What to look for in Chris Badawi’s AMA
Today, Chris Badawi will conduct an AMA on the League of Legends subreddit in the wake of ESPN reporter Jacob Wolf’s latest report on the ban of the Renegades organization from Riot Games-sponsored leagues.
Wolf’s report gives additional information about a key confrontation between Maria "Remilia" Creveling and Badawi, more specifics regarding Renegades organization structure in terms of ownership, and explores some specific interactions between Team Dragon Knights (TDK) and Renegades alluded to in Riot’s original ruling. The article tacitly critiques Riot Games’ investigative and disciplinary processes, starting with its introductory single sentence paragraph, “Who watches the watchmen?” Riot Games’ continued refusal to provide evidence for their claims to the accused party continues to highlight the company’s ongoing authoritarian streak and certainly invites considerable criticism, but the particularities of this ongoing ordeal have yet to be completely sorted. Given Riot’s tight-lipped approach, the hearsay of some specifics, and the lingering legal complications still surrounding this incident, the true story may be obscured in perpetuity. Chris Badawi’s AMA and the ensuing response to it may be the last illuminating rays of information released on this stubbornly murky subject.
Chris Badwai first appeared on the scene following Team Curse Academy’s promotion into the League Championship Series (LCS). Due to the two-team rule, Steve Arhancet of Team Curse, which is now Team Liquid, was forced to sell their sister team, the first sale of its kind. Badawi was one of the many interested investors, but after a length bidding and interviewing process, Arhancet ultimately choose to sell the team to Davis Vague in Jan. 2015. However, as a finalist in the running, Badwai developed a relationship with Arhancet and was taken under his wing. Arhancet introduced Badawi to his players and several other team owners, and from there, Badawi’s connections fanned out of his own accord as he looked to form his own team from scratch.
By March, he founded Misfits, the forerunner to Renegades, following the signing of Alexey "Alex Ich" Ichetovkin, Alberto "Crumbz" Rengifo, and Remilia with Oleksii "RF Legendary" Kuziuta to be signed soon thereafter. On June 19, Misfits and an Australian Counter-Strike: Global Offensive team who had previously been a part of the Vox Eminor organization were brought into Renegades, a co-venture by Chris Badawi and LCK caster Christopher "MonteCristo" Mykles.
Just five days later, however, Riot would release its first ruling against Badawi due to issues concerning poaching or contract tampering. The ruling blocked Badawi from the riot recognized position of owner, coach, or manager of any team competing in a Riot-run league.
The ruling specifically referred to Badawi’s earlier attempts to recruit Yuri "Keith" Jew and Diego "Quas" Ruiz. Multiple accounts, including the Riot ruling, reported that Badawi approached Keith without first contacting Steve Arhancet. Badawi’s actions were outside of the etiquette established by team owners at that time, but was not explicitly disallowed by Riot’s rulesets at that time due the grey area surrounding teams not participating in either the Challenger Series or the LCS. While perhaps never receiving an explicit warning by Riot, Badawi was told that the actions of an owner would be reviewed before entering a Riot-sanctioned league.
After talking to both Arhancet and Riot about these poaching rules, Badawi still contacted another team Liquid player in Quas, which infuriated Arhancet and prompted the original Riot ruling. What is unclear and continues to be unclear is whether the extent of Badawi’s conversation constituted tampering given the established ruleset. Following the ruling, Badawi contested that his communications with Quas were more “general” concerning Quas’s “options” later in his career, which would not interfere with his current contract with Liquid.
A week later on July 1, an article by Travis Gafford was released which detailed the statements of six Riot-affiliated team owners concerning Badawi. Arhancet described his side of the incident with Keith and Quas. TSM owner Andy “Reginald” Dinh, Cloud9 owner Jack Etienne, and Gravity owner Davis Vague all accused Badawi of poaching or tampering with their own players. Winterfox owner Brian Cordry actually accused Badawi of soliciting a bribe, and a representative of TIP stated their “support” for Riot’s ruling.
These claims were firmly combatted in statements by Monte Cristo, Chris Badawi, and an investigation by The Daily Dot’s Samuel Lingle. In Lingle’s article, Gravity’s Davis Vague actually retracted his claims, stating he was motivated to act against Badawi because Badawi had previously given disadvantageous legal advice to a competitor. With the exception of Etienne’s claims, which even then were still muddled due to the rule gap for non-LCS and Challenger teams, most of the accusations presented boil down to ad hoc anecdotal arguments with no clear resolutions.
