2022: The Year Of The Scumbag

In his latest column, Dexerto’s Richard Lewis dives into some of the biggest stories of 2022 in gaming and esports to explain why it was ‘The Year Of The Scumbag’.

I was weighing up to do the best summary of 2022 so readers could have an understanding of just what a ghastly year it was for the esports industry as a whole. At the end of every esports year, I am left with the same feelings. Regret, shame, embarrassment.

As I get older, appropriately for the esports industry, I take my cues from Chinese wisdom. Their tradition of naming years after animals comes from the fable “The Great Race”, in which the Jade Emperor invited animals from all across his kingdom to come and swim a mighty river. Only 12 animals could be bothered to answer the call, and so grateful was the emperor that he agreed that he would name a year after each animal in their honor, should they finish the race. In the story, the order in which the animals finished is based on their associated traits. For example, the rat wins overall through a combination of deceit and cunning, having used the ox to be carried across a stretch of water and by not waking his friend, the cat, on the morning of the race, sparking an eternal animus between the two species for all of time.

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Similarly, when those who originally built esports decided it was ready to be viewed by all, they, too, sent out invites for everyone to come and take enjoyment from participation in this new digital pursuit. Many spurned those invites and only a handful of people arrived. The liar, the thief, the failure, the predator… One by one, they arrived but no one in esports was as wise as the Jade Emperor and no one thought to immortalize them in a calendar.

All that changes today. I haven’t hashed out the details yet but I feel comfortable declaring 2022 The Year Of The Scumbag. Scumbags combine many negative traits, a jack of every rotten trade. They lie, they cheat, they steal (RIP, Eddie), they bully, they abuse, they betray. There isn’t one method that defines The Scumbag, only a philosophy. They are the epitome of selfishness and care only for themselves, everyone else simply being a resource to use for their own goals. Like all good psychopaths, when caught, they can convincingly lie and will never hesitate to sacrifice someone else to ensure they can continue reaping the rewards their lack of ethics will bestow upon them.

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Hard to disagree with all we saw last year, isn’t it? 2022, being a Scumbag year, embued all the Scumbags with greater powers, and so we saw many Scumbags manage to evade any accountability at all. They ruined people’s lives with impunity and were rewarded for it, while the industry either applauded or shrugged their shoulders.

Starting at the top

They were many notable Scumbags in 2022, and it would be remiss of me not to give them the appropriate attention. Let’s start with the man who is for many the patron saint of Scumbags, Bobby Kotick. Many thought 2022 would be a year of comeuppance for him after having been at the helm for the complete reputational collapse of Activision-Blizzard. 2021 was one negative headline after another, revelations about system sexism and sexual abuse of staff members would be followed up with allegations that Kotick himself had at one point threatened to kill his female assistant. With share price plummeting, Microsoft was able to take advantage of one of the biggest media buyouts of all time, which surely should have signaled the end of Kotick’s tenure. Despite staff walkouts, high-profile departures, and removal from other corporate boards, he hung in there like a tick that hadn’t finished gorging itself. With lawsuits and investigations pending, surely 2022 would be the year when we all finally got to see his fall.

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Instead, Kotick kicked off the year by winning a vote of confidence to stay in his role as CEO with a huge majority, having been deemed the right man to oversee the buyout he had inadvertently caused. When it was revealed that he will walk away with a close to $400 million payout as part of the deal, US politicians objected, but, like so much of what they do, it was performative rather than practical. He followed this up with some alleged insider trading, despite the fact he already had the attention of three government-backed agencies and was named in a number of civil lawsuits.

Then came the story that a Facebook executive had threatened to harm the business relationship of a British newspaper if they ran a story about a restraining order one of Kotick’s ex-girlfriends had filed. These allegations would, too, be denied and there would be no consequences. In June, up for election to the board again, he would survive being removed again and won re-election as CEO in another landslide. Shoes firmly under the table again, coincidentally it was around this time that Activision Blizzard decided to re-hire a law firm that specialized in union busting, at a time when many contributors to the AB empire didn’t want to be exploited in the future.

