In Counter-Strike, players can earn, trade, and sell cosmetic flourishes for their weapons. Over time, this has given rise to a thriving unofficial gambling scene. Players bet skins with real world value on CSGO eSports matches. For some, it’s a means of making an awful lot of money. It can also be awfully sketchy, which is why one man is suing Valve.
Given Valve’s notoriously hands-off approach to, well, everything, you probably won’t be shocked to hear that CSGO gambling is entirely unregulated. Third-party sites like CSGO Lounge facilitate transactions through a combination of their own interfaces and Steam sign-ins, and Valve doesn’t really seem to mind. These sites often tend to have lax age requirements as well, allowing teens to participate in what essentially amounts to real-money gambling. Bloomberg did an expose on all of it earlier this year, in which they cited an estimate that CSGO’s gambling scene comprises millions of people and $2.3 billion (£1.68 bn).
That’s the crux of Connecticut resident Michael John McLeod’s suit against Valve, which—as uncovered by Polygon—alleges that Valve has “knowingly allowed... and has been complicit in creating, sustaining and facilitating” what amounts to an “illegal online gambling market.” The suit, which aims for class action status, claims:
“Defendant Valve knowingly allowed, supported, and/or sponsored illegal gambling by allowing millions of Americans to link their individual Steam accounts to third- party websites such as CSGO Lounge (“Lounge”), CSGO Diamonds (“Diamonds”), and OPSkins (collectively, “unnamed co-conspirators”)... In the eSports gambling economy, skins are like casino chips that have monetary value outside the game itself because of the ability to convert them directly into cash.”
Further, based on the Bloomberg report, McLeod’s suit claims that many CSGO gamblers are minors. “Unlike traditional sports, the people gambling on eSports are mostly teenagers,” the suit says, adding that “also unlike traditional sports, the company that makes the product being wagered on is directly profiting from that wagering” due to the fact that Valve takes a percentage of the money from every skin sold.
The suit further alleges that McLeod himself gambled in CSGO and lost money as both an adult and a minor.
The consequences of this unregulated gambling market can be, according to the suit, pretty serious. “This unregulated market is ripe for scams, cheating, fraud and other harms to users,” the suit reads. “For instance, there have been numerous instances of match-fixing in CS:GO matches. For instance, in January 2015, it became clear that a highly qualified team of CS:GO players fixed matches against lesser teams.”
(For reference, the suit is referring to this incident.)
As of now, Valve has yet to respond to the suit.