In love and war, everything goes. While eSports share some similarities to war, being a competitive event with winners and losers, where destroying your opponent is the only way to win, it isn’t really war, so some things should just not be done. One of them is widely accepted to be player poaching. If you don’t understand what it is… it’s when representatives from an org contact a player under contract with another org directly, concerning the possibility of them switching teams. In the League of Legends scene, where poaching is usually taken especially seriously, there’s a poaching scandal brewing, involving one of Riot Games’ favorite owners, former NBA Small Forward Rick Fox.
According to the report by Jeff Fraser and Gabriel Zoltan-Johan on thescoreesports.com, representatives from Echo Fox contacted former Immortals Support, Adrian “Adrian” Ma concerning the possibility of the player joining Echo Fox, after it was publically known that the player has signed to play for Phoenix1. That would be above board if the management of Phoenix1 knew all about it. If people for Echo Fox contacted Phoenix1’s people and proposed to figure something out to get Adrian to play for EFX, everything would be fine. Contacting the player directly to try and convince him to leave his current org and join yours is against the rules of the League of Legends Championship Series.
According to Riot’s rules for the 2016 LCS, teams cannot “solicit, lure, or make an offer of employment to any official coach or player who is signed to any LCS team.” When caught, penalty for the offense is at the sole discretion of Riot Games. This is where the rotten fish smell surrounding the whole thing comes from. So far, it doesn’t seem to be the case that Riot is punishing Rick Fox’s organisation, even though they were quick to mete out Riot’s justice in the past. This reeks of preferential treatment due to the higher than usual mainstream stature enjoyed by Rick Fox, when compared to your run-of-the-mill team owner.
If Riot Games want League of Legends to be the face of eSports in the mainstream society, they need Rick Fox to be an owner in the LCS. They need him talking to mainstream media about the legitimacy of eSports and about his League of Legends team. Rick Fox will only do it if he’s happy. Bringing down the hammer of Riot’s justice on Rick Fox’s head will not make the former NBA player happy; thus, Riot seems to be letting this one slide.
So far, the former Laker seems to be a great owner, supportive of his players even when the next season went very badly for them, however, eSports isn’t war. Poaching players is not okay. If the allegations turn out to be true, Echo Fox has to be treated like any other team doing the same thing. Taking to Twitter to answer the backlash from the community, Echo Fox said, “We have always followed the operating guidelines published by Riot relative to inquiring about any player, as such we consult the Riot Contract Database before making contact. No further comment on this matter will be forthcoming.”
If that statement is true, Echo Fox might have found the only way to walk away from the whole thing scott free. If, at the time the inquiry was made, Adrian wasn’t yet showing up on the database as a member of Phoenix1, possibly due to not being approved by Riot or simply because the DB hasn’t been updated yet, Echo Fox could technically claim ignorance about his ties to Phoenix1. Still, if you are in the business of eSports, you should follow what’s happening in the scene. There should be no way you simply miss a roster signing announcement for a player you’re trying to recruit. At best, the whole matter is a stupid mistake due to inexperience in the eSports space. At worst, it’s an excuse thrown as a last resort when caught red handed. All in all, Rick Fox and Echo Fox provide too much marketing value to League of Legends. It’s unlikely that something beyond a slap on the wrist will be done. Is it fair? No. Then again, the world isn’t known for its fairness.