RMIT’s esports lab (Photo: Jeremy Gan)
On the evening of 18 March, the Australian Esports League (AEL) Discord server was alight with conversations and accusations. Every second, a message was sent to the general chat, mostly memes satirising the situation. In the chat room, CSGO Room-1, dozens of muted spectators were gathered to watch a handful of individuals debate over a scandal.
Players banned by ESIC (Esports Integrity Commission) in the game Counter-Strike: Global Offensive (CS:GO) are participating in the current tournament, and a team captain had been removed from his position for attempting to protest the bans.
In the chat room, the ex-team captain passionately debates AEL staff and captains from other teams. He argued if the AEL still decides to let these individuals play, they’d be destroying the integrity of the league, and they were slapping the integrity body in the face. This all happened while an audience member live-streamed his gameplay of Terraria to the room, with multiple counts of interruption due to people trolling and mic spamming.
The AEL is a minor league. In the world of esports, it is a blip on the map. But to the world of Australian University Esports, it is the most important league, holding the most important tournaments for every single video game. Any student in a university can play, even if it’s not attached to a club, and many do. There is a team from every state and territory which competes. Winning the year’s tournament is tantamount to claiming the top spot in this small world. AEL has built up a sizable community of university-level esports enthusiasts, and just like any gaming community, they are most active on their public Discord server.
In the server’s general chat, among a sea of gifs, memes, sarcastic retorts and video game talk, was a message pinging one of the AEL staff members and CS:GO admin. Sent that afternoon, it read, “Just found some of the guys in the CS Comp [tournament] have been banned by ESIC.” It continues, “what’s the rules on that?”
Binh “Bas1ic” Nguyen, the CS:GO team captain for La Trobe University’s Eagles heard about the banning from someone else. He decided to sit on the information for a day before going public with it. In 24 hours, he started doing background checks on the names on the team rosters to make sure they were accurate.
“I didn’t want to be putting out false information before putting it out there,” he said. After 24 hours, he put out the message pinging the staff member. After some back-and-forth messaging in the chat, he sent a link.
The link was an article by HLTV, published 22 January 2021. The article had listed the names of 35 CS:GO players from Oceania who were recently banned for betting-related offenses by the Esports Integrity Commission (ESIC). Among them were four names; Sam ‘Tham’ Mitchell, James ‘Roflko'’ Lytras, and Daryl ‘Mayker’ May, three players for RMIT Blacks. And Alvin ‘Gravinz’' Changgra, a player for Monash Mumelele.
ESIC is an independent organisation that was established in 2016 after various scandals in different video game tournaments, including a CS:GO betting and match-fixing scandal in 2014. It investigates, prosecutes and polices match-fixing, doping and any form of cheating in the sport. This includes any betting in any ESIC matches.
If a player is banned by the organisation, they are ineligible to take part in tournaments by their partners. This includes ESL, Blast, and Dreamhack, the biggest leagues in CS:GO. And ESIC’s decision carries enough weight that leagues that aren’t members would potentially adhere to it.
The team captains for the RMIT Blacks, ‘Tham’ and ‘Mayker’, were banned for four years for betting against their own team in a match. ‘Roflko’ was banned for a year for betting on other matches. And ‘Gravinz’ was banned for five years for betting against their own team over 10 matches.
The Monash Electronic Gaming Association (MEGA) says none of the Monash gaming clubs endorse ‘Gravinz’ and his team as they are not associated or part of the clubs. “We are extremely unlikely to allow an ESIC banned player to participate in any capacity on behalf of our club”, Alexander Bourikas, club president of MEGA said in a statement.
The RMIT team, however, has won multiple tournaments. The banned individuals were members of the commission because they were players for professional teams which played in ESIC partnered leagues. The players are still competing in the ongoing tournament.
Many in the chat demanded to know why AEL allowed the players to participate in the current tournament. Roughly 45 minutes after ‘Bas1ic’ sent through his question, AEL staff directed everyone to the announcements channel. They had just released a statement.
In it, they stated the league decided not to recognise ESIC’s, or any third-party bans. They listed the criteria which would make players ineligible to play in one of their tournaments:
Decisions on player activities made by the Australian judicial system
Decisions of game publishers that the AEL is required to uphold
Decisions of the AESA (Australian Esports Association) and IESF (International Esports Federation) which the AEL is required to uphold
The AEL’s own discretion based on information at hand
This raised a few problems for some team managers and observers.
AEL is not a member of ESIC. But questions still arise from many as to why the players were still allowed to play. Why does the most important league in Australian university esports not adhere to the ruling and sanctions of a body which is recognised by the biggest organisations in esports? AEL says they are not seeking partnership at the current stage.
In addition, one of the organisations whose bans AEL adheres to, AESA, has Darren Kwan listed as one of its board members and president. Kwan is also listed as the executive producer for the AEL. But Kwan disputes the bias in a statement, saying the AESA is an independent board and cannot be swayed by one person.
Following the announcements and bans being put forward, the University of Wollongong (UOW) Reds would go on to forfeit their playoff in their group against Monash Mumelele.
Ben Hancock is the former team captain of the UOW Reds. He found out about the bans before the tournament started. He was looking into the CS:GO scene in Oceania when he came across the HLTV article. He never went public with the information, choosing instead to gather other CS:GO university captains to rally against the teams and players. This was how ‘Bas1ic’ found out about the bans.
Within the afternoon the information was made public, the majority of the UOW Reds decided to forfeit in protest for AEL, allowing the banned players to compete in the tournament. The Swinburne Reds were also scheduled to play RMIT Blacks as their playoff in their group but decided to forfeit as well.
AEL has delayed publishing the forfeit, while the rest of the groups have finished their playoffs. Their match is still shown to be not played on Battlefly as of the release of this article (Battlefly is a website that shows the progress for tournaments).
Hancock, as the team captain, sent a message to an AEL staff member saying UOW Reds was forfeiting, but did not tell his club president before doing so. He was stood down.
Hancock said he was removed from his position “within [a] matter of hours, it was extremely quick.”
Immediately after sending in the team’s forfeit, Ben was kicked from his club’s team rosters spreadsheet. Within the hour, his club president, ‘Markbtw’ (he declined to provide his real name), and other committee members would decide it was not appropriate to let him play.
Hancock says ‘Markbtw’ threatened to completely disband the team.
“The university club would pull the team if they [UOW Reds] decide to purposefully not play the game,” he said of the threats.
But in reality, it was virtually a dissolving of the team. Eventually, during discussions in the club, ‘Markbtw’ realised he couldn’t just remove a whole team and came to a compromise. They decided to go for the head of the team.
Hancock claims ‘Markbtw’ was forced by AEL to try to reverse the forfeit and punish the players.
“They would rather destroy an entire team than make some of their mates not play the tournament,” he said.
Kwan disputes this, saying the removal was an internal club affair and was not influenced by the league.
Hancock would later release a statement about his removal and his team’s forfeit to the general chat and several screenshots of AEL staff members protecting the banned players. The screenshots were taken down by moderators for breaking server rules.
People from RMIT and UOW are currently acting as admins and staff for AEL, including an RMIT graduate in a sub-contracted role and a UOW student in a supportive role.
‘Markbtw’ is listed as a game admin for the league.
As of now, the tournament is on their second bracket. The banned players and their teams are still participating in the tournament.
RMIT‘s Esports club president declined to comment on the matter. UOW’s esports club was also contacted but did not comment before the article’s deadline.