Well folks, let it not be said that the offseason in League of Legends is anything less than filled with drama, roster changes, and, well, some new faces. As many of our readers will already be aware of, Riot dropped probably the biggest (and most historic) competitive ruling in LCS history. The short of it? TiP (the organization) is banned from ever playing again for not paying their players on time and contract shadiness, and Renegades and TDK are caught in an awkward dance of player trades that look suspicious to Riot, while the former is banned for having ‘ex’-owner Chris Badawi still involved in the organization following a one year ban due to poaching allegations.
Now that the dust has (largely) settled around the issue, and many pundits within the scene have staked their claim, either in defense of Riot’s actions or decrying them as tyrannical, I thought I’d wager not only my opinion but some alternative views to the rather prevalent feeling. In this three part series, we’ll look at the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of what very well could be Riot’s defining move outside of its forming of the LCS. For our first installment, let’s look at the Good that Riot has done with this move.
TiP just couldn’t get the tip…
Alright, so let’s look at the probably only uncontestable point of Riot’s recent ban hammer swinging: TiP getting the boot for not paying their players properly or on time. This absolutely sickens me as a fan of the NA LCS, and is something that, sadly, I almost wish Riot would’ve done earlier (but I think I understand why they didn’t.) This is completely unacceptable behaviour in any workforce, particularly one as young and, well, with as young of workers as you get in esports. It’s completely abhorrent, abusive, and not at all what we want as a representative of one of the premier esports leagues in the world, particularly contrasted to the other top teams who have never had this problem.
What’s worse is that not only did this happen multiple times, Riot had to personally intervene into the situation upon finding out players had not been paid yet to see that they were. To clarify this too, we’re (sadly) not even talking about full salaries here. Riot has a Minimum Player Compensation (MPC), which requires that players are paid a salary of at least $12,000 per split. While we cannot know exactly what player salaries look like for top teams, we imagine (and hope) that they are far beyond this with salaries that the organizations pay to the players per split, which we could call their Full Player Compensation (FPC) to keep with the nice short forms.
An unfortunate aspect of this is that while Riot is essentially banning TiP for not paying their Players their MPC, Riot is unable to act on the FPC because the players never entered into formal, written contracts with the organization (more on this in our next section.) This, sadly, is both a good and bad move from Riot, but I have to favour the former for purely ‘legal’ reasons. Without any actual amounts known, players might, not that they probably would, attempt to extort extra salary from the shamed organization who Riot would be truly tested to believe against the earnest players. If, for instance, Gate was promised a salary of $35,000, he might, the logic goes, say it was $40,000. Riot would then be put in a situation of ‘their voice against ours,’ where it is difficult to objectively see which side is correct. Still, the action stands, and it is easily the most uncontentious of all of Riot’s rulings. I’ve not heard a single person come to TiP’s defense in this issue, and I think that is because there is no reason to do so. Good riddance to ‘em.
TiP of the Iceberg…
We hinted at in our last paragraph the other major problem with TiP, and a problem in esports in general, that is, of contracts. Contracts are the bane (and boon) of many a pro player, and equally of many an organization. While Counter Strike: Global Offensive offers for much more exciting examples, (Screams contract being bought out from G2 for $150,000 to transfer to Titan as an example,) it is relatively more hush hush or not allowed in Riot’s settings. Players tend to have much more power and places to turn to get ‘out of’ contracts, and I cannot think of a player being ‘held back’ from moving onto a better team in recent memory (although I’m assured there have been examples…) However, contract buyouts have been a major issue recently, but it’s hard to find a fair compromise: without them, poaching and players leaving for greener pastures would leave orgs in their dust, while them being there prevents players (and regions overall) from forming possibly the best teams for that region.
The other main reason TiP was banned, and arguably why they were perma-banned rather than given a certain limited sentence, is that they did not sign, create, or seem to encourage written contracts with their players (until Riot intervention.) This means that, essentially, the players have no written, objective case for what is rightfully ‘promised’ to them in a contract, and equally what they have promised to the organization itself. A verbal contract is shakey business and there is a lot to be said of such a young industry needing clear, concise and accessible contracts. Contracts bind an organization to do what they say they will do, and can make that organization legally bound to do so (and if they don’t, there is, again, formal legal groundwork to take them to court.) Without these written documents, however, players are hard pressed to pressure their team to actually fulfil their promises.
However, there is one point to be made about this: some of TiP’s players (reportedly) did have contracts with TiP, just not all. Riot conducted a League wide audit to ensure contracts were in fact signed, and found that TiP had not done so for this split nor the last. TiP eventually did sign contracts with some of their starting roster, but not all. Actual names are not given either, so we can only assume who it might’ve been (maybe import players, so that they felt security in staying in NA?) This just isn’t a satisfactory process in a scene struggling so hard to standardize itself and, through that, legitimatize itself to the world. Working without a contract makes no sense in a scene whose behind door dealings are relatively unknown to those outside of it. Without public knowledge, there cannot be public outcry, and unless a leak happens (as is the case with the recent incarnation of WESA,) fans, who have the most power in the whole equation of esports, have no way to boycott a team or demand their dismantling. Needless to say, Riot made an excellent choice in banning TiP here; if an organization can’t guarantee their players these two basic needs then surely another can, and with the growth of esports there is no need to allow such shadey organizations to continue operations that abuse their players.