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The year would end with the National Labor Relations Board finding merit in the claims made by one such group, the Quality Assurance team at Raven Software, that they were retaliated against for attempting to unionize. 2023 would begin with a California judge tossing out a three-time amended complaint from shareholders that accused the AB board of breaching fiduciary duty by fostering the culture that caused the company to lose so much value. The technical reason for dismissal is that there was never a formal request made for changes to company leadership.

The bully

Keeping it at the executive level, everyone’s second favorite CEO, Andy “ReginaldBRO” Dinh, also seemed to skate any kind of consequences for his behavior. At the start of the year, it was reported that he was being investigated for bullying his TSM members. The world was shocked as he had only been caught doing it a number of times on video. Incredibly, it seems that those filmed and broadcasted examples were indicative of some sort of attitude problem and there were numerous complaints about the type of feedback Dinh would dish out.

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Twitter: TSM

In 2022, Riot investigated bullying claims involving TSM CEO Reginald

“A normal boss who thought you were doing a bad job would give you feedback. [At TSM], it was like, ‘This is trash’ or ‘You’re awful,’” one employee was quoted by Wired as saying. The employee estimated that there was a time when Dinh made somebody cry at least every other week, read the report. It is widely speculated Dinh would then harvest those tears and drink them from a chalice forged from the remnants of Echo Fox.

You might think that there would be some consequences for Mr. Dinh after being exposed as the esports Mason Verger, but clearly you haven’t kept an eye on the calendar. After an investigation lasting more than six months, Riot Games concluded “that there was a pattern and practice of disparaging and bullying behavior exhibited by Andy Dinh towards TSM players and staff members.” There have of course been precedents set for this type of behavior in the past. When I reported that a player under the Meet Your Makers banner was physically intimidated and threatened with having his mother’s house seized via legal action that could penalise parental cosignatories on player contracts, Riot acted decisively. The manager guilty of such action was suspended indefinitely from holding any position within an LCS team. It was only this measure that prevented MYM from losing their LCS slot entirely.

A similar ban was issued in 2016 when an investigation into player welfare concerns involving Renegades concluded that fostering an unsafe environment was “failure to meet the professional standards we expect of LCS owners and team representatives.” This saw Chris Badawi, the majority owner, banned from ever participating in LCS or other Riot-operated leagues ever again. Suspensions were also dispensed to management not even present in the country at the time of the transgressions. In addition to this, they were forced to sell the team slot with just a ten-day window, costing everyone involved millions of dollars as an additional indirect punishment.

Of course with LCS on its knees begging for the kill shot and Riot Games desperately trying to reshuffle the deck to keep the once flagship league relevant to its audience, there was simply no chance that TSM could be held to the same standard. Instead, in a glorious tribute to National Lampoon’s Animal House, Dinh was placed on DOUBLE SECRET PROBATION for a period of two years, and the organization, the highest-valued on the very accurate Forbes list, received a measly $75,000 fine.

But maybe Riot were playing the long game here. After all, another part of the agreement was that they would set up an anonymous hotline just for complaints about ReginaldBRO. Surely it would be impossible for him to go two whole years without stepping outside the boundaries of his probation and then the mighty Marc Merrill, who does love him some Regi, would truly have his revenge.

Except Riot mysteriously decided the anonymous complaints hotline was such a good idea that they should roll it out for every franchise in LCS and for what I am sure are very valid reasons that meant not starting the one they themselves committed to for TSM employees. In short, Dinh has now served six months of his probationary period without the apparatus through which to monitor it being in place. Hey, when you’re popular you just get to do it.

How many chances?

