Last week, Riot Games announced that Chris Badawi, Co-owner of LCS team Team Dragon Knights and CS team Renegades, would be banned from holding an LCS organization position until 2017 following his attempted poaching of both Yuri "Keith" Jew and Diego "Quas" Ruiz from Team Liquid.
Shortly thereafter, separate statements were made by newly announced co-owner of Renegades Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles as well as Chris Badawi. Both posts expressed concerns with the possible lack of information made available to professional League of Legends players when an outside entity is interested in obtaining the player from their current organization. Additional conversations within the community also arose regarding the current state of player compensation based on previous comments made by Badawi.
GameSpot recently sat down with Team Liquid Co-owner Steve "LiQuiD112" Arhancet to discuss his previous interactions with Badawi, the ruling, and the new conversation around player and organization relationships.
GameSpot: It is my understanding that you spoke with Chris Badawi originally about coming in as the potential owner of Curse Academy. Can you please provide a summary of how you two became involved?
Steve Arhancet: So let me start off by explaining the Curse Academy sale process. When Curse Academy was potentially being sold pending their entrance into the LCS, my first goal was to create a marketplace of potential buyers. I got to about 20 potential interested buyers and I set it up so people submitted blind bids and had to go through a quick check to make sure they were accredited buyers.
I narrowed it down between Davis [Editor’s Note: Davis Vague, current Team Gravity owner] and Chris Badawi and it got to a point where the bid got to a certain price. And rather than have them bid against each other and go for the max price, I capped it. I said, “This is going to be the sales price.” And you’re both around this number. Now it’s going to be whomever I think is going to be best for the team.
So I spoke with both of them and asked them about their careers, their background, what they planned on doing with the team, their approach, management philosophies, all these sorts of things. And I also asked them about their plans for the roster. Would they change it? What would happen to the players? How would they be taken care of? At the time, it was an assignment of their contracts. That meant that I could build in the responsibilities of the new owner into their current contract so they would have to take over those responsibilities. So that way I made sure the players would be well taken care of.
If I can’t sell him Curse Academy, maybe I can help him out.
During that evaluation process, I then had Riot speak with both owners to do the background check. After the process finished, I made the final decision to go with Davis, for various reasons – however the most impactful being that Chris was considering kicking players immediately from the roster once the team contracts were assigned and he was granted the LCS spot. After that happened, Chris was very insistent on still owning a team, being involved in esports, and I saw this as an opportunity. Here’s a guy who’s very personable, charismatic, extremely nice, well-funded, has the resources to take care of a team. Why not help him out and help him build an esports team? If I can’t sell him Curse Academy, maybe I can help him out.
So I brought him under Team Liquid. He moved over to where the house was. He stayed at a hotel and I had him work very closely with Jokasteve [Steve Perino, General Manager for Team Liquid]. He met all of our players. We brought him to LCS under Team Liquid. I introduced him to other team owners. I introduced him to Riot. And I kind of endorsed him, in a way, by saying hey—here’s a guy that lost the bid to Curse Academy. But he’s very interested in building an esports team and so I helped him establish his footing in the esports space.
About two weeks after that period, we decided to separate ways. I said, “Look. I don’t think you have a long-term career under Team Liquid. I think you’re going to go own a team. I wish you the best. I really helped you out. Good luck.” And that was how I felt good about bringing someone into the industry that I thought was going to be beneficial to the space. And obviously now, I’m sorely mistaken. But that’s basically how the relationship started.
When he published his statement about how things went down between you regarding the Keith and Quas situation, he alleged that he approached Keith out of ignorance. He also claimed his conversations with Quas were as a friend, with no plans to encourage him to exercise his buyout or recruit him until his contract was over. Do you feel those statements are true?
Based on all of the conversations that I had with Chris, and the lack of conversation that he had directly with me, and knowing what situation he was in when trying to form a team, I think he straight up used this perception that owners are mistreating their players to advance his own agenda in creating his own esports team. He had contracted Alex Ich and Crumbz, and he needed three more players. I mean, it’s as simple as that. In order for him to form a team, he wanted to go out and try and get the best players that he could. To do so, he went to where he probably knew best: all the people I introduced him to. All the networks that I created for him. He obviously knew I contracted these players. He knew the rules of the LCS. The contract dates are on the lolesports website.
