South Korean fighting game player Seon-woo “Infiltration” Lee revealed last night that he’s been barred from attending several major community events, including this year’s Evolution Championship Series (Evo). While the news came as a shock, many of those familiar with the highly accomplished competitor’s controversial past consider it a long time coming.
Evo and Combo Breaker (arguably the second most important grassroots tournament in the fighting game community) contacted Lee via email to inform him he will not be allowed to compete at their events, according to screenshots Lee posted to Twitter. Both emails cited unspecified violations of each event’s code of conduct policies and offered refunds for Lee’s registration fees.
Speaking with Kotaku, Evo general manager Rick Thiher explained that the event is “committed to fostering a safe environment for our players and fans” and that the organisers require competitors and attendees to “work together with Evo to build a supportive community that treats one another with respect and dignity.” This expectation, he continued, is shared by other events like Combo Breaker, Community Effort Orlando, East Coast Throwdown, and the Intercontinental Fight Club, all of which have also banned Lee.
“Evo will not be discussing individual enforcement decisions publicly, but will be taking necessary action to uphold our code of conduct and create a welcoming environment at Evo competitions,” Thiher added. “These efforts are vital for the future of Evo, and the experience we strive to create for our community.”
Kotaku contacted Lee as well, but did not hear back before publication.
“I rightfully believe that it can be sorted with a proper conversation,” Lee wrote in a Twitlonger message. “I hope the organisers speak up and explain exactly what the cause of action is that has denied my entry. Also from those organisers, I demand a proper apology that has caused financial and mental stress of my planning of various overseas trips to get to these events and reverse their decision of denying my entry.”
Lee’s statement also detailed several previous incidents of not being allowed to compete in high-profile fighting game tournaments. What he didn’t do, unsurprisingly, is get into the potential reasons for tournaments not wanting him in attendance, of which there are many.
While previously unknown, Lee quickly became a household name in the fighting game community thanks to his third-place finish in Street Fighter IV: Arcade Edition at Evo 2010. He spent the next several years earning even more Evo medals and performing well in various fighting games, including Street Fighter x Tekken, Street Fighter V, Samurai Shodown, and Guilty Gear Strive. Lee’s tournament wins were naturally followed by sponsorship deals with businesses like Mad Catz, Razer, and Monster Energy.
But back in 2018, Lee made headlines for different reasons when he was accused of domestic violence against his now ex-wife. A follow-up investigation by his sponsor at the time, esports org Panda Global, found these allegations to be credible and dropped Lee from its roster. Lee also voluntarily stepped away from Capcom’s official Street Fighter tournaments for a year, all the while disputing the abuse claims for which he was arrested, found guilty by a South Korean court, and fined.
Lee’s unapologetic return to competition after a year away garnered considerable backlash, especially when Evo itself congratulated him on his “triumphant return” after he won Samurai Shodown in 2019. At the time, Evo was still a grassroots operation, but the tournament was recently purchased by Sony following the departure of co-founder and CEO Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar over sexual misconduct allegations.
Rather than keep his nose clean, however, Lee continued to create problems. Last year, for instance, Lee was reportedly caught coordinating with friends to defraud a beginner Street Fighter V tournament he organised with Korean streaming site AfreecaTV, his largest sponsor at the time.
Discord screenshots show Lee encouraging the person who won that event, a master-level player in other fighting games, to not raise his Street Fighter V rank too high for fear of raising suspicion. After these details were leaked, Lee angrily addressed his accusers via Twitch by calling them “motherfuckers” and “garbage” who were only interested in tearing him down.
Lee eventually apologised, but not before AfreecaTV dropped him as a sponsored streamer.
As for how Lee is taking these bans, he spent his first stream on Twitch after learning the news arguing that it was alright for him to use the n-word when speaking to Black fighting game players. The racist comments, he explained later, earned him a seven-day suspension from the streaming platform, but Lee still doesn’t believe he did anything wrong. Instead, he opted to paint the whole thing as some sort of insidious conspiracy against an innocent man.
“I did a stream that explained what happened to me because of Combo Breaker and Evo and then I got banned,” Lee told sympathetic viewers during a YouTube livestream early this morning. “Is it just a coincidence? It’s not hate speech. If you guys watch my last stream, it wasn’t hate speech. It wasn’t racism. But people who hate Infiltration, they clip only that moment, and maybe send it to Twitch global.”