Who watches the watchmen?
On May 8, Riot Games permanently banned one of the top professional League of Legends teams in North America, Renegades, in one of the harshest punishments ever levied on an esports team. The move potentially cost the team and its two leaders, Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles and Chris Badawi, millions of dollars of future revenue and sponsorship opportunities.
Every major sports league in the world has rules, and most, such as the NFL, NBA and MLB, have an appeals process. But in the largest and most popular competitive esports league in the world, the League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), its organizer, Riot Games, sits as investigator, prosecutor, judge and jury.
Riot's rulings against Renegades, and specifically Badawi, who was already banned for a year for attempted poaching, are far more severe and come with more consequences than the rulings before it. Without third-party oversight or a transparent and consistent process, rulings such as this will be questioned in the future, especially with the ever-increasing influx of money into esports in general, and League of Legends in particular.
Additionally, some traditional sports organizations have become timid about investing in the LCS because it appears that teams can be forced out without proper discourse.
Let's take a look at how this investigation unfolded, as reported over the previous two months.
Since the LCS was established in January 2013, the league has made inconsistent rulings against some of its participants with no independent oversight. Prior to Renegades, the rulings have been mild. In late 2014 and early 2015, Riot Games fined North American squad Counter Logic Gaming $14,500 cumulatively for poaching Darshan "ZionSpartan" Upadhyaya and William "Scarra" Li. ZionSpartan, a player, and Scarra, a coach, were both temporarily suspended. Months later, Riot Games fined the European team MeetYourMakers €5,000 after it was discovered that manager Sebastian Rotterdam had threatened one of the team's players, Marcin "Kori" Wolski, with legal action.
Citing unnamed sources in the May 8 statement released on Lolesports (Riot's official site), Riot alleged multiple cases of wrongdoing against Renegades players and owners, including claims that Renegades purposely misled Riot in player trades, did not properly disclose team ownership and mistreated their players. Team Impulse and Team Dragon Knights were also banned, but the cloudy circumstances surrounding Renegades have raised the most questions.
The first allegation questioned the ownership of Renegades' League of Legends team.
In June 2015, Riot ruled that Badawi tried to poach Team Liquid's Diego "Quas" Ruiz and Yuri "KEITH" Jew, banning Badawi from owning a team for a year. His punishment was Riot's first extended ban for tampering.
Upon qualifying for the LCS in August 2015, Renegades incorporated under a different organization than its original company, C.B. Gaming LLC, which was co-owned equally by Badawi and Mykles. The new company, Mykles Gaming LLC, lists Mykles as the sole owner, with Badawi serving as its CEO, according to its articles of incorporation. In December, Mykles submitted a team agreement with Riot, revealing his articles of incorporation, which included Badawi's position as Mykles Gaming CEO. Each team must sign an agreement with Riot Games in order to compete in the LCS.
In its ruling, Riot Games alleged that Badawi was promised a 50 percent ownership stake after his yearlong ban is lifted, and making such an agreement during Badawi's ban was a violation of league rules. Badawi and Mykles, as well as their attorney, Bryce Blum (an ESPN contributor), claim no such agreement existed. Riot refuted that claim, saying it was not a "long-form legal agreement" in a statement to ESPN. Riot did not provide ESPN proof of the agreement.
Upon being notified of the ongoing investigation, Mykles offered an affidavit to Riot Games director of esports Whalen Rozelle that stated that Mykles is the sole owner of Mykles Gaming LLC. Rozelle told Mykles in an electronic chat, obtained by ESPN, that Mykles did not need that affidavit. Instead, Mykles and Rozelle agreed to set a meeting with Riot and Renegades attorneys to discuss the investigation.
Less than 24 hours after that conversation, before the meeting occurred, Riot Games banned Mykles and Renegades. Riot also alleged in a statement that the conduct of Renegades' management, specifically Badawi, raised "player welfare concerns," citing "confrontations between management and players, refusal to honor payment and contract provisions, and failure to maintain a safe environment for all team members." Riot said this was corroborated by multiple sources to its investigative team.
Sources say there was some unhappiness among players in the Renegades house, and confrontations did occur.
One of those confrontations was an argument between Maria "Remilia" Creveling and Badawi after she notified the team of her intention to leave the week of Jan. 31, according to several team members who were present. According to Mykles, Badawi threatened to deduct money from Remilia's salary to recoup money that Badawi had given her for medical procedures.
Badawi's threat upset Remilia, several members of the house told ESPN. During the argument, Badawi was removed from the room by Renegades coach David "Hermes" Tu, and then Badawi spoke with Mykles and the remainder of the staff that evening, Mykles said.
"I spoke with Chris Badawi that evening and we agreed that he had acted impulsively and emotionally in this situation," Mykles said. "We also agreed that his previous financial support of Maria Creveling was borne solely out of his generosity and had no bearing on her player contract with Mykles Gaming LLC; therefore, all associated payments should be made to her, and they subsequently and immediately were. I was also informed that Christopher Badawi had apologized to Maria Creveling that same day."
After the dispute, Remilia -- who could not be reached for comment -- requested to stay in the Renegades house until she found a new home, and Mykles said he approved. She stayed until Feb. 22, and then moved to the NRG Esports Counter-Strike: Global Offensive home in Las Vegas.
The final allegation made by Riot Games claims that there was a corporate relationship between Renegades and Challenger squad Team Dragon Knights.
Badawi was a former owner of Team Dragon Knights, prior to his initial ban. Team Dragon Knights co-CEOs Chris Shim and Sean Shim, and their attorney David Graham, have given ESPN a copy of their operating agreement, which shows that Sean is the 90 percent owner and the remaining 10 percent is owned by Arena Online, a third-party tournament organizer that isn't affiliated with Badawi or Renegades.
Despite no corporate link of ownership, the teams did conduct in-house scrimmages between each other, mixing and matching players until both teams got the rosters they felt most comfortable with. The result was one trade between the two teams; Renegades acquired Shin "Seraph" Woo-yeong and Noh "Ninja" Geon-woo, while Team Dragon Knights acquired Cuong "Flaresz" Ta, Oleksii "RF Legendary" Kuziuta and Alexey "Alex Ich" Ichetovkin.
In an April 21 email to Mykles obtained by ESPN, former Riot Games associate esports manager Hunter Leigh alleged that Renegades were misleading about their relationship with Team Dragon Knights, stating that players were continually traded back and forth. The alleged trades Leigh is referencing would be legal, but he claims Renegades were not up front about them; Renegades disagreed with this claim and state only one trade was made.
Leigh also alleged that players were housed by their former teams after the trade, which is true in the case of RF Legendary, who served only as a substitute for the Dragon Knights. In Riot's ruling, the company said: "Both REN [Renegades] and TDK [Team Dragon Knights] were found to have provided incomplete and/or inaccurate answers and documents to deliberately hide a relationship and interactions which exceed acceptable bounds."
Riot Games would not provide further evidence backing its allegations, citing the need to protect its sources.