The other side of the story: Wings Gaming
Interview with Xuan Li - LGD’s Chief Strategy Officer
There has been a lot of confusion and misinformation about what has happened to the former Wings Gaming players who won TI6. We incorrectly reported that they had been permanently banned by ACE. LGD’s Chief Strategy Officer Xuan Li reached out to us with the hope of setting the record straight and helping everyone understand the chain of events that lead the former Wings Gaming players to their current situation. He sat down with us and talked at length about the specifics of Wings Gaming, ACE, and the future of the TI6 champions.
Could you describe the situation for people who have missed details about what happened?
The whole thing started after TI6, after they went back to China. Originally the 5 players had a contract with the Wings Gaming owner saying the team will take a 40% cut and the players will split the other 60%. The team in turn will pay the coach and the team manager with that 40%. The players weren’t happy with that because most other teams take a much smaller cut from the prize money. Most teams only take between 10-20% and some teams don’t take anything from the prize money. So the players weren’t happy and the owner compromised and modified the contract and said the players could take 80% and the team would take 20%.
So after they won TI the team owner wanted to get into other e-sports scenes so they started investing their money elsewhere. Due to this they ran into some cash flow issues and so they were late on the Wings Gaming player’s salary. The team owner also spent much less time with the players and the players didn’t know if it was because the previous negotiation turned their relationship in a different direction, or if the owner didn’t want to invest much into Dota and change to other games. So in March their salary was late by about two months. It started maybe in the middle of January. Wings Gaming didn’t sign the standard template contract with ACE, they actually signed two contracts.
One is the normal labour contract, the labour contract says they are playing for the team and they should get paid, and the team is paying for their travel expenses and the coach and stuff like that. They also have another contract that says they can not play for any other team except for Wings. They signed both contracts but because Wings Gaming was late for their salary payments according to the labour law in China it basically says you can terminate the contract right away.
The players did that and terminated the labour contract and then they contacted Valve to change their team from Wings Gaming to Team Random and then went to the Kiev Major to play in the tournament. Wings wasn’t happy about that, and the players weren’t too happy either and the players contacted ACE. So ACE originally said if Wings Gaming still owes you money, because ACE has a deposit from each team owner just in case they don’t pay the salary or are late in paying the salary, so ACE offered to pay their salary with the deposit money. The players said no and that they didn’t really care.
They just wanted out of their contract with Wings?
Right, and then after that in early or mid April Wings paid up the unpaid wages and offered to pay all the salary till the end of their contract in advance. I believe none of the players accepted the second part but they did collect their unpaid salary. ACE was trying to mitigate the situation between the players and the team owner but I believe the players just wanted out of Wings and were looking for another team. Then there was some issue within the 5 players themselves and I think at a certain point they decided not to play together as a team. Then the transfer window opened up and they were looking for a transfer. ACE asked Wings gaming what was happening with the contract and Wings presented the second contract which was not terminated. ACE said they would still honor that contract and say the players can not play for a different team. The labour law says if you are late in receiving payments you can terminate the contract right away but even then you still have to give a 30 day notice prior to termination. So if you are using the labor law you can terminate any contract. Even a soccer player or a basketball player, they can leave the team at any time as long as they give the 30 day notice.
ACE is there to protect the team owners and the players. If I want to poach one player away from another team, that will leave 4 players without a teammate. It hurts both the team owner and the players, as well as tournament organizers if you are in the middle of a tournament, and it also protects the player. ACE decided to try to mitigate the issue and resolve it by convincing the players to either go back to Wings or resolve the contract issue with Wings. Basically have Wings Gaming list the player and ask for a transfer fee, basically do it the normal way. So the players said ok let’s talk to Wings Gaming but after two weeks there has been no talking between them. I think the team owner was really unhappy so he didn’t want to talk to the players and the players were unhappy and didn’t want to talk to the team owner either.
ACE then held a meeting with all the managers, all the 26 teams under ACE and they said ok we shouldn’t try to sign any of these players until their contract problems are resolved. Otherwise it’s not helping the situation because if you sign the player, should you pay for the transfer or should you not? Is the contract still there or is it invalid? So all the teams agreed during that meeting but after 1 or 2 weeks EHOME’s manager showed up at ACE’s office with two players, Faith_Bian and Y’. They said they wanted to sign those two players, register those two players, so ACE said “no you cannot” because two days prior to that Wings made an announcement saying all the players still had a contract with Wings gaming and no team should sign them. So because of that announcement ACE rejected the register and rejected the transfer. So that’s basically what happened. During the whole process nobody mentioned a life time ban. What we think happened is EHOME’s manager took a screenshot of the discussion during the team meeting where they said nobody should sign the players until the contract expired but because of the way the sentence was phrased in Chinese, it was sent in two parts, but EHOME’s manager took a screenshot only showing the second part. Where IG’s manager said nobody should sign them and all the other team managers agreed.
So manipulation of information then?
Right. For some reason EHOME decided to sign the players anyway. Maybe they really want to play in TI this year or think that with these two players they will get an invite. After signing them EHOME decided to leave ACE. I don't have firm evidence for this but it is what we suspect.
EHOME was originally not part of ACE correct?
I believe Y and Faith_Bian officially joined EHOME last night or this morning as well right?
Yes. EHOME made the announcement this morning and ACE is preparing for another announcement in about an hour from now saying EHOME signed those two players illegally and that the whole process is wrong. ACE told them several times not to sign those players but EHOME decided to still sign those players and leave ACE so basically ACE had a team meeting and everyone agreed to let EHOME leave and wished them luck. All the players are free to join ACE again after their contract with EHOME expires though.
