In January 2015, the head of the biggest Smash Bros. tournament in the world appeared to step down amid a storm of allegations that he had harassed trans and underage women. Rather than leave the scene, however, Johnathan “Alex Strife” Lugo is already in talks to once again lead operations for the Apex Series, according to multiple sources close to Apex.
After the success of Apex 2015, which saw a bolstered prize pool and the formation of a world circuit of qualifiers, several companies have expressed interest in sponsoring the main tournament as well as its qualifier circuit. Following the public controversy in late January, this could be the turn of a fresh leaf for Apex.
But multiple sources who work closely with Apex tell the Daily Dot that, since he publicly stepped down two months ago, Lugo is moving to resume heading the business side of the company. The alleged plan is to keep Cristin “Crismas” DeSaro as the public face of the organization, while Lugo remains behind the scenes, only involved in sponsor acquisition and other financial activities.
For his part, Lugo firmly denied these claims, telling the Daily Dot he was no longer involved in any capacity with Apex. That contradicts what he told tournament organizers in a Feb. 9 Facebook message shared with the Daily Dot.
“I own Apex and still run it,” Lugo wrote, adding parenthetically: “Albeit behind the scenes, cause ppl like to make stuff up.”
This comes amid ongoing tension between Lugo and Apex’s business side and a group of tournament organizers integral to the operation of the tournament and its qualifiers. After the 2015 main event was plagued by organizational issues, as well as an improper contract with the venue, the organizers have publicly expressed displeasure and distrust with Lugo and the Apex administration, citing systemic incompetence from the current leaders.
The tensions have escalated into talks to launch a new major to replace Apex.
The staff’s reservations are well-founded. In January, multiple transgender community members leveled allegations against Lugo, claiming that the Apex administrator had, on several occasions, acted inappropriately toward them. Chat logs also revealed that Lugo outed multiple transgender individuals and, in one conversation, used an individual’s birth name, considered a serious breach of trust and privacy in the trans community.
Within hours of the revelations, others came forward to speak to Lugo’s behavior. This included Emily “Kiwi” Wajda, who allegedly received numerous inappropriate messages from Lugo when she was only 14. Chat logs revealed that Lugo asked the woman about her bra size on multiple occasions and included the message, “You’re the only girl I’d go pedo for… no tell people plox[sic].”
The revelations sent shockwaves through the tight-knit Smash community. Several teams prepared to pull players from the event. Then, on Jan. 20, Apex released a statement that said Lugo had stepped down, just a week before its main event, with the remainder of its staff taking control. But now it appears he may have never left.
Apex declined to comment on this article.
Photo by Robert Paul