He’s flat out lying to the community and people are believing him.
He fully knew what he was doing. He’s just using this perception that there’s a mistreatment of players as a free license to do whatever he wants in the space. And I don’t find that acceptable. He’s flat out lying to the community and people are believing him. He doesn’t have the players’ self-interests at heart. He has the interest of building his own esports team and competing at the highest level. Great! Fine! Do that.
But do it how everyone else would build a team. Find players. Contact owners if you’re interested in them. Work out deals. If you have all this money to spend to do these sorts of things, do it in the right way. I just don’t approve of someone that was endorsed by me, personally, and used those relationships, in full knowledge that I’d made such investments into these athletes and their careers by providing salaries, food, travel, benefits, coaching analysts, staff support, and undermine all of that in his own self interest of making a team. And using this perception as a free license. It’s deplorable behavior, in my opinion.
To be clear, you’re saying he had full understanding of how the rules and the process worked when he approached Keith and Quas, and then he just deliberately ignored the rules?
I mean he definitely broke the rules. He’s playing kind of stupid. He’s playing the ignorant card. And then once he was informed by me and Riot that this behavior was not acceptable, he did it again in hopes of not getting caught and trying to cover himself up. His dishonest, full intention of breaking the rules to serve his own personal self-interest of building a team is not healthy. And it’s not someone that deserves to be involved in our industry. And I find his behavior just dishonest and really self-serving and selfish.
You’ve been involved in several high profile buyouts and sells. How does that usually work? What do you think of the conversation that started around players being informed about potential offers?
Just to establish my credibility in regards to player management, trades, contracts, agreements, the challenger and LCS scenes and tampering/poaching stuff, I have managed Team Curse, Team Lol Pro, Curse Academy, Team Curse EU, Team Curse Australia since 2011. I have personally done contracts with over 55 individual players specifically just to League of Legends. I’ve done trades and acquisitions and contracts with high profile players. I’ve worked with even current ones that you’re probably aware of—Flaresz to NME, Cruiser, Thinkcard to CLG Black, LOD to Team Coast, even Mancloud, who was under contract. I just terminated his contract so he could do whatever he wanted. I have successfully worked with close to 55 individual players and have had no glaring issues with these organizations I’ve worked with. CLG, Dignitas, TSM, Gravity, NME—even TDK.
Chris Badawi and how he has engaged and been so dishonest with me and manipulative—this is my first time in my whole career of doing this that I have been so shocked by someone’s character and malicious intent to undermine those around him to serve his own self-interest of getting into LCS at any cost. And using some moral high ground to be a free license for his behavior. I have more experience in player negotiation and organizational contracts and trades than probably any other LCS owner in North America.
There’s been multiple organizations that are interested in Keith. A few LCS teams. TSM is one of them. And those owners approached me. Keith plays for Team Liquid Academy. He’s one of the cornerstone players on that team. However, this is a huge opportunity for him to play in LCS. I’m not going to hold him back from doing that. I would expect that the organization that’s acquiring that contract—whether I sign it or terminate my contract with Keith and they sign a new contract with him—that there’s some kind of fair compensation being provided to me for maybe his travel, housing and overall investment I’ve made. Kind of the base cost to the acquiring organization. And it also depends when it happens. Is it a week before he has to play in the Challenger Series qualifiers? Or is it during an off-season chance where we have five months before we play next? The timing is also critical.
So I factor all those things in and I’ve always come to some agreement with the organization. Sometimes, they’ll ask me if they can do try-outs. Sure. Can we talk to the player? Sure. Go ahead. Here are my conditions. Just please let me know if you end up wanting this player. Talk to me and we’ll work out all the paperwork. And I can have him moved over. Or you can come pick him up from the gaming house.
So, in every single case where an organization has been interested in one of my players, I’ve cooperated with that organization and did my best to do what was in that player’s best interests. And if it’s not to move the player to the other organization and it’s maybe to stay under Team Liquid Academy, that’s up to the player. I need to create an environment and structure and a level of compensation that competes with whatever is coming in.
