A partnership between the esports organization WePlay and a controversial Russian gambling site called 1xBet is making waves as notable fighting game developers and publishers are beginning to sever ties to the tournament organizer.
At the exact same time today, NetherRealm Studios, the developers behind Mortal Kombat, and Bandai Namco, the publisher responsible for Dragon Ball FighterZ, Tekken and Soulcalibur, released statements announcing that they would be withdrawing their games from WePlay-sponsored events and “would no longer be working with WePlay as an esports tournament organizing partner.”
— Bandai Namco Esports (@BNEesports) April 30, 2021
— NetherRealm (@NetherRealm) April 30, 2021
The “differences in vision” that both companies seem to be alluding to looks to stem from controversy surrounding 1xBet. The gambling firm has an upsetting record to say the least, with a 2019 investigation by The Times revealing that they promoted bets on children’s sports and advertised on sites that hosted cockfighting live streams, as well as hosting tons of their own illegal casinos. The investigation prompted a takedown of 1xBet’s site in the UK, which reportedly still remains down to this day.
A partnership with the Tottenham, Liverpool and Chelsea football clubs of the English Premier League was struck up in an effort to “whitewash” the site’s image, and the known creators of the firm (whose board is largely unknown and purposely obscured) are wanted in the UK and have fled Russia and gone to Cyprus, where the company is seemingly based out of.
The fighting game community, and the larger esports community, has been wrestling with these developments ever since the partnership was announced in March of this year, with this withdrawal by NetherRealm and Bandai Namco being the most significant repercussion of 1xBet’s less-than-sterling reputation.
ESL, the world’s biggest esports organization, also partnered with 1xBet and responded to Esports News UK’s inquiries earlier this month, saying, “ESL is aware of allegations made against one of our partners for the ESL Pro Tour in CS:GO, and our ESL One Dota 2 competitions. Integrity is a number one priority for ESL, and as such, we are currently investigating this matter.”
With NetherRealm and Bandai Namco pulling their support of WePlay, it’s now a wonder if other developers and publishers will follow suit and if WePlay’s partnership with 1xBet will continue.