New evidence points to match-fixing at highest level of American Counter-Strike
On Aug. 21 last year, one of America’s top teams, iBUYPOWER, played what should have been an easy match against NetcodeGuides.com. But rather than stomping past the competition, they were trounced 16-4. The game, part of the CEVO Professional Season 5, was typified by lackadaisical play and strange behavior on iBUYPOWER’s part: going for knife kills in strange situations, laughing as they lost.
They attributed this to a combination of factors, including a timezone hangover from their time in Cologne for the ESL One Counter-Strike major, as well as a lack of practice on the map.
The next day, however, a young esports journalist provided the Daily Dot with screengrabs of a conversation he had with professional player Shahzeb “ShahZam” Khan before the game. In the messages, Khan declares the match was fixed and iBUYPOWER were going to deliberately lose. When confronted, Khan initially said he'd reveal who was involved in the match-fixing, even as he declared his own innocence. He then changed his mind, offering only a “no comment." While several other players confirmed they had been approached to throw games in the CEVO league, any mention about the specific match dried up.
Now, the Daily Dot has been provided with new corroborating details from multiple sources that strongly indicate the game was fixed and that multiple, unusual bets were placed just prior to the match by a player with strong connections to the players on both sides—wagers that garnered more than $10,000 in earnings. The revelations come amid a terrible winter for professional Counter-Strike, after a number of top players and teams have been implicated in match-fixing and cheating scandals.
On Jan. 5, in a forum thread about an upcoming game featuring Torqued, a team comprised primarily by former iBUYPOWER players, a former girlfriend of one of the players posted a series of incriminating text messages. Sent to her by her former boyfriend, Torqued player Derek “dboorn” Boorn, these texts gave away new details surrounding the iBUYPOWER and Netcodes match and Boorn's apparent involvement in a match-fixing ring.
In the texts, Boorn confirms that the game was fixed and that he had been instructed to bet for the team on alternate accounts. “All that drama about IBP," Boorn says in one message, "they really did throw that match and I bet for them on alternate accounts.”
“They intentionally lost a match this past week,” he adds, before specifically naming Sam “Dazed” Marine, the iBUYPOWER captain at the time. “I even told Dazed while they were playing to make it close and it was too obvious.”
After the text messages were released on ESEA, they quickly spread to Reddit, where they were largely denounced as fake. At that point Ashley “Blacklotus” Leboeuf, the ex-girlfriend, contacted the Daily Dot to bring attention to the texts. Working closely with Leboeuf, we were able to confirm the authenticity of the texts and that they were sent two days after the game in question from a phone that belongs to Derek Boorn.
In a statement to the Daily Dot, Boorn did not deny he sent the messages, saying only that he had "zero interest in participating in any type of revenge mission she has going.”
But Leboeuf, a longstanding member of the community herself, said her motivations had nothing to do with revenge. “It really pains me to do something like this to someone I care about,” she explained. “But I can’t stand that the community respects these players when they do things like this. Amateur players look up to them, and they just use that to get away with anything they want.”
Betting patterns around the game back up Boorn's statements in the text messages. Before the messages were released, there was no way to link the players to the gambling, since we had no idea who placed the bets on the team’s behalf. But in Boorn’s texts, he reveals the name of the individual who allegedly placed the bet, a player known as “cud.”
Duc "cud" Pham, a Vietnamese student in the U.S., has been around the North American professional scene for a while and even played in LunatiK eSports when they won ESEA’s Counter-Strike: Global Offensive Main Division 15th season. He supplements his income through skins betting and trading—his Steam account advertises the sale of keys for the virtual cases that the game "drops" for players.
We were also shown another conversation that took place in September—less a month after the iBUYPOWER match—in which Boorn talks about betting on another game. “Cud told me about some Chinese team throwing, now I’m a mess," Boorn writes, "cause I have to cash out items from CSGL, buy stuff on the market to bet etc.” This shows that the iBUYPOWER game wasn’t the only time Boorn has been involved in placing bets around fixed matches or the first time he had communicated with Pham for those purposes.
Most bets in the Counter-Strike community take place on the site CS:GO Lounge, where players bet in-game items with real-world value on matches. Thanks to information provided by the site, we can confirm that Pham placed several large bets on the game, even going so far as to create multiple accounts (known as "smurfs") solely for the purpose of betting on this game. At the time CS:GO Lounge employee Courtney “Honey” Timpson had his suspicions and had begun his own investigation into the influx of sizable bets surrounding the game. He was surprised to find that the majority of the big winning bets on that game led to Pham or people on Pham’s Steam friends list.
“He had nine smurf accounts that he controlled directly that all placed the maximum value bet that they could, yielding a return of $1193.14 value each. Some of these accounts were created specifically to bet on this match. At the time I thought it was strange because he wasn’t much of a 'YOLO' better. By that I mean, he would sometimes bet on the underdog but never before this much and never with his smurfs.”
Timpson also observed that Pham was friends directly on Steam with several of the players who were accused of match-fixing—as well as Boorn. “I’ve played competitively in this game for a while on ESEA," Pham told the Daily Dot when confronted with the evidence. "I had most of the pros players in my Steam friends list [but] that doesn’t relate to me betting regularly.” After Timpson explained that the betting patterns were strange and that “everyone who actually won big was linked to you,” Pham became defensive. He said he “didn’t wanna get questions like a criminal or something.”
