Understanding the CS:GO Scandal, the Law, and Valve’s Role in All of This

July 7, 2016 by

Is this messy and hard to understand? We’re here to help.

Recently, you may have seen or heard things involving Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, the fourth game in the Counter-Strike series that was co-developed by Valve and Hidden Path Entertainment. If you have, you probably know it’s nothing good. Over the past week, there’s been a maelstrom of controversy involving shady gambling, YouTubers lying to their audiences, and–of course–the typical confusion and anger of any big internet uproar. So, where are we in all of this and just what the heck is going on? Well, let’s break it down in chronological order starting with CS:GO.

CS:GO, if you’re unfamiliar with it, is a multiplayer shooter that’s been around for about four years now. Players can engage in standard tactical warfare against competing teams. The setup is similar to any other online shooter, except it’s got two pretty big things going for it.

First, it’s huge. The professional and competitive scene is one of the biggest online communities out there. Second, it supports microtransactions in the form of unique gun skins. The former is great. The latter has issues, due to Steam’s marketplace, which encourages trading, buying, and selling these cosmetic upgrades at sometimes egregious prices. The storefront boasts a place for players to sell rare skins for huge sums of cash, some even going for thousands of dollars. In effect, it’s become quite lucrative for hardcore professional players. And that’s the setup for our scandal.

Two online personalities by the names of TmarTn (aka Trevor Martin) and ProSyndicate (or TheSyndicateProject aka Tom Cassell) popped up at about the same time claiming they had found a site by the name of CSGO Lotto that had allowed them to gamble their CS:GO skins against another player’s skins, winner-take-all in a glorified coin flip. Thus, in turn, allowing them to make money. It wasn’t unheard of as the site they had brought up was one of several already out there. Eventually, though, they had managed to score the site as an official sponsor, regaling their audiences with stories of riches that were easy to achieve just by playing along.

This went on for months since its creation in September of last year. The only problem? As it turned out, TmarTn and ProSyndicate were co-owners of the site. Their victories, their stories, and their sponsorships were all fabricated. In the process, they had exposed their combined audience of millions to gambling. Statistically speaking, there would have been minors watching the endless streams and videos, too, telling them that gambling on their website was a cool way to make easy money.

So how did these two get exposed? It came in the form of videos by HonorTheCall, a much smaller YouTube channel. In the three-part video series, documents were shown with both TmarTn and ProSyndicate’s real names listed as the owners of the popular gambling site. Later, h3h3Productions, a much bigger channel with a massive following corroborated the accusations. And the two being accused responded in two totally different ways.

TmarTn posted a vlog in which he called HonorTheCall a liar (which has since been removed). ProSyndicate, however, stated over Twitter  that he felt he was fine and that he had sufficiently disclaimed his role in all of this. He also said he would do a better job of it in the future. But there’s more. An hour prior to me writing this, TmarTn posted an apology video, seemingly going back on his initial stance. In the video, he apologized and admitted guilt, although claiming that his involvement with CSGO Lotto has always been on public record. But there’s even more! As of now, the apology video has been taken down without any reason being given. And that’s where things stand for these two as of this publication.

Currently, Valve is being sued. They’ve had a class action lawsuit filed against them for making it easy for Steam users to link their accounts to third-party gambling sites. Potentially, this is allowing minors to connect as well. Valve’s motivation for this comes in the form of a 15% cut on all sales done through the store so it’s entirely possible that this isn’t a simple oversight.

Whether this is all explicitly illegal, however, remains to be seen. The transactions of digital goods are in a sort-of legal gray-zone as of right now. Simply put, the law hasn’t caught up with technology.

Where it ends up, though, is for the courts to decide.

About Jonathon Garrard

Jonathon lives just south of Indianapolis, Indiana, and he's beaten a video game or two in his time. He also writes books. You should follow him on Twitter.