One of the best teams in the European Challenger Series has become beset by financial problems that threaten to tear it apart.
Team Huma has allegedly failed to pay its players on time on multiple occasions and has struggled to find funds to pay for basic needs like hotel rooms and lawyer fees.
That means that a team that should be challenging for the LCS may soon disband or, at best, radically alter its roster as its owner looks to sell off one of his best players in a last-ditch attempt to acquire funding.
In November 2015, British investor Behdad Jaafarian approached former Copenhagen Wolves head coach Karl “Dentist” Krey to build a team for the European Challenger Series. Promising investment money and sponsorship revenue, Jaafarian convinced Krey that his team, known as Team Huma, was worth working with.
While Jaafarian made contractual and written promises to Krey, the team’s general manager Nicole Manning promised that the team would be able to acquire $300,000 in sponsorship revenue a year.
Krey assembled a roster of five former professional League of Legends players: former Giants top laner Jorge “Werlyb” Casanovas, former Team SoloMid jungler Lucas “Santorin” Tao Kilmer Larsen, former Ninjas in Pyjamas mid laner Dan “Godbro” Van Vo, former Dark Passage AD carry Anıl “HolyPhoenix” Işık, and former Copenhagen Wolves support Christophe “je suis kaas” van Oudheusden.
In order to prove he had funds, Jaafarian showed Krey bank statements and real estate estimates for apartments he owned in the United Kingdom. Meanwhile Manning, who formerly worked for Team Coast and Final Five, negotiated each contract with the players. Each player signed the agreements, excited to start competing together against other Challenger teams and began the race to qualify.
The team qualified for the Challenger series with ease, losing only one series in the two-month long qualification season. Team Huma was clearly a force to be reckoned with, on course to qualify for the LCS. But behind the scenes, problems were starting to bubble to the surface.
In its original contracts, Huma said it would pay players on the first of each month. But Jaafarian missed that deadline in December, paying players 19 days after he was supposed to. The next month, Jaafarian again failed to pay the players on time. Those contracts, meanwhile, needed to be rewritten.
After the team qualified for the Challenger Series, Riot Games examined the contracts that Manning had drafted with the players. According to sources close to the organization, Riot found that the contracts weren’t up to its standards, and it forced Huma to rewrite them in order for the team to compete in the Challenger series beginning on Jan. 26.
In another contracting snafu, head coach Kublai “Kubz” Barlas was promised a contract to work with the team throughout the Challenger Series, but did not receive a contract until late February. Jaafarian has yet to sign that contract on his end.
Team Huma’s players, especially Larsen and Casanova, were becoming increasingly frustrated with the situation. Making things worse, Manning left the team in mid January, having failed to generate any of the $300,000 she’d promised in revenue.
That in turn meant Jaafarian couldn’t fund any number of smaller expenses, including hotel expenses in Berlin, where the team was scheduled to play in the Challenger Series playoffs in late January.
In early February, he put Krey in charge of coordinating a Berlin bootcamp for the team to prepare for playoffs, only to later tell his manager that he couldn’t afford the $1,000 a month needed to rent a workspace in the city and didn’t have the proper tax ID to validate the paperwork.
At the same time, Krey had to handle the complicated visa application process for the team’s Turkish AD Carry, Işık entirely on his own—because, once again, Jaafarian couldn’t afford to pay fees for a lawyer. The application required proof that Işık would be returning to Turkey after the Challenger playoffs—essentially that he’d booked a return flight. When the team couldn’t buy the ticket, Işık was forced to ask a family for help buying one.
As problems started to build for the team, Jaafarian had apparently sought an early exit from esports, approaching potential buyers and investors. The team’s success made it a potentially valuable investment, and it didn’t take long for one of esports’ oldest organizations, compLexity Gaming, to take note. The organization reportedly made a starting bid of $60,000, an offer that Jaafarian rebuffed. Complexity increased its bids, but Jaafarian wasn’t satisfied, and was reportedly uninterested in anything less than £200,000.
“We reached out to Huma management and expressed our interest in the team but never got a definitive answer,” compLexity Gaming’s CEO Jason Lake tells the Daily Dot. “It’s our hope that the players can find a more stable environment and we wish everyone involved the very best.”
Jaafarian ultimately decided against selling the team, despite being unable to fund it himself. He did, however, reach out to Chris Badawi, the co-owner of North American organization Renegades, to see if he’d be interested in investing in the team and covering half of the team’s operating costs. Badawi has not accepted Jaafarian’s request, though the offer is reportedly still on the table.
There’s another option for the team to stay financially viable, however: selling his players. The veteran Larsen, in particular, could likely drive a high asking price in North America. Larsen declared his North American residency last offseason, meaning he does not take up one of the two import slots on a North American team.
At least one Challenger side, in fact, has already expressed interest in Larsen. Team Ember approached Jaafarian in mid February, offering $100,000 to buy the player out of his contract. Larsen, who is upset with Jaafarian and the situation with the team, is interested in taking the offer, according to sources close to the player.
Jaafarian is looking to make any move he can to keep the team afloat financially while also keeping it a viable competitive threat. In addition to Larsen, he’s reportedly looking to offload Casanovas, which would rid him of the two players who are most frustrated with team management.
Prior to this season, Challenger Series teams were controlled by the players. If a similar situation had occurred in 2015, the players would be able to leave the organization and find a new home. But due to a rule change, Jaafarian has total control over the team.
That means that he can remove all five players at any point without any say from the team or his managerial staff. Last week he approached Chris Badawi with a proposal: loan two players from his Challenger team, top laner Barney “Alphari” Morris and jungler Matthew “Impaler” Taylor, to replace Casanovas and Larsen respectively—an offer that Badawi declined.
In a statement to the Daily Dot, Jaffarian said was working on resolving the issues with the team, and emphasized that, though payments were late, the players ultimately did receive their salaries. “There will be changes in the infrastructure, however we’re doing the best we can to solve the problems,” Jaffarian said. “And the players have been paid. No contractual obligations have been failed to fulfill.”
When asked for comment, Riot Games told the Daily Dot it was investigating the issues raised in this article.
Photo via Riot Games/Flickr (All rights reserved, used with permission) | Remix by Jacob Wolf
Need more esports? Check out Dot Esports on Youtube!