So EHOME can’t play in any tournaments under the umbrella of ACE then?
That’s right. There are plenty of tournaments that aren’t a part of ACE. There’s the WESG hosted by Alibaba so I think EHOME decided to do that. EHOME hadn’t been doing well in China this year, they aren’t really a top team, basically they are a tier two team so they haven’t been able to compete in a lot of the major tournaments. I think that’s also part of the reason they are ok with leaving ACE because they can’t get much from ACE.
In terms of the penalty for Wings Gaming and the three players remaining: Both sides received penalties. Wings Gaming for being late on payment and lacking communication, while the players were penalized for leaving the team without terminating their contract prior.. For the players they will be fined for one month of their salary. It’s not much, it’s less than $4000 US. They will also get a 5 tournament ban after TI. The reason for that is that we don’t want to affect their ability to transfer to another team. After TI there aren’t many big tournaments, a lot of teams are ok so they can sign them and have them play in all the tournaments in the lead up to TI7. So that teams have incentive to sign the player and ensure the player is in good form if they make it to TI.
For Wings they will not receive the full amount of the transfer fee. They will partially get some but the rest will go into a fund to help more players break into professional Dota in China.
Would that include the players that went to EHOME or would it only be for the players who are still left with Wings?
The penalty is only for the three players, so that’s Blink, Shadow, and IceIce. If the other two, Faith_bian and y want to return to ACE, they will face the same penalty. Because they aren’t in ACE right now ACE is in no position to give them the penalty.
So it would apply as soon as they tried to come back into ACE?
Yes. The goal of ACE is really to protect all the players, team owners, and event organizers. By requiring a deposit from the team just in case they don’t pay, or the prize money from the organizer in case they don’t pay the player ACE can come in and say ok we can pay you the money. ACE also requires that deposit money from the tournament organizers because it’s happened so many times before that they host a tournament and then don’t pay. It also helps organize the tournaments so that scheduling conflicts can be prevented, enabling the players to play in both of them instead of forcing them to choose which tournament to attend. It also protects team owners and investors by protecting their investments. ACE really does try to protect all the stakeholders in esports in China. What happened in this Wings Gaming incident is that both the players and EHOME tried to challenge that foundation and I think that’s why ACE took a really strong stance about this. Telling EHOME either you don’t sign the players or you have to leave ACE if you want the players.
There were a lot of rumors circulating due to social media, I believe a lot of it came from Y’s and Iceice’s blog posts.
Yeah, what happened with this was at the beginning the players wanted to face it together. They wanted to stay as a team and play in TI with a direct invite and if they get a ban whatever. That’s what they were thinking. After EHOME showed them the partial screenshot, Faith_Bian and Y’ that is, they got scared and agreed to join EHOME, with EHOME promising them to help them with that. I think the day before they went to register they sent an email to the other three players saying they are joining EHOME because they didn’t want to get a life time ban. They apologized through the email and all that stuff. The other three players felt betrayed and they weren’t happy and that’s what Iceice’s blog post was about. He was saying, I think something like GG betrayed by teammates or something like that. Iceice then posted what faith_bian and Y’ wrote into the blog post and everybody was confused about that post.
Shadow then said something about not seeing it coming and they wanted to stay together even if it was going to be a lifetime ban and not long after that Iceice deleted his blog post. I think that’s where a lot of people heard about the lifetime ban and that’s how it made it into the news. I think that’s how that rumor started.
This timeline of events was also given to us for people to better understand the order that things happened in.
Mid March, 2017
Wage payment delayed for over 30 days.
Early April, 2017
Players terminated labor contract in writing.
According to Chinese Labor Law, employee can terminate contract with 30 days’ notice in advance. Employee can also terminate contract freely when wage payment is late for over 30 days unless company is experiencing financial difficulties.
Players have 2 contracts with Wings Gaming. A labor contract and a E-sports pro player representation contract. Players terminated labor contract referencing Chinese Labor Law. But E-sports pro player representation contract prevent them from playing for another team until the contract expires in Oct, 2017.
Early April, 2017
ACE offered to cover unpaid wages with deposit from Wings Gaming, but players did not accept the offer.
Teams are required to have a deposit to cover unpaid/delayed wages.
Mid April, 2017
Wings Gaming paid up unpaid wages and offered to pay future wages in advance.
April 18th, 2017
Players changed team name to Team Random.
April 20th, 2017
Players notified ACE that they have left Wings Gaming.
April 22th, 2017
Players refused ACE to mediate differences between players and Wings Gaming.
April 25th, 2017
ACE held team manager meeting, Wings chose not to attend. All teams agreed to not recruit players from Wings until the contract dispute is resolved.
ACE attempted to keep the team together and avoid player poaching from other teams. This also protects Wings Gaming’s investment into the team and the player.
May 3rd, 2017
Players met with ACE and team managers. ACE advised players to settle their differences with Wings Gaming ASAP. This gives them enough time to decide whether to stay together as a team or finding new teams.
May 12th, 2017
ACE asked Wings Gaming to explain the details and resolutions
May 13th, 2017
Wings Gaming made a public statement claiming the contract dispute is not resolved
May 16th, 2017
EHome manager attempted to transfer “faith_bian” and “y” at ACE office.
May 17th, 2017 “Iceice” posted on Weibo mentioned ACE imposed life time ban, iG and LGD blocked y’s transfer to EHome. He deleted the post shortly after.
ACE never imposed life time ban on players. In fact, the penalty for players has not been discussed yet, but the maximum ban for such issue is one year.