As professional gaming becomes more and more mainstream, competitors are beginning to face the same scrutiny that traditional athletes deal with on the reg. Players are no longer looking out for just themselves: they become brand ambassadors for their sponsors and goodwill ambassadors for the legitimacy of eSports. Turns out, not every e-athlete is cut out for that level of scrutiny. In fact, some of them aren’t cut out for fame at all. From abuse caught live on camera to career-ending racist rants, these lapses in judgment spelled “GAME OVER” for some truly promising pro gamers.
Even if you’re a total noob when it comes to pro gaming, you’ve probably heard of Billy Mitchell. “Does this have my name on the back or something?” “What’s it say?” “It says: ‘You have a yearning for perfection.'”
The eccentric gamer appeared in the documentary King of Kong, which detailed his impressive Donkey Kong record, one that went unchallenged for nearly two decades. Of course, he was eventually dethroned, but his legacy remained. And then February 2018 came along and pulled the rug out from under him. In a post on Donkey Kong Forum, the official resource for the game’s competitive scene, a user explained that Mitchell’s scores were accomplished on an emulated version of the game, not the original arcade hardware.
This may seem insignificant, but it is a big no-no in that community and had huge ramifications for Mitchell. Polygon writes that he was banned by record-tracking organization Twin Galaxies for life since he had knowingly lied about his scores. But, hey, if you’re a fan of this guy, don’t worry too much, it doesn’t seem like he’s going anywhere.
After all … “Billy Mitchell always has a plan.” Professional eSports team Cloud9 was on top of the world in April 2015. Gamespot writes that they had just finished second place in the North America League of Legends Championship Series, and their mid-laner, team captain Hai Lam, was leading the charge. Just like in the world of traditional sports, it would probably take a catastrophic injury to end the career of a young, elite talent like Hai. Luckily, those types of injuries don’t happen in eSports, right?
Wrong. In a post on the Cloud9 blog, Hai told his fans that he needed to step away from playing League of Legends at the ripe age of 22 due to a debilitating wrist injury. Fortunately for his diehard fans, Hai did not completely step away from League of Legends.
He was a founding member of Cloud9, so he made the smart decision to step out of the competitive spotlight and into a management role. A Korean superstar in the world of StarCraft II, Lee “Life” Seung-hyun was a force to behold. Kotaku went so far as to call him “the best StarCraft II talent of his generation,” and ESPN writes that Lee is widely seen as one of the best, if not the absolute best, Zerg players to ever play the game. He won the Global StarCraft League Championship in 2012 at the age of fifteen, and went on a tear that saw him destroy legends and records in his quest to become the greatest to ever play the game. At nineteen, Lee was arrested by Korean sports authorities for participating in gambling and match fixing.
He was banned by the Korean eSports Association for life. ESPN writes that Lee has a serious gambling addiction, and he was convicted for fixing two matches. Lee was paid 70 million won, or, about $62,000 USD, for throwing those matches. This one is a bit murky about what actually happened, but it also shows just how serious an eSports team takes its professional image. ESPN reports that Choi “Locodoco” Yoon-seop, the coach for the Golden Guardians League of Legends team, was fired just two weeks after the 2018 League of Legends season began for making an inappropriate comment to a female employee of Riot Games. The NBA’s Golden State Warriors sponsor the team, and they exercised their zero tolerance policy by kicking Choi to the curb.
Kotaku writes that Choi was scheduled to do a pre-match interview when he made the comment, and he later apologized for the remark, saying it was a personal story that wasn’t sexual in nature but was “totally inappropriate” for the setting he was in. That sorta contradicts another claim he’d made that the story could “remotely be construed or interpreted as sexual harassment.” Make up your mind, buddy!
Li Wei Jun, better known as “Vasilii” in League of Legends circles, streamed regularly on Twitch and had signed a contract with Chinese team Newbee. That came crashing down when Li was streaming one evening, became irate, and attacked his girlfriend. According to a Reddit translation of the incident, Li’s girlfriend had told him to not let toxic chatters get to him.
Li responded by flipping his desk over. Sounds of violence, screaming, and objects breaking followed. At one point in the stream, Li’s girlfriend reportedly yelled, “You’re beating me for this?” After the violence, Li returned to his computer and continued to stream. The police later entered his apartment and brought him to the police station. Kotaku writes that Newbee quickly let Li go, even though his girlfriend later claimed he was breaking objects in the room, not actually hitting her.
Matt “Dellor” Vaughn was a professional Overwatch player for Toronto eSports, and regularly streamed on Twitch to show off his skills and connect with his audience. In one of those streams, Vaughn ran into an opposing Widowmaker that he was convinced was cheating. Live, on stream, Vaughn snapped, calling out racial slurs for about thirty seconds.
“OHHHHHH, WOW. You’re ACTUALLY gonna say that.” Kotaku reports that Vaughn issued an apology following the incident, claiming he was tired and angry so he just tried to say the most offensive and shocking thing possible. But the deed was already done, and so was Vaughn’s career. He was dropped immediately from Toronto eSports.
Good riddance. Not everyone leaves professional gaming because they’re caught doing something terrible. Take Coryn “MsSpyte” Briere, for example, who achieved the rank of Grandmaster in StarCraft. That places her in the very top percentile of all players. She maintained a steady streaming schedule, had thousands of fans, and she even moved to the ROOT eSports team house… but she walked away after just three months.
Briere told Kotaku about the stress that her level of competition brought with it, saying, “Playing [on that level] is not an enjoyable thing. If you’re losing you’re unhappy and if you’re winning you’re content. You’re never just, like, happy.” She still streams games on occasion, when she’s not streaming her own digital painting and concept art, but her decision to walk away from the professional scene seems to have been the right move for her.