UPDATE (April 30th 2021): Developers NetherRealm (Mortal Kombat) and Bandai Namco (Tekken, Soul Calibur etc) have published almost identical statements announcing they will no longer be working with WePlay.
The tournament organiser responded with a statement of its own:
Original article (April 21st 2021): Esports tournament operators ESL and WePlay have commented on recent criticism of their partnerships with controversial sponsor 1xbet.
WePlay announced their 1xbet Ultimate Fighting Championship partnership last month, while ESL brought 1xbet on board as global betting partner for the CSGO ESL Pro Tour and Dota 2 ESL One.
These partnerships drew criticism from some members of the esports and fighting game community (FGC) over 1xbet’s reputation and past behaviour.
Russian online gambling company 1xbet had previously struck sponsorship deals with English Premier League football clubs Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham, who were accused of ‘whitewashing’ 1xbet’s reputation.
In 2019, a Sunday Times investigation found that the Russian online gambling company promoted a ‘pornhub casino’ with topless croupiers, bets on children’s sports and advertising on illegal websites including cockfighting livestreams.
This prompted the UK Gambling Commission to step in and suspend 1xbet’s UK operations – and to this day the firm’s website does not load in the UK.
Furthermore, last year 1xbet was accused of running illegal online casinos, not charging personal income tax from winnings, and other illicit activities, according to this 1xbet report by Forbes.
1xbet previously said it ‘abides by all the relevant laws and regulations in every jurisdiction’ it operates within, and said that third party partners were to blame for its ads appearing on illicit websites.
ESL Gaming said in a statement sent to Esports News UK: “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.”
WePlay Esports sent the following statement to us: “The purpose of the WePlay Esports and 1xBet partnership is the expansion of the esports scene and the opportunities for everyone involved in it. We are aware of the fact that 1xBet does not operate in certain countries.
When asked if WePlay has any comment or advice for its UK viewers given 1xbet is not operating in the UK, WePlay said: “1xBet has informed us they never had their own license in the UK. Their sole activity in the UK was sponsorship and advertising agreements with international brands. Any activity should be done in accordance with local regulations, including and not limited to the UK.”
Esports News UK reached out to 1xbet, which responded to our initial request for comment last week, but did not get back to us with a statement.
1xbet was founded in Cyprus in 2007 and has a Curaçao eGaming License.
Dom is an award-winning writer who graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
As a long-time gamer having first picked up the NES controller in the late ’80s, he has written for a range of publications including GamesTM, Nintendo Official Magazine, industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games and others. He worked as head of content for the British Esports Association up until February 2021, when he stepped back to work full-time on Esports News UK and as an esports consultant helping brands and businesses better understand the industry.