One of the more heartwarming things I saw come out of the FGC in the past year was the Michigan Masters event that took place back in April. It was a regional event in Farmington Hills that was expanding, after a few years, to a 3-day event. While it was not without the usual trials and tribulations that come with running a big tournament, its mixture of popular fighting games, much smaller but unique games, and festive atmosphere proved to be a winning combination that pushed them to great success. A key to that success was that atmosphere I mentioned, which the organizers took seriously enough to actually levy bans out to a few players from the Michigan area. These players, who are mainly known for their association with a Michigan group called C.O.R.N (don’t ask me what it stands for!), had caught the ire of the local scene by extrapolating some drama into threats of physical violence. While not an uncommon occurrence, particularly for that group, the MM2018 organizers had had enough and maintained that those players were not going to get away with it. There was a lot of blowback for that decision, but ultimately it was seen as positive step forward in bettering the community.
The reason I bring that up is because I find that the FGC can be very good at policing people who are actual physical threats; rarely does someone actually start engaging in fisticuffs and not immediately get regulated, which is a very good thing. But physical violence isn’t the only way to get hurt, and that’s where the FGC tends to falter. I’ve written about how online interactions and Twitch chats aren’t taken very seriously, but there’s another very big problem area that, especially as the scene grows more monetized, will only get worse if not addressed: the proliferation of wannabe entrepreneurs who are preying on young and vulnerable players for profit.
I need to be clear up front that while I’m painting a pretty broad brush, I’m well aware that there are plenty of organizations that operate with the idea of bettering their players personally and professionally. While I’m glad that they have carved something out, I firmly believe them to be in the minority. What I see in the majority are people with money to burn (usually that of a fairly wealthy patron they have sweet talked into a handout) who want to become the next viral millionaire or add more to their already fat wallet, and little things like integrity, ethics, transparency, etc. go out the window in pursuit of “the dream.”
This isn’t exactly a burning topic. As far back as the earliest days of Street Fighter IV, the reputation of the NY-based Empire Arcadia was damaged due to the way Isaiah “Triforce” Johnson conducted business. In particular, Johnson had a knack for not paying his players and creating an atmosphere that demanded total obedience while leaving little for the players to prosper. A lot of those same players, thankfully, left for greener pastures as soon as the spotlight on the shady practices came to the forefront. I’d like to say that these exposés kept Triforce from doing the same thing to other people, but life isn’t fair, and his grift continues to this day.
But at the very least, he’s more or less out of the FGC. My beef is mainly with a few organizations that are still active and have engaged in deeply unscrupulous activities and faced little to no pushback for it from the greater FGC. Sure, you’ll hear the grumblings from the recesses of the playerbase, but there have been no leaders who have called out these groups for their harmful behavior. Orgs like Noble and Most Valuable Gaming have engaged in egregious and toxic behavior that would have already been grounds for ostracization if it were the act of an individual, and the FGC needs to do better at disassociating with brands that harm players and the community through their actions.
While Most Valuable Gaming (MVG) operates primarily in events related to Super Smash Bros. and that community, they have a similar track record to many FGC orgs when it comes to shadiness. Sadly, this can be traced back to a familiar source. When MVG first started operations in 2014 under the helm of Gregory Mondesir, the organization came out swinging. MVG was going to be the new E-sports team of the millenium, and had plans to have operations in every part of the globe by 2017 and as many as 15 (!!) international majors per year. Well, that was certainly a lofty goal, one probably only doable through the help of multiple loaded business partners! Through the MVG Twitter account, Mondesir revealed some of those partners:
Hrmmm…granted, this was some years ago, but it seems odd that of those partners, one has a 404 dead link, another lists only one person on a startup site, and the other also has a dead link. Next Level Consulting brings up a few different companies, and none of them would suggest that MVG is a partner of theirs. A deeper dive reveals some other goofy stuff: the person behind Lofton Global Management, according to records filed with the New York State Department, is…Gregory Mondesir. In fact, MVG and Lofton have the same business address listed! You can search the names of the companies here and find the same results I did. Similarly, James Woods is both the co-founder of MVG but also the CEO/President of the WynMoore Group. Something’s fishy here…
It’s also very curious to see both of these guys’ names show up in an interview with the aforementioned Triforce back in 2014, the same year MVG is formed. Here, they are referred to as his “new partners,” helping him take EMP to “the next level.” If you go to the MVG website, which looks like shit and hasn’t been formally updated with news since 2016, and under the “MVG TV” banner, there is still a bunch of Empire Arcadia links at the bottom. Hell, even a glance at this unreleased Twitch sponsor deck from MVG, which is full of hilarious EMP-esque argle bargle (my favorite is under its ‘Diversity’ slide, where it simply lists a player as ‘Asian’), would reveal that Mondesir was the “Chairman of Business Development” for the Caribbean eSports Alliance. When the CEA was formed, their press release listed some core members. One of those members? Rolando Brison AKA YA BOI ROLANDO!