Regardless of the public circus surrounding the initial ban and the proceeding team owners’ accusations, Riot’s ruling held firm. Badawi had to sell his ownership stake in both Renegades and Team Dragon Knights, which he had become a part owner of during the Misfits-era.
With Badawi still a part of the Renegades organization outside of a Riot recognized position, their League of Legends team eventually won the Challenger series playoffs, securing their auto-promotion into the LCS for the 2016 spring season.
In that season, Renegades struggled mightily leading to the departure of Remilia on Feb. 1, the benching of RF Legendary for Cuong "Flaresz" Ta on Feb. 7, and a trade of Alex Ich and Flaresz for TDK’s Shin "Seraph" Woo-yeong and Noh "Ninja" Geon-woo on March 3. However, on May 8 after the new lineup showed improved results and managed to escape relegation, Riot released another ruling banning both Renegades and TDK for competing in Riot sanctioned leagues. The ruling revolved around three distinct infractions concerning “team ownership structure and behavior,” “player welfare and treatment within the team” and “collusion/competitive integrity.”
The report claimed that Riot had evidence that Badawi and Monte Cristo had privately agreed to return Badawi’s 50% ownership stake once his previous ban was lifted. In terms of player welfare, vague allusion to “confrontations,” issues regarding payment, and an “unsafe work environment” were made. The final sticking point was the manner in which trading was handled between the TDK and Renegades organizations, which Riot stated amount to collusion.
Unlike the previous Riot ruling, very little was revealed in the wake of this decision despite much greater public interest. Neither Monte Cristo or Badawi made public statements before or after the sale of the LCS slot on May 18 other than a simple denial via twitter. Before the release of Wolf’s article this Monday, which explored Riot’s claims much more thoroughly, no additional information had been released. Badawi’s AMA today breaks the silence of the accused.
Intricacies of Second Ruling
Riot’s three-pronged ruling against Renegades has been clarified to some degree with Jacob Wolf’s most recent article, but several questions still loiter. The Wolf article states that Renegades was reincorporated with Badawi serving as CEO, but having no ownership stake. Per Riot’s original ruling, this setup was acceptable as Badwai did not hold one of Riot’s three recognized positions. However, in the ruling and in their reported communications with Wolf and ESPN, Riot claim to have evidence of an agreement between Badawi and Monte Cristo that would return Badawi’s ownership stake, but would not release their information.
The first Riot ruling occurred on June 24, 2015, while the second ruling was made nine and a half months later on May 8. Badawi’s ban would end at the conclusion of the 2016 competitive season, which may end as early as August for teams who do not qualify for the World Championship. Unless Riot is being completely disingenuous, they must have some evidence that has convinced them that a deal was in place.
Could documents or communications sent regarding plans following the end of Badawi’s ban be the evidence obtained by Riot? If not, what other evidence could Riot have obtained, misinterpreted or otherwise, that would lead them to believe this agreement exists?
In the player welfare section, Riot’s grievances with Renegades revolved around, “confrontations between management and players, refusal to honor payment and contract provisions, and failure to maintain a safe environment for all team members.” Wolf’s article stated that other confrontations had occurred, but went into detail about a specific incident involving Remilia, one of the few players who did not come out publically in support of Renegades following their ban. Wolf reports that Badawi “threatened to deduct money from Remilia's salary to recoup money that Badawi had given her for medical procedures.” If Riot was extremely liberal in their judgment, this one incident could have fulfilled all three qualifiers mentioned in the player welfare section.
Were there any more incidents that went beyond or could have perceived to have gone beyond simple confrontations and contributed to the perception that the Renegades house was an “unsafe” working environment? Were there any more incidents where “payments and contract provisions” were removed or threatened to be removed?
In an interview with Richard Lewis, Chad "SPUNJ" Burchill, an ex-Renegades CS:GO player, stated that the Renegades organization seemed to have serious “cash-flow” problems. He claimed that he had “never” been paid on time, and there were periods as long as two months where he was not paid.
Would Badawi be willing to confirm or deny these claims? Were there similar issues regarding late payments on the League of Legends side of the business?
Badawi’s Apparent Duplicity
The repeating chorus of these cases revolves around the ambiguity of intentions and actions taken by Badawi. If viewed unfavorably, it is fairly easy to paint Badawi as someone who intentionally skirts the letter of the law in order to advance his own agenda. On the other hand, if Badawi is given the benefit of the doubt and the biases of his accusers are more strongly considered, it is possible to envision him as the victim of his more powerful adversaries. This uncertainty or ambiguity is the central pillar of Lingle’s in-depth article. Its tagline reads, “Is Chris Badawi a sweet-talking swindler? A martyr? Or something in between?”
