Fairness in a "bullshit" ruling: An analysis of of the Chris Badawi poaching situation and the state of LCS
As I’m sure you are all aware about how, two weeks ago, Riot games released a competitive ruling for Chris Badawi, the owner of TDK and Renegades. In this ruling, Riot announced that Badawi has been engaging in tampering (and more specifically, poaching) activities while trying to develop his growing LCS-intent team. In line with this ruling, Riot has decided to ban him from LCS competition for the remainder of the 2015 season and the entirety of the 2016 season.
In what seemed like a fairly logical ruling to me, I was surprised to see that many people are upset Riot Games, saying the punishment is goes beyond the scope of who they legislate, the bounds of reason, and shows favoritism for current LCS teams. I didn’t think this to be the case, so I would like to try to explain my viewpoint and analyze the situation from someone who doesn't really have a stake in the fight. I understand and partially support Riot in this decision, but I do offer criticism on how they can improve
Riot has no right to punish someone for their actions to improve their challenger team. Challenger teams are not under contract, and therefore do not adhere to the same poaching rules.
While it is true that Challenger teams are placed under a different rule set, there are three problems with this argument:
- First, it assumes Riot eSports, as an organization, is required to let people into their league simply because they qualify on a skill-based level. This is not true. As with any organization, if a player/coach/owner is deemed detrimental to the league, they have the right to ban that person from joining their league (if players entering the NFL/NBA/MLB/etc do not follow the rules of entry, they may not join). That person can contest this decision via appeal (a process Riot desperately needs) or litigation.
- Secondly, he is part of TDK. He is bound by the rules of LCS as a representative of TDK, and his actions reflect back onto TDK. Therefore, he is not immune just because he is doing work for another team outside of the LCS.
- Lastly, even if he didn’t own TDK, this decision would still be reasonable. This is not a punishment, but a decision on how the league will handle his entry into LCS based on his behavior. They are not fining or suspending him or his team. Rather, they are barring his entry into the league, should his team qualify. It differs from a punishment because punishment entails you have authority over that person. This only bars entry. Even if he wasn’t involved in TDK, this decision would still be allowed, as it’s not a league–sanctioned punishment, but a barring.
But it wasn’t against the rules! Riot made a rule banning what Badawi was doing after he tried poaching! They targeted him!
I heard this argument from many people, and even MonteCristo himself, but I believe this viewpoint is shortsighted. Riot is a growing, young league and organization. There was no way they could have created a ruleset that was perfect from day one, so it’s no surprise rules change. In the case of LCS, rules must not conflict with LCS player contracts, so sometimes rule changes require more time. However, since these were rules regarding entry into LCS, with organizations that are not contracted, Riot has every right to adapt their rules as they see fit. It’s important to develop your rules over time.
As for why the rule change happened so quickly, Riot obviously felt that Badawi’s actions were severe enough to be addressed immediately. Thus, Riot notified Badawi they were displeased with his actions and changing the rule. At this point, Bdawai chose to continue to violate a rule he was informed of, thus he was barred.
But TSM is poaching Keith! And Liquid poached Quas! How is that not the same thing?
Well that’s not true. If you look at what Liquid recently said on Reddit:
I worked directly with GGLA on the Quas acquisition, this is not even close to the situation presented now. There was a substantial amount of money that was paid for the acquisition of Quas and it was handled professionally. This other organization, allegedly Misfits, directly interfered with contracts I have with my players by luring, soliciting and encouraging them to terminate their contracts. It's unethical behavior, but beyond that - there are legal rules regarding possible tortious interference of contracts - this isn't just about Riot rules.
In the case of TSM, Regi made a special effort to ask Liquid before pursuing Keith.
In cases of poaching, it’s not about recruiting the player, but rather encouraging the player to go behind the back of his organization and violate his contract, without the permission of the League (be it NFL, NBA, Riot…) or the team. This is where Badawi failed, and failed multiple times.
What about CLG?
Ah yes, the never-forgotten bungaloo of the CLG ruling regarding poaching. In my opinion, that ruling was a classic case of “the brand is too big to fail.” At this point, it’s almost becoming cliché to hear “So CLG was fined $10,000, but [x] got [y]?” By Riot’s own standards, that ruling should have been much harsher, and in failing to do so, almost every reasonable judgment from this point forward is seen as too harsh.
But there are some key differences:
- As an LCS member, Riot had to punish under the rules set forth in LCS. That may have been a limiting factor. In many leagues, first time offenders have a maximum penalty that is relatively light.
- Secondly, if I recall correctly, CLG Hotshotgg was cooperative and forthcoming, and did not continue to violate LCS rules. Often, the reaction is worse than the crime (for example: NFL Quarterback Tom Brady may have not knowingly violated the ball inflation rules, but people are saying his press conference and lack of cooperation are what set forth the 4 game suspension). In Badawi’s case, he chose to ignore Riot and continue violating the rules of entry set forth by Riot. He reacted poorly, and Riot chose to act.
Badawi is being targeted for standing up for the players! Riot doesn’t like that!
