Riot, creator of League of Legends, announced a ruling suspending pro player Hankil "Road" Yoon for one match and fining him $US2,000 ($2,636). The ruling came after it was discovered that Road had been verbally abusing other players in the game while solo-queuing for ranked matches in order to practice. This leaves I May, Road's team, in a tough spot as they battle to make it out of the group stage at the League of Legends World Championship.
Later today, the last six matches before moving onto the tournament's knockout stage will play out in Group B. While South Korean powerhouse, SK Telecom 1T, are expected to win the group overall, the second seed will be a hotly contested three-way race between Cloud9, Flash Wolves, and I May.
According to Riot, the short version of events that led to its ruling are as follows:
"On September 19, Hankil "Road" Yoon used racially insensitive language to abuse a player during a game on the Korean server.
Road was found to have been verbally abusive toward his teammates in Ranked play going as far back as late August and as recently as a game on October 5.
Road is being issued a 1-game suspension and a $US2000 ($2,636) fine for repeated instances of moderate to severe verbal abuse and one instance of racially-insensitive rhetoric."
Road's toxic behaviour first came to light late last week when a Reddit post showed the player verbally attacking Echo Fox's Henrik "Froggen" Hansen who match-making had placed on his team. After Froggen kept getting killed by the opposing team, Road spammed the chat with "go die."
This is a screenshot of the in-game chat where Road, playing under the account "Jax Mundo Twich," flammed Foggen.
Road later tried to explain his behaviour in a Facebook post. According to a translation by The Score, it read, "The words 'go die' that I said to the pro was not telling him to go die but it was because he had so many deaths and every time he went to mid, he would get ganked and die."
Road continued, "My ability to communicate in English is very limited, which is why I said it that way." Road apologised for the issue and any trouble it may have caused his coach and team during the Worlds 2016 tournament, but denied that he had actually told Foggen to kill himself.
imay bot lane is pretty toxic. there's definitely no behavior check before worlds tournament
— Henrik Hansen (@FroggenLoL) October 6, 2016
When Riot reviewed the matter further, however, they found several other instances of apparent abuse, including racist remarks. As Riot noted when explaining the ruling, "In a particularly severe instance of toxicity, during one game on September 19, he verbally attacked a teammate using racially insensitive language twice." This behaviour specifically ran afoul of sections 9.2.4 and 9.2.7 of the rules governing professional League of Legends play:
"9.2.4 Discrimination and Denigration.
Team Members may not offend the dignity or integrity of a country, private person or group of people through contemptuous, discriminatory or denigrating words or actions on account of race, skin colour, ethnic, national or social origin, gender, language, religion, political opinion or any other opinion, financial status, birth or any other status, sexual orientation or any other reason.
9.2.7 Player Behaviour Investigation.
[If Riot] determines that a Team Member has violated the Summoner's Code, the LoL Terms of Service, or other rules of LoL, Worlds officials may assign penalties at their sole discretion."
The one-game suspension could have big consequences for Group B, with I May having no good replacement for Road during his absence. I May's only win in the group stage so far was in their previous game against Flash Wolves, but missing their star support player could make achieving a similar result in today's rematch much less likely.
Because of the nature of today's round-robin matches, teams Cloud9 and SK Telecom T1 will both be at a slight disadvantage compared to Flash Wolves, since they will have to face I May later in the day when Road has returned and his team is back to full strength. This has led to some questions as to why Riot chose to penalise Road in the middle of the tournament rather than afterwards, or why it declined to extend the suspension to three games so that no one team in the group would benefit more from the decision than another.
In response to these concerns, and others, Riot wrote:
"At this point, the expectation that toxicity is punishable is firmly established and has been consistently backed up by a publicly available ruleset that gets messaged to all teams. The offence was committed shortly before Worlds; delaying the punishment because of the impact it would have on the team would completely remove any ability to address serious offenses in a timely fashion, and would suggest that teams or players can essentially get away with these offenses until the punishment would be more tolerable for them. Pros should be models of good behaviour all year round; Worlds is no excuse to tolerate negative actions.
We inherently don't believe symmetry should be the deciding factor in calculating punishment. It limits the flexibility and accuracy of selecting the right punishment for each offence. As an example of how symmetry as a requirement for punishments could go wrong, only implementing punishments that affect all teams equally would mean that the only valid suspensions for NA LCS would be for 9 Bo3s or 18 Bo3s, and could only be implemented at the start or midpoint of a season ... it just doesn't make sense."
As things stand, I May will still have some shot at making it to the knockout stage. Had Riot followed the logic of its 2014 ruling against Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen, who was suspended for three games following his racially hateful remarks, the field of play for today's contests would look very different. Going forward, this new incident raises further questions about the consistency of Riot's decision making process and how it influences outcomes at large tournaments.
You can watch the final matches of Worlds 2016's group stage, starting at 4:00PM EDT, here.