Epic Games’ first Summer Skirmish tournament this past Saturday saw two players emerge victorious and walking away with $50,000, but not without controversy.
Kevie1 was one member of the winning team, but both his participation in the tournament and victory were criticized by longtime esports fans. Kevie1 allegedly participated in cheating scandals during his time as a Counter-Strike: Source under a different screen name, KTrain, until he was banned from competitive play in 2014. Other allegations regarding personal relationships with fans have circulated online, which reappeared on Twitter after his Fortnite win, but those rumors were never proven. Kevie1 addressed all the allegations back in August 2015.
Between Kevie1’s cheating scandals and past allegations resurfacing, however, Kevie1 has found himself at the center of scandal once again. Polygon reached out for comment, but Kevie1 didn’t respond. He did, however, publish a statement via a TwitLonger post. He wrote:
In light of the allegations that have resurfaced, I am making this statement to let my followers and supporters know that I am currently consulting with attorneys, and will be proceeding with a lawsuit against any and all parties that have defamed me by wrongfully alleging things about my character that aren’t true.
This is a very serious matter as many of you may know. Lawsuits are time-consuming and nothing will be solved overnight.
Kevie1’s predicament, and the backlash Epic is facing for inviting him to the tournament, is unique, but the conversation about controversial players and personalities participating in professional esports tournaments hosted by publishers isn’t. Blizzard’s Overwatch League has faced issues with players deemed problematic over the course of its entire first season. Players like Felix “xQc” Lengyel, Jonathan “DreamKazper” Sanchez, Su-min “Sado” Kim, Chao “Undead” Fang and Junjie “Xushu” Liu are just a few examples of Overwatch League players who have come under scrutiny for actions both in-game and on their own time.
Blizzard tried to figure out a code of conduct, instituting a system that held players accountable for their actions during personal streams, but teams like the Dallas Fuel (xQc’s former team) acknowledged how difficult that can be for participants. Overwatch League relied on a mixture of streamers who were skilled enough to go professional and standard professional players to make up the roster, and that led to trouble for individual teams. Here’s what the Fuel told Compete after player Timo “Taimou” Kettunen, faced backlash for using a homophobic slur during a personal stream in January:
In regards to the Dallas Fuel we do recognize that our players and all those in the Overwatch League are constantly under the microscope. Contact from ESPN is the first I’m aware of receiving related to what you reference below. As an organization, we strive to provide players with advice and resources to help them balance professionalism needed to compete at a league level with the individual personalities that may have gained them popularity or their own followings. As you’ve seen recently, we certainly do look into any situation that goes against a code of conduct befitting the team and/or league.
This wasn’t the first time Taimou demonstrated toxic behavior on stream, nor was it the last. The team took disciplinary action, but Taimou remains on Dallas Fuel’s active roster. Blizzard never addressed how past actions, including outside of the game, could affect a professional player’s active role on a team’s roster.
The more these incidents occur, the more scrutiny we could see being placed on players’ histories. It’s something that Riot Games, the developer and publisher behind League of Legends, learned over the course of working on the League of Legends Championship Series for years. Chris Greeley, Championship Series league commissioner, told Polygon that player behavior, history of toxicity and ongoing attitudes are all key factors in determining whether a player can participate in the tournament.
Greeley acknowledged that “Reddit watches everything.” If a player happens to do something on their own personal stream, there’s a good chance it will end up in front of people at Riot somehow. Greeley said they keep a close eye on what the community is talking about, so that if a streamer is “venting or being toxic or being homophobic or being racist” on stream, it’s something the team at Riot will see “whether we’re watching the stream at that moment or not.”
Past issues — things that come up when a player or streamer’s name is typed into Google — do play a role in perception people have toward a league or team. xQc was known for his outbursts before he joined the Dallas Fuel and Overwatch League, but having a new platform and spotlight only brought more attention to his behavior. Same with Taimou.
Greeley said Riot approaches it a specific way, but said the key word they use when determining how a person’s past actions can affect their position as an active player on the roster is recency.
“So if you were not associated with Riot four months ago, but you were extremely toxic in gaming, you’ve got a number of flags and your logs look awful, no way are you playing,” Greeley said. “Even though you weren’t associated with us at the time. For us, it’s roughly a six-month period. We very much understand that players who have had a checkered past can grow up and mature, can clean that up, can make a real concerted effort towards conducting themselves while they’re in a public space in a more professional manner, and wanting to encourage that and celebrate that when it happens. It’s not one of those things where, a year ago you had these issues, and we’re going to continue to hold it against you.”
That said, Greeley said players who do have red flags buzzing around their head can face a one-year private probation. Riot encourages players who improve their behavior by allowing them to play, but the publisher keeps an eye on all streams — even a player’s own channel.
“There was at least one player rejected last year from Scouting Grounds (a scouting event for League’s Championship Series) for comments made on their stream,” Greeley told Polygon. “They weren’t in-game, but they were clipped off of a stream. Someone dropped the N-bomb on stream, it got clipped off and sent to us. This was public spacing, it wasn’t appropriate, so we said, ‘Have a nice day.’”
It’s all a matter of perception. Greeley said “there was no real differentiation” between a professional player competing in a tournament for actual prize money, and that same player hanging out in their home and streaming. That’s an important facet to remember, Greeley said. When there’s a level of professional play, and people are competing for money as part of a team or as a solo player, there is a level of newfound responsibility that comes with the role. Since so many players also stream, Greeley said, there is a relationship between fans and athletes that doesn’t exist in other traditional sports.
“That’s the beauty of esports,” Greeley said. “LeBron James could be an asshole, and you’d have no idea because you’ll never have an opportunity to interact with LeBron James. With our players, you go sit on their streams and watch them play, and whether that’s at nine at night or three in the morning, whenever they’re streaming, you get a good sense of what their personality is like. You make a judgment call on whether or not you like them as a person and you like them as a player.”
That’s why, Greeley reiterated, vetting is becoming an increasingly more important part of esports. These athletes represent publishers, teams and brands — and knowing exactly how the game’s community sees these players is integral to staying on top of the conversation.
“The people who just go in our shitters on stream, and they’re not professional players — they’re not even professional streamers — but they’re just people who are good at the game; they’re screaming, and they want to be themselves, and if they want to act a certain way, they will,” Greeley said. “To a large extent, you have to question, ‘Are those people building a brand and a persona, or are they just kind of messing around?’ You can’t go out and act in ways that are overtly toxic without alienating some part of your fan base.
“If you’re in the part of your career where you’re looking to get into the LCS, you also have to worry about the actions that may have ramifications for your aspirations down the road.”
Greeley said Riot works with players and streamers to reiterate the code of conduct, and examining past behavior. That’s something the Overwatch League came to late, announcing the code of conduct only after a couple of snafus with players. Epic Games still hasn’t released its code of conduct, so it’s impossible to know for certain how players past actions — or even current actions — on their own personal streams can affect their eligibility.
Kevie1 has vaguely addressed his past behavior while playing Counte-Strike: Source, tweeting in 2015 that he spoke to another player to talk about his actions, adding, “We cleared everything up and now we are back in good terms.” Kevie1 has not addressed whether Epic Games has spoken to him about concerns brought up by members of the community, and there’s a good chance Epic may have viewed Kevie1’s attempts to better his behavior as a reason to invite him. It’s clear, however, that player behavior — and who gets invited to tournaments with cash prize pools — is becoming a discussion again.
Neither Kevie1 nor Epic Games responded to request from comment.