In Lingle’s article, it was even established that people in direct communication with Badawi can be uncertain of his intentions. Lingle states that Choi "Locodoco" Yoon-sub was not sure whether his talks with Badawi amounted to tampering or poaching. “He explains that his conversations with Chris felt like ‘Badawi beat around the bush’ and Choi did not want to get caught in the middle of something that was not concretely provable.”
This sort of implied communication may have also led to Cordry’s accusation in the Gafford article. In his written statement, Cordry writes, “Badawi again mentioned that the deal wasn't finalized with TDK, and that it was possible that he could call it off. At this point, it became clear to me where the conversation was leading, and why we were speaking via voice rather than text.”
In talks or negotiations, does Badawi purposely obfuscate his language in order to avoid the possible legal ramifications of his insinuations? Or can Badawi give an explanation for why his communications appear to have been frequently misinterpreted?
A smaller point, but one that still perhaps merits address, is a lack of verification regarding Badawi’s background. In Duncan "Thorin" Shields’s take on the Renegades ban, Thorin professed his own uncertainty concerning Badawi. At one point, he humorously added, “Even the whole storyline of his career which is something out of a f***ing 1960s comic book like: oh, he’s had his head run over and he was like yeah ‘what am I doing with my life…I gotta help dem kids man.’ Come on, man, that’s like a little bit too… They're very few people like that in the world.”
Badawi has often painted himself in a very favorable or martyrous light, which can look extremely suspicious given the accusations leveled at him over the past year. For example, in the Lingle article, Badawi states that July 1, 2015, the day the Gafford “ambush” article came out, “was the worst day of his life, next to the day his dad died and the day he was run over by a car.” In an interview with Nilu Kulasingham, Badawi claimed that he used to be a practicing patent lawyer in New York, but “Chris Badawi” cannot be found in New York’s State Court system database, which should be able to find any registered lawyer in New York.
The idea that he has completely fabricated his background seems extremely unlikely, but perhaps Badawi would be willing to both verify his credentials and reaffirm his intentions in esports in his AMA later today.
Following the first Riot ruling, Badawi found one of his staunchest advocates in the veteran esports journalist Richard Lewis. Lewis has perhaps been the fiercest critic of Riot Games since the inception of League of Legends, often characterizing their attitude from 2012 or 2013 onwards as increasingly cultish and tyrannical. In terms of Badawi, Lewis sharply criticized both Riot Games’ investigation of Badawi and Travis Gafford’s July 1 article, which he called a “hit-piece.” Lewis also pointed out that Gafford took a complementary vacation offered by Team Liquid to Maui, Hawaii with Arhancet and the team two months prior to the release of his article, which may have influenced his objectivity.
In 2016, Richard Lewis made an extended visit to America following his decision to work for Turner’s ELEAGUE broadcast. Since then, he has claimed to have stayed in the Renegades League of Legends team house for six weeks cumulatively over two different periods. Following the second Riot ruling, which banned Renegades and TDK, Lewis surprisingly came out in support of the ban, stating it was the “right decision” despite the flaws in Riot’s processes. As a journalist and outsider with first-hand experience of the conditions and interworking of the house, Lewis may be the most qualified person to present to the public the facts surrounding the contended points of this case. However, when the story first broke this past May, Lewis stated that it had been made “very clear” to him that he had to remain silent or he and “anyone else who is suspected of having cooperating with Riot’s investigation” would be made the “victim of a smear-campaign.”
Richard Lewis’s apparent friendship with Remilia serves as a possible explanation for his pro-Riot position in this case due to the disagreement or altercation between Remilia and Badawi described in Jacob Wolf’s recent article. However, it is hard to believe that Richard Lewis, who has always been known for the veracity of his reporting, would mislead the public about the conditions of the team house or invent this “smear-campaign” allegation whole cloth.
Can Chris Badawi explain why Richard Lewis come out in support of Riot despite his long history of antagonism towards them beyond the simplistic explanation given above? Did Badawi himself threaten Lewis or did this “smear-campaign” threat come from someone else in the Renegades organization? Could this “smear-campaign” again be an exaggeration or misconstruction or something said by Badawi?
Yesterday when Badawi announced he would be conducting today’s AMA, Richard Lewis stated he would be closely “monitoring” the proceedings. “Lies shall be corrected,” he added.
Photo credit: DailyDot, Kotaku, HLTV
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