Top Halo Pro Stops Playing In Protest Against Own Team

Top Halo Pro Stops Playing In Protest Against Own Team
Image: eUnited / Microsoft

Tyler “Spartan” Ganza, one of the best professional Halo Infinite players in the world, has voluntarily benched himself for the rest of the game’s scheduled season, alleging that his team, eUnited, is holding him to contract under conditions that are “unconscionable and oppressive.”

Following the rocky rollout of Halo Infinite’s second season earlier this month, Ganza was one of the more vocal critics among the game’s professional class. On social media, he skewered many of the update’s misfires — focusing on how the patch introduced a bug that caused guns to jam up — and did so with, um, colourful language. He was fined $US2,500 ($3,471) by the Halo Championship Series (HCS) organisation, who cited a violation of the code of conduct for pro players. eUnited followed that up by levying a fine of its own: $US750 ($1,041).

But, he says, a $US3,250 ($4,512) hit is not why he’s (temporarily) hanging up his hat.

“I’m officially on the bench. I’d like to make it clear that I have put myself here and it was no one else’s choice but my own,” Ganza wrote in a TwitLonger statement early Saturday morning, adding, “It has absolutely nothing to do with the fine debacle.”

Ganza’s choice to bench himself is rooted in soap-worthy drama dating back to the start of Halo Infinite’s professional season, which officially kicked off in December. At that month’s HCS Major in Raleigh, North Carolina, eUnited performed well, coming in second. (Cloud 9 nabbed gold.) Two months later, at the HCS Major in Anaheim, California, eUnited came in third. (Cloud 9 nabbed gold at that event too.)

The dip in performance could be attributed to any number of factors — performance of sports teams fluctuates all the time — but Ganza chalked it up to some insidious behind-the-scenes dealings on the part of eUnited. According to Ganza, his teammate Ryan “Ryanoob” Geddes lobbied to recruit seasoned Halo and Call of Duty pro Matt “Formal” Piper. As for who Piper would theoretically replace? Nick “KingNick” Panzella. (Panzella and Ganza are known as eUnited’s tight-knit player duo.)

Ultimately, eUnited never went through with any trades; Panzella is still on the starting roster, and Piper is currently on Optic Gaming’s Infinite lineup, having replaced longtime Halo pro Justin “Pistola” Deese. But the damage was done.

“Ever since then the entire dynamic of the team has taken a hit,” Ganza wrote. “We have little to no faith in each other. Trust is out the window.”

At last month’s HCS Major in Kansas City, the most recent pro event for Halo Infinite, eUnited finished in fourth place. Ganza said that, following the Kansas City event, he has since received interest from other Halo Infinite esports organisations, but did not specify which teams expressed interest. Nate Drexler, an attorney and a representative for Ganza, told Kotaku in a statement that Ganza held a phone meeting with eUnited last Wednesday and requested he be released from the contract. Reportedly, a member of the team’s management suite told Ganza, “I will not let you go anywhere. You are not tradable. You are not for sale, and I will not give in and let you go anywhere. You will only play for eUnited this season.”

In a statement Saturday afternoon, eUnited confirmed that it indeed fielded “interest” — from, presumably, other orgs — but has yet to receive a “formal buyout offer.” Ganza called the statement “laughable.”

“Tyler has made it clear that he won’t be forced to play,” Nate Drexler, an attorney and Ganza’s representative, told Kotaku in a statement. “We’ve seen this before from him. He doesn’t want to be silenced and he doesn’t want to be forced into playing. We hope to find a resolution that gives him the opportunity to play in a more favourable situation with another organisation.”

In a tweet, Ganza said his demands amounted to Geddes getting booted off the starting roster. Geddes did not respond to Kotaku’s request for comment.

The entire situation has set off a bit of a public relations fire for eUnited, which has recently made inroads as one of the bigger Halo pro teams. Over the weekend, the hashtag #FreeSpartan picked up steam on Twitter. (Some fans misinterpreted it as #FreeSparty, which: lol.) On Reddit, Halo esports fans seem to grasp the business motivations underpinning these decisions but largely say they’d prefer to see eUnited let Ganza go to another team. As noted by Dexetro’s Hayden Oberg, there’s even some cross-disciplinary support for Ganza: A handful of Counter Strike: Global Offensive pro players have publicly weighed in with support.

In the interest of “objectivity” and “fairness,” and those other journalistic “values,” it’s probably not my place to pass any judgment here. But if you ask me as just a person, yeah, based on the info that’s publicly out there, I guess I don’t see why eUnited can’t let him go. Dude’s clearly not happy at eUnited — and the team’s performance has steadily declined over the course of the season, seemingly as a direct result of clashing personalities. At this juncture, short of, say, contractual details getting revealed, this sure seems like a petty move, at best. And it’s not just Ganza who loses out here! He’s really fucking fun to watch in competition; ensuring he can’t play for the rest of the season means viewers lose out, too. Plus, letting him go to another org could give eUnited management a chance to create a roster with better synergy. (Deese, for what it’s worth, said he’s “grinding and staying in Halo shape for whatever opportunities come in the future.”)

Anyway, here’s Ganza and Drexler’s statement in full:

On May 14, Tyler announced that he is benching himself. Tyler received strong interest from another Halo organisation and asked his organisation if he could be let out of his contract as he was not happy in his current situation. A couple days before the Anaheim LAN tournament Tyler found out that his organisation was attempting to have one of his teammates replaced without his knowledge. Subsequently, the team lost their cohesion and Tyler based his decision on his inability to perform under the circumstances.

With regards to the contract, eUnited stated unequivocally that they would not move Tyler, and then curiously announced that they were working with Tyler and trying to find a solution that worked best for all parties. We are under a contractual obligation to not give details about the eUnited contract, but several attorneys are reviewing the contract as we believe certain terms are unconscionable and oppressive.

Tyler has made it clear that he won’t be forced to play. We’ve seen this before from him. He doesn’t want to be silenced and he doesn’t want to be forced into playing. We hope to find a resolution that gives him the opportunity to play in a more favourable situation with another organisation.

Tyler was on the phone with eUnited last Wednesday. The call was on speaker and he has a witness who can attest that eU management stated “I will not let you go anywhere. You are not tradable. You are not for sale, and I will not give in and let you go anywhere. You will only play for eUnited this season. If I have to put you on the bench for 4-5 months and give you substitute pay and you will sit out of Orlando and Worlds. I have done this to other players before and I will do this to you.”

Curiously, eU management stated to both Tyler and myself (with another attorney present) that he would “never” hold a player on his organisation that did not want to be there. This was prior to the contract being signed. He told that to Tyler on the phone. He told it to me on the phone, and at the time he told me there was a second attorney on the same call. He gave assurances.

That said, the posture change is alarming and unprofessional and we will continue examining the contract and will seek every available remedy that Tyler has. In the meantime, he will continue to sit on the bench being paid next to nothing, and we will continue to monitor offers from other organisations.

Drexler added that he’s spoken to eUnited, which is “still pursuing trades [or] buyouts that will be mutually beneficial to all parties.” Representatives for eUnited did not respond to Kotaku’s request for comment.

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