The team will pay $10,000 for courting William “Scarra” Li while Li he was still a contracted member of Dignitas.
Li, the new head coach of Counter Logic Gaming, will be suspended for the first three weeks of the League Championship Series season.
Counter Logic Gaming owner George “HotshotGG” Georgallidis allegedly discussed hiring Li while the he was still under contract at Dignitas as a substitute player. Georgallidis then “repeatedly made false statements” during the investigation into the incident, justifying a harsher penalty.
Georgallidis and Li both released statements admitting that illegal contact took place, though they downplayed the circumstances surrounding it. Li and Georgallidis had a casual conversation at PAX Prime in August where Li revealed he was interested in coaching next season and Georgallidis indicated Counter Logic Gaming needed a coach. If the conversation had ended there and Georgallidis sought Dignitas management’s approval to continue it, Riot may not have needed to apply a penalty.
But the two talked details of a potential coaching job after the event, Li said. He did not realize the conversation could be construed as poaching because Riot Games had not yet officially recognized coaches and he didn’t realize he was still under contract as a substitute for Dignitas.
“This wasn’t some malicious attempt at acquisition by Hotshot, nor was it an attempt by me to circumvent the correct procedure to try to move away from my old organization, Dignitas,” Li said. “I made a big mistake and walked into a situation before I was absolutely sure about the details. I’m sorry for people affected by the situation, especially Odee and the Dignitas organization. This definitely won’t happen again.”
The statement paints a picture of innocence, but never address the “false statements” Riot alleges Georgallidis made to them regarding the situation.
Poaching is a serious offense in any sport. Professional teams in leagues like the National Football League often receive stiff penalties, such as the loss of draft picks, for even holding conversations with players under contract at other organizations. Poaching potentially creates conflicts of interest and can ruin the integrity of a competition.
In this case, contact between Counter Logic Gaming and Li occurred during the offseason, but before Li’s contract expired. But it’s still a serious offense, and Riot Games is determined to use this as an example to make sure it does not happen in the future.
In esports especially, where players can often exert an inordinate amount of control over who and where they play, contracts need to be treated as sacred. Riot Games does well to reinforce that sentiment with a stiff penalty—one some think may not be stiff enough.
Professional sports leagues like the National Football League and National Hockey League penalize teams found guilty of tampering with forfeiture of draft picks, something that actually affects a team’s ability to compete. While Li’s three-week absence from Counter Logic Gaming’s pick and ban phase may have some effect, it’s hardly a major deterrent.
The $10,000 fine is one of the highest ever applied by Riot Games, but it’s not the first time they’ve punished someone for poaching. In January of this year, Riot fined Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg $2,000 for illegally contacting a Lemondogs player.
Many expected a penalty against Counter Logic Gaming, as a Dignitas source told the Daily Dot in October that the team had illegally contacted Li and Counter Logic Gaming’s new top laner, Darshan “ZionSpartan” Upadhyaya, while the pair were still on Dignitas. Dignitas manager Michael “ODEE” O’Dell heavily hinted to as much on Twitter.
While Li’s case was addressed in yesterday’s ruling, Riot has yet to reveal if Counter Logic Gaming may be penalized again for potential poaching of Upadhyaya.