Two weeks ago it was brought to my attention that there is a pornographic video out there with over 1.6 million views that contains footage from Midas Mode 2.0 in the background. I turned on the video, expecting to see some meme-worthy content, but was surprised to uncover something else. The video starts slow, but 30 seconds into it a LootBet logo appears in the background and occupies the focus of the actors for over a minute and half, serving as an introduction to their adult content.

This struck me as odd.

The video in question stars a popular adult content creator named Freya Stein that has been growing in notoriety. As one of the only digital creatives that mixes hardcore pornography with Dota 2 content, Freya currently has over 225,000 subscribers on PornHub and 103 million lifetime views. She gained notice from mainstream Dota fans after publishing a video called “Blowjob at dota 2 tournament – Freya Stein” in July of 2019. The video is nearly 11 minutes in length, about half of which features Freya walking around the venue of the Epicenter 2019 Dota 2 Major.

Her most popular videos cater to a more general audience; however, she has several videos that have Dota commentary audible in the background. It’s a brilliant ploy to get free promotion from high profile casters that inevitably can’t resist the urge to talk about their unsolicited presence in these videos. Richard Campbell’s similar experience earlier in 2019 was one of the first times I’d heard about something like this, though it seems to be happening more and more.

Freya’s videos seem to follow a general blueprint involving a setup that almost feels like a youtube-style vlog before the pornographic acts occur. In the case of the Midas Mode video, about 25% of the footage is the just the actors talking and looking at the computer- until it suddenly cuts to intercourse.

The dialogue is exclusively in Russian, but it seems clear the two actors are watching a live Dota match and discussing who might win- all with a clearly visible LootBet logo. As I watched more of the video, I found that LootBet branding was for more than 50% of the video.

I contacted our audio engineer at Moonduck, who happens to speak Russian, and asked him if he could translate the opening dialogue. He confirmed that the couple spent over a minute and a half discussing whether to bet on Navi or OG. Freya is wearing a Navi jacket throughout the video and, of course, suggests that it might be worth it to bet on Navi for the second match.

What really stood out to me was how the LootBet logo changes after a cutscene about five minutes into the video. Freya changes position to be covering the computer screen then suddenly puts her down to reveal a different webpage with bold text stating “€200 Deposit Bonus – x2 to your deposit” at the top of the screen.

At this point I was all but certain this is a paid advertisement, but I reached out to Freya on twitter to see if she had anything to say about it. Surprisingly enough she replied to my inquiry and confirmed that she was contacted by a Russian representative from LootBet and paid to do a video that included product placement. She explained this is “very original and effective of advertising” and that “Russian companies are increasingly using this method to show their goods.”

I was surprised by Freya’s direct and candid response. Based on my experience working with other, high-profile betting sponsors in esports, most of them adhere to strict regulations regarding how they market their services. Exact parameters vary by jurisdiction; however, most share in the same principles of supporting responsible gambling, not targeting underage gamblers, and not implying success (financial or otherwise) as a result of gambling.

All of the reputable betting partners I’ve worked with in esports would not have signed off on this kind of product placement, for fear that this would qualify as implying success with women as a result of gambling. The actors don’t explicitly say that; however, it does seem to be implied by their behavior. In the case of this video, immediately after placing bets the male actor is “rewarded” by having intercourse with an attractive woman.

This type of marketing is transparent and obvious to many consumers; however, not everyone is privy to the ruse. According to a 2017 study on the influence of marketing on sports betting, marketing plays a “strong role in the normalization of gambling in sports” and has “has the potential to increase the risks and subsequent harms associated with these products.” The study concludes that legislators need to constantly evaluate the evolving gambling landscape that has been known to use innovative marketing strategies.

Unfortunately in this case, it is unlikely that LootBet is breaking any specific laws in the jurisdictions they operate. Their sports book is licensed by the Government of Curacao, where regulation regarding marketing is much less stringent. I reached out to LootBet for a comment regarding this situation, but have not yet received a response. 

Even if LootBet is operating within the legal limits of the law, I question their ethics in creating content like this. Just last year in 2019, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released a guide called “Disclosures 101 for Social Media Influencers” that outlines disclosure requirements when influencers are paid to promote products or services. The goal is to reduce the amount of deceptive advertisements posted on social media under the guise of organic reviews. According to the latest regulations, influencers are required to disclose “ any financial, employment, personal, or family relationship with a brand” and place it so it’s “hard to miss.”

Obviously this is an American regulatory body that has no jurisdiction here, but I think policies like these are indicative of the ethical challenges facing modern-day marketing strategies. Disclosure and more transparency regarding financial relationships and product placement only serve to protect the consumers that need it most. Conversely, allowing this type of emotionally manipulative advertising hurts those that are most vulnerable. In this case, the consumers that are already struggling to gamble responsibly.

The video in question doesn’t even tag “dota 2” as a search term, despite many of Freya’s other Dota themed videos tagged as such. If you search “Freya Stein Dota 2” on PornHub, the video doesn’t show up until the fourth page of search results. There’s no clear disclosure that this is a paid advertisement.

My conclusion in this discovery is that although LootBet is likely in the legal right, they appear to be engaging in unethical marketing practices. They’re doing so in a manner that is quite clever, and probably quite effective, but unethical nonetheless. I haven’t heard much dialogue around this specific marketing strategy- probably because it requires one to admit to watching pornography to even have this conversation.

But it’s important to bring unethical practices to light and out potential bad actors. That said, I don’t really fault Freya Stein for her participation in this content. In fact, I want to thank her for being so transparent upon inquiry. She wasn’t obligated to reply, and I appreciate her honesty here. Overall I admire that she’s found creative ways to monetize her niche content and hope she continues to find success.

Ultimately I hope regulation catches up to LootBet, soon rather than later. There might be other betting sites doing this very same thing, though so far I haven’t been able to find any other examples. Eventually I hope there is enough legal and social pressure to prevent this type of content from being created… at least without clear disclosures. 

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