ELEAGUE executives decided to disqualify SK Gaming days before they received a letter from teams about the situation, Turner executive vice president Craig Barry told Dot Esports in the company’s first public statement on the issue.
ELEAGUE disqualified both the current and former SK Gaming lineups on July 6. The decision came after a protracted period of contractual wrangling between SK and Luminosity Gaming over the latter team’s roster. That situation was resolved when SK released all the players in its former roster and brought on the Luminosity players.
“We looked at the situation,” Barry told Dot Esports. “We had a lot of internal discussions considering all the options as it related to the completion and integrity of the season. We ultimately felt the rules are the rules, and we would have to uphold the rules regardless of the various options.”
Those rules are enshrined in the ELEAGUE rulebook and the contracts in place with the teams, stating that the teams had to lock in their rosters by May 18. While provisions were in place for substitutes to be used in extenuating circumstances, there was no flexibility for roster transfers.
“Ultimately,” Barry said, “the management team met on June 27 and made the decision to enforce the rules of the league and the agreements in place with the teams.”
According to Barry, the league’s management then reached out to SK and Luminosity to confirm the lineup swap, before receiving that confirmation on July 5. At that point, both teams were informed of their disqualification ahead of the public announcement the next day.
“What I can say about this is we didn’t take any of these decisions lightly,” Barry said. “We had to decide what was best for the league and the integrity of the league and the agreements that were signed with the teams to uphold the level playing field.”
An ESPN report swiftly following the July 6 announcement claimed that a “petition” from the owners of seven ELEAGUE teams—Cloud9, Counter Logic Gaming, Echo Fox, NRG Esports, OpTic Gaming, Team Liquid, and Team SoloMid—had influenced the decision. According to ESPN, ELEAGUE had originally only planned to sanction Luminosity but let its former players continue playing under the new SK Gaming banner.
Barry said a letter was received on July 1, days after the June 27 meeting where the decision was made to disqualify the teams. Turner never decided to only sanction Luminosity and still allow the players to continue under the SK Gaming banner.
The July 1 letter, Barry said, “reviewed and referenced the agreements that we had in place with the 24 teams and pointed out something we had already discussed and decided on. But it pointed out that moving the rosters would potentially have been in violation. So we concurred with that. But we had already made the decision prior to that.”
He added: “A letter didn’t drive the decision. The individual players didn’t drive the decision. What drove the decision was what is best for the league and what was promised to the league and the teams.”
Though some players complained they’d only found out about the decision when it was publicly announced, Barry noted that both SK and Luminosity were informed of the decision before it was announced. The league takes no responsibility for any “disconnect” between the teams and their players.
The controversy surrounding SK and Luminosity has led to some concern in esports circles about players rights. Barry said that Turner is working to address player protections for season two.
“Last week I sat down and talked to various groups about ways that within the rules and the contracts we could potentially help protect players to some degree.” Barry said. “These discussions are ongoing, we’re all still learning about ways to integrate this player protection going forward. Candidly, I found it very interesting some of the ideas that are coming up in these conversations.”
While Luminosity and SK were both disqualified, they will still be eligible for a share of the overall prize money that every team was entitled to based on league position. Barry also confirmed that both teams would be welcomed back for season two, saying it would be “a huge omission” to exclude the reigning Major champions.