Competitve rulings are the law, ye Renegades…
Now onto the stuff that will either make you hate me or not. Renegades and TDK’s situation is a much more… murky one. Sure, on the one hand, the reasons Riot has given to ban the two organizations seems reasonable (taken as an isolated case without any outside information or opinions on the matter and taking the Riot report as fact.) As I’ve said, this part of the series deals solely with the decisions I think were Good from Riot, so I won’t focus too much on the complexities, nuances and counter-points made by sources close to the organizations themselves. I’ll deal with that in the articles to come, so hold onto your butts because I’m going to try and save at least a bit of this sinking ship.
Riot banned Chris Badawi on charges of attempting to poach players Quas and KEITHMCBREIF from Team Liquid, to which he was given a one year ban from having any dealings with and ownership over Renegades as an organization. It seemed a kind of harsh ban, but that seems to be Riot’s style: ban harshly so to set an example. The problem, then? Well, Renegades broke this ruling, kind of. There was an arrangement in place with ‘current’ owner of Renegades, Christopher Mykles, that, essentially, guaranteed Badawi a 50% stake in the company come the end of his year ban. Not bad right? I mean, he’s technically not owner of Renegades that way… right?
Well, not so much. Apparently that contracted agreement to give 50% ownership to Badawi in a year’s time boils down to… him having 50% ownership at the time of signing. The logic follows that any agreement to ownership, regardless of the actual time, is an agreement to current ownership of some kind. This (kind of?) makes sense. If I am guaranteed half an organization in a year’s time, I have a considerable stake in that organization and its preservation, but also, in a way, in its development. I am a part of it (kind of.) And, therefore, Badawi was still associated with Renegades during his ban time. Yes, this seems a slightly obscure ruling, but I feel like, in a way, it’s still something one should make sure to consult prior to making it a written document.
But perma-banned from all Riot sanctioned tournaments over this seems to be harsher than even Riot tends to be. I think this is because we cannot isolated this fact from the other multiple infractions that Renegades was found to have done. I have a hard time coming to Renegades aid here. Riot’s rulebook is only 58 pages, and it’s in a neato PDF thing so you can, y’know, Ctrl+F to find sections that might be important… like whether you’re involving a banned party who is not supposed to be associated with your organization or not. I think it was an oversight on the side of Renegades, and I can’t much blame them for that, but I also find it hard to say that they should be forgiven for it because of that. It’s sad, really, because Renegades was such a storied organizations for its relative infancy. Great PR gimmicks, bringing in the first female LCS player in history, these were the starts of a branding that you can’t buy folks. But I think they took the Renegades moniker a little too seriously with their disregard for rules, and it bit them hard(er than it should’ve.)
‘Suspicious’ trades and the Balance of Power…
While our last Good thing was contentious on the issue of strange legalities (who needs temporality, anyways?) I think this is another one where a serious amount more of information and evidence needs to be made public. Still, if the allegations are correct, well, then I can see it be a problem. What is this allegation then? Well, the Good portion of it, in my opinion, is to do with the strange trade the two organizations made with each other. We could, in a way, say that the balance of power given to Renegades over other LCS teams was skewed (and TDK over other CS teams.)
Why is this? Well, it essentially that the ‘relationship’ between the two organizations wasn’t as clear cut as it is between, say, CLG and TSM. We’ll take the example of Doublelift going to TSM from CLG: we can assume that in this trade/him being dropped/whatever, that there was a kind of contractual agreement between the two that was Riot approved. This prevents a few things: players being traded in a bad way, organizations being ‘shafted,’ unfair deals etc. Well, it appears, according to the official Riot ruling, this was not as clear cut of a case, and certain conditions, like the payment for players and housing of players a month after the trade, was not made explicit, and could be argued to skew the balance of power of those teams against their rivals in their respective leagues.
In other words, Riot had been under the impression that, to quote the report, “Both teams assured officials that their businesses were not linked in any fashion, and that the trade was in the mutual interest of both teams independent of any additional relationship or agreement.” But why is paying a player’s salary (for a months,) such a bad thing? Even some took to twitter saying this was a regular thing in the realm of sports. I think the reason that Riot is still doing a (shade of) Good here is that the teams weren’t frank about this arrangement, and it stinks of financial pooling.
By keeping it all hidden, and because Riot got, it appears, conflicting answers on the topic, I do side with Riot on this occasion again. This is something that, while I will show that I do not like this fact, Riot needs to be the judge, jury and executioner of whether it maintains competitive integrity. The reason I say this is that, unlike teams (think the recent move by Cloud 9) who field, and thus also fund, their own Challenger team, Renegades was given a similar advantage (talent farming,) without having to pay those players. On the flip side, TDK was given the advantage of receiving some valuable, experienced players (whether they really made a difference is questionable…) in the process without needing to buy out contracts or scout for that talent in unsigned players. It puts other teams at a disadvantage who might’ve tried to do the same but go through the proper channels to do so.
I think it’s still a hard thing to come out in complete favour of Riot given the nature and context of the situation, but for the reasons I’ve stated I do think Riot is in the right side of history for making some of their decisions. You can’t have things like this happening in a professional sports league, and similarly harsh actions would be taken outside of the LCS if such a case were found. However, Riot occupies a strange field in a way in esports so far: they have an exclusive League in which they, essentially, have complete power over. This is unseen in other esports, as Leagues have existed in, say, CSGO, but these are run by third party entities from Valve (the owner of the IP for CSGO.) This will lead into my later discussions on the issue, but for now we’ll say that I am concerned if Riot does not make the proper moves to distance itself from its (albeit mostly benevolent) despotic ways.