2022 also saw the incredible rise of Nicolai “HUNDEN” Petersen. HUNDEN was a disgraced coach, having confessed to cheating against both Astralis and Team Spirit, the latter being in a semi-final of an online cup that would net his team $30,000, in May 2020. Banned from coaching at ESIC-sanctioned events, his team, Heroic, moved him to the role of analyst until the ban expired in April 2021. Where most would be grateful for the support and a second chance, HUNDEN decided to reward his employers with an act of corporate sabotage. Astralis reportedly wanted him to replace their legendary coach, Danny ‘zonic’ Sorensen, and they were due to play Heroic at the impending IEM Cologne.

Only a day after the reports linking him with a move away, Heroic announced that they would not be traveling with him to the event and would instead use their coaching support staff in his place. This generated little drama at the time as people saw it simply as a confirmation that the move was likely to go ahead. It was later revealed that HUNDEN, in what I am sure was just a total coincidence, had decided to engage in an act of sabotage against Heroic to the benefit of his proposed future team. He took tactical details, which HUNDEN maintained were “only” anti-strats for rival teams, and shared them with Astralis ahead of the match between the two teams. This prompted another ESIC investigation and legal action from Heroic themselves, culminating in a two-year ban from coaching at ESIC-sanctioned events.

HUNDEN, more than content to be one of the most despised people in Counter-Strike, then decided to go on a campaign to try and take Heroic down with him, leveraging contacts in the media to make claims that actually Heroic’s players knew that he was cheating the whole time and that they should be banned, too. Of course substantiating these claims proved to be difficult, almost certainly because HUNDEN, a hardened, serial liar, was once again serially lying. However, that didn’t stop him from plumbing new depths in his desperation to ruin Heroic. Abusing a position of both authority and friendship, he secretly recorded a conversation he had with his former player Nikolaj ‘niko’ Kristensen during which he asked a series of incredibly leading questions that encouraged niko to state that he could tell HUNDEN was cheating in at least one of the matches he did. If that sounds acceptable, factor into your feelings that Kristensen has ADHD and Asperger’s Syndrome, something HUNDEN would have been aware of and almost certainly was the reason why he targeted the player in the first place.

In an ordinary world, cheating, violating the trust of your employers, and manipulating vulnerable adults would be utterly disqualifying for someone expecting to hold a position of authority ever again. But it’s 2022 and while Astralis might have been founded in 2016, a year of the liar, that doesn’t mean they can’t find synergy with Scumbags when it benefits them. There is indeed a lot of overlap in the esports zodiac, something you’ll be able to process, now that you’re aware of it. So, while you think HUNDEN’s career should be at absolute rock bottom, instead last year all the foundations were laid to ensure it peaked.

Astralis

HUNDEN has landed a job as Astralis’ head analyst

So in love with the idea of working with someone as morally bankrupt as HUNDEN, Astralis even leveraged one of their commercial partners as a means to do so while the ongoing legal dispute with ESIC was resolved. This was, of course, the build-up to giving their new golden boy a “head analyst” position once ESIC inevitably folded and shortened the length of his ban, although if this ongoing BLAST Premier tournament is anything to go by, he’s the most involved head analyst of all time. Huge plus points for the “friends in the media” PR offensive that not only saw a headline erroneously claiming that Petersen had been “cleared” but also denigrating previous coaching staff choices by having the team’s in-game leader make the ridiculous claim that he’s never had a “more competent” coaching and analyst duo behind him. Now repeat after me: “EVERYONE DESERVES A SECOND, THIRD, FOURTH, FIFTH AND MAYBE EVEN A SIXTH CHANCE.”