Badawi was recently quoted by the DailyDot, saying “My observation in the scene is this: Players. Get. Fucked.” In that article, it also talks about how Badawi wishes to stand up for the players. Some believe Riot wants to ban him from influencing their league. I think that’s a stretch.
First of all, this ruling has nothing to do with his views but everything to do with his actions. While is actions didn’t help or hurt the players he poached or his current team members, it did have the potential to hurt other organizations and their players (ruining team chemistry, hurting another team’s standings which can impact their players, etc…). Indirectly, he contradicted his quote. If he had poached a player successfully, sure: that player might have a better situation under Badawi. But he would indirectly hurt 4 more players and a team. I think his actions are hypocritical to his statement.
How come LCS teams can poach Challenger Series players? That's not fair!
You're right, it's not. But that's currently how LCS is set up, and Riot needs to address this. Right now, Riot protects LCS teams, not Challenger Series teams. But that's how the current system is implemented, and if you want to join LCS, you have to understand that this is how the path to LCS is currently paved.
However, just because something is (or is not) in the rule book doesn't make it right, and I agree inter-league poaching is a huge problem that needs to be addressed. I believe that formally recognizing Challenger Series players and teams would go a long way in addressing a plethora of the problems stated here, but I will go into greater detail about that system later in this article.
What options does Badawi have?
Here is where I think Riot needs to improve: There is no appeal system in place for rulings. While appeals seem silly in many leagues, they do offer a forum for someone to present their case, perhaps show remorse if guilty, and allow Riot to alter their ruling. This system does not exist, and I believe it needs to be created soon. On the other hand, Riot has no obligation to provide an appeal for Badawi. They are not punishing him within the context of the league, as described above, but rather are barring him from entry into their exclusive organization. Appeals on an athletic level generally cover punishments of people already within the organization.
This leaves Badawi with litigation. As a former lawyer, Badawi is not foreign to the concept. However, I’m not sure what legal grounding Badawi would have in the court of law. If he truly feels he was wronged, he can present his case and continue to fight for the right to participate in LCS.
What's next for Riot? How can we address these obvious issues?
In my eyes, I see one of two options.
Unionization and CBAs
This is a difficult question. In most leagues with players unions, the governing body (NFL, NBA, etc…) is partners with the owners (Robert Kraft, Jerry Jones) and are a single entity. There are 2 clear conflicting bodies: Owners/league and players. In the case of LCS, that’s not true.
I personally believe that, eventually, players need to unionize and owners need to unionize. In this case, there would not be one collective bargaining agreement (as seen in most sports) but two, and not in the way you think.
- In order to establish a good behavior between the owners and the players, Player/Riot-Owner CBA should be established. What do I mean? Well, I believe an agreement of standard practices should be negotiated between owners and players (being cut, wages, hours, etc), with Riot helping the player have a fair say at the negotiation table. While most visible, players are the most expendable, and thus Riot should help them with having their rights protected
- In order to establish fair treatment of organizations, Owner-Riot CBA should be established. What exactly would this entail? Simply put, this agreement will dictate how Owners/Organizations and Riot will interact. What are the rules for organizations? What will Riot pay them? What rights do organizations have? What are the suspension standards? These rules are currently non-negotiable (at least formally), and this needs to happen.
Contracts for those in Challenger Series
This may be the best answer yet: Contracts should be established or recreated between Challenger Players/Owners and Riot, and LCS contracts should be updated to reflect the existence of such contracts. Challenger Series contracts would define the rules of the Challenger Series, ban poaching of players in either Challenger Series or LCS (LCS contracts can be updated to reflect this too), and clearly define the various punishments and the avenues of appeal. These contracts do not mean that Riot has to pay Challenger Series players.
By doing so, Riot solves 3 major problems: Inter-league poaching, a lack of an appeal process for Challenger Series Players, and lack of legal protection for Riot. This proposal, in my belief, best prevents most of the problems we have experienced in this ruling from occurring, while establishing a true, recognized "minor league" of LCS.
I get it. I, along with many of you, are hyped up on the Renegades train. But take a step back and look at the ruling. It’s not black and white, but it’s not egregious. Riot eSports isn’t a perfect organization by any means (no young league is), but their ruling was not unfair. I think the statements from Monte/Thorin/other journalists are being very sensational, and fail to view the situation from an objective standpoint (which is understandable). Poaching isn’t tolerated in LCS, and Riot has decided that they would prefer that those who wish to enter the LCS also follow those rules (and in Badawi’s case, he’s already an owner in the LCS).
If anything, we should take this as a learning opportunity for Riot and future pros/owners. First, we need clearer and firmer definitions of rulesets, be it league rules, further establishment of the Challenger Series, or CBAs. Second, an appeal system needs to be created. Without that, Riot has the perception of judge, jury, and executioner, which will not help their image in the long run (and rightfully so). Third, morality is important. While I know professional sports are cutthroat and morals don’t always have their place, all of this could have been avoided by simply acknowledging the rules and the unethical nature of your behavior. I know some of you may laugh, but I remain idealistic: Ethics are always important, so make sure remain ethical in all that you do.