Pham also denied any wrongdoing in a conversation with CS:GO Lounge admins, in which he acted surprised when told that his account was linked to the players. "lol, really?" he responded. "who are they?"
CS:GO Lounge told the Daily Dot that it almost released its findings at the time but felt that links to the team were tenuous. The situation became clearer, however, once we showed CS:GO Lounge Boorn's text messages, and the site decided to go public.
In the text messages, Boorn states that there will be an influx of about $7,000 worth of skins into his Steam account around the day of the game. We have contacted Valve with the full details of our report and are waiting to receive confirmation that this transaction took place and who the skins were then transferred to.
To bring the story full circle, Shahzeb “ShahZam” Khan has now admitted to the Daily Dot that he placed a bet against iBUYPOWER in August. According to Khan, who now plays for fellow American side Cloud9, he was preparing to place a bet on iBUYPOWER when Netcode Guides founder Casey Foster told him to change the bet (read Khan's full statement at the bottom of this story).
"I didn't want to get involved with any of it but I changed my bet," Khan said, "as I thought would be logical at the time while also sharing this information with a friend whom I assumed to have bet the same."
Khan said he'd fully planned on revealing everything to the Daily Dot, but Foster advised him otherwise:
"He advised this would be a huge blow to the North American competitive CS:GO scene and cause iBUYPOWER to lose their sponsor, asking me to not say anything at all. The NA scene was fragile at the time, and in my eyes I was between a rock and a very hard place with the partnership I had with Netcode Guides, as it was my sole source of income for playing the game I love."
"So I denied everything, I stayed quiet, and at the end of the day I took the heat of the crosshairs when this first surfaced months back through an article very similar to this one. I know I wasn't the only person to have known, but I was definitely in a position to do what was right and come forward with this information and I didn't because I was scared. I'm sorry. I've never been involved with any type of match-fixing and I never will be, neither would any of us at Cloud9."
These new revelations couldn’t come at a worse time for the former iBUYPOWER players. The four players, including Sam “Dazed” Marine, have been in talks with several top organizations about potentially joining them, with Evil Geniuses as the front-runners.
“We are always happy to conduct investigations when it comes to match-fixing and will continue to do so," CS:GO Lounge, whose continued efforts to stamp out match-fixing have helped reveal other players involved in similar practices, said in a statement to the Daily Dot. "We don’t tolerate match-fixing at all. Hopefully this will now be the last of match-fixing drama that we have.”
Read Khan's full statement below:
“The day of this match I had placed a bet on iBUYPOWER. I brought up the bet while talking to Casey Foster, he then voice-called me on Steam Friends and told me to change my bet. He made it very clear the match was going to be thrown. I didn't want to get involved with any of it but I changed my bet, as I thought would be logical at the time while also sharing this information with a friend whom I assumed to have bet the same.
I was wrong for a few different reasons; however, I regret first and foremost not contacting league officials and telling them what was going to happen. I didn't have all the details and didn't know any specifics as I was not the one engineering any of this. Also, given my past immaturity at the time, I wasn't sure if anyone would believe me.
Once I found out my conversation with my so called friend was sent to Richard Lewis, I was ready to just tell him my entire story but I first consulted Casey Foster, who controlled my earnings for my partnership with Netcode Guides (a joint venture by him and then iBUYPOWER Team Captain, Sam “DaZeD” Marine), about it.
He advised this would be a huge blow to the North American competitive CS:GO scene and cause iBUYPOWER to lose their sponsor, asking me to not say anything at all. The NA scene was fragile at the time, and in my eyes I was between a rock and a very hard place with the partnership I had with Netcode Guides, as it was my sole source of income for playing the game I love.
So I denied everything, I stayed quiet, and at the end of the day I took the heat of the crosshairs when this first surfaced months back through an article very similar to this one. I know I wasn't the only person to have known, but I was definitely in a position to do what was right and come forward with this information and I didn't because I was scared. I'm sorry. I've never been involved with any type of match fixing and I never will be, neither would any of us at Cloud9.”
Update 10:50am CT, Jan. 27: Valve has banned seven people implicated in this report from participating in majors. These include Duc “cud” Pham, Derek “dboorn” Boorn, Casey Foster, Sam “Dazed” Marine, Braxton “swag” Pierce, Keven “AZK” Larivière, and Joshua “Steel” Nissan.
Valve issued the following statement in an official blog post:
Professional players, their managers, and teams’ organization staff, should under no circumstances gamble on CS:GO matches, associate with high volume CS:GO gamblers, or deliver information to others that might influence their CS:GO bets.
In 2014 we witnessed the explosive growth of CS:GO as a competitive eSport, and 2015 has already started strong. But as CS:GO grows, it’s important to consider the substantial impact an individual professional Counter-Strike player has on the health and stability of their sport. Performing before an audience of millions of fans, they are ambassadors for their game – the strength of professional Counter-Strike comes from the integrity of its players and teams.
Photo by FleetFeet/DeviantArt (CC BY-SA 3.0)