If you frequent Reddit, have a passing interest in esports, or keep tabs on what Valve is involved in – possibly in the off-chance that the number three is involved – there’s a good chance that you’ve seen people talking about Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS: GO). But why has it become the hot topic of conversation all of a sudden?
CS: GO was released in 2012, building upon the solid and competitive foundation laid down by its predecessors. And just like the Counter-Strike games released before it, CS: GO has been a staple in the esports scene with prize pools of up to $1 million at stake.
The most recent controversy surrounding the game involves gambling. Perhaps surprisingly, it’s completely unrelated to the competitive side of the game. Instead, it’s cosmetic items that are capturing headlines.
The Arms Deal update, released in August, 2013, was introduced as a way of experiencing “all the illicit thrills of black market weapons trafficking without any of the hanging around in darkened warehouses getting knifed to death.” Essentially, players would be able to collect, buy, sell, and trade decorated weapons that could also be used in game.
Players get ‘drops’ of weapon cases, but these need a key to open, which you can purchase from the Steam Market. There are seven degrees of rarity, from consumer grade up to “exceedingly rare.” Naturally, the rarer an item, the more sought after it is…and the more it’s worth.
Yes, these purely cosmetic items with no impact on performance, but yet they have a value attached to them. Some aren’t worth very much - there are some items going for mere cents. But there are also weapons that sell for hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
So what if you could get your hands on one of these coveted items without spending cold hard cash? Betting websites sprung up in the wake of the Arms Deal update, allowing players to gamble one of their skins against another person. There is no skill in these sites or games; the higher total value you put into the pot, the more of a chance you have to win.
The accessibility of these websites mean that children are using them. The creator of one skin selling website said that he has had to call parents to inform them that their child has used their credit card to purchase items. And as pointed out, some of these transactions can be quite pricey.
Another thing that kids do is watch YouTube, in many cases looking up to certain content producers. That’s why these content producers are often approached by brands for sponsorships, featured videos, and so on. Two popular YouTubers are Tom "Syndicate" Cassell and Trevor "TmarTn" Martin and some time ago they started producing videos of them gambling skins on a site called CS:GO Lotto.
What they didn’t inform viewers, as highlighted in this excellent (and somewhat NSFW) video from h3h3, is that they actually owned the site. Instead, they made it seem like they simply stumbled upon the site and could potentially have a sponsorship of some sort lined up.
Regulators are only starting to catch up with the whole concept of YouTubers and streamers being sponsored and have tried to implement rules requiring them to be more transparent about advertising. Both Syndicate and TmarTn could face punishment for failing to disclose their business connection, something that Syndicate has gotten himself in trouble over before.
Meanwhile, another popular YouTuber, PsiSyndicate, has seemingly had a revelation and finally revealed that some of his popular CS: GO videos have been the result of undisclosed paid sponsorships. Referencing the saga involving Syndicate and TmarTn, he decides to come clean and admits that he was actually given rare weapon skins to unbox by Steamloto. At the time, he acted as if he had earned the skins through a random lottery.
Even in light of this “exposure,” he doesn’t seem to show much regret; yes, there is an apology, but there is so much detracting from it that it really doesn’t matter. He says he has learned a lesson and won’t do it again, but then again he figures he wouldn’t be caught for these rigged videos unless he came out and said it, so take it as a cautionary tale.
The Twitter user known as Video Game Attorney has responded to the saga surrounding CS: GO Lotto and said, “It's definitely illegal, and definitely reported to the FTC.” TmarTn is expected to release a statement about his non-disclosure later today. It will be interesting to see how everything unfolds.