- Riot Games Should Kick Evil Geniuses Out of Valorant
Riot Games Should Kick Evil Geniuses Out of Valorant
Get EG for tax evasion. Get them for littering. Get them for anything. Just throw the book at them.
Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Riot Games; Illustrated elements by Sonny Ross
Hi! I’m Mikhail Klimentov. You may know me for my past video game coverage at The Washington Post, such as my investigation into the “culture of fear” at TSM, or this feature about my three days with Frost Giant, which is building a successor to StarCraft and Warcraft. In previous editions of ReaderGrev, I’ve written about the end of The Washington Post’s video game vertical and Skibidi Toilet.
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Evil Geniuses should not be allowed to compete in Valorant esports in 2024.
Setting aside all of the non-Valorant controversies plaguing the organization (lawsuits, allegations of abuse of staff, the collapse of the business and resulting layoffs, etc.) there are manifold reasons to deny Evil Geniuses the privilege of playing—and earning money—in Riot Games’ global esports circuit.
There’s no smoking gun that makes the case for a forced exit. Running a barebones operation on a shoestring budget doesn’t qualify Evil Geniuses for expulsion in and of itself. Tap dancing on the line between ruthlessness and breach of contract—a generous characterization of the organization’s treatment of its players and staff—isn’t either. All-but-announcing your intent to leech money from the sport to cushion the blow of a humiliating retreat from the industry is also, on its own, not a reason to boot EG.
In aggregate, though, these facts demonstrate that the organization is plainly not up to the task of responsibly managing an esports operation. Barring a change of course by Riot Games, the publisher will pay (literally!) for the pleasure of confirming that fact this season.
This newsletter is not about conjuring up a legal mechanism or strategic plan for Riot to follow through on. I don’t know what levers Riot has already pulled (or tried to).1 Instead, it’s about making a moral case.
Consider the fact that, on more than one occasion, former employees and players have referred to their employment with Evil Geniuses as prison-like. Do you really want to be in business with your world champions’ cruel warden?
As administrators of the Valorant esports circuit, Riot should feel empowered to act when extorted by a junior partner. Riot has certainly already asked its lawyers if it’s advisable to push Evil Geniuses out of the VCT. It’s time to seriously consider a different formulation: “We want to kick Evil Geniuses out. How do we do it?”
Evil Geniuses, as it operates in 2024, is not the organization that Riot thought it had admitted into partnership in 2022.
According to multiple former employees who worked on the organization’s partnership application, there were two key pillars that Evil Geniuses really leaned on. The first was the prominence of women in leadership positions at the company.
“Especially until the Danny stuff started happening last year, Riot really loved Nicole,” said one former employee with visibility into the partnership application process, referring to EG’s former CEO, Nicole LaPointe Jameson. “Obviously a big part of that is that she's a Black woman leading an esports org in a sea of white men.”
“Our CEO is a woman, our head of gaming is a woman, our head coach, Potter, is a woman,” the former employee added. “Those are the three people that we really pushed forward as being what you get by having us join this league. And we knew that no other org could do that in the way that we could.”
Of the three women mentioned above, only Christine “Potter” Chi still works for Evil Geniuses.
The other pillar was the financial backing of Peak6, the private investment firm that owns Evil Geniuses.
“Access to capital was a big portion of how we pitched that we were strategically a good fit for this league,” the former employee said. “Never would we be in a situation where we need capital, and we wouldn't have access to it.”
Peak6’s backing provided “security,” another former employee said. “Obviously, we didn't know at that time which direction everything would go, but I think it was a fair argument to make that, hey, the people who are actually backing EG aren’t just randoms. They have quite a big business established with Peak6.”
To wit: Peak6 and Evil Geniuses paid another team and Riot approximately $33 million for a franchise slot in Riot’s other game, League of Legends, in 2019.
“Riot, you know, received from us and from our ownership a check for the sum that we paid for the [League] slot,” one former employee said. “Overnight.”
That organization doesn’t exist anymore. In 2023, Evil Geniuses underwent massive layoffs and exited the vast majority of esports in which it previously fielded rosters. Instead, the current iteration of Evil Geniuses—and, crucially, Peak6—is explicitly on an extractive mission. Peak6’s open desire to sell the brand and exit esports has been widely reported. Retaining a low-cost afterthought footprint in esports that is guaranteed to net the organization some money from Riot as a contingency is good business—which is to say, nasty, vulture-like business. Win or lose, rightly or wrongly, EG gets out with money. And right now, Riot is letting them case the joint.
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OK, back to the article.
At one point in the writing process, I was gripped by an anxiety familiar to all writers: What’s the point? This feeling got worse as rumors began to surface about EG’s 2024 roster. More innocent people (read: players, coaches) losing their jobs is the strongest counterpoint to the thrust of this newsletter: that it would be the right thing to kick Evil Geniuses out of VCT immediately.
So what is the point?
Whether Riot likes it or not, EG’s performance in 2024 is likely to have a profound impact on Valorant esports. If the team loses this season—and they are being set up by management to do just that—the players and coaching staff will suffer serious reputational damage. Excuses and extenuating circumstances are a weak currency in sports; they’ll spend poorly when teams gear up to retool their rosters for 2025. And if the team wins—an improbable but not impossible scenario—the folks at EG (and the organization’s ownership at Peak6) will have scratched out a grotesque blueprint for other bad actors in esports to follow.
As I wrote this, I keep picturing some generic, backslapping Riot executive in the press box of some future Valorant event, saying: “Hey, I read your EG piece. You know, we really couldn’t do anything about that.” I run the risk of breaking the spell a bit here, but my goal is to seed some kind of Alpha neuron flip, so that same generic Riot executive might read this and think, badass-ly: “Wait. We’re the ones in charge. We don’t have to let them get away with this!”
It feels unseemly to ask Riot to exercise its power more bluntly. And, yet, here I am, hat in hand, making that exact request. Riot knows more than the public does about the ways in which the organization has wronged its staff and players, and in extraordinary circumstances, Riot should opt to act in extraordinary ways. All it requires is political will.
Get EG for tax evasion. Get them for littering. Get them for producing one fewer social media post than their contract requires. Get them for anything. Just throw the fucking book at them.
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