At one point, Mondesir released a response affirmatively denying that MVG, the org and the individuals involved, and Empire Arcadia had “any affiliation.” And if you can so easily disprove that with a little bit of Googling, I don’t think that bodes well for the integrity of the org as a whole.
And boy, do they have some integrity problems! Those “majors” they were planning to make were really just regional events pumped up with the promise of a huge pot bonus, while everything else was done dirt cheap. Sandstorm was an event of theirs run in Tempe, Arizona in late April of 2015, and it was a shitshow of an event. Preceding the event was foofaraw involving Mondesir and some of the local TO’s that run events, which included Mondesir attempting to spread rumors that they were incompetent, as well as attempting to pay off top local players to not attend non MVG sponsored events. Seeing as how I’ve attended tournaments that said TO’s have been running for 6 years and had zero issues, I’d like to give a big personal fuck you to this guy for going after some of the most genuine people in our scene because he didn’t know what the hell he was doing.
Of course Sandstorm had its own problems regardless of Mondesir’s attempted slander. Aside from usual in-over-their-head mistakes from rookie TO’s like poor bracket running, inefficient use of local internet to maintain a stream and cramped seating, there was also a power outage during the grand finals Smash Melee set because they shut off electricity in the venue because the tourney ran long. A team tournament ran in which one of the biggest teams was named by the organizers as “Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Autistic,” a team which did, in fact, have an autistic person on the team. In addition, the grand finals of Project M never ended up happening for reasons unknown, and raffles with exorbitant prizes were announced with no way of knowing whether or not the prizes were real. Best of all, MVG had shirts made that had a typo on them, which they attempted to cover up with a price sticker. Some brave soul was able to snag a photo and was immediately chastised by MVG management for doing so.
It would be remiss of me to say that MVG could have come back from this. Hell, almost everyone who gets into the tournament game has ambitions that are usually let down by inexperience, so who’s to say that they couldn’t bounce back from this flop? After a hearty apology or three, maybe they would learn the error of their ways and not repeat any of the mistakes that made Sandstorm such a subpar event…
If you think this has a happy ending, you haven’t been paying attention.
Shortly after the event, Jason “Mew2King” Zimmerman, one of the most-well known Smash players and, for reasons unfathomable to anyone but himself, a principle investor in MVG, took to Reddit to address the complaints surrounding the event. He took no time to address the majority of the issues beyond the power outage, which he writes off as just “really bad luck” but very quickly turns to talk of intentional, aggressive sabotage. Despite no real evidence for it, this sabotage talk stuck around, to the point that Mondesir and Zimmerman both named someone, SoCal player McCain “MacD” LaVelle, as the culprit, despite waves of evidence to the contrary. Zimmerman is well-known in the community for believing most things people tell him to which (mostly due to poor social skills caused by his Aspergers) he will repeat loudly for all to hear. I have little doubt that Mondesir put him up to it.
It probably isn’t surprising that the entire thing turned out to be bullshit, and that MVG as an organization took no further steps to rehab their image beyond deleting tweets and VODs that would incriminate them. Respected Smash TO’s would continue to speak out against the organization for its lack of care when preparing tournaments, including hiring subpar TO’s to run them, booking bad venues, and just generally sticking their name on tournaments but doing very little to actually oversee that the tournament would be a success. The future tournaments were certainly nowhere near the disaster of Sandstorm, but also didn’t do much to ensure the confidence of many folks in the Smash scene. A debacle in 2015 that involved them hiring, then nearly just as quickly firing, a PR and social media consultant who appeared to only be hired based on Zimmerman’s desire to pursue a relationship with her, was just more icing on the cake. In that very short amount of time she apparently misappropriated funds and promised people jobs that never existed, in addition to a slew of other accounts of misconduct. Eventually, nude photos of the girl, obtained by a party close to the situation, were leaked on the internet, which has caused her to more or less disappeared due to excessive harassment.
