Knights are accused of match fixing right on Dota 2 Major in Lima by community figures. And it's not even first time for this team Exclusive
Chinese team Knights is under accusations again. First it was maphacks, then match fixing in DPC against EHOME. This time, they are accused by multiple community figures of fixing the results right on the Major, one of the biggest events of the year in Dota 2. We collected the accusations and talked with one of the people involved, ex-OG analyst and long time betting expert Vladislav "Kozak" Lazurenko.
First, Lazurenko made a post on his Telegram. According to his multiple independent sources, one of which being a reputable betting platform employee, both maps of Knights against Entity had shady betting activity. Besides the unusual amount of bets on the loss of Chinese team on both maps and a match, a lot of money was also bet on odd amount of kills on both maps. That ended up being the case (17:48 and 25:10), and the same scenario happened the last time Knights were accused. Bets on odd/even amount of kills are pretty random by nature, and imbalance in odds there are a good indicator of shady activity.
On one of the betting platforms, the odds on Knights winning ended up a whopping 50+! That's a Major participating team from a historically strong region in its first match on the event. Kozak shared the screenshot as a proof. If the platform is small enough, you can move the line so much with just a few big bets.
On the second day, the weird stuff continued. This time, Ukrainian commentator Oleksii "BafiK" Bafadarov noticed abnormal behavior of odds on Knights match against Geek Slate. According to him, even while Chinese team was ahead by 5k, the odds on them winning were ridiculously low, clearly showing abnormal amount of money bet on them losing the match. Stuff like that doesn't happen on Majors even with biggest underdogs. That can't be explained by the delay — Lima Major doesn't have big stream delays, like in online competition.
Update: Ukrainian caster Alexey "Storm" Tumanov shared odds from the third day of competition, this time from Knights match against beastcoast right at the start of the game.
And that's far from the first time this team is accused of shady behavior. First, in January members of Chinese community claimed Knights were using a maphack and were too good in detecting wards. Perfect World even announced that it sent some "evidence" to Valve, but it seems that nothing came out of it so far.
Knights match against EHOME on February 2 was also connected to abnormal betting behavior. Back then, Vitalii "v1lat" Volochai claimed that the match was fixed based on the information he received from his partners at GG.Bet. Same story: ridiculous odds on Knights winning, and a heavy imbalance in bets on odd/even amount of kills total. Kozak gave his take on the situation as well, confirming the betting anomalies.
Talking with Kozak
I contacted Lazurenko to talk about the latest accusations. He provided screenshots, and also shared some thoughts on the situation as a whole. According to him, most of the unusual activity happened on Asian betting platforms, like Raybet, ETOPFUN, some crypto betting sites as well.
One of the signs is the involvement of the account with the name "hans_j". Kozak claims, that this account participates in betting on fixed results in both Dota 2 and CS:GO for few years at this point. On the screenshot of Entity-Knights above, you can see him placing multiple expensive knives on the result of the map. Below, he also bet on Liquid winning against Knights, again pushing the odds to the ridiculous numbers. But in this case it's at least somewhat justified, with Liquid being the biggest favorite of the event.
Lazurenko explained, that after this "circus on the first day", most of the big platforms don't take bets on Knights even on Major matches anymore, which is another serious sign. As an example he named world leader Pinnacle, and Russian market leaders BetBoom and Fonbet.
The biggest issue with match fixing on such scale is how hard it is to prove the involvement of the players. It's obvious that they don't have anything to do with the bets themselves, it's not a random stack deciding to throw a game on tier-3 event after betting against themselves from their girlfriend's account. And the fear of banning innocent players can stop people from taking action against a whole team. But for Lazurenko in case of Knights, most likely every member of Knights is dirty.
To be honest, it's hard for me to unequivocally accuse each player. Last year I'd say that Flyby and Felixciaoba are clean, but now at least the first already managed to get dirty in Team Fusion. But most likely, every player is involved because of the type of fixed bets: for example, with odd amount of kills, any player can cancel a GG at key moment, go die, and the bet won't go through. Most likely, they are all in on this.
Keeping in mind that some players might be innocent and how it's impossible to 100% prove any involvement if the fraud is done right, I asked if he thinks that weird odds behavior like that is enough to ban the team. Kozak explained that in this case the shady betting is systemic, and in his eyes that should be enough.
I think these things need to be decided on case-by-case basis. For example, if there were weird bets on first blood a few times, it might be an error: someone just went crazy with his bets because he is a gambling addict. But in this case the shady stuff is systemic, time and time again there is abnormal amount of bets on specific outcomes. With just a bare minimum of fact checking one can see that Knights are not interested in winning, and are playing for a specific result, which will fit the bets that they need.
Kozak criticized Valve for their their approach of seeming "inaction". The best solution for that in his eyes is obvious: there should be an integrity commission with experts and analysts.
Valve needs to create a "healthy" esports integrity commission. Not a circus like ESIC, but real organization with experts who have connections to reputable betting platforms, analysts who are doing this for a long time and have knowledge, etc.
The most ridiculous part is not that they are fixing matches, but that they are doing it in the open, spitting in the face of everyone on DPC and even on Majors. Everyone knows. Bookmakers know, other players and teams know, community knows, but nothing is happening.
They need to punish this audacity with exemplary bans. Then others will be less inclined to do that too. But Valve chose the tactic of inaction, and that's the worst way to proceed. In League of Legends, you can be banned for life even for toxicity, while we bring teams to Majors and give them bundles for match fixing. This is a shame.
Lazurenko's point of Valve's inaction seems a bit exaggerated, with 10 players just being banned in December for manipulating the results by sharing the accounts. Back then we talked with people behind the investigation and with players themselves. Even in their latest post, after banning 40k of cheating accounts, Valve also mentioned pros, possibly reacting to accusations towards Knights and other teams.
But his overall point stands true. There needs to be more done about the problem of match fixing in esports. And with economic correction happening in the industry, with more and more tier-2 and tier-3 organizations closing, the issue could become even worse.
If we in esports still want to "be like sports", perhaps we should start approaching these things as sports too. One good example is UFC, where, at the end of last year, a suspicious behavior of odds on one single match immediately sparked an investigation and in less than a month led to pushing the insider betting coach out of the scene.
One can understand Valve's desire to be absolutely sure before making any decision. They also are not the biggest fans of talking too much too early. But it feels that when questionable stuff is happening right on the Major, and more and more members of the scene are starting to notice the weird behavior, the more they wait, the worse it will get in the end. Because if Knights truly are guilty, it shows with how much questionable stuff you could get away with even on Majors, the biggest events of the year in Dota 2, and that doesn't paint a good picture for the scene.