Total prize money for eSports hit a bewildering US$150 million in 2018, and that massive pot is making the industry a juicy target for hackers.
A recent Dota 2 tournament in Shanghai, China gave out more than US$30 million in prizes — the largest take from a single eSports event.
“Large cash prizes can motivate unscrupulous players to look for an unfair advantage over other players, which in turn creates a market for game cheats in the underground,” said cyber security firm Trend Micro in a new report.
“These competitions also bring out underground entities looking to take advantage of esports for political, financial, or ideological reasons.”
The growth in eSports viewership is massive and on track to eclipse all other professional sporting leagues except for the NFL, according to a recent study by Syracuse University. People watch tournaments in person as well as on video platforms like Twitch, Mixer and Youtube.
Fornite player Tyler "Ninja" Blevins makes US$300,000 a month through streaming alone. Trend Micro says more players like him will have their data stolen through ransomware, be defeated by players using illegal cheats, or have their money stolen.
Gaming companies and tournaments face reputational risk through stolen accounts, match fixing and illegal gambling.
Trend Micro says it already sees signs hackers are preparing to ramp up activity over the next three years.
“Many cybercriminal underground forums already have sections dedicated to gaming or esports sales,” says the report.
“The market for stolen gaming accounts and hacks are flooded, much like the market for stolen credit card accounts.”
Trend Micro says the industry isn’t sitting on its hands and has ways to defend itself.
“Luckily, gaming companies and tournament organizers are already aware of their status as targets, and are always on the lookout for new cheating techniques and tools,” reads the report.
“There are also new security features being developed for the industry, as well as different anti-cheat services dedicated to keep esports fair.”
Jessy Bains is a senior reporter at Yahoo Finance Canada. Follow him on Twitter @jessysbains.