Since the incident with the Lemondogs paperwork we at Esports Heaven have been busy trying to get to the bottom of how something like that can come to pass. We spent days looking at documents, interviewing staff, managers, players, e-sports personalities, tournament organisers and even talking with Riot directly in order to try and answer that question.
What this article doesn’t do is prove collusion in the instance of the fudged paperwork. That cannot be proven one way or another. What it does do is show that there is a relationship between the two organisations that is a serious conflict of interest for what are ostensibly two competitors and that such collusion is a possibility given their collective history.
Even if they are wholly innocent, even if it was just a run of incompetence, what we learned points to the two teams having a relationship that is wholly inappropriate within the context of being competitors within a league. It may not seem to matter now as NiP are out of LCS and Lemondogs have no team currently. However, as League of Legends looks to grow and legitimise itself as a sport, there needs to be an increased transparency in the nature of relationships such as these in order to ensure there is no corruption within the game.
The first thing we wanted to rule out was there being anything on paper. We paid to download the company registration documents that were available through the Swedish equivalent of Companies House, Bolagsverket. There was nothing obvious to link the two teams and little of any immediate interest.
The only things of note were that NiP Gaming traded under the name Stockholm Esport Productions, which was the production company set up by NiP owner Niklas Fischier prior to the relaunch of the Ninjas In Pyjamas brand. The previous incarnation of Ninjas In Pyjamas filed for bankruptcy and were liquidated in 2009. NiP Gaming isn’t named on the registration document but H3at Gaming, another business founded by Fischier that specialises in pre-overclocked computers, is.
Lemondogs (Lemondogs Spelforening) were registered in 2009 but just prior to the Summer split, they created a separate business, Lemondogs AB, on May 17th 2013. Daniel Aicardi, the Lemondogs founder, explained to me that this business was formed solely to distribute the salaries from Riot to Lemondogs LoL players. The reason for this, in his words, were that the original Lemondogs was a non-profit organisation and as such salaries could not be paid from there. While this statement doesn’t seem to hold up to scrutiny, Aicardi maintains it was necessary to set up this secondary business to recruit a League of Legends team. The other board members of this business are Aicardi’s father Erik as chairman and Madeleine Lammers.
While the paperwork didn’t show any connections we continued our investigation and traced back the origin of the relationship between the two organisation.
The Start Of A Beautiful Friendship
With both organisations being based in Sweden the organisations were obviously aware of each other before they had any business dealings relating to the LoL teams. Both teams have some pedigree in the Counter-Strike scene and with the Lemondogs founder, Daniel 'Pani' Aicardi, also working as a manager at the iconic Inferno Online LAN centre, their paths had crossed several times in the past.
The owner of NiP, Niklas Fischier, had managed to secure some lucrative sponsorships and despite having been running a team for less time than Aicardi, the Lemondogs founder said that he felt Fischier had more experience and would defer to his judgement on certain matters. In May 2013 NiP were on the hunt for a League of Legends team and there were several options available ahead of the Summer Split. The two teams NiP were looking at were Copenhagen Wolves and Sinners Never Sleep, both of whom had managed to secure LCS slots at the Summer Promotion tournament.
There was trouble brewing at Copenhagen Wolves relating to non-payment of money. The players were owed 100,000 DKK of salary payments. It was this mismanagement of players made it easier for NiP to prise away the team. As Copenhagen Wolves were also sponsored by SteelSeries there was an agreement that the players wouldn’t speak about this issue publicly if they were going to move to another organisation under the SteelSeries umbrella. Had Danish site Gaming.dk not pursued the story, at great risk to themselves (SteelSeries was the head sponsor of their Danish Counter-Strike league that they ran), it’s doubtful anyone would have known about it at all.
We know in May that NiP’s representatives met both Copenhagen Wolves and Sinners Never Sleep for talks about joining their organisation. With the LCS Summer Split a month away both teams were looking to negotiate the best deal possible for themselves. However, NiP didn’t go out there to see which team was best for them. They had an offer for whichever team they rejected as well, in the form of Lemondogs.
A source relating to SteelSeries told me the following provided their anonymity would be preserved:
“Basically NiP was looking at both Copenhagen Wolves and the SNS team. They picked up the Copenhagen Wolves team but also knew SNS was struggling to find a good home as well.
