(Co-written with Ule Lopez)
Competition. It’s something that people gather to see, and can cover a variety of walks of life, such as baseball and football. If you’re feeling confident, you could even say that you could bet on them to try to make a profit. Such is the ideal behind 1xBet and its many, many betting angles.
Where do video games come into this mess? Well, video game tournaments have been mostly frozen for the past year due to global health risks regarding the coronavirus. Only in the past few weeks have people been traveling for these events again. That’s where WePlay comes in. Currently, they’re hosting tournaments for Tekken 7 and Mortal Kombat 11: Ultimate. All under the guise of the WePlay Ultimate Fighting League.
Recently, the two companies have partnered. So, what makes this partnership so… off-putting, we’ll say– to people in the fighting game community? Let’s take a look at it.
1xBet: It’s Not Exactly Clean
Firstly, let’s mention what makes 1xBet such a bad idea to partner with. The website itself is an absolute hive of betting fields, giving you access to bet on things such as NHL games, FIFA. As of two weeks ago, the WePlay Mortal Kombat 11 tournaments also got added. How much you can bet on over there is already concerning, to be completely honest. However, the story becomes more complicated once we look at 1xBet’s history.
1xBet was founded in 2007 and registered in the Republic of Cyprus. Sounds about normal, thus far. Well, here’s the start of the problems. 1xBet has a history of controversy and dirty secrets. The first of which is the fact that they lost a lot of their reputation after being involved in illicit activities. One of which is a “Pornhub casino” promotion which was revealed by The Sunday Times in 2019.
Because of this, Bill Browder (an anti-corruption activist from Cyprus) started an investigation this past July. It was made after accusing Britain’s authorities of enabling money laundering by Russian crime figure Dmitry Klyuev, as reported by Politico.
Other sources in the past have covered Russian organized crime relating to Cyprus, such as BBC and Wall Street Journal. After the Sunday Times story was released to the public, 1xBet was banned in Britain. What makes this rabbit hole go even deeper is that the three creators(?) of 1xBet had supposedly fled to Cyprus sometime in 2020 to avoid Russian prosecution.
Adding to this, Lithuania has rendered betting through 1xBet to be illegal, as you can see here.
Incomplete Payouts And Proxies?
We’re not done here. 1xBet also is under fire for being a rather cryptic and unreliable way to bet even after the fact. On the 1xBet TrustPilot page, you can see that the website has tons upon tons of overwhelmingly negative reviews. Most of the complaints involve what happens after a betting period is resolved, as people who win big are not given their money. All of this despite the website saying that the transaction has been completed.
1xBet’s already in hot water internationally. The fact that money is basically being stolen from these people that fairly bet using their site is deplorable at worst. However, things get even worse when you begin to factor in that when considering Cyprus (1xBet’s permanent residence) is owned by a person named Kyriaki Kostikian.
Anous Kostikian, a Greek shareholder, was also involved in this. They’ve defrauded over 60 million Euros from investors in 2015. They then left Cyprus. Looking into other businesses that Anous owns. We found out that they and Kyriaki merely flip between owner and secretary on various platforms they own (Paradosio Trading Limited being one such example).
It gives the idea that they’re connected to this mess. How does this all tie back to 1xBet? Well, this leaves the company with someone that either owns it (or is tied to the owner intrinsically). Meanwhile, the real founders are just ghosts in the wind, on the run from international authorities.
(Authors’ Note: a huge thank-you goes out to Upper Echelon Gaming, as this section would not exist without their findings on this topic:)
WePlay Is Another Can Of Worms
WePlay isn’t exactly out of the woods on this one, either. They’re claiming to be based out of the United States, but that isn’t exactly the case. Licensing International has revealed that WePlay is held by FS Holding. This company is (predictably) headquartered in Cyprus. This already puts them out of the realm of being in the United States.
In truth, they’re actually based in Ukraine, located in eastern Europe. That’s already a bit of a red flag for integrity’s sake. There’s that, and the venue itself is in Ukraine, too. Everything just points to them being in eastern Europe. That doesn’t even get into what their people are saying about other FGC identities and figureheads. If you thought that this situation was already way too complex, wait to see what happened once the FGC caught wind of the operation.
People like Rick (Combo Breaker’s Tournament Director) have been the target of negative comments from WePlay Staff. With James Banks from WePlay going so far as to call him a “dumb fuck” during an interview, you can see it here. Meanwhile, another TO and FGC commentator Josh McWhorter has voiced his concerns. Josh made a Twitter thread exposing the shady deals behind 1xB’s history and WePlay as well. Speaking with Bagogames, Josh had this to say about 1xB’s involvement:
“Given my background in infosec, I was very concerned once I started following the digital paper trail. I had heard rumblings about publishers not being aware of the partnership until it was formally announced and noticed that they had not been promoting the event.
The next step is to see if there’s any additional infos in the Cyprus Papers released by Al-Jazeera last August. Seeing how the website’s gaming license has been pulled in multiple regions, it seems that it is actively blocked in more countries than it is accessible.”
In fact, our experience has shown that 1xBet’s main site is blocked from Germany and the United States. Other blocked countries include Italy, Spain, France, the Netherlands, and Belgium, to name some.
(Author Update: On April 30th, 2021, both Bandai Namco and NetherRealm Studios have since ceased support with WePlay, which you can see below. Credit goes to Dame Falcon (@Dame_Falcon on Twitter) for tweeting this. Otherwise, the article remains unchanged.)
