Everything big and truly promising has a vulnerability of catching onto inhibitors for its growth, the gaming and esports industry is no stranger to this risk. The revenue in the esports market touched $1 billion in 2019 for the first time with a viewership of around 400 million that is expected to surge past 550 million by 2021. This is a prominent sign of how the industry is thriving with leaps and folds. But when a sports industry has so many viewers and an upward revenue graph, there are certain unethical behaviours bound to creep in.
What is Skin Gambling?
One such practice is popularly known as ‘skin gambling’. To understand this term, it is important to be familiar with the term ‘Skin’.
A skin is a graphic or audio file used to change the graphic or audio interface of the game. These are just visual elements and unlike the best casino bonuses on gaming websites, they have nothing more than a cosmetic effect in the game and no direct influence on the gameplay.
The practice of ‘Skin Gambling’ primarily began with “Counter-Strike: Global Offensive.” ‘Valve’ introduced skins as rewards that could be applied and shared with other players, to grow and bolster the community. What was started as a reward system and community tool, soon grew out to become an industry virility and a market of its own. At the beginning, there was ‘Steam Marketplace’ to trade, buy and sell skins from inventories for real or digital currencies and the marketplace had restrictions to maintain ethics. But in some time, there were websites that began bypassing the monetary restrictions by Steam to allow higher-value trades for skins. They even enabled betting and gambling on professional matches later on. This practice seeped into other gaming communities as well and it grew so huge that in 2016, there was around $5 billion worth of virtual goods handled, at that point of time. Yes, that is five times more the entire esports revenue in 2019.
The Cause of Concern
Soon, this whole charade caught the criticism from communities and scrutiny from authorities. Concerns were raised over the ethical and moral grounds of this practice. Betting for obvious reasons has outcomes like result manipulation and unauthorized bid placements. Even though it rocketed the growth of video game communities, it was condemned by developers of the games and even took actions to curb them.
The cause of concern with gambling is the long term effect it has on the people and the industry. The majority of the consumers in the esports industry are fairly young people and exposure to such practices tends to develop behaviour and expectations that are not in sync with the general world. Gambling also tarnishes the spirit of the game, be it any game and especially the one, where players are underage for even legal betting. With esports players being young and of impressionable age, there is a disturbingly great chance of them falling on to the wrong side of the line, just to get big benefits in a short time.
Controversy and conclusion
This practice is identified as an industry plagued by people and authorities. It violates various local laws on gambling and sports betting, with young people across the globe falling prey to it. There are several legal sanctions on ‘Skin gambling’ in many countries. Especially in the UK, where the Gambling Commission led an investigation into ‘Skin gambling’ in 2017 and prosecuted two website owners for organizing and promoting underage gambling. According to their report, there were 11% kids between the age of 11-16 years involved in ‘Skin Gambling’. The UK government is adamant on stalling this unlawful practice with its actions and seeks support from parents as well as video game companies.