If you open up any major news publication’s website today, the odds of finding an article about mental health, the damages of social media, or the rise of depression is likely to be spotted in the headlines.
In esports we are lucky to be spared doomsday clickbait surrounding mental health, but it’s also something that is discussed in hushed tones and has thankfully had few tragic stories, but the recent news of Evil Geniuses’ lack of care
for the mental health of their rookie player Kyle “Danny” Sakamaki could have been such a story.
After repeated scenarios of neglect and a refusal to allow Danny to take a break from play, with attempts for reprieve requested as early as May of 2022, it was not granted until his breaking point in September of that year. The player would return home where he was diagnosed with malnutrition and has not seen a return to professional play since.
Although there are those that should be held to task for this transgression, namely the CEO of Evil Geniuses Nicole LaPointe Jamison and senior director of gaming and performance Lindsey ‘GamerDoc’ Migliore, sadly this is nothing new in esports. Mental health has been a blindspot in this industry for a long time, and the false sense of medical security provided by teams is a scaffolding that has routinely avalanched upon players.
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In 2014, TSM’s support Nicolas ‘Gleeb’ Haddad was kicked from the team due to his misconduct, which would later be revealed as symptoms of his eventual self-diagnosis of bipolar disorder
, which he later sought psychiatric care for. These types of health problems were not on the radar of the world at the time, let alone esports, nor did any team have the infrastructure to provide care for players and their health ailments.
In such a young industry, esports organizations have taken on the responsibility of employer and guardian, yet they have repeatedly failed at the ladder part, and Evil Geniuses, although being one of the oldest esports organization that has existed since 1999 by founder Alexander Garfield, it is a hollow shell that disgraces its own legacy. If the report from Dexerto is to be believed, the promise to provide assistance for Danny’s autism–which was known by the organization–simply could not have been met because EG did not have the proper staff to provide such care.
In the state of California
, psychologists are required to complete 3000 hours of supervised clinical practice in order to be licensed as a clinical psychologist. The stringent measures placed on clinical psychologists are extensive, with requirements such as having to submit to a background check along with fingerprint scans to the Department of Justice. According to the California Board of Psychology, Evil Geniuses’ senior director of gaming and performance Lindsey Migliore is not a registered psychologist. In fact, according to her LinkedIn page, she has a doctorate in osteopathy, not in psychology. This is clearly not someone qualified to give their star ADC player Danny adequate medical care and a proper mental diagnosis. Given Danny’s age of just 19 years old, he could be forgiven for taking the advice of an osteopath, although that would be akin to entrusting your car's engine to someone that only changes tires.
Too often do we see player health be attended (or lack thereof) by organizations that profess to be like family
, yet treat them like a commodity, with EG coercing Danny to continue playing "so they could convince him to not retire and then sell him to another team". Burnout and pressure to work beyond the breaking point is a common occurrence, as over the small pond of esports, a similar situation has already happened in CSGO.
The Meat Grinder of Astralis
In 2020, the CSGO team Astralis would see their in-game leader Lukas ‘gla1ve’ Rossander request medical leave
, approved by his personal doctor, citing that gla1ve was suffering from burnout. Later, teammate Andreas ‘Xyp9x’ Højsleth would also take medical leave for burnout. Astralis’ director of sports Kasper Hvidt was opposed to the players taking a break. Astralis also had a sports psychologist Lars Robl, formerly working with the Danish Special Forces, a person who one would think has the best in mind for the players, but is ultimately beholden to the Astralis organization for a paycheck. The Astralis players had to fight tooth-and-nail in order to get a break–according to an article by Richard Lewis from Dexerto
–with the guidance from the CSPPA’s (Counter-Strike Professional Players Association) CEO Mads Oland telling the Astralis players that under Danish law, they could force Astralis to give them time off by consulting with a doctor.
In 2021, Astralis’ star AWPer Nicolai ‘dev1ce’ Reedtz would leave for rival team Ninjas In Pyjamas, where he would also take medical leave at the end of 2021, citing personal reasons and pressure from playing
. At the time, several CSGO fans and community members believed that dev1ce was faking his problems with mental health to get out of his contract with NiP. NiP would then try to get rid of dev1ce’s contract, and eventually sell him back to Astralis.
This is not dissimilar from the story of Danny and Evil Geniuses, with the source that spoke with Dexerto saying EG were concerned “that Danny might be lying and just wanting to join another team”. With CSGO having several older players on average, even they succumb to burnout and the weight of several championships on their shoulders. A young player like Danny surely stands even worse odds with little business knowledge about esports organizations’ trepidation about seeing a return on their stock investment.
Esports has not learned from these past mistakes and it is the illusion of medical assistance that arguably creates a false sense of security for players, something which at times, can be worse than none at all. We’ve already had players contemplate suicide over in the LMS region
as recent as 2016, and another player–Cheon “Promise” Min Ki–from LCK actually attempt suicide in 2013 due to pressure from his coach to participate in matchfixing. These incidents show the naivety of professional players, something which has not improved with the passing years, and their trust in corporations has not wavered, yet these same entities simply see them as nothing more than expensive cattle.
Inaction Has Consequences
Not only should Evil Geniuses be held to task for a lack of promised medical assistance which they failed to provide due to their lack of certified professionals, but this should be the catalyst which prompts players to consider that they should not rely on legal or medical council from esports organizations. There needs to be an honest conversation about what can be realistically provided from the employer. The organization has only their own best interest in mind that can at times, be diametrically opposed to the player's needs. Danny was a bright prospect whose light has been smothered out far too early due to self-preservation paranoia from his employer. Esports is a tough industry, and even world champions like Lee ‘Wolf’ Jae-wan suffered from four different types of mental disorders
with his time on T1, forcing his early retirement in 2019 even though he had plans to play for many more years.
It's time that players seek their own medical counsel, either through a coalition of funds appropriated to the LCSPA, or through their own individual efforts. Something as important as health should not be entrusted to an entity that has shown both a lack of competence and a malevolence driven by self-interest. One could now attribute those traits to Evil Geniuses, but according to the rest of the industry, they are a force for good.
Evil Geniuses are staunch advocates for the oppressed, as they’ve been cited to have a DEI-imbued reputation by Digiday
, with EG’s VP of operations John Jung saying, “Riot loves Nicole; what she stands for and what she wants to do within the industry”. When compared to G2 Esports, he rebuked the idea, saying in the interview with Digiday, “I know in my bones that something like what happened at G2 would never happen here”. In some ways they’re correct, that didn’t happen at EG, but instead they chose to ignore allowing a player to receive proper medical attention for his ailments. EG were clearly not qualified to provide proper medical care to Danny, which they had sworn to both the player and family, but luckily only doctors and not geniuses are held to the standard of “do no harm”.
Izento has been a writer for the LoL scene since Season 7, and has been playing the game since Season 1. Follow him on Twitter at @ggIzento for more League content.
Images from Riot Games and Starladder
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