And sometimes those events establish a new market rate for what players should be compensated. So it’s a healthy approach to making sure that players are being compensated at the right market value and it’s being done in a very professional manner. I don’t agree with withholding information from players when an opportunity is presented to them. I think that’s kind of bullshit.
Some people allege that you’ve been involved in transactions in the past that have bordered or in some cases crossed the border of poaching. What do you think of these accusations?
The one that I’ve seen the most on reddit has been references to Quas in an alleged poaching. So just to put out exactly what happened and all of that…
Right around the time after playoffs—it was the time when the internet went down in the middle of LCS finals -- I put out this tryouts video. If you’re interested in joining Curse and you’re challenger, and you meet these requirements, please reach out to me. Send me an email. And I put together a list of two thousand players that had emailed us. We did visual screening tests and knowledge testing to figure it out.
So Quas initially contacted us through that process and once we found out he was interested and he was contracted to GGLA, I made contact with GGLA under Curse. And we came up with an arrangement to buy out his contract. We wired a substantial amount of money to GGLA and then Quas was released from his contract and we contracted him.
I know that a lot of the players from the GGLA house... I know there was a tweet from Bischu. I have no idea what the conversation was between GGLA management and those players. I feel bad that the players felt that way. And I think GGLA knew that this was a very big opportunity for Quas and they were fairly compensated for the contract that they had with the player.
What do you think of the community reaction to the ruling around Chris Badawi? Many feel as though the one-year ban on him is a little extreme given the precedence that had been set previously with poaching. What do you think about the ruling around him?
Ruling aside, this is Riot’s league. I don’t own it. They do. They dictate the severity. They dictate the rules, penalties and how they want to form a league. I don’t really have an opinion on that ruling.
All I can say is, personally, I do not think Chris Badawi is the kind of person that you want as an owner in LCS. I think he is one of the most charming, charismatic and personable people you will ever meet. And I felt bamboozled by him in a lot of ways. Once I established trust with him, he used that against me to advance his position. Some people may say that’s just business. People are going to fuck you over and try to get close to you and take everything you have. I just have personally never worked with someone like that or ran into someone like that. And I don’t think that’s healthy for our emerging industry.
Montecristo, Renegade’s new co-owner, has said that he feels the poaching rules favor organizations over players. Badawi has been quoted by the Daily Dot saying that “players get fucked.” What do you think of these opinions?
Are there organizations out there that mistreat their players or don’t fairly compensate their players? Sure. I’m absolutely sure there are a few of them.
I have absolutely provided a market value rate for those players.
To Chris’s point, I think there are esports organizations that are not fairly treating their players. But to make a wide statement that also insinuates that Team Liquid is part of that group is complete bullshit. Not only have I been a player at one time, I have done everything that I could to provide fair and reasonable salaries to the players. Compensation, meaning base salary, tournament prize money, sponsorship income, benefits, healthcare, vision, 401k. It’s the environment that they’re in. Housing, living situation, food, cook. It’s also the staff you provide for them—analysts, coaches, contracted staff. Travel subsidies. So all of these things make up their total compensation package.
Not only have I been one of the first organizations to make my players employees, I also feel like I have absolutely provided a market value rate for those players.
It’s really tough to determine what is the proper compensation for a player. It’s probably going to change every six or twelve months. You just don’t know. What happens if some collective bargaining agreement happens next week in LCS? Or what happens if most of the top teams get sponsorships with Adidas and Coke? Of course that money trickles down to the players. I have always done as much as I could within my parameters and my budget. So for Chris to insinuate that Team Liquid is not providing fair compensation, as a license to act unethically in his own self-interests—just shame on you, Chris.
Anything that you wanted to add?
We are in a fast growing, emerging industry that I hope continues its trajectory. In order for that to happen, we need owners that are professional, that run good organizations for fostering healthy athletes that are competing at the highest level and being fairly compensated and taken care of. And I hope that, from all of this, if there’s something that does emerge—it’s a focus for current and prospective owners to play by a certain ethical and professional standard.