By Mike Malpiedi
Over the past couple of weeks, you may have seen a Youtube video floating in your feed(s) from either HonorTheCall or h3h3 production (see both below) about a recent gambling controversy associated with the game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO). Since said videos were released, several popular gaming and entertainment sites have rushed to tell the story of two Youtubers who are using the game to illegally trick people into gambling away their money (young teens in particular).
(See the other parts to this video series on HonorThe Call’s channel.)
I’m sure many of you are familiar with CS:GO and these recent allegations, but for those of you that aren’t as familiar I’ve constructed this guide to give you the necessary details. Let’s start off with the basics…
What is Counter-Strike: Global Offensive?
Counter Strike: Global Offensive is a game developed and published by Valve, a software and hardware company known for its impressive PC gaming client called Steam. Counter-Strike is the product of a multiplayer mod to Valve’s widely popular 1999 scifi game, Half-Life. The following year Valve acquired the rights to Counter-Strike from the original creators and spawned the highly successful series. The game continues to stand-up to the likes of blockbuster franchises such as Call of Duty and Battlefield due to its hyper focus on player skill, precision, and teamwork.
CS:GO, published in 2012, is the recent entry in the main Counter-Strike series. Much like the previous entries, CS:GO’s main gameplay revolves around a variety of online multiplayer game modes such as deathmatch and hostage scenario. Each game mode requires teams to work in unison because, unlike most fps franchise, Counter-Strike only allots one life per round, so if a player dies they need to wait until either their team is dead or they achieved victory without them.
Based on overall performance, a player is given the opportunity to earn special gear skins that they then can equip to their character. Skins are cosmetic modifications that can change the appearance of a weapon, outfit, or tool. These skins, like in other games such as League of Legends, are extremely valuable to players as they are an outlet to show a player’s skill and personality. These skins can also be acquired by purchasing “loot crates” from Valve for $2.50 a piece. When the loot crate is opened, a slot-like wheel-bar appears and the player is able to receive a random skin from the case. If they are lucky, they will land on something quite rare.
(From the Huntsman Collection: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvmyPxDymEM)
These cosmetic modifications are the focal point of the allegations levied against Valve and sites such as CSGOLotto, CSGO Lounge, and CSGO Diamonds. And this brings us to the big question…
What exactly is the issue here?
Bloomberg originally highlighted the legal action against Valve and various CS:GO gambling sites in an article published on Jun 24 (see sources at the end of article). According to recent lawsuit filed against Valve, and these various CS:GO gambling sites, the defendants are accused of maintaining an unregulated gambling market that is explicitly marketed to teens and young children (a market that is estimated to have earned 2.3 billion in 2015). The suit is being filed by parents whose children have lost significant sums of money to these sites, but have been unable to receive much support or relief from the sites in question. The lawsuit, along with the videos previously described, speak to how these sites are able to use skins to extort real money from people who love playing the game.
It also addresses Valve’s complete lack of control over this rapidly growing market. In fact, the lawsuit accuses Valve of even going as far as advising some of these sites and allowing them to link their Steam accounts to them. The lawsuit specifically highlights that this particular gambling market is ripe for fraud and scams. These types of scams are examined by HonorThe Call and H3H3 specifically through the case of Youtubers Tmartin (Trevor Martin) and ProSyndicate (Thomas Cassell). The pair use CSGOLotto, a site which they both own, as a way to scam thousands of teens into losing money while introducing them to the world of gambling.
But how does this all work exactly?
Valve, in response to the allegations, says that these people are not gambling on these sites since visitors are using skins and not money to bet. The problem with that statement is that skins acquired, whether by playing the game itself, purchasing cases, or obtained through CS:GO betting, can immediately be sold on a number of websites for actual cash (Opskins is a prime example). These skins can range in value from just a few dollars to thousands of dollars. This is why many news and entertainment outlets are making the comparison between skins and casino chips. (There are some sites, however, that use coins for betting as opposed to skins, but still the comparison is accurate.)
There are a number of ways that people can use these skins to bet. Some of these methods include coin tosses, where everyone puts skins into the pot and whoever wins keeps all the skins, and casino type games like roulette wheels and slots. Many of these sites include rules that state individuals should not be betting if they are not of the legal gambling age, but these rules are not heavily enforced. Most CS:GO gambling sites aren’t even equipped with age verification services to keep younger players out of the site.
