Esports has its own Manti Te'o scandal
When Ji “Aaron” Xing joined one of China's best League of Legends teams in May of 2012 as an analyst, nobody thought much of it. He was a quiet staffer, helping the team claim title after title from behind the scenes. But as Ji began to make waves in the Chinese esports scene, it was only a matter of time until the bizarre truth of his sudden ascendancy would be revealed.
In a story with obvious parallels to the Manti Te'o scandal that engulfed college sports in 2012, Ji allegedly created an entire online persona for a fake sister, then used her like a chess piece as he conned his way to the top.
The team Ji joined, Team World Elite (WE), originally formed around 2002’s Warcraft 3. Its League of Legends side has seen a lot of success, including wins at the Tencent Game Arena Grand Prix, the IGN Pro League, and IEM Season VIII Shanghai.
Last December, Ji left WE to create his own team. In the process, he poached some players from WE, which ruined plans the squad had been making to rebuild. Fans soon labelled Ji “The Betrayer." And they also began looking into his background. Soon, they'd uncovered an increasingly bizarre story. Here's how its been told in forums and comment threads in China.
When Ji first asked to join WE, he let one of the team's players know that his sister was a huge fan. The player, Cui “if” Yi, began chatting with the girl online. The relationship quickly became serious, and Ji's supposed sister asked Cui if she could be his girlfriend.
The next thing Cui knew, the girl had supposedly committed suicide. With a feeling of guilt looming over the team, Ji was given a position as an analyst. The story was apparently corroborated by posts on Chinese social network Sina Weibo that Ji had made about his sister.
But then, some research pulled up an astonishing fact about this sister. Someone had logged into her account after May 2012, when she supposedly committed suicide. Cui also said that around this time he received a text from the supposedly dead girl, admonishing him for not giving more support to Ji when he left the team.
What's more, online detectives soon discovered person in the girl's online profile photo was actually of someone who was still alive—and a former classmate of Ji’s, who may have been in on the hoax. The team itself apparently commented on the whole affair via their Sina Weibo account. We were unable to find the original posts, however, and WE did not respond to a request for comment on this article by time of publication. And it's worth noting that this story only surfaced after Ji infuriated his former colleagues by leaving and poaching players, which certainly calls into question the motivation behind the allegations, if not their veracity.
Searches for Ji's Chinese name, 姬星, on Sina Weibo pull up blanks, as do searches for Cui Yi (崔毅). On Google, a Sina Weibo specific search pulls up posts that have since been disappeared. China actually outlaws spreading "rumors" via social media, so it's entirely possible these earlier posts have since been deleted. The story was also recounted in English on esports forum Team Liquid.
The most reliable source on the whole affair is a blog post from Chinese pro gamer Chen "dep00r" Erdong, who has close ties to WE and is friends with Cui. He claims to have witnessed the whole drama unfold and corroborates the above description of events on his blog.
Recently, Ji has been branded by the scene with nicknames like “Demon of Death Sister.” But that hasn’t stopped him in his tracks.
Just this week, his new team, named “Edward Gaming” (EDG), announced its roster for the 2014 season. The roster includes some very good Chinese players, including Zhu “NaMei” Jia-Wen, who led his former team to a first place finish in the Tencent LoL Pro League 2013 Summer Season. It also includes two players who are already on contracts with WE, Feng “FZZF” Zhou-Jun and Ming “Mann/ClearLove” Kai.
It is unclear how these players have been added to EDG without violating their contracts, and according to WE’s manager, Pei “King” Le, a player cannot suddenly leave without talking to the team and paying any fee to the team when the contract hasn't ended. WE recently brought a player over to its team by paying an almost $50,000 transfer fee.
Amidst all this drama and controversy, however, EDG shortly announced that the two teams would soon be working together—that they had, in fact, formed a formal partnership. As you might expect, that partnership soon flamed out as well. On Feb. 12, both teams announced that the relationship had been terminated.
Perhaps the Team Liquid post sums this story up best: “If you want to watch drama in [League of Legends], come to China.”
H/T Team Liquid | Photo by Marco Verch (CC BY 2.0)