Absolute Legends are no strangers to these pages. Their exploits in e-sports have constantly come under scrutiny, none more so than when Madeleine "MaddeLisk" Leander went public about the organisation owing money to players in January this year. The resulting war of words may have highlighted some problems but following the stern denials from the organisation’s CEO, Tim "WetDream" Buysse, the matter seemed to fade away.
However it seems that those Starcraft 2 players that were owed money in the aftermath of the disastrous eSahara and Absolute Legends merger were not the only ones the organisation hadn’t kept promises to. Esports Heaven have learned that the League of Legends teams that were based in North America – now defunct – and Singapore also have outstanding prize money, dating back to the end of 2012.
On September 12th 2012 Absolute Legends, who had already made several attempts to put together a successful North American team, picked up the former Ordinance Gaming team who had left eleven days previously. The team was comprised of several well known and well respected players from within the scene and featured the following line-up.
Daniel "Spellsy" Biery
Robert "ROBERTXLEE" Lee
Andrew "Slooshi" Pham
Orie "YoDa" Guo
George "Zekent" Liu
The team was a desirable pick up owing to the fact that they had qualified for the Intel Extreme Masters VII Singapore after making it to the finals of the North American qualifier, where they lost to CLG Prime. All the organisation had to was cover accommodation and expenses as Intel Exteme Masters tournaments even include a travel allowance. With the teams that were scheduled to attend it was a good investment as it would be relatively cheap by international event standards.
What also became apparent as the build up to the tournament was underway was that the North American team was potentially looking at a strong finish. Several top teams had to drop out due to scheduling conflicts, including Curse Gaming EU, KT Rolster Bullets, Azubu Blaze, Invictus Gaming and the winners of the North American qualifier that Absolute Legends had lost to, CLG Prime.
IEM were now on the lookout for some replacement teams. Perhaps with this in mind, or perhaps due to the agreement to take 20% of prize winnings from their teams, Absolute Legends acquired a team based in Singapore, officially announcing their partnership the day before the tournament. It was a more than pleasant surprise for the team to be included in something so prestigious, especially so soon after acquiring a sponsorship. The line-up for that team was comprised of the following players:
John "ReS" Dinh
Martin "Mexi" Lew
Hong Liang "APET" Yu
Wai Wong "cwCwCW" Chun
Wayne "BBTY" Chua
Both teams successfully attended the tournament and did their new home proud. The North Americans finished second, losing to Meet Your Makers in the final, and the Singaporean team finished 5th/6th, level with the Polish Elo Hell. It was a good return for the organisation and the teams, having netted $ 8,500 and $ 3,000 respectively. It also gave the Absolute Legends brand a time to shine in the spotlight in the absence of other names that usually dominated the proceedings.
It wasn’t long after this positive start that both sets of players started to find out that the organisation wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. The Singaporean team found this out first when the equipment they were promised upon signing their contracts didn’t manifest. Absolute Legends had asked the team to be patient as it could take some time to deliver the equipment of headsets, mice and keyboards. However, unknown to them one of the players actually worked in Razer’s E-sports division, which is based in Singapore, and when the equipment didn’t turn up he asked around to see if he could expedite the process.
He found that it was news to Razer. They hadn’t agreed to issue any equipment to the team because they were already planning to terminate their contract with the organisation after the eSahara CEO, Ryad Abour, had left. They had expressly told Absolute Legends they were not willing to give full hardware support in these circumstance and couldn’t have been clearer about that. However, when the players fed back this information to Absolute Legends management they turned around and said Razer had reneged on their original agreement and had now said they wanted to “see the team perform in competitions” before committing to sending hardware. To this date the only Razer branded equipment that the team received was one T-shirt and one baseball cap.
The opportunity to perform in more tournaments would have been a welcome one for the Singapore team and was a big part of their reasoning when joining. In the contracts that the Singapore players signed it was stated that the organisation would pay for any travel costs for the team, which included international events. At the end of December they stomped their way to victory in the Signapore and Malaysian qualifier for the Intel Extreme Masters in Brazil.