BANDAI NAMCO and NRS pulling their games from WePlay with similar statements. There's something going on behind the scenes and I'm certain it's for a good reason. pic.twitter.com/vbmxVmKgMt
— Dame Falcon (@Dame_Falcon) April 30, 2021
Comments From Illegitimacy
Following Banks’s comments, he’s gone on record to say that he’s been invested in the FGC since 2006. During that time, he acted as a supposed professional Virtua Fighter player. However, “professional” seems to have been used loosely. Why? Well, while I’ve been searching for irrefutable proof of this, I can’t find any videos of him playing the game.
As John Xuandou puts it:
This is a year old clip, but raise your hand if you're tired of esports dudes trying to jump into FGC events and take control of everything and then whining like a bitch when they don't get their way.
— Rolling Soul Diver (@HBJohnXuandou) April 8, 2021
It makes Banks’ credibility come into question altogether, because of the fact that he says these things and I can’t seem to find anything relating to him. So, that’s already a bit of a red flag for legitimacy’s sake. How are people supposed to believe that someone claims to be in the scene and you can’t just find anything on it?
What Could Be Possible
One of the most important consequences of all the illicit activities exposed so far is a much darker thing to consider. That thought turns out to be “Are these matches actually legitimate, or are they being fixed in some manner?” What that means, in as few words as possible, is: Is it real, or is there collusion? For the uninitiated, collusion (in this context) means that both parties met and had agreed to make a certain outcome occur before an event’s actual live broadcast. In other words, two participants in a tournament can just agree to win or lose a certain match.
Given that 1xBet is being used so often, and that a “high-profile” betting website is being used as well. it could make collusion in this industry all the more possible as a waterfall effect of everything going on. The eSports scene looks to be going corporate, not because of the developers’ actions, but because of them partnering with bigger properties and IPs. One such example is Blizzard Entertainment with their Overwatch League, and partnering with T-Mobile, Xfinity, and StateFarm, to name a few.
However, this is truly where the FGC’s faults begin to show. It’s a problem that is not spoken about that makes the career in itself be unviable for a lot of people.
The Problem On the Payout
See, the FGC has a history of not being the most well-remunerated branch of eSports. Don’t get me wrong, the FGC does have some big earning tournaments such as the Capcom ProTour. However, these instances are extremely few and far between with many of the other tournaments offering pittances in terms of payouts in comparison.
Josh McWhorter weighed in on this problem with the following:
“I believe that current payouts in the FGC are small because they’re more or less crowdfunded ventures. Organizers like myself also have to do a better job of thinking outside the box in regards to sponsorship money. For example, instead of trying to approach game publishers, equipment retailers, etc. Why aren’t we approaching things from more of a lifestyle approach? Many of the successful eSports teams brand themselves as gaming lifestyle companies or digital marketing firms. There’s food & bev, apparel, and other industries that we can look into that share our audience.”
So, when you ask about Collusion, match-fixing, and other things about the FGC. There’s the possibility that the players are just looking to make some money that the FGC is not capable of paying out at the moment. Of course, I’m not here to say that there IS a match-fixing problem. That is up to the Tournament Organizers and the community itself to find out and properly deal with it. If the payouts in the FGC end up matching those of other eSports, the possibility of match-fixing becomes lower.
Supporting 1xBet? Maybe Not
The FGC has given a ton of flack toward 1xBet’s partnership with WePlay. As shown above, James Banks’s credibility was put into question after his (seemingly) fake claims on his history of the FGC. However, while the reception toward 1xBet and WePlay’s partnership has been overwhelmingly negative; some people claim that this partnership was what the FGC needs to become as big as other eSports ventures.
Talking to Josh McWhorter once again, we asked him what he thought about the idea of the FGC supporting 1xBet. Well, this is what he had to say on the matter:
“I can count on one hand the users that I’ve seen respond in support of 1xBet and even those were apathetic rather than supportive. It’s been an overwhelming rejection of the partnership from what I have seen. There’s obviously the drama that has spawned from James Banks’ comments disparaging Rick/TheHadou, Tyrant UK, TOs, FGC production, and other entities while misrepresenting his bonafides in the community. There’s additional concerns surrounding the ethics of WePlay as they’ve misused publishers’ IP, but there’s also an honest hope that they can learn from this and adjust. The production value has been incredible and folks are fiending for offline competition, even if they’re only able to watch it on a stream.”
Of course, my stance is that while the FGC needs to grow as an eSport and become a viable venture for players to play full time; it shouldn’t come at the cost of its integrity. Accepting money deals like this seems good in concept. However, the ramifications can have a long-term effect that can be felt for up to years. we, unfortunately, are aware of this issue. However, the FGC has the power to make a choice to become better in the long run.
Solving Woeful Obliviousness
Seeing as how WePlay is now officially partnered with 1xBet, and given everything that’s been discussed here. It should come as no shock that this is not the way that the fighting game scene expands. It’s not a way to boost our legitimacy in any meaningful way, either. If anything, WePlay should outright cancel the partnership due to these issues coming out from the woodwork. Not to call the production value of WePlay events bad by any means (despite laughable CGI work), but, I’d be willing to wager that this isn’t going to end well if they keep this partnership going.
None of this even mentions how ESL has also partnered with 1xBet as a betting partner for its Pro Tour involving Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2. A company as high-profile as ESL partnering with 1xBet (in comparison to WePlay) can potentially be even more catastrophic and damaging.
So, what can these companies do? For one, they can drop the partnership, as stated above. Secondly, ESL and WePlay should take a look at what’s going on around 1xBet and realize that this can only damage credibility and trust between these companies and their viewers/consumers, seeing as how it was made by criminals on the run.
Only time can tell if 1xBet will be dropped from these brands. However, if it does get dropped, I’m willing to guess that it’ll be all for the better, reputation-wise.