I think by now, the story becomes clear. MVG was clearly meant to be the full realization of the now failed dreams of Triforce with Empire Arcadia: a gaming house that had the best players of a game and created mass amounts of content to become an eSports powerhouse. Much like EMP, however, that dream was marred by avarice and stupidity, and the organization quickly showed its ass by throwing poor events and promising things that they couldn’t possibly fulfill. The only thing they could do was trick younger people who didn’t know any better into spreading their brand, which wasn’t worth a damn otherwise. Now one of the top Smash players is more or less invested into this for all he’s got, and that, to me, is the saddest part of all of this.
They’re still kicking, mostly just on their YouTube and Twitter, where they upload easy clickbait like reaction videos in addition to videos of their players playing in whacky match styles and other exhibition type matches. They still slap their name onto some events and are a backup stream on some larger tournaments. Why anyone would persist on working with them, given their history, is beyond me, and rumors of bad contracts and missed payouts still haunt them to this day. Suffice to say, Smash doesn’t need these mountebanks, and would be way better off if they were just allowed to sink on their own. Due to how the Smash scene operates, however, with regards to worshipping top players, I don’t think it will happen
While MVG has quite the rapsheet, at least they never let their own players literally starve as they waited for any kind of income. That said, let’s talk about Noble Gaming.
Noble is the brainchild of Paul “Recon” Radil, who worked in the games industry before deciding to seek his fortune as leader of a internationally renowned eSports team. Starting with Halo and expanding to multiple titles from lots of different genres, Noble quickly built up its reputation by gaining traction with legit sponsors like Logitech, and having decent teams in both Halo 2: Anniversary and Halo 5. They even qualified for the Halo World Championship in 2016, and that’s where our troubles begin.
After qualifying for the HWC, Noble’s Halo team suddenly announced that they were leaving Noble and had signed with Team eLevate, whom they would represent in the Finals. A Twitlonger released by team captain Alex “Swiftkill” Ramirez not longer after the announcement had some pretty startling accusations: not only did Radil promise and fail to deliver on giving the team necessary equipment, but he also specified that any winnings had to be given in small increments to players as to avoid any “IRS red-flags.” Further, Ramirez stated that the contract used confusing language as to the length of the contract, fluctuating between 2 and 6 months, as well as basic calculation errors regarding the distribution of prize money. Worst of all, the contract cited Bryce Blum, one of the foremost legal experts on eSports, as one of its authors, which was later found to be nowhere remotely true.
Even after that whole debacle, more controversy arose when one of the former Noble players finally received his portion of the winnings from the regional qualifier for the HWC: $206.05, or 8% of the $2,500 pot. A portion of the Noble contract is in the article I just linked, and if you can make heads or tails of that, please do, because I sure as hell can’t.
When reached for comment, Radil simply redirected folks to his lawyers, before releasing a Twitlonger where he says a bunch of nothing and cries about not being taken seriously. It’s worth noting that while he was throwing his tantrum, he was also refusing to hand out the money the ex-Noble players won for their 3rd place finish in the HWC (to the tune of $250,000), as well as refusing to let lawyers from the old team see the Noble contracts where these horseshit stipulations were laid out.
Now around the time these shenanigans are happening, Noble ends up getting into the FGC, although focusing exclusively on more niche games like Mortal Kombat X and Pokken. Noble actually has quite a foothold in the Netherrealm games scene; not only do they count the final Evolution champion for Injustice 2, Curtis “Rewind” McCall, among their ranks, but also Andrew “Semiij” Fontanez and Tommy Tweedy, who have impressive results in multiple NRS titles, and have formerly had Ryan “Dragon” Walker, who was both an Evolution and E-League winner in Injustice 2. Not only that, Maze, who worked for Noble, helped run the War of the Gods/Kombat Kup online tournaments for the now defunct Stream.Me (which went down because it became a far right-wing nutjob hellscape, but I’ll give Noble the benefit of the doubt on this one), which became a pretty significant spotlight in the community. Maze, particularly, has gotten quite involved, to the point where when he’s wasn’t whining on Twitter about wanting NRS to hire him to be an eSports coordinator for them, he was helping in large part to create the brackets for Injustice 2 at Evo.