Similarly exuding from Astralis we also saw that players able to channel 2022’s energy need never be held accountable either. Kristian “k0nfig” Wienecke has a long history of controversial flare-ups and dips in form. He’s also been on more redemption arcs than Negan from “The Walking Dead”, although we’re all still waiting for one to actually last. The most recent manifestation of his determination to throw away what could have been a great career came while representing Astralis after a disastrous outing at ESL Pro League 16, where they failed to get out of groups.

k0nfig decided he would have a night drowning his sorrows and was denied entry into a bar in Malta’s notorious Paceville area. After a period of arguing with the promoter about obtaining entry, which any good drinker can tell you ALWAYS works, an altercation happened where he was, he claimed, head kicked down some stairs. After waiting outside the club to collect himself, he caught sight of the promoter leaving and then chased after him. As the saying goes, “be careful what you chase as you might catch it”, and k0nfig caught some hands. The resulting brawl left him with a broken ankle, rendering him unable to compete at the RMR qualifiers, a blow that surely cost Astralis a position at the CS:GO Major in Rio.

On that point, it is of course a monumental act of selfishness to put yourself in that position and let down your four other teammates, notably absent from this debacle. Professional CS:GO players will only play at a handful of Majors in their career, and they represent the high watermark of where the competitive standard is set. One player on the roster, Asger “Farlig” Jensen, had only competed at one in his career and now, removed from the Astralis roster and without a team, might never compete at another one again. And he can thank Wienecke for that. Of course, this being esports, while Astralis did remove k0nfig from the roster they made sure to THANK him on the way out.

What should have been a quietly shameful chapter in his career was instead an opportunity to claim victimhood, an insanely one-sided Twitlonger bereft of logic and common sense was dispensed. “The entire time I was hospitalized I cried. I cried every day, multiple times. I felt like I was alone in the world. Nothing could make me smile. Nothing. I just felt like my emotions had died,” he wrote. Reddit lapped it up, of course. In reality, he was back laughing and joking while playing Counter-Strike on a friend’s stream within days of arriving back in Denmark. The human mind truly is an incredible thing.

The victim narrative would have worked if it wasn’t for the fact it was a pretty well-known tidbit on the tournament circuit that he handles his liquor like an Amish teenager. After the fine minds of social media had spent their time overlooking the fact he was entirely the aggressor in the second and critical incident, it of course came out in the news that he had even been aggressive with staff at IEM Cologne, resulting in the police having to be called. Despite this, because our industry is one populated by enablers and cowards, ESL, Astralis and everyone else just swept that one firmly under the carpet because, after all, “He’s a good player, isn’t he? So it’s OK”. It’s strange, really, how attitudes change because I know firsthand that the Counter-Strike scene absolutely rejects all violence unequivocally, even self-defense… My problem was being born in the wrong year, obviously.

One has to wonder, though, why ESL didn’t seem keen to take any action on either occasion, especially as the incident was widely reported and won’t have helped with the ongoing relationship between ESL and the country of Malta. Their own rules for their tournament circuit seem to include a number of provisions that preclude k0nfig behavior while in attendance, namely:

5.4 Using alcohol or other psychoactive drugs

To play a match, be it online or offline, under the influence of alcohol or other psychoactive drugs, even if not among the punishable substances linked under 5.3.2, is strictly prohibited, and may lead to severe punishment. Moderate consumption of alcohol outside the active tournament hours for a participant is permitted if not in conflict with local/national law.

5.10.1 Public behaviour

All participants shall abstain, at all times, from poor, undesirable, or negative behaviour towards anybody involved with the competition in any way. All participants shall abstain, at all times, from any action or inaction that brings anybody involved with the competition in any way into public disrepute, contempt, scandal, ridicule or harms the public relations or commercial value of any involved party.

After just a month “away” from the game, he would declare that all of the issues he had with his temper and alcohol were suddenly cured and he was back and ready to be k0nfig 2.0 – when in reality it was like 8.4 – and all was forgiven. Indeed, the mainstream narrative now is that Astralis were wrong to take any action at all despite the financial hit not qualifying for a Major brings.

