When Riot Games said that it was suspending the coach of the European League of Legends team Copenhagen Wolves, it seemed that the team had managed to survive its brush with a major eSports scandal. But two high-profile departures this week and a series of leaked documents show the team is still reeling.
Copenhagen Wolves' troubles began on June 4, when Riot's eSports arm put out a formal ruling that said the team's head coach, Karl "Dentist" Krey, had knowingly lied to his players about conspiring with professional League of Legends commentator Martin "Deficio" Lynge -- telling players he'd received privileged information from Lynge that would help them win future LCS games. The ruling also said that Lynge was planning to join the Copenhagen Wolves in the near future in an official capacity, and was already working with Krey to recruit other top players to the team. Riot ultimately concluded that Krey was "complicit in tampering that could compromise the integrity of the LCS."
Now three weeks later, the Copenhagen Wolves has suddenly lost two players from its starting five-person lineup in the span of two days: Karim "Airwaks" Benghalia, who announced his departure yesterday, and Joey "Youngbuck" Steltenpool. Both players highlighted a toxic team environment following Krey and Lynge's suspension as the primary reason for leaving.
Benghalia said in a Twitter announcement yesterday that he was leaving the Copenhagen Wolves because of the persistently "horrible" atmosphere Riot's ruling on Krey had engendered:
I want to give an update about my career.
Since the incident about Dentist/Deficio/Riot (during 1st week of lcs) the atmosphere in the team has been horrible but I kept tryharding and tried to bring wins for CW while hoping to see improvement in the team atmosphere but sadly it got worse everyday, I started to lose my will to keep playing with the team. For these reasons I shared with the team my desire to leave and asked them to find a replacement. I hope to have the chance to get back in the scene and wish best of luck to my old teammates.
To be fair, Benghalia hasn't been doing very well this season. The Daily Dot reported back in April that CW's management had put Benhalia on the chopping block due to his middling performance. The player's criticism of the team environment might not be the most reliable testimony, then. But his description was reaffirmed a day later by the departure of fellow CW player Joey "Youngbuck" Steltenpool.
In a brief statement he posted on Twitter today, Steltenpool echoed his colleague's concerns -- saying that CW's team environment had been "awful" for the past several weeks:
Last night I expressed to the team and staff my desire to leave the team. The atmosphere in the team has been awful this split and I've come to accept that it won't change anytime soon. I will try my hardest in this weeks LCS games but hope that CW will find a replacement for me shortly after. I want to thank all the fans for their support throughout the years, through thick and thin.
League of Legends is still a game I love playing, and love teaching others in so I will stick around and consider my options after this is all said and done
These two back-to-back resignations look even worse for the Copenhagen Wolves because coach Krey's email and social media accounts were hacked around the same time his players started to leave. The hack resulted in a handful of Krey's private communications being leaked through his Twitter account.
The documents don't add up to a flattering picture of Krey. One image of a direct message he sent on Twitter shows him dismissing Benghalia's remarks about leaving the team as "bullshit." Another much lengthier document shows an IM conversation between coach Krey and Jakob Lund Kristensen, the owner of the Copenhagen Wolves, that took place at the end of April -- a little more than a month before Riot issued its ruling for Krey and Lynge.
In the leaked conversation, the two speak about their planned attempt to create a "super-team" full of the best League of Legends players in the region -- their hope being to make CW "a top 3 western team" and make a lot of money in the process. They were hoping to begin assembling this super-team at the end of the current season, a move that would require them to replace most of their current roster. The two discuss player salaries, agreeing that they want to reserve more money for their star player Aleš "Freeze" Kněžínek while keeping the other four players' lower "since it's more than likely [they're] gonna be replaced anyway."
At one point in the conversation, the two spoke about a deal they're planning to make with the streaming company Azubu that would give the team $US1,000 per player for all CW players who live-stream League gameplay on the service for more than thirty hours each month. The two agreed that they wanted to ask for more money from Azubu, but keep the amount their players receive at $US1,000. Except Freeze again, whom they wanted to reward with more money than his teammates.
Obviously, an owner of a team and a head coach wanting to give more money to a top player is nothing new. What left many League eSports fans up in arms was the fact that the two mention wanting to keep all of this -- the cut they'd take from Azubu's sponsorship, and Freeze's comparatively high salary -- secret from the rest of the team.
