Match fixing and cheating has long been a problem that has plagued traditional sports, and eSports unfortunately is no exception to this. Radoslav “Nydra” Kolev recently surfaced the problem with “win-trading” and “pay-to-legend” for Hearthstone in his recent article for GosuGamers.
Fans of Hearthstone and other eSports games such as League of Legends are probably familiar with various match-fixing scandals that have happened in the past. Before diving into the problem in China, Nydra reminds us that match-fixing incidents in Hearthstone is nothing new, with Specialist and zRusher admitting to win-trading during ladder climbing back in 2014, and with four western players banned from the 2015 World Championship for the same reasons.
While win-trading are rare incidents done by a few individuals and looked down upon in the West, it is almost accepted as part of the gaming culture in China (excerpt from article):
According to information, including chat logs, provided by GosuGamers sources, an organized group of at least 14 confirmed pro players and streamers are providing illegal services to whoever can benefit or is willing to pay for it. In reality, there are many more involved, spread across QQ Chat conversations, arranging such transactions every month. The reward is, of course, valuable. High ladder placements yield Hearthstone Championship Tour (HCT) points, which are used to determine who will make the next step to the Seasonal Championships, the tournaments that decide the seeds for the Blizzcon World Finals.
Blizzard China has tried to tackle this problem by reducing the HCT points that can be earned from ladder climbing for players in China, but this alone is not a strong enough deterrent against the practice of win-trading. As recent as last month, there has been clear evidence of the organized group engaging in win-trading practices.
Also prevalent in China is a “pay-to-legend” service, whereby pro players can boost an account to Legend for a mere 400 CNY or $60 (this cost is even lower now as the business has expanded since last year). According to the article’s source, of the 30,000 or so Legendary accounts on the Chinese server, only 10,000 are real, with the remainder having been paid for.
While Blizzard and Netease (company that is operating Hearthstone in China) continues to work hard in cracking down the cheaters and implementing changes to discourage such practices, they are still far from finding a way to solve this problem in the long run. Being a global competition, the discrepancy caused by cheating effects the global rankings, and is discouraging to the real competitors in China. As fans of the game, we want the championships to be represented by the best players of the game; until a long term solution can be found against win-trading, there will always remain cases where players can literally buy their way into tournaments.