With the growth of League of Legends as an e-sport has come an implicit expectation that the integrity of competition shall be upheld and the landscape in which all contests take place shall be equitable and balanced. The dividing line between one team and another should only be performance, how they convert their talent into results in a given moment. In short teams should always be the masters of their own destiny, free from interference from external forces that skew results in unfair ways.
Cast your mind back to August 2013 and spare a thought then for what happened to COGnitive Gaming, robbed of the opportunity to attend an LCS qualifier through no fault of their own. They were victims of collective failings not just from their own management but arguably from the people tasked with preserving the integrity of the sport. The story behind their downfall at the PAX 2013 Spring Promotion Qualifier remains one of the strangest stories I have heard in all my many years of covering e-sports and the manner in which it has been – for the most – part laughed off and forgotten is as equally perplexing.
The team had shown themselves to be among one of the stronger amateur sides in North America in qualifying for PAX, courtesy of a forfeit from Lyon and a walkover against compLexity’s academy side. Avoiding the main compLexity team and the dark horse of TBD, they were drawn against the far less formidable New World Eclipse. Two matches away from a place in the LCS Season 4 Spring Promotion Tournament and a chance at a professional salary. The team set about the month before PAX training hard and were quietly confident that the planets had aligned in the favour.
The team's mid-laner and lulu pioneer Francois "Zamphira" Boucher
They were not alone in this thought process. The team was talked about in glowing terms by the community not just for the cohesive teamwork but also their innovation. Their mid-laner in particular, Francois "Zamphira" Boucher, was ahead of the curve with his use of Lulu. There was much to like about the roster though and as amateur teams go they had acquired a solid fanbase and the backing to do well.
As expected the game against New World Eclipse posed little problem for the team, taking the series 2-0. The next day saw the grand final against compLexity. The first game was close, a brutal and gruelling slog that ended in favour of compLexity following a poor decision to defend an outer tower with depleted numbers. The second game saw COGnitive fall away after the early exchanges, the outcome decided long before the nexus blew for the second time. While the result couldn’t be called a surprise as their opponent’s roster was packed with talent, many felt that COGnitive had failed to live up to their usual standard.
Not Just Excuses
One player’s performance had been noticeably sub-par, that of the team’s support player Richard “Valkrin” Royer. As a steady performer it was out of character but it was noticeably bad and those that watched the game talked about how Royer had “bottled it”, that nerves had got to him on the big occasion. It was clear that a lot of the responsibility for the team falling at the hurdle was going to be laid at his feet. As is de rigueur for players these days a Reddit thread addressing the chatter was created, however it wasn’t filled with the usual excuses, apologies to the fans and vows to improve. The title gave away its contents – “A Tale of an Unwanted Hotel Guest (PAX)”
Richard "Valkrin" Royer, pictured with a cat for the benefit of Reddit
Incidentally, despite having garnered a lot of attention and making the front page of the sub-Reddit, subsequently the content of the post was deleted by moderators. It is also virtually impossible to find all reference to the incident on the internet. With that in mind, for the sake of posterity, here is the full version of the post as written by Royer.
“Hey guys, its Valkrin. I played support this weekend for Cognitive gaming. I literally just got back to my house, but I wanted to make it a point to come here and apologize. My play on Sunday was embarrassing for me. I feel as if I let down every Cognitive fan and all of my supporters. Normally, I'm a significant force within the team because of my help with picks/bans and calls I make during the game. On Sunday however, I was extremely distracted due to having collectively 4 hours of sleep over two days. This was caused by a chain of unforeseeable events. I know that nothing I say makes up for my play on Sunday, but I wanted to tell of my PAX experience nonetheless.
I took off school starting Monday to get on a good sleeping schedule and to get focused for the tournament. I flew out on Thursday and arrived with the team in Seattle that night. I ended up swapping room assignments (for simplicity’s sake, we just traded key cards) with a teammate so that two closer friends could room together. This left me rooming with our manager Zach. The room we were assigned had a queen size bed and a very small cot to sleep on. Our hotel was pretty nice, but our room was definitely one of the worst rooms.