"I want to offer players 1000 USD to stream 30 hours and take the other 1000 to the org," Kristensen wrote. "except for you and Freeze."
"That's something no one has to know," Krey replied. "We tell the players its 1K if 30+ hours."
"Exactly," Kristensen wrote back.
Writing in a series of Reddit posts today, Krey admitted that he Kristensen and Lynge were discussing a "super-team," and that CW had been negotiating a sponsorship with Azubu recently. The only thing he really took issue with from the blowback he's received was the accusation that he'd actually tried to withhold money from his players -- saying that the deal with Azubu never actually went through.
"I did at no time try to hold money back," Krey wrote this morning in a post on Reddit that's been downvoted into relative obscurity. "Never did I prevent anyone from getting more money or convinced anyone with deciding power to hold money back. Quite the [opposite]."
Krey went on to say that he'd "declined rush roster changes" for CW despite making plans for the so-called super team. Furthermore, he insisted that he "did involve the players in our plans," saying: "I was open about what is going on and what direction we want to go."
Kristensen had similar responses to the offending parts of the chat logs when I spoke to him on Skype today.
"The entire Azubu thing is taken insanely out of context," Kristensen told me. "We were at the time discussing a potential deal with Azubu as a streaming partner. They basically told us that they would only partner with us if the payments were contingent on actually streaming and not just a set retainer, so they offered us a set amount per month per player who hit a certain hour benchmark -- basically paying $US1K to the player and $US1K to the organisation."
The reason they planned to offer more money to Freeze, he explained, was because he has a large following on his Twitch channel and therefore stood to lose the most by switching his streaming over to a competing service.
As for Krey's comments about the CW players not having to know about the deal, Kristensen said: "As far as I remember, he was referring to not telling them the entire deal which is quite common."
Similarly, Kristensen told me the so-called "super team" was just some open-ended plans that he'd been working up with Krey to change up the current CW roster at the end of the season -- a process he says is standard for every team manager and owner.
"I had asked Karl to prepare a list of players that could be interesting to approach once the off season started, as we do every year," Kristensen said. "If I didn't do that, I wouldn't be doing my job. I am not hired by the board of CW to maintain a bottom tier team."
Kristensen therefore sees a lot of hypocrisy in the many critical eSports fans and League Championship Series (LCS) followers who've been deriding him and Krey for manipulating and mistreating their players over the past few days. Previously, the Copenhagen Wolves had a very different reputation -- for being a team perennially stuck in last place. Now that they have finally started to get serious about beefing up their roster and improving their standard, he argues, they're just getting a ton of flak from the opposite end of the equation.
"I have been flamed hard for the past 1.5 years for keeping players like Youngbuck and Unlimited on the roster despite people clearly thinking they are inferior players," Kristensen told me. "Reddit has been on and on about how we lack ambition and will to fight for more than survival."
"Once we express that ambition, in a private and unpublic setting none the less, we are disloyal and backstabbers," he concluded.
The one major failing Krey owned up to, meanwhile, was being too brutally honest with Copenhagen Wolves players about his future aspirations to replace them and build CW into a super-team -- not secretive or deceptive. From another of his Reddit posts this morning:
Internally, I was honest to the players in the current lineup excluding Shook and including Airwaks from the time the topic came up. They knew that the Copenhagen Wolves had big plans for the future and they knew that their position is at risk. They also knew about Deficio getting an offer and possibly being involved with the Copenhagen Wolves Management in the future. All of this was not a secret. But as it turned out, it should have been because it affected my players in a bad fashion and I am sorry for this. I thought being honest to them would push their motivation to the absolute maximum - it did not and especially after the Competetive Ruling it did more harm than benefit to them.
Neither of the CW players who departed in the past two days mentioned their salaries or Krey's behaviour towards them specifically when explaining their decisions. It's not hard to see why they'd describe the team environment as "awful" and "horrible" if their coach was making it eminently clear he saw them as replaceable, though.
Copenhagen Wolves announced yesterday that they're recruiting League pro Ilyas "Shook" Hartsema to replace Benghalia -- the first of the two players to announce their departure this week. The team hasn't said who they plan to replace YoungBuck with yet, but the player plans to stay with the team until they find someone.
"I think we should be able to resolve it relatively quickly," Kristensen told me about YoungBuck's interim lame duck status on the team.