Upon qualifying the team were told in no uncertain terms that the organisation was not willing to uphold their agreement and would not pay full travel expenses. Instead they said they would contribute $1000 and the team would have to make up the shortfall out of their own pockets. Unperturbed by this the team decided that maybe they could raise the money by turning to Reddit and acquiring some private donations. The organisation quickly stepped in to put a stop to this on the grounds that they didn’t want the perception that they had financial problems. It was pay out of their own pockets or not go at all. In the end, they could not afford to attend but they kept faith with the organisation.
Both teams were still waiting on their prize money from their earlier Intel Extreme Masters success. Throughout February and March The American team, now no longer being part of the organisation, made repeated contact with them only to be told that the money hadn’t been paid out. The team from Singapore had also been asking, keen to get their prize money, especially if it was a requirement they may need to pay their own way to more competitions. As late as March the CEO, Tim Buysse, denied having received any funds from the tournament despite ESL having publicly stated they had settled all outstanding prize money issues.
We checked with our sources at Intel Extreme Masters who confirmed to us unequivocally that the organisation had received two payments from them. These were the travel allowance paid in December and their share of the prize money paid in February.
With other teams having confirmed the pay out Buysse changed tack and decided to employ a number of stalling tactics for paying out the prize money. The situation was described thusly by a source within the teams at the time:
“After questioning Tim about it, we were always told that the money has yet to be sent to his bank. Do banks in Europe take over a month to transfer a sum of over $10,000? The players pestered him weekly and one day, he tells us that the money has been received and he asked for Paypal/Bank details. Then, he made several excuses to delay the prize money payment to the players such as saying Paypal doesn’t allow huge transfers, taking over a month to ask his bank about money transfer for the prize money, stating his bank does not allow huge transfers to overseas accounts without official invoices/receipts due to tax issues etc.
Some of the players then made an official invoice and sent it to Tim only for him to say that the players have to fill in more forms and that he will send these forms to the players ASAP. After that we never heard from him again. Some other players have also mentioned that Tim has been ignoring them on Skype and rarely replies to their emails.
The players from Absolute Legends Singapore decided to stay on, hoping that after some good results, there will be a chance that aL would finally return them their prize money. The Singaporean roster proceeded to attain a top 2 finish in every single possible tournament in the next 6 months but have never received any updates on their prize money. The Singapore Roster then disbanded and left for another organization.”
So far neither set of players have had any luck in obtaining anything that they were promised and the last known location of the prize money they had won was in Tim Buysse’s bank account. The Singaporean players did in the end get their hardware support as promised in their contracts, not from Razer though. Eight months into their twelve month deal Logitech had come on board and they were furnished with mice, headsets, keyboards and gaming apparel. It was scant consolation for the players who were still owed a sizeable sum from the one major international tournament they got to attend as part of Absolute Legends.
The American players, while still owed money, seem to have moved on for the most part. Several of them are respected streamers and have been on the peripheries of LCS. George "Zekent" Liu now finds himself in Curse Gaming. Robert "ROBERTxLEE" Lee has a chance at getting promoted to the LCS with his team. Daniel "Spellsy" Biery writes articles for Leaguepedia and has even been featured on Riot’s own website. Slooshi and YoDa are still playing competetively in the amateur scene. With such things going on maybe chasing up what they are owed isn’t as pressing.
There is no argument that withholding prize money from anyone is unacceptable, however it leaves a particularly unpleasant taste in the mouth when you consider the sheer length of time that the Singapore team remained loyal to the organisation despite these disappointments. As they themselves have put it:
“As you know, the ESports scene in Singapore wasn’t as developed as the western regions. The players were extremely glad when a famous organization like aL (the players mainly knew about aL housing ex CLG.EU and Curse.EU teams) decided to pick them up. The players trained extremely hard, after delivering what they considered a failure at IEM Singapore, and the team at its best was one of the strongest teams in SEA, only behind SGS & Mineski. The team got minimum top 2 in every single major tournament. They felt that they helped the organisation establish a foothold in the SEA scene but did not receive anything substantial in return. Every SEA team still knows us as Absolute Legends even though we had changed organization a long time ago.”
Those with long memories will recall Tim "WetDreaM" Buysse, when he was a player, criticising SK Gaming for “not keeping their promises to players”. He went public and tried to shame the organisation into giving what they owe, or at the very least to tarnish their reputation. Hopefully the irony is not lost on him.