They also knew that SteelSeries really wanted the SNS team and actually tried to convince NiP at first to Pick up SNS, since SteelSeries wanted to keep both teams under their brand
NiP were not allowed to have two teams so the solution was made to place SNS in an org that SteelSeries had control over, which was Lemondogs.
NiP acted as an assurance to the SNS team, making the move to Lemondogs seem like a great opportunity. NiP brokered the deal for the team and got themselves a second team to “farm”. Just look how easy they picked up the LD players this split.
Basically NiP wanted to have two teams.”
While this version of events is more detailed, talking to Aicardi, who had been for the most part uncooperative, didn’t dispute that NiP handled the initial contact with Sinners Never Sleep and began negotiations for the team to join the organisation.
Who Ran Lemondogs?
Over the course of the investigation I conducted there was a recurring theme in the stories about how the organisation was run. Whether it was players, managers or people just close to the teams everyone said pretty much the same thing – that Niklas Fischier made all the decisions relating to Lemondogs. This was confirmed by several of the former players who were part of the Lemondogs and NiP set-up at the time of the Summer Split. Due to the players concerns about how revealing this could affect their future careers, player names have been redacted from the quotes.
One ex-player told us:
“How I understood everything was that Pani and Niklas sorted NiP but Pani would do everything Niklas told him. Pani would ask Niklas for help with everything.”
“NiP’s management helped us out in the first split. We were not totally separated but that’s the only thing I know.”
“I don’t know who paid us but I heard in the first season NiP helped out so that’s why they had this kind of relationship for the spot.”
Again, direct conversation with Aicardi portrays this to be little more than a manager asking for advice from another manager. However, players on both sides seemed to be under the impression that Aicardi was not the person making the calls. After their initial meeting with the NiP management to negotiate their spot into Lemondogs, they said that they would still see Niklas from time to time relating to team matters, despite him being supposedly nothing to do with the organisation. Aicardi explains these assertions thusly:
What isn’t clear is the nature of the involvement. Some talk of Fischier being financially involved with Lemondogs, which makes little sense to me within the context of how Riot operate with their LCS teams. All expenses would have been paid for by Riot. We know Lemondogs set up a secondary company solely for the purpose of paying these salaries. Why Fischier, or anyone else, would make a financial contribution isn’t exactly clear. A few people intimated that maybe Fischier was paying the players an additional salary “off the books” as part of an agreement to be reserve players for NiP but no-one had any had evidence of this. The only thing that continually cropped up was that some finances had changed hands from NiP management. Even NiP staff seemed to think there was some sort of finances changing hands, as you can see from these quotes from Flavio “Flave” Wirz, the organisation’s Editor In Chief.
Enter Stefan Nielsen
Thankfully I managed to talk with Stefan “lucann” Nielsen, someone I have known from the Danish e-sports scene for many years. This is someone who was the player manager for the original Copenhagen Wolves pick up. We know that he handled money for the team (more on that later) as part of his duties, even to the extent of making sure that the players got their salaries paid. He was an integral part of the day to day at NiP and his inner workings of the organisation cannot be disputed. In terms of hierarchy he was one tier below Fischier himself.
He was quite up front about the situation and didn’t mince words. He not only said that Fischier made all decisions relating to Lemondogs he also stated that NiP handled payments to the Lemondogs League of Legends players.
Aicardi explained to me that the only time the two organisations had cause to share any for of business dealings related to a matter of ordering gaming attire in bulk, which they did to save money. Besides this Aicardi insists there were never any dealings between the two.
I have no doubt that one of the things that will come out in light of this article is that Nielsen is allegedly not a credible person to take information from. These rebuttals will take the form of pointing out that he himself has engaged in some unsavoury behaviour prior to these revelations being made. I shall head that criticism off by putting this information out into the public domain.
As you already know Stefan Nielsen was the team manager. Currently he is subject to potential legal action following his decision to allegedly keep money that was meant to be paid out as salary. For whatever reason he had got into some serious financial difficulties. He worked for expenses only for NiP and when he was given the sum of money to pay the three departing players, Dan "NeeGodbro" Van Vo, Kasper "TheTess" Poulsen and Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen. The money for the players was sent to Nielsen’s girlfriend’s bank account where it was used to pay off the debts he had accumulated.