Going into Friday, the team all made an effort to keep it low key and relax. We spent some time prepping for NWE, but we called it a night fairly early. Zach took the cot and let me have the bed for the weekend. I slept well going into the 10:00 game against NWE. The first game wasn’t close, but the second game turned on some of the great plays the team made together, which I think had a lot to do with how relaxed we were. After winning, we walked around PAX hanging out and enjoying the event. Our sponsor took us out to dinner that night to a nice Thai restaurant. Afterwards we went to an exclusive LAN cafe that wasn't officially open yet and got to use their computers to play around for free.
We get back to the hotel late, but in good spirits. I took a shower and got ready to sleep. Around a half hour later at 1 AM, we get a knock at the door. Zach answers it and its someone that I will refer to as ‘Bob’. I don’t want this to turn into a witch hunt, but ‘Bob’ was actually a known member of the LoL community. He does work on small tournaments and events, and is trying to get bigger work from Riot. ‘Bob’ comes in and starts chatting with Zach. ‘Bob’ just keeps talking for an hour, while I’m laying in bed waiting for him to leave. Despite how drowsy I am at this point, I hear these comments crystal clear:
‘Bob’: " hey man do you mind if I crash here tonight?" Zach: " sure that's no problem, as long as Valkrin doesn’t mind.” I said it was OK for the first night because we didn’t have a game.
‘Bob’ then abruptly jumps in bed with me. I'm so shocked and tired that I'm unable to speak. I just turn around and stare at him. It's a queen size bed but I'm not going to share it with a person I don't know. Unfortunately, my stare doesn’t work and ‘Bob’ gets comfy in the bed before falling asleep. As astounded as I am, I try to get some sleep as 3 AM rolls around. Even more unfortunately for me, ‘Bob’ is a highly mobile sleeper. He would just randomly convulse and roll all around the bed. Needless to say I didn't get much sleep.
Zach gets up at 8 am to go to PAX. I want to go but I’m too tired. ‘Bob’ stays asleep in my bed until close to 10:00 AM (exactly 24 hours before the finals). I sit there hoping he will leave so that I can sleep. But, you can guess this doesn’t happen. Instead of getting up and going to enjoy the conference, he stays laying in bed, surfing the Internet on his phone. I get up and shower still hoping he would leave, but he was still there when I finished. I get dressed hoping I can just go get food and come back and sleep. As I'm leaving, 'Bob' follows me and asks if I would like to get food. I told him I was going to get food and continued to walk and he just follows.
When I stopped at a restaurant he hinted that he didn't have any money. He asked if I would split a Danish with him. At this point, I’m trying to keep from showing how livid I was that this person just showed up at PAX with no money and no rooming situation and assumed he could stay with a challenger team one series from qualifying for the promotion games. I ignore that I’m hungry and go back to the hotel. He follows me. I just sat in the lobby and waited for my manager to get back. 'Bob' sat across from me and texted someone. Finally my manager comes back, and I sneak off to get food while my manager was talking about something with him.
Later, I finally meet up with with my team at the LAN center. I tell my team about 'Bob' ganking my bed, and they just laugh it off. At midnight, I leave to go to bed. This is around 7 hours from when I needed to be up for the game. I asked Zach if 'Bob' was going to try and sleep in my room again. Zach said no and that 'Bob' had previously made plans to take Zach and his friend out to dinner, but that 'Bob' never responded to any calls that day.
I take a shower and get ready for bed. I fall asleep immediately, but it wasn't until 3 am that things got really weird. I randomly awake to my bed shaking. I quickly grab my phone to see what was happening. 'Bob' was in my bed asleep and was rolling around. At this point, I'm confused, exhausted and furious. I grab my pants and head down to the lobby. As I get to the lobby, I realize that I can't have 'Bob' thrown out of my room, because I wasn’t officially a member of that room. My teammate and I had just swapped keycards and my name wasn't on the room. I felt really cornered so I just sat in the lobby until 6 am.