But don’t worry. It’s 2022, so for k0nfig and his ilk, accountability is very much off the table. After embarrassing himself as a stand-in for Endpoint, he was invited to play as a stand-in for Heroic at the BLAST Premier World Final, a share of any prize money no doubt the minimum in reimbursement. Then this year started off with a bizarre series of errors that denied him a position as a stand-in for FaZe at the first event of 2023. You see, players don’t give a solitary fuck about any behavioral standards, whatever they might say. It doesn’t matter that you’ve been a wretched teammate, a disgraceful ambassador for your organization, and an aggressive nightmare in the downtime. “Can you pop heads? Will you lick all our arses for a chance to pop heads with us? Cool – you’re in.” And of course, fans, who would demand the firing of any broadcast talent, tournament staff, journalists, or anyone in any other role in esports besides player, cheer from the peanut gallery.

2022 was so wild we even saw “whistleblowers” fall in with every other scumbag grifter enjoying their celestial protection. Aleksey ‘Yarabeu’ Kurlov was a former ESIC employee who decided he would trade money, resources and a chance to do the right thing for just a small hit of the most addictive of substance on the internet: Cloutium.

Yarabeu was a former match-fixer and esports hustler, grinding away in the lower echelons of esports and claiming to make money from a number of nefarious activities. One day he apparently developed a conscience (an albeit short-lived one) and managed to blag his way into working for ESIC. After a short spell, he became disenchanted with the evidentiary standard required to dispense penalties and quit the job in a spectacular shower of accusations reminiscent of Al Pacino’s outburst at the end of “…And Justice for All”.

But who was out of order, according to Yarabeu? Well, ESIC was, that’s for sure. He claimed they were involved in a number of financial scams, including paying me an off-the-books amount of $60,000 for giving them positive publicity. He also wasted no time in accusing almost every professional player that came into his mind of match-fixing. I know all this because I foolishly took the time to interview him and try and examine the credibility of his claims, a lengthy task that resulted in little more than the above allegation and him partially doxing me for the crime of taking him seriously.

Twitch.tv/leniniw

Yarabeu accused several CS:GO players of fixing matches

Although there were widespread denials, there was seemingly no one willing to take him or the publications that uncritically published his allegations as if they were facts with any action. In the absence of reprisals, he has continued to make such allegations, dangling a sword of Damocles over the head of young and upcoming players, as well as aspirational organizations. So far, nothing has come of his allegations and yet, weirdly, he is still upheld as some kind of informed insider in the CIS region as opposed to a desperate chancer.

The worst part of all is what his hiring and subsequent public outburst say about ESIC’s hiring practices and standards. The beleaguered institution took hit after hit in 2022, largely through its own glaring mistakes, and after a series of negative headlines, the general mood seems to be the scene would be better off without them. Their biggest mistake, though, was assuming anyone who is an esports lifer could be trusted to be normal.

In any other year, you’d have to think this would be a huge scandal, but of course, as you’ve now read, stories that incorporate dishonesty, abuse of power, and leveraging public sentiment as a shield are all ten-a-penny in the version of esports we’ve built for ourselves. What does it truly say that someone presented with an opportunity to work for a body trying to catch those who would harm the fabric of our industry, with a six-figure salary for doing so, would rather instead elect to take their chances going back to the match-fixing and blackmail circuit from whence they came? It tells us our entire industry is nothing more than a profiteering playground for the corrupt and it’s working for them.

There were at least another dozen examples I could have included. 2022 was a great year to grab you some money supposedly meant for players without reprisals. Take a cut of salaries if you like, or maybe keep the money from a sold car. Subvert an entire tournament to be about you and your fevered, nationalistic ego, while the people paying you are too cowardly to do anything about it. Take fistfuls of shady money from a functional ponzi scheme and then absolve yourself of any responsibility for doing so when it all comes tumbling down. It was all for the taking for the Scumbags in 2022. It’s not like we can do anything about it. After all, it’s in the stars.

Now let’s all enjoy 2023 – Year of the Fraud. I’ll see you at the end.