League (ESL) and Major League Gaming (MLG). Similarly gaming companies also organize their own professional tournaments.
Some countries have setup national associations for eSports. The Korea e-Sports Association (KeSPA) was setup to manage eSports in Korea. Similarly the United Kingdom eSports Association was setup to govern eSports in the United Kingdom though it later filed for bankruptcy since it owned large sums of money to players and companies.
International eSports Federation
The International eSports Federation (IeSF) was setup in 2008 and is based in Korea. Today it has 42 nations as its members. The association is working to unify the eSports world and to bring all aspects of eSports under the purview of uniform standards. The association is also promoting the eSports Industry by holding tournaments and is also trying to grow its membership by increasing the number of member nations.
In a significant development, IeSF has also released it Anti-Doping Regulations to ensure ethical and fair-play in the sport.
World eSports Council
The World eSports Council (WeSC) has recently been assembled,
as a Professional eSports Association with an objective to unite top business leaders in forming the WeSC eSports Sanctioning Committee; an overarching global governing body for eSports
This committee was established in late 2015 and will be launched on 15 May 2016. The objective of this committee is to bring stability to the industry by providing a platform for the industry to hold discussions to make rules and regulations which will govern and unify the industry.