Suspicions were raised when Nielsen, who was known by those around him to have financial problems, attended the World Finals and ran up some lavish expenses. When Dennis "Svenskeren" Johnsen went direct to Riot and said that NiP hadn’t paid him, Riot conducted their own investigation and found the source of the disappeared money to be Nielsen.
As of the time of writing this it isn’t clear what action will be taken against Nielsen, if any. Regardless of this incident, he still has no reason to lie about the involvement between NiP and Lemondogs. If anything, it’d be a wiser course of action to say nothing and avoid antagonising them. Still, I have no doubt his statement will be derided as being unreliable.
“The Caroline from ESL” whose name cropped up was none other than Caroline Schneider. Her title is currently International Partners Manager but prior to that she was the player manager for LCS activity within ESL. Her job was as unglamourous as you’d expect. She had to deal with almost every facet of the teams attending the LCS games that were televised in the ESL studios. She had to check if they had their flights correctly booked, make sure there was a coach waiting for them, had the players eaten, did their baggage need picking up… It was the “dirty work” no one else wanted to do.
During that time Nielsen told me that she used him as a point of contact for matters pertaining the Lemondogs team, despite him being officially affiliated with NiP. How she came to do this is anyone’s guess but she, not being from an e-sports background, would have no specific knowledge of who was affiliated with who, or even that it was against the rules for teams to have this kind of overlap. She read names off a spreadsheet and contacted whoever could answer the questions she needed the answers to. Anyone who facilitated her difficult job was a welcome face.
I made contact with Caroline to ask her about the dealings between the two organisations. It was not a pleasant conversation to have. Refusing to answer any questions on the matter when pressed she said that she “did not feel comfortable” revealing who she had dealt with relating to Lemondogs and NiP. After no response beyond that she would add that her role precluded her from talking directly to the press.
Later, I would be told that she felt answering the question could get her into trouble, perhaps jeopardising her employment. I have no idea why she would feel this way as she was ultimately not responsible for anything that happened, nor could she be held accountable for simply interacting with who she was told to. Regardless, she chose to remain silent on the issue despite being named directly.
We passed all our findings on to to Nick Allen, the official e-sports manager from Riot, and are currently awaiting an official response from them regarding this matter.
As I said at the start of this piece, this is not absolute proof of collusion. If any such collusion did take place, proving it would be near impossible as it was likely only the decision of two or three people, all too intelligent to incriminate themselves. What this should demonstrate though is there is enough to show the two organisations were linked and did operate side by side from the moment NiP’s management acquired a LoL team for Lemondogs.
Something about the whole affair feels off, even more so in light of the disqualification of NiP from the qualifiers that the lack of completed Lemondogs paperwork enabled them to play in. We are supposed to believe in a catalogue of errors that required one organisation to have three extensions to submit paperwork that would secure the future of five players and status as an elite organisation by being included in LCS, that was then submitted at 23:58 on deadline day because there was no other option. Following that, and the speculation it created, we are then also expected to believe that a player, facing a tournament that if he wins will increase his earnings way beyond what they would be if he lost, forgets to download the piece of software that would enable him to compete in it. Then, in addition to that, even with precedent set that in such circumstances, to a reasonable extent delays will be accepted, Riot decide to act with absolute brutal finality and disqualify the favourites. If you had made this up you would not deem it as a plausible story.
Still, maybe all that did happen as described, a series of ridiculous events that are believable in isolation, just not so much when taken as a whole. Regardless of what you believe, what is clear is that these two organisations have tried to game the system and have acted outside of the spirit of the rules that govern the LCS league. To preserve the integrity of competition ties such as this need to be scrutinised and questions need to be asked.
After spending days digging all we can know for sure is there was more to the relationship than meets the eye. Players seemed convinced, staff seemed convinced, people linked to their mutual sponsors seemed convinced. Without pressure applied for complete transparency from Riot it’s doubtful we’ll ever get to the bottom of how far that relationship went but by putting out this it at least allows the community to make up their own mind with about it. Were they just "organisational friends" or were they something much more?