In an unprecedented move, Riot Games has booted a professional League of Legends team owner from participating in its own championship series until 2017. The surprisingly harsh ban is punishment for the man trying to scoop up players from rival teams in the middle of the current LCS 2015 season.
The offending team owner is Chris "Doombang" Badawi, who heads up the North American League of Legends team Renegades — an L.A.-based eSports organisation that was known as Misfits until last week, when it officially rebranded itself and picked up a professional Counter-Strike team along the way. It's an inauspicious debut for a newly-minted team, seeing as Riot has effectively forced Badawi to divest his ownership in Renegades and retire from any "officially recognised LCS team position (i.e. owner, coach, manager)" if the team still wants to participate in any League of Legends Championship Series tournaments or other competitions. He also has to give up a minority stake he holds in Team Dragon Knights (TDK), another North American League team.
According to a competitive ruling Riot issued last night on its League of Legends eSports site, Badawi is being punished for "tampering" with rival pro teams by approaching their players on multiple occasions and trying to recruit them to Renegades by offering them salaries without informing the other teams' management first. This kind of under-the-table dealing is expressly forbidden by Riot, and the ruling said that the company chose to punish Badawi harshly for his repeated offenses because they are "taking a harder line on tampering and poaching to ensure that it is clear that they are unacceptable."
Coaches and team owners are allowed to try to recruit new players, of course, even if they're under contract with another team already. Riot only stipulates that management from both teams needs to be aware of these negotiations as they're occurring.
Riot's ruling identified two separate occasions when Badawi tried to hire pro League players already under contract with other teams — first with Yuri "Keithmcbrief" Jew, then later with Diego "Quas" Ruiz, both of whom play for the North American League team Team Liquid. Even though Riot caught Badawi trying to recruit Jew, told him he wasn't allowed to poach players already under contract in the middle of an LCS season, and explicitly warned him against doing so again, the ruling said Badawi did the same thing again with Ruiz. While Badawi admitted to Riot that he contacted Ruiz to talk about a position on Renegades, he denied actually offering the player a salary. Riot said in its ruling that Badawi's statement here is simply "false."
"Due to this pattern of willful tampering, we are declining to certify Chris Badawi as an eligible LCS owner and issuing a one-year ban on him holding any officially recognised LCS team position (i.e. owner, coach, manager)," the ruling said. "In order for TDK and RNG to be eligible to play in the LCS next season, Chris will have to divest his ownership stake in both teams."
Renegades players didn't take kindly to the news last night on Twitter:
I think I broke mirror somewhere...
— Alexey Ichetovkin (@AlexIchLoL) June 24, 2015
esports is great ha ha
— Ainslie Wyllie (@maplestreetlol) June 24, 2015
While Riot has penalised team owners for poaching (and then lying about poaching) before, the company hasn't expelled one from LCS like this before. In 2014, for instance, they fined Counter-Logic Gaming's owner for $US10,000 for trying to recruit a player still under contract with another team, but they only ended up suspending CLG's head coach from LCS for three weeks. The ruling said that they chose a harsher punishment for Badawi because their previous punishments didn't act as enough of a deterrent:
When we considered appropriate penalties, we took into account the fact that Badawi had engaged in multiple instances of tampering, even when aware of the ruleset which expressly forbids it and after being directly briefed about tampering rules by LCS officials. Tampering is an offence which we take very seriously, and recent events have shown that our previous penalties are not achieving the goal of deterring organisations from this kind of unscrupulous behaviour. As a result, we are taking a harder line on tampering and poaching to ensure that it is clear that they are unacceptable.
Riot's ruling doesn't technically impact any of the other members of Renegades, and the team itself is still allowed to participate in LCS tournaments. But since Badawi was instrumental in bringing the team together, we'll have to see if and how it survives his forced departure.