25 March, 2021

One for the Ages

Mark Balch, VP of esports betting services at Bayes Esports, analyses age verification challenges in esports and discusses the complexities of putting a comprehensive framework in place

A regulatory development that has already hit parts of the world is currently looming large on the horizon for esports betting, and it could be very costly if we don’t work together for solutions. What I am talking about is player age requirements for betting. If you’re reading this as an operator from Sweden or other countries that already have this rule, you’ll understand just how costly it can be.

Although this is not an issue only specific to esports, it will be extremely challenging to operate the way we do now if it is enforced in more jurisdictions. In traditional sports, generally all leagues are coordinated centrally by an organisation and most follow similar rules when it comes to player registration, even giving distinct leagues for player age brackets like U16, U21 and so on, even across different sports.

Esports fundamentally lacks this kind of coordination outside a few examples. Not only that, two of the most important betting titles, CSGO and Dota 2, are the worst in this regard. While some are attempting to create central coordination, it may never be entirely encompassing like a government-backed organisation.

If you’re wondering what the regulations are that I am referring to, some betting licences are now restricted to only offering betting on matches where either no player is under the age of 18, or in some cases at least 50% of the team is not under the age of 18. Ethically there is nothing wrong with this rule, and I doubt anyone will stand against it.

Practically, however, what it means is that every fixture that is offered must be carefully researched, and every player’s age recorded and verified. In an organised government-backed sport where every player registers to a central database, the solution may not be easy, but at least it’s possible.

The more content that’s attempted to be offered, the more work it requires to check and verify each player. If the rules are broken it can be enormously costly to operators. At a Tier 1 level, this really isn't too difficult; most high-level player ages are well known and can be found. But the further down you go, the more difficult it gets.

At the lowest levels of competition, open qualifiers for example, nearly anyone can play in these games with almost no need for registration. It could be absolutely impossible to find details of these players. Even in some regional qualifiers for big events, there have been cases where players' names were fake,
or even unknown entirely, let alone their date of birth.

If this rule were to be adopted to more jurisdictions, all that is likely to happen is content will become restricted to those where details can be sourced. This will take a big toll as legitimate operators potentially lose revenue or customers, and the knock on effect may be less sponsorship or partnership revenue that flows back to esports operators.


Esports coordination

While most players in esports are much older than 18, there are plenty of cases where they are not. For example, Lee Young Ho or “Flash”, the legendary Starcraft player, first entered the pro scene at 14, and there are many other pros across the board who are in their teens.

Even within just CSGO itself, there’s no central organisation that can force everyone to follow the same rules. This power would rest solely with the publisher, but CSGO is a self-organising community. This means that even if most of the organisers follow the rules, there are bound to be some who relax the rules. Not only this, every company has different processes, databases, interfaces and websites so there’s no central source of truth.

Even if players who are well established and organised, a lot of teams bring in players to stand-in for regular players almost randomly. The rule would include these players and ignorance is not a defence.

Add to this privacy regulations, since we’re talking about personal information, and the fact that this cannot just simply be made public, and we have a perfect storm of misinformation and doubt.

At the end of the day, all organisations involved would have to agree on solutions that go across business that would make sure such details are cross-checked and players are who they say they are. Teams would also have a role to play to make sure all of their players are vetted and details are checked.

The last thing anyone in esports wants is for government bodies to step in and make sweeping judgements on things they don’t understand, possibly even restricting how tournaments are played and where.
If as a community these (and similar fundamental issues on transparency and legitimacy) are not addressed, eventually it could lead to substantial consequences.