The only explanation at this point was that Zach had let 'Bob' come into the room while I was asleep. This was only a few hours before we had to play Complexity, and my sleep was ruined for 2 nights in a row. I grab my shit out of the room once Zach was awake but I didn't want to start an argument before our game. 'Bob' follows us and gets on our shuttle to PAX. The entire ride I felt like beating the shit out of him. I know my body, and I know how well I play when I have no sleep.
Game 1 was completely thrown by our team, which rotated around a tower dive that had no point. I am 100% sure that if I had been fully awake, we wouldn’t have dove there. I want to look back at the VOD to see what I was doing at the time, because that ending is still a blur to me. Game 2 was Lautemortis sitting bottom lane from the 3-7 minute mark without even doing jungle creeps. I don’t know if he had noticed how off my play was, or if they had planned this from the start, but… The strategy worked better than they could have imagined because of how off my game I was.
Afterwards, I tell my team what happened, and they're really mad at our manager for letting it happen. It was at this point that Zach says that he thought that I had let 'Bob' in the previous night and was just as confused. At this point, we realize that 'Bob' has a keycard to our room.
We figured out that Saturday night 'Bob' pretended to be Zach and lied to the front desk claiming he left his wallet and keycard in the room so they gave him a key card. The rest of the weekend, I was honestly scared that I might be killed by this maniac. I don’t know too much about identity theft or impersonation charges, but what 'Bob' did seemed illegal to me. Truthfully, any permission he had to stay in our room was taken away after Friday night. He should not have been in our room Saturday or Sunday. (Yes, he came back Sunday - I stayed in a teammate's room for most of the night).
That was my PAX experience. One of the most anticipated events in my life with one of the strangest outcomes.”
Bob's Your Uncle
That word again. Strange. It is an appropriate description. Strange that there is someone from the LoL community, who should know better, infringing on a team’s preparations in such a manner. Strange that this individual was able to elude hotel security and gain access to a player’s room with such a flimsy story. Strange that a team manager thought so little of his own team’s future and his player’s well-being that he allowed this to happen. Strangest of all though was that in the aftermath, with it being public, at no point was “Bob” formerly identified and challenged over his behaviour despite practically everyone who attended that tournament, Riot employees included, knowing exactly what had happened and exactly who he was.
As far as secrets go it wasn’t a particularly well kept one. “Bob” was the aspiring League of Legends commentator Reid “RAPiD” Melton, now currently working for the North American Challenger League. He had travelled to the event to catch a few games, enjoy some tourist time and network for future employment opportunities. His main problem was neglecting to pay for any form of accommodation for his trip, so he was relying on the kindness of others. Despite having had an offer from a fellow caster to stay at their place, he took it upon himself to “stay with the teams”. Due to him knowing the COGnitive manager, Zach Kay (who is now his current employer at NACL), it seems that they were the “lucky” ones to be chosen.
Reid “RAPiD” Melton - image taken from www.facebook.com/RAPiDCasting
How do we know that it was Melton? Well, first there’s the small matter of him being identified not just by the person that he elected to share a bed with but other members of the team we spoke to. On top of that there was a message sent to the player by a fellow commentator, Michelle “Silverdirge” Lim, on September 4th just a few days after the incident. The message was one apologetic in tone as she had been the person he was originally scheduled to stay with during the course of the event. It read:
“I realize this may get buried under a mountain of comments and messages that you're receiving, but in the case you do read this, thank you in advance for your time.
My name is Michelle "Silverdirge" Lim and I'm a collegiate caster. I have a strong suspicion that your "Bob" is Rapid. He was supposed to stay at MY place on invitation, but chose to decline after the first two nights (Wednesday/Thursday), saying that he had plans to "stay with the teams" after Thursday night.
