Just another day questioning what people are thinking in esports.
On March 10, 2021, a former girlfriend of Jay “Sinatraa” Won released a statement, accusing Won of sexually assaulting her when they were a couple. The level of detail given, the audio recording provided by the victim, the evidence was damning.
Riot would immediately suspended Won indefinitely to complete their investigation, likely looking to keep Won unassociated with their competitive scene for as long as possible.
In reality, they couldn’t.
In May, Riot’s suspension primarily focused on Won’s failure to fully cooperate with Riot’s independent investigation along with concerns regarding his statements. Riot was and still is in an awkward position. They were forced to wait for law enforcement to deliver a ruling — which still hasn’t happened. We don’t officially know if a legal ruling will even ever happen.
Riot were left to deliver as powerful a punishment for the crime that they could.
Despite struggling to deliver a more suitable punishment, they made it known that they were concerned about a team looking to sign Won. When teams would look to Won as a potential signing, Riot simply could only shake their head and say, “We’re disappointed.” While being available to play since September of 2021, he has not been an active player. Instead, he has remained as a content creator for Sentinels — who have yet to publish anything regarding the findings of their internal investigation.
Winning fixes everything. Quietly, the issue slipped under the rug with the world thinking this was just the end of Won as a professional player. Sentinels were America’s best team and it just so happened they still had Won under contract.
Won’s recent announcement that he would be returning to competitive play doesn’t come as a surprise. It does come as a surprise that it feels as if he will actually be given a shot from a team.
On social media, he has still been accepted by professional players and community figures. He still maintains a large viewing audience on his live streams. But this also isn’t necessarily a surprise given the age of members in the scene, potentially failing to realize or understand the importance of the allegations — especially with the victim providing concrete evidence. Plus, friends will go to bat for friends.
And truly, he has benefited from this sense of doubt.
This now becomes a conversation of how do esports organizations handle these types of situations? In conventional sports, we have seen athletes commit heinous acts and still make millions of dollars playing the sport they’re good at. Players even still play when connected to allegations — Ben Roethlisberger managing to have a long career after two sexual assault allegations in 2009 and 2010, Kobe Bryant playing through his allegations in 2003 and more recently, Deshaun Watson expecting to make his return to professional football despite his allegations.
On the other hand, some players never find their way back in. Notably, Ray Rice never played another game of football following the release of a video regarding his domestic violence case.
VALORANT organizations are also in a unique predicament. Franchising is looming over the scene, with the expectation that it will be sooner rather than later given the success of the title and the success of franchising in League of Legends. This would also give Riot much more power in enforcing penalties — such as Won (by rule) being an untouchable player. Despite the entertainment value with Riot’s current structure, organizations will also push for franchising given the increased protection that comes with said structure.
Riot is also able to choose who it partners with. Electing to bring in a player that is getting off relatively easy in terms of punishment more than likely doesn’t align with what Riot is looking for in a league partner. For a company that just had to settle a large lawsuit regarding sexual assault allegations in the work environment, it may not be the best idea to partner with an organization that has a player accused of sexual assault.
I waited this long to say this: Won is very talented. In fact, at the time of his suspension, he was arguably one of the top five players in North America. It could even be argued given North America’s level of success, he was top-five player in the game of VALORANT. He was a former Overwatch League MVP and also appeared on Jimmy Fallon, pushing esports to the mainstream awesome.
We potentially may never see a bigger situation than this in esports. EVER. The conversation around this is still a hot topic to this day. Not only is this something new for esports, but it also involves a top talent in the scene.
In a way, everyone has done their part to do what is best — Riot made a ruling, and teams understood not to touch the topic. But if an organization makes the decision to make the unwise choice of signing a talented yet troubled player because he isn’t suspended, hell will break loose.
With an increased likelihood that he will be rejoining Sentinels as an active player, it raises a massive red flag in the operations of the organization during this past year. The organization harbored the player for all of his suspension, gave him a streaming contract paycheck and seemingly have the whole story but are not speaking on it. Won has kept quiet regarding the issue at hand. His statements, when delivered, have been brief and under the direction of a legal team looking to protect him as much as possible.
At some point, esports will need to not look at people for what they offer in the game or a social media presence. They have to look at who they truly are.