What makes a scandal, anyway? It generally has to have implications that affect the perception of a whole scene; something that disrupts how everyone operates within a community is a scandal. Esports has had plenty through the years, with tournament organizers pulling prize pools, players cheating, match-fixing, and sexual harassment and other criminal activities plaguing parts of the scene.
A few scandals have risen above the rest, partially due to their absurdity, whether that be in events that took place or insane amounts of money switching hands. All scandals are unique in their own way, and the worst probably isn’t out yet, as we don’t know everything that happens behind closed doors.
These are a few of the biggest scandals in esports history; many have been lost to the record books, many never found out, but these ones have recently rocked the esports world in their own way.
iBUYPOWER Match Fixing
The iBUYPOWER roster was the future of North American Counter-Strike in 2014. The roster was young and exciting, featuring Keven “AZK” Lariviére, Tyler “Skadoodle” Latham, Braxton “swag” Pierce (now Brax), and Sam “DaZeD” Marine. They won tournaments featuring S-tier teams and were well on their way to sit on top of the NA scene.
Yet the team fell apart in a way that changed the Counterstrike scene. In an online match against Team NetcodeGuides.com, a heavy underdog to iBUYPOWER, the team lost in an odd fashion. Later, esports journalist Richard Lewis wrote an article revealing that DaZeD himself was a co-owner of NetcodeGuides.com and that the team threw the game to make money off the bets placed.
This turned into an investigation from Valve that placed an indefinite ban on four members of the team. Skadoodle was found to have not taken any money from the match-fixing, but the other four members could no longer compete in majors, effectively ending their CS:GO careers. The indefinite ban turned into something permanent, and the iBUYPOWER members were left in the dust. This remains one of the harshest penalties a top team has received in esports scandals.
Rick Fox and the Disbandment of Echo Fox
Rick Fox, former NBA star, purchased League of Legends team Gravity Gaming alongside business partner Amit Raizada in 2015. Re-branding the team to Echo Fox, Fox was one of the first prominent sports figures to get involved in esports. Four years later, Fox accused Raizada of making threats against his family and using racial slurs against Fox and CEO Jace Hall.
The NA LCS launched an investigation, telling the organization to remove Raizada within 60 days or forfeit their franchised spot in the league. Echo Fox wasn’t able to get rid of him in time and was forced out of the spot that Evil Geniuses ended up taking. In September 2019, Fox was sent a lawsuit that would remove him from the brand he created from business associates. Fox’s counter-lawsuit named Raizada and Stratton Sclavos in a campaign alleging conspiracy, fraud and breach of contract against Fox.
Who was once a prominent figure in esports and a bridge to the traditional sports world was no more. The organization was disbanded in November 2019.
Gaming Paradise – Fyre Fest before Fyre Fest
Thankfully, esports scandals in the form of events are rarer now. Gaming Paradise was a CS:GO event in September of 2015 in Slovenia. It was an A-tier event with multiple top teams and a $50,000 prize pool. But it quickly became the worst CS:GO event ever held. Things were a complete mess from the beginning.
When players began to arrive, things hit the fan right away. At the airport, the shuttles that were supposed to take the players to their hotels didn’t show up for hours, leaving the players stranded in the middle of the night. After they arrived at the hotel, they found their accommodations to be much smaller than what they were promised.
From there, things got much worse. The computers needed for the event were apparently stolen while in transit. The Dota 2 tournament scheduled for the next week was canceled, as CS:GO teams had already threatened to drop out. Next, the hotel didn’t receive any money for the hotel rooms, and French team Titan got their passports seized by staff.
The teams found a way to play the tournament and ended up playing the semi-finals and finals right before three of the remaining four teams had to get to Dubai for an ESL tournament. Kinguin ended up winning, but as you can expect, they did not receive a dollar of prize money.
Blitzchung banned by Blizzard
In October 2019, Hong Kong protests were raging and making international headlines. Daryl Morey GM of the NBA team Houston Rockets made a comment about freeing Hong Kong only to be met with backlash from league officials. In esports, a more shocking thing happened. This was one of the more politically-charged esports scandals in history.
Ng Wai Chung, a Hong Kongese Hearthstone player known as Blitzchung, voiced support for the protests during a livestream. After a match during the Hearthstone Grandmasters event, Blitzchung donned a mask that read “Liberate Hong Kong, the Revolution of our Times.” The stream feed was cut, and the next day, Blitzchung was informed that he would have to forfeit $4,000 of prize money and would be banned from Grandmasters tournaments for a whole year.
Two casters, “Mr. Yee” and “Virtual” had their contracts terminated by Blizzard following the ordeal, as they were believed to have encouraged the protest. This was all met harshly by people in the west and all over the gaming community. Members of the U.S. Congress even sent a letter to Blizzard encouraging them to reverse the ban.
Blizzard eventually reduced the length of the ban, but that was as far as they’d go.
Rise and Fall of Griffin
In one of the most recent esports scandals, Griffin, an LCK team that went from the lower levels of competition in 2016 all the way to a Worlds qualification in 2019, should be a heartwarming underdog story. Instead, the team was plagued with controversy stemming from their coach and upper management.
Head coach Kim “cvMax” Dae-Ho was fired in the build-up to Worlds 2019 which shocked many. He then went on his stream during the world championship and said that Griffin manager Cho Kyu-nam accused him of bad scrims and told him that he was a “lucky” coach and that any other coach would have won LCK instead of placing second twice.
cvMax was accused of spreading rumors about the team ahead of worlds by his players. This all put a damper on what would’ve been a great shot at a championship for them. They won their group stage, placing ahead of eventual runner-up G2 Esports in the group. They then lost to Invictus Gaming 3-1 in the quarter-finals.
A month later, cvMax was suspended indefinitely from all Riot Games events. He was being investigated for alleged verbal and physical abuse towards players. The LCK eventually concluded that he abused his players. This ended his new position as coach of DragonX.