We’re all familiar with the highs of esports: slick frag movies and epic plays are a mainstay of the industry. Unfortunately, esports has its fair share of controversy and scandals, too. Many games, players and teams have been tainted with allegations and there are proven instances of doping, match-fixing and cheating – and that’s just the players.
Problems can arise from all sorts of things – it’s particularly bad when it’s lies in esports that cause the problems, and even worse when it’s big organizations lying to players and fans.
Rainbow 6 Siege – ESL will sort your visas
It’s particularly bold to lie about something like visa applications – problems with them can cause serious issues for the involved parties if players are being lied to. In late 2019, Ninjas in Pyjamas were all set to travel to Japan to compete in the ESL Pro League finals. Just ten days before they were due to travel, the team manager attempted to collect the visas which organizer ESL had promised to provide.
The keyword here is “attempted". Ten days before the players had to travel, ESL changed its previous position and informed them that they had to sort out their own visas. This is after NiP had provided all the required documents to ESL in advance as ESL had promised to arrange the necessary visas.
In the end, two players and the team coach’s visas and emergency applications were denied. NiP had to play their quarterfinals match with two stand-ins. Unsurprisingly, NiP didn’t win, losing 3-7 and 6-8 to team Reciprocity in a best-of-three. As far as lies in esports go, this one may well have cost the team their chance to win the tournament.
Call of Duty – Excelerate Gaming will pay their players (and not blackmail them)
In any signed employment contract, the employer promises to pay their employees – and it’s often particularly painful when it turns out that the employees were being lied to.
In early 2019, Call of Duty team Excelerate Gaming was accused of actively attempting to blackmail its players into signing contracts they didn’t want. The organization had a spot in the CWL Pro League and was hanging it above the players' heads in order to try and force them to sign contracts.
After just a single week in the CWL Pro League, Excelerate Gaming’s owner Justin Tan sent the players an updated contract that awarded Excelerate 100% of their CWL Pro League salary and 25% of their appearance fee. It was heavily implied that any player that refused to sign the updated contract would be dropped from the team and replaced.
Unsurprisingly, the players refused to sign the unfair updated contract.
At the end of the first month with the organization, the Excelerate Gaming players were paid just $213 of their supposed $1800 salary. Tan wanted to sell the team’s CWL Pro League spot, players, and unpaid player salaries to a new organization. The players made it clear that they would only accept the transfer to a new org if they were paid for that first month.
To this, Tan said the infamous words of wisdom:
“They don’t really have a choice lol”
“If they want to play hardball, I can just drop them all and sign new players”.
Eventually, in early March and with no further agreements, all of Excelerate Gaming’s players were released from their contracts.
A few days later, Tan publicly apologized for his mistakes in how he handled the situation. In an attempt to open a more reasonable dialogue with the players, he was able to convince two of them to return to the team. A bold choice, given that they had already been lied to by their boss.
Halo, LoL, Super Smash Bros. Melee, H1Z1, Overwatch, Paladins, CS:GO, and CoD – Denial Esports will pay its players
Denial Esports has a spotty history at best, with not one but multiple separate scandals involving players being lied to about their salaries. In 2015, Denial Esports owed its Halo team $3000 in unpaid salaries after repeatedly failing to make salary payments on time. Later in 2015, Denial Esports failed to pay its LoL team for two months.
In 2017, a Super Smash Bros. Melee player was also not paid for two months. Over the next few years, players from Denial Esports’s H1Z1, Overwatch, Paladins and CS:GO teams all routinely experienced late or completely missed payments for both tournament winnings and salaries. Denial Esports even stopped paying for the CS:GO team house. The players being lied to had to pay rent in order to keep a roof over their heads.
Eventually in 2017, Denial Esports faded away, having let go of all of the players that hadn’t yet left. In late December 2018, though, the Denial Esports brand was brought back, with new management promising to pay off old debts – there was even proof that they’d made goodwill payments to old players that Denial Esports owed money to. Everything seemed to be going well, with Denial Esports fielding CS:GO, CoD, and PUBG teams.
And then... just 6 months later, the organization once again folded with more than €100,000 of unpaid fees related to its CoD team alone. None of the team’s players were paid at all for three months for a combined total of almost €80,000. On top of that, Denial Esports had purchased another team's spot in the CWL Pro League and had then failed to pay the agreed €40,000 fee to Overtime Esport. Denial Esports CS:GO players were also owed $1500 each in missed payments. Their lies landed them hundreds of thousands in debt – in multiple currencies at that.
To make things even worse, the goodwill payments that were made to players who were owed money from the previous iteration of Denial Esports were charged back – in other words, the company took the money back later. Talk about shady.
But until there is a vocal call for action among fans, this will continue... or will we see a rise in esports athlete unionization?