I am so sorry to find out too late that his stay with Cognitive decimated your performance. If I had known, I would have forced him to stay at my place.
Rapid not only had me pick him up from downtown the first night (because he got lost despite me giving very detailed instructions), but also indirectly forced me to leave work early on Thursday in order to accommodate his plans to be a tourist around Seattle. His lack of common sense led me to decide to babysit him around my city instead of having to leave work in the middle of my day to hunt him down because he got lost again. It was the lesser of the two evils I could have chosen, I suppose. I spent maybe $40+ (transportation, food, etc.) as a pay-it-forward that Thursday because he was going to find a team willing to let me take them to dinner.
The next few nights, he would contact me at late hours in the evening asking for his stuff (he left his bag at my place early on Friday and didn't bother to retrieve it until Sunday evening), or telling me that he's staying with Cognitive. When he finally did decide to show up to retrieve his bags, it was nearly midnight on Sunday. He then proceeded to text me Monday evening (maybe 11pm? I deleted the text) asking to crash again because his plans fell through. I didn't contact him back because my hospitality had gone far enough, with little thanks and little consideration for my own schedule.
If I had known what havoc his actions would have wreaked on the Challenger finals, I would have been willing to endure it further. I am very, very sorry.
The next time Cognitive is in Seattle, please allow me to take you guys to dinner and return the gift (a Cog shirt) Zach gave me in thanks for attempting to reach you guys. I cannot keep the shirt with a good conscience.
Keep in touch,
As for why it hasn’t come out before now… There are many reasons. In his capacity as COGnitive manager Zach Kay had asked his players to not say anything explicitly naming Melton as the disruptive influence. Stating it was just a series of misunderstandings it was felt that there was no need to further impact on his potential career by publicly outing him and the players agreed to this at the time. Equally our sources told us that Riot had been made fully aware of his behaviour at PAX and this was an influencing factor in their decision not to work with the individual in the future, something Melton had his hopes pinned on and partially the reason why he felt compelled to attend the event.
Still, other people told us that they were approached by Melton directly and told in no uncertain terms to not say anything about it. He had intimated to them that because the story coming out was a threat to his job that he would consider legal action. Eventually finding himself working for NACL he had become an integral part of representing and interacting with the amateur scene that he had done so much to disrespect in the past. It is hard to argue that had the occurrence been public this wouldn’t have been the case because Kay was fully aware of what had happened, however the perception surrounding the commentator might have lead to some questions about his suitability for this role.
The PAX crowd - picture courtesy of Skullcandy.au
A Funny Thing Happened To Me On The Way To LCS...
While there were many people laughing at the incident at the time there is no doubt that it was potentially life changing for the team and the players as individuals. The difference between competing in the amateur scene and LCS is night and day. The financial rewards for the latter make it worth putting some aspects of life on hold for the short term gain involved. Being an amateur chasing a pot of gold is a constant juggling act of work, studies and gaming. After sacrificing a month of free time to balance studies and intensive play, Richard was left with no doubt that his future had taken a different course after failing to beat compLexity in the final:
“The winner of PAX would have gotten a guaranteed spot for that Challenger tournament leading up to playing the lowest LCS teams. If we had beaten compLexity I would have taken the semester off and definitely moved into the gaming house with the team. As things went, there seemed little point making that sacrifice.”
His aspirations dashed and carrying the weight of the blame for the game’s lost, he started to lose interest and in the end decided to leave the team to focus on his studies. Even now, while still reasonably active, he hasn’t looked at competing professionally and doesn’t know if he will again. Even if he were to return a chance to play at the highest level is likely to elude him. Finding the right combination of amateur players, then negotiating the minefield of not having anyone who excels poached to be part of existing LCS franchises, is increasingly difficult.
