A potential spot-fixing scandal from the CIS region that could implicate Cloud9’s Abay “HObbit” Khasenov hit the news this Monday morning. The story, initially reported by escorenews and further elaborated on by Richard Lewis at Dexerto, arrived on the plate of the CSGO community just as the scene geared up for week two of the already scandal-hit Antwerp Major.
The allegations relate to a team that played together back in 2015 called PARTY, a mix of mainly Khazak players that never achieved a huge amount while together. The timing of the revelations is somewhat driven fuelled by sadness, it seems, with 31-year-old whistleblower Rustam "5TRYK#R" Älımqūlov, stating he is suffering from a serious illness and wants to release this information now in case he isn’t around to do so in the future.
Alongside HObbit and 5TRYK#R, the PARTY line-up also included Bektiyar "fitch" Baqytov, Magzhan "fANTASTIKA" Temirbolat, and Adlet "keeN" Nyrseytov. The reports allege that the players did not technically fix results or throw matches for money, but instead engaged in "spot-fixing", a more subtle way of illegally winning money through gambling.
What is spot-fixing?
To put it simply, spot-fixing is the practice of only "fixing" small parts of the game, having used modern betting companies' more specific options to lay money on such events. An example might be betting on who gets the first yellow card in a game of football, or how many no-balls might be bowled in an over of cricket. In this case, it seems the team decided to throw the T-side pistol rounds only, while (according to Lewis’s report) still attempting to win the match overall.
In a somewhat ironic twist of fate, it turns out that the $5k each team member was set to make from the spot-fixing never ended up in their accounts, with all bets on the game being canceled. This, according to 5TRYK#R, happened after fitch leaked news of the fix outside of the team, leading to some animosity from his teammates, who had lost out on their payday thanks to this.
However, this may or may not end up being a blessing, with previous situations involving more serious incidents of fixing not leading to bans due to players not being paid for their actions. Tyler "Skadoodle" Latham was able to win a Major with Cloud9, despite his part in the iBuyPower scandal that saw his team banned, mainly as he never received his payment despite having thrown matches.
Perhaps the most shocking part of the information released so far came in the form of some transcripts of team speak conversations related to these incidents, where it seems keeN incriminates himself as an instigator. In these chats, as well as baldly admitting to saying “Let’s throw” to his team, keeN also used the phrase “Abai [HObbit] was ready as well”. 5TRYK#R himself also claimed the current Cloud9 man was “quite eager” to make money in this way.
This recording, along with other evidence provided in the Richard Lewis article on Dexerto, makes for a far more complete picture of this sort of incident than CSGO fans have experienced in the past. It is not common that a player is in a position to release this amount of incriminating evidence, with the "Dead Man’s Switch” having been pulled due in part because of 5TRYK#R’s illness, and partly his acceptance that there is no future for him as a CSGO player, meaning he has nothing left to lose by self-incrimination.
While the timing of the release might make 5TRYK#R look bitter about the success his former colleagues went on to enjoy, the evidence, as well as the videos provided, are solid counters to any idea he might be making the story up. Some of the team were already negotiating with bigger orgs at the time of the conversation, as fitch said “Abai absolutely doesn't want to play with you, and I think it's fair. I'm saying this because we will soon get an org,” which would turn out to be Tengri, and later Gambit, for HObbit at least.
Cloud9 investigating HObbit
Lewis states he has reached out to fitch, as well as Cloud9, for comment on the matter, but is yet to receive a response from the former AVANGAR player. Cloud9 said they will conduct their own internal investigation, but given they have previously worked with proven match-fixers it may well be that they end up keeping HObbit on, especially given how recently he and his team were signed by the org.
Later in the Dexerto piece, there are suggestions that there may have been an unsuccessful attempt at match-fixing by the team, in a game vs 8-Bit that also saw accusations of wall hacks thrown around. Again, the match was eventually voided by bookmakers due to suspicious activity, and shortly afterward the PARTY lineup disbanded, leaving HObbit free to continue his stellar career, and 5TRYK#R to drift away from that level, before eventually becoming ill.
HObbit himself denied to have ever taken part in match-fixing, saying he's fully prepared to assist ESIC in their investigation.
Spot- and match-fixing at the lower levels of CS:GO, and many other esports, has been a problem for nearly as long as you have been able to bet on esports, and regulating it is an almost impossible task outside of the top echelons of the game. How Cloud9 act remains to be seen, but their prior record and HObbit's otherwise good reputation suggests we're unlikely to see major changes to that side based on the report.