And if your head just swiveled 360 degrees, I’ll reiterate: someone very high up in a eSports organization with players in the tournament was helping to seed and put together the brackets for the biggest tournament of the year. Whether or not anything shady went down, that’s a massive conflict of interest that didn’t even get an eyebrow raise from the scene. But I digress.
I mentioned something about starving players, and that’s what I want to get to. Like many eSports orgs, Noble was a part of the disastrous H1Z1 Pro League, which left many teams high and dry as it ceased operations without giving out the stipends that it promised. Noble had put together an H1Z1 team, and had them housed in Vegas as the Pro League got started. But, according to the girlfriend of one of the team’s players, all was not well within the team even aside from the scandal with the League. Through several tweets, she revealed that Rudil and Noble were forcing the players to live in an expensive house with pre-bought furniture that they had no say in and were expected to pay for. Their contracts also hadn’t changed much since the days of the HWC scandals either, as they were paid a small amount of their contracted salary and the rest was in a fund entirely controlled by Noble, which was siphoned off for rent and surprise “contract expenses.” In addition to that, she describes the team meetings as “constant screaming” from Rudil, who would insult the players and say they were being paid to do nothing. And to top it all off, the team was not told ahead of time that they were not receiving payment for two months, which led to not only players suffering physically from only being able to afford oatmeal or just not eating, but also eviction due to the rent being late. The team manager was given eight days to evict, which is inhuman by any standards, and another player was forced to blow a bunch of money through a credit card to avoid homelessness. When asked why they couldn’t even help the players through this harrowing time, the only response from Rudil was “you’re not the only one going through financial hardships.” Despite regular occurrences like this:
Noble has yet to pay any of the players for those lost months, and even severely hurt one of their own players chances by lying to him about applying for a travel visa, then counter-offering with the idea of lying about his status in the country or through a sham marriage. These are all shameful instances of an organization exploiting young, ignorant players for their own gain and then throwing them to the wolves when it doesn’t work out. Who’s to say that this won’t happen to every one of their players?
Lastly, I feel the need to mention that Rudil has been accused of gross misconduct around women several times, with receipts. As far as I know, Rudil (and perhaps Maze) have largely stepped away from the day-to-day organizations of Noble, possibly due to scandals like with the H1Z1PL and these allegations, but there has never been any comment from Noble publically, and shockingly few FGC people bring this up. Noble, like many orgs, has streamers in addition to players who are mainly there to hawk the brand because they have stream viewers. Lots of them are women, and if the allegations are what people have said, it would put a very dark reasoning to those streamer choices.
So the final question is simple – what do we do? Banning anyone in an org with a bad history may be unfair to players who signed without knowing about that history, and that’s probably a very long list. Many orgs aren’t suspicious out of the gate either, but I don’t think it’s right that those with a bad history get to operate without any recourse from the FGC. As a community made of mostly private events, I definitely think there is one thing we could do to discourage these orgs from spreading further in the FGC once they have shown their ass: deny them access to revenue.
Stream time? Not unless it’s absolutely necessary IE for top 16/8. If an organization has a clear history of exploiting its players, they don’t really deserve to make money or have their brand awareness spread out through our streams in order to lure in more unsuspecting players. Even if they offer money, I’m sure there are way more legitimate sponsors that could be found to get a paycheck from instead of guys who keep telling players they can’t pay them what they’re owed and let them go hungry yet also buy out contracts for other players who were dismissed due to bad behavior not a month and a half previous. No one wants these types of ne’er do wells to succeed, so don’t let them! Silence is complicity, and if an organization has done questionable ethical things and you’re a TO or person of influence in the community, there’s definitely things you can do to help drive these kinds of bullshitters from the scene.
We can’t stop the tide of corporate money that will be flowing into the scene during the next few years as everyone tries to get a piece of the pie, it’s just inevitable. And I’m at peace with that, honestly. But what I cannot abide is letting these crooks and cowards who don’t amount to shit stomp around like they’re King Kong because they’ve got jerseys with their logos on them and a few thousand bucks to throw around from VC daddies. And it will be a net benefit; without these jokers and pretenders making the scene look like gullible clowns, more legitimate sponsors may take a look and realize we mean business. I hear a lot of talk about wanting no abusers to thrive in the scene, so let’s stop focusing just on the the physical threats and worry more about these avaricious goons so we can truly clean house.