At this juncture it must also be stated quite plainly that had the incident not occurred there was no guarantee that the game would have ended in victory for COGnitive Gaming. CompLexity had a very talented roster and one that, individually at least, have all gone on to show themselves competent enough to be part of LCS. We’ll never know what the outcome could have been. CompLexity players themselves acknowledged Royser’s performance was off. The team jungler Tyler "Lautemortis" Nicholls commented in light of the revelations surrounding what had happened:
“Oh wow I hadn't realized that this happened. I figured your lackadaisical play in lane in game 2 was a result of nerves or disrespect towards rumbles early kill potential. I'm really sorry your PAX was ruined, probably the best lesson to be learned is to enforce your boundaries and keep your sleep schedule paramount at LANs. Sleeping really does mean a lot when playing such a mentally fatiguing game.”
Following being told who had been responsible for disrupting the outcome of this tournament we went directly to Melton. After outlining what had happened we asked for his perspective, asked exactly how he had found himself in the situation he got himself in to. While it would be hard to imagine any, there may have been some mitigating circumstances. He told us:
“I’m going to decline to comment”
We also spoke with Zach Kay about the incident and we were met with a similar response:
“That's not something I have any interest in commenting on. I appreciate you giving me the opportunity though.”
One of the questions we were asked was why bring it up at all now? There’s two reasons why it’s worth putting out a definitive version of events. The first and most obvious is to chronicle what actually happened, so when people look back on the history of the game years from now there will be a point of reference that explains why COGnitive Gaming never made it. There are a wealth of stories that contextualise team roster changes, results and moves to new organisations that are never recorded and it’s e-sports enthusiasts that lose out when this happens.
Secondly, there is a real discussion that needs to happen regarding Riot enacting the duty of care that is required for all competitors. In this instance it is undeniable that the manager of the organisation was clearly more at fault, the players still didn’t feel there was anyone from Riot they could raise the issue with both during and after the event. Those who dealt with player issues were more focused on practicalities, such as transportation, rather than ensuring conditions were conducive to optimum performance. Had their been someone checking on the teams Royer might have felt comfortable explaining the situation at the event when something could have possibly been done about it.
A representative from the team who didn’t want his quote attributed said that he felt they were mostly adrift at the event, part of a spectacle for the crowd rather than being made to feel like legitimate competitors in a sport:
“Based on what happened to us I’d say that Riot need to step up their game in terms of player support. That event was so chaotic. They kind of tell you where you should be but if you don’t have a competent manager – and Zach did do a pretty good job – I don’t know if we would have gotten there. They just had so much going on that you felt like you were a number representing Riot rather than an “amazing team” or something like that. It was a really stressful bunch of days.
As situations arose it was really difficult to find the right Rioters. There was a bunch of Rioters around at all times but it never seemed to be the right ones to get the stuff you needed done. Even the little things, like trying to find who was the person in charge of getting us a shuttle back to the hotel. You would approach someone and they would be the guy setting up the lights or whatever.”
Player welfare and rights are likely to becoming increasingly talked about issues as the game develops. We’ve already started to see discussions about image rights, player freedoms, changes to the league rulings to ensure results aren’t dictated by in game bugs. There has been much talk about player unions, far from a new idea but one that has never really been implemented to date. It’s easy to forget that these young adults will have little experience with matters such as contract law or international travel. They put their faith into the hands of managers who may or may not have their best interests at heart and take the plunge in entering new environments without truly knowing what they will find. There has to be more done to protect our would-be professionals from the baser elements that an unregulated industry like ours will throw up.
It’s difficult to apportion blame in this beyond the selfish actions of the intruder. Managers and players alike were confused about what was happening, Riot unable to really take any action that satisfied all parties after the event. It is an embarrassing affair for all involved and it’s no surprise to see that few people want to acknowledge it happened. However, the continual sweeping under the carpet of situations such as this serves no-one in the long run. As long as incidents like this aren’t talked about publicly e-sports may present a veneer of professionalism to the outside world but internally all that flourishes is amateurishness.