There are also a number of sites, the most controversial being CSGOLotto, that participate in gambling fraud. To be more specific, there are many sites that con players out of skins and money by using bots, or fake accounts controlled by the site admin. Through the use of these bots, sites, or an individual, can give a fake player a number of skins to bet with and they can also control and teach the bot how they want to bet. They can command it to only bet on certain colors or even set it to better predict outcomes for an increased chance of winning. They can even command the bot to stop playing after a certain number of wins or losses.
This is one of the ways that sites such as CSGOLotto are able to trick people out of money since they can essentially fix games using bots by sending them to play against players anywhere in the world. What helps to support their chances of winning is that they have access to the back-end of the website as well, so they can track users through the use of “seeds” which are their personal connection to the site. An admin can see a person’s seed and be able to tell exactly what the outcome will be of any game that the person is playing.
This is how Tmartin and ProSyndicate are able to potentially rig each of the games that they play. As if playing on their own gambling site wasn’t horrible enough, the two use bots and predetermined outcomes in order to create unbreakable winning loops. They can see the outcomes, so they know how to bet and can take any pot that they would like at anytime. The two also can fake losing, but even if they lose the bot player(s) will win and they keep their initial bet plus winnings.
What makes matters worse is that between the two of them, they have over 10 million follows and many of which are young teens. Through the use of their Youtube channels, they introduce and encourage younger viewers to gamble illegally on a website that could be rigged at any moment by themselves. The pair don’t even disclose that they have monetary ties to the website, which is completely illegal under Federal Trade Commission regulations (as described in the videos above). In fact, ProSyndicate has already been in trouble with the FTC for failure to disclosure financial ties to a game called Dead Realms, which he invested in and then advertised by playing it on his Youtube channel (also described in the previous videos).
CSGOLotto isn’t even the only site to be participating in this, and were only recently added to a list of sites through a second lawsuit and third issued, which also includes Valve. There are three lawsuits currently in affect from Connecticut, Florida, and New Jersey.
Will anything come of these lawsuits?
At this point it is truly tough to say. PC Gamer did an excellent job of addressing some of the holes within the current lawsuits. Mainly that Valve isn’t directing encouraging players to create gambling sites by using their Steam accounts since the company allows any Steam user to link a site to an account that they own through of use of Steam API Keys. These keys are not exclusively given to CS:GO gambling sites and thus it is hard to pin Valve for direct development of these sites.
It is difficult to pin them for taking any sort of cut from CS:GO gambling outside of the purchase of loot crates and skins, which can be purchased legally by anyone for the sole purpose of outfitting a character. Valve also does not allow trading skins for money through Steam like other third party sites such as Opskins. There is even the possibility that the case could be dismissed without getting a trial due to said flaws and Valve’s involvement as a defendant, which gives a potential out to accused gambling sites.
There could still be potentially major ramifications for owners of sites such as CSGOLotto. Even though Trevor issued a video apology some days ago and attempted to explain how he didn’t own the site right away, there is enough evidence to prove that both he and ProSyndicate created the organization. There are also archives of videos that they recorded displaying how they promoted the website without disclosing ownership. That still leaves them open to future lawsuits that are much better formulated.
Counter-Strike is still one of the most popular games online and is played by millions worldwide. It is a major esport and players flock to watch some of their favorite players who have mastered the game. Unfortunately, so many of these gambling sites related to the game have popped up which makes interacting with one such site seemingly inevitable. Why wouldn’t a player take a chance to win tons of money from a game they love playing, especially if they are a young teen looking up to people such as Trevor Martin and Thomas Cassell. Having someone a player looks up to saying they can win big, or seeing so many of their friends playing on these gambling sites, it can be pretty easy to get drawn in and addicted to playing.
And there lies the problem, young people are getting introduced to gambling completely under the noise of the Federal Trade Commission. Even if Valve is not responsible for influencing the market, sites such as CSGOLotto need to be dismantled and if CS:GO gambling is to continue then it must be regulated like any other form of gambling. Only time will tell if the lawsuits bear any fruit.
For now, if you are a parent with kids and young teens that love to play CS:GO then please be sure to note if you see any CS:GO gambling sites pop up in their browser history. If so, take the time to explain to them the risks and issues.
For more detailed information about the case, see all the sources below. Each will help to give a fuller picture of this growing epidemic.