It doesn't happen often, but when Riot decides to crack down on teams they crack down on them hard. Australia was rocked by the Riot banhammer a couple of years ago after Team Immunity were found to have failed to pay match payments to their players on time.
But today's bans are a little bit bigger. Not one, not two, but three League of Legends teams have been banned from participating in any developer-sanctioned leagues, with a third given 10 days to sell their lucrative LCS spot.
Photo: LoL Esports
The first ban was handed down to Team Renegades (RNG) and Team Dragon Knights, the former of which is better known locally for the Australian players that make up their Counter-Strike: Global Offensive roster. Riot says evidence has emerged showing that the current owner of RNG — Christopher Mykles — reached a secret deal with Chris Badawi to give the latter 50% of the organisation once his Riot-imposed suspension expired.
So what's the fuss? Badawi, a former attorney specialising in patent litigation, was suspended by Riot last year for allegedly trying to poach players from rival organisations. But the saga against Badawi spiralled into a sprawling drama that resulted in several other owners and team managers issuing statements against the RNG co-founder.
The bizarre part of this was how many of the allegations were largely unverifiable. Daily Dot wrote that one statement from Team Impulse described Badawi behaving in a "ulterior motive driven" fashion, despite never having contacted him or RNG directly.
It's worth re-reading Daily Dot's investigation into last year's ban. It also provides further context into one of Riot's rulings today.
Once Badawi was banned, he stepped down from the team and handed over full control to former caster Christopher Mykles. Riot now says that Mykles had agreed to give Badawi his co-ownership back, something the RNG manager never disclosed during the developer's vetting process for LCS team owners and something in clear violation of LCS contracts.
Per LCS rules, any present or future right to ownership is considered a firm ownership stake regardless of the date of effect, which makes any such agreement reached with Badawi during the term of his suspension to be a direct violation of League rules. Further, Mykles failed to disclose this arrangement during the LCS team vetting process, which we consider to be an intentional and material omission apparently designed to circumvent the clear and public ban of Badawi. For the avoidance of doubt, had Mykles openly disclosed this ownership arrangement, Renegades would not have been accepted into the LCS.
If you're a RNG fan, however, that's far from the worst part.
Riot went on to say that multiple sources have confirmed that RNG has failed "to honour payment and contract provisions" for their League members, as well as failing to "maintain a safe environment for all team members". The developer added that they would not release more evidence of Renegades' transgressions to protect those involved:
People have placed their trust in us by stepping forward and we need to protect them from possible retribution. Further, some of these are serious allegations that extend beyond our LCS ecosystem, and it is not our goal to affect these parties outside of [League of Legends] esports.
That last sentence is a little troubling, since it indicates that other parts of the organisation could have been affected by an allegedly unsafe environment (like the Australians that make up RNG's CS:GO roster).
As a result of all of this, RNG has been given 10 days to "sell all rights and legal claim to their LCS berth". It's an exceptionally short window, and Riot says they have a backup plan in place if a sale can't be processed in time. It's not hard to imagine that someone will look upon the ban as a massive opportunity though — with high-profile figures in sports like Mark Cuban and Shaquille O'Neal getting involved in esports, another investor can't be too far around the corner.
But that's only the tip of the iceberg.
As part of their investigation, Riot also alleged that RNG and Team Dragon Knights had "deliberately misled League officials" when it came to trade requests. The two teams traded players in early March: Alexey "Alex Ich" Ichetovkin, Cuong "Flaresz" Ta and Lawrence "Trance" Amador joined TDK, while Noh "Ninja" Geon-woo and Shin "Seraph" Woo-yeong jumped ship to RNG.
It now appears that some of the players involved were still receiving compensation and even housing from their former teams "even after the trade was completed". Here's what Riot says:
Subsequently, League officials received evidence that indicated that some of the players were compensated and/or housed by their former teams even after the trade was completed, including payments for the month following the trade. As part of the trade approval process, REN and TDK had submitted a document which was represented to be the summary of the trade agreement, but it included no provisions beyond simple assignment of the contracts, and did not establish cause for the former team to continue payments to the now-traded players.
For their part in misleading Riot, TDK has been barred from the upcoming Summer Split. They've also been given a 10-day deadline to sell their spot, and due to past transgressions Riot has banned TDK owners Chris and Sean Shim "indefinitely ... from any association or affiliation with a team in a Riot-sanctioned league" until 2019.
And that's not the end of it. Remember earlier on when Team Impulse issued a statement against Renegades? It turns out that might have been a case of the pot calling the kettle black, because Riot's gone and banned them from the LCS as well.
This has all happened in the one day.
A couple of months ago, Riot kicked off an audit of all League of Legends contracts. As part of that, they found that Team Impulse — who acquired their LCS spot from LMQ — had not signed any contracts with their players, despite filing summary sheets to Riot claiming otherwise.
"Upon further investigation, it was additionally determined that no player from the previous split had contracts either," Riot added.
As if that wasn't dodgy enough, the developer also found that the organisation had been "chronically late" in paying "minimum player compensation" payments to its players going back as far as 2015. It gets worse:
During the 2015 Summer Split, League officials learned that TIP players had not been paid for the duration of the split, and immediately intervened to ensure that MPC was paid in full to date for all players. During the investigation following the contract audit in March 2016, it was discovered that TIP had again failed to pay its players their owed MPC for the duration of the split.
Riot still believes that several Impulse players are owed money, but since proper contracts were never signed in the first place nobody can really be sure. Still, that doesn't stop the League of Legends maker from kicking Team Impulse to the kerb. They've got 10 days to sell their legal holding on their LCS position as well, meaning that three separate LCS spots are now up for grabs this month alone.
It's an esports firesale, really. Impulse were also fined US$20,000 from their final team payment for gross mismanagement.
Giving Riot credit for their strong action is harder in this instance, however, since the alleged misbehaviour had gone unchecked for so long. According to the developer, they chose not to penalise Team Impulse last year because "they had been reasonably cooperative and prompt" when players first complained about not being paid.
"Moving forward, we’ll be putting much harsher penalties into place for teams who fail to pay their players promptly, hopefully avoiding any repeated patterns," the developer promises.
The sad element of all of this is that the players could still ultimately lose out in the end. Whoever buys one of the three LCS spots isn't obligated to retain the existing roster — especially given that the combined record of Renegades and Impulse is a dismal 11-27.
It's also not known whether the ban against Renegades could affect their players in other games. Their CS:GO team is likely to stay put, given their appearances in the ESEA Pro League and the televised E-LEAGUE. But the language used by Riot is concerning, although some of the players have come out in defence of the organisation on social media.
I have never been mistreated on renegades and the entire experience working with the team has been a pleasure, players and especially staff.
— RF Legendary (@RF_Legendary) May 9, 2016
I stand to back up the "players first" which was initial claim made by the team, because it was fulfilled.
— RF Legendary (@RF_Legendary) May 9, 2016
Mykles has also pledged to release a statement later. In the meantime, he's described Riot's claims as "baseless" and that players were never mistreated to his knowledge.
To my knowledge there was never any misconduct regarding player, nor have any of my players ever alerted me of any problems.
— MonteCristo (@MonteCristo) May 9, 2016
We'll keep you posted as the story develops.