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Why Timeout Doesn’t Mean Game Over: on Competitive Governance in eSports

2015 League of Legends

Photo Source: Bruce Liu, Fnatic vs KOO Tigers – 2015 League of Legends, Wikimedia Commons (Oct. 25, 2015) (CCBY-SA 3.0)

By Noah Zimmerman*                                                                   Posted: 12/12/2022


Setting the Stage


Seventy-four million people watched ‘Scout’ lead EDward Gaming to a League of Legends World Championship in 2021.[1][1] League of Legends is a competitive online game where teams of five players pilot ‘champions’ to capture enemy territory – think chess, but without turns.[2][2] The 2021 winners of The International, the Dota 2 World Championship, received a grand prize of $40 million.[3][3] This genre of competitive entertainment has experienced a meteoric rise in popularity since the first Starcraft: Brood War Tournaments in the early 2000s.[4][4] Online or live gaming competitions, known colloquially as ‘esports,’ have boomed into a billion-dollar industry over the past few years.[5][5] Under the umbrella term ‘esports,’ dozens of games have competitive scenes with extremely dedicated players and rabid fans.[6][6] Part of the appeal of esports is the degree to which fans can interact with professional players.[7][7] Unlike traditional, more developed sports, fans of professional gamers can watch, chat with, and even play alongside their favorite competitors daily.[8][8] Although these fan interactions are great opportunities for players to create memorable moments for their fans and build a personal brand, these fan exposures are not without liability, and as competition organizers in the esports space have seen recently, there are benefits to a barrier between fans and personalities.[9][9]


Timeout for Major Players in Esports


The League of Legends scene has had to dole out several high-profile disciplinary actions recently.[10][10] In particular, Andy ‘Reginald’ Dinh, CEO of the multi-million dollar esports organization ‘TSM,’ was subjected to disciplinary action for a history of severely bullying his fellow players and staff.[11][11] Dinh is a former professional player, co-founder of the esports organization TSM, and current CEO of the organization that now fields professional gaming teams across various competitive games.[12][12] In the early days of competitive League of Legends, Dinh’s aggressive personality and ruthless attitude towards his teammates were part of TSM’s brand.[13][13] In 2013, at the inception of the North American League of Legends Championship Series, Dinh repeatedly publicly blamed his teammates as being responsible for losses, aggressively antagonized teammates during practice, and kicked star players off his team for minor infractions.[14][14] However, in 2022, Dinh, the majority owner of one of the most storied franchises in esports, was found to have violated the North American League of Legends Championship Series Team Participation Agreement for a “pattern and practice of disparaging and bullying behavior.”[15][15] This violation was found after the North American League of Legends Championship Series (NA LCS) retained outside counsel to investigate TSM as an organization and Dinh as its leader.[16][16] The report states that this behavior manifested as a pattern of verbal abuse of staff members and esports team players.[17][17] Although the independent investigation ultimately concluded that Dinh’s outbursts were confined to his concerns with team member’s performance and never rose to the level of actual abuse or comments that would implicate a protected class, NA LCS organizers saw fit to fine the organization $75,000, three times the maximum fine for conduct unbecoming of an LCS Team Member, and place Dinh on probation for the next two years.[18][18] This probation includes a mandatory culture shift within Dinh’s organization, and requires the creation of an independent, anonymous tip line for employees.[19][19] This ruling is a step toward tempering the white-hot, personality-driven space that esports occupies and was considered a “historic step forward“ by the NA LCS Players Association.[20][20]


Another recent disciplinary action was taken by the League of Legends European Championship (LEC) against the CEO of G2 Esports, Carlos Rodriguez.[21][21] Like Dinh, Carlos ‘ocelote’ Rodriguez is also a former professional League of Legends player, infamous for his outspoken attitude, a commodity he has used to great effect.[22][22] As the document issuing the competitive ruling explains, Rodriguez was disciplined for tweeting an inappropriate video of himself partying.[23][23] The LEC found that Rodriguez’s antics, and subsequent lack of remorse, violated Art. 9.2.5 of the LEC’s official rules, which disallows team members or managers of participating organizations from acting against the best interests of the league, or Riot Games, the developer of the League of Legends game.[24][24] As punishment for his actions, the LEC required Rodriguez to step down from his position as CEO for eight weeks, to complete sensitivity training, and submit proof of completion to the league.[25][25] Rodriguez’s decisions likely cost the organization a franchised position in another upcoming esports league, as organizers have reportedly denied G2’s application and bid to join the league in light of Rodriguez’s recent controversy.[26][26]


Leveling Up


These competitive rulings represent the maturation of a sport seeking to appeal to ever-broader audiences.[27][27] Disciplining mainstays of the western League of Legends scene are a landmark on the roadmap of this new genre of competitive entertainment.[28][28] Like all competitive leagues, Esports leagues face the challenge of striking a balance in the rules.[29][29] At one end of the seesaw, audience members want nothing more than a good show, and league organizers can profit off that desire by crafting dramatic storylines, both in and outside the game, that attract viewers.[30][30] On the other end of this balancing act, sports organizers in emerging sports like League of Legends have a huge responsibility to maintain the competitive integrity of the game, to craft tournaments and rules that ensure that the best teams win, and police league participants in a manner that encourages long-term investors.[31][31] Many sports have undergone and continue to undergo similar periods of growing pains.[32][32] As esports continues to come of age, league organizers must make tough decisions about whether encouraging divisive personalities in and out of the game is good for viewership and whether the sport can survive on the entertainment value of the competition alone.[33][33]


*Staff Writer, Jeffrey S. Moorad Sports Law Journal, J.D. Candidate, May 2024, Villanova University Charles Widger School of Law



[1] See Ric Cowley, They Did It! Edward Gaming are the New League of Legends World Champions, Red Bull (Apr. 2, 2022, 5:40 PM) (breaking down EDward Gaming’s five-game series win over Damwon Kia to win 2021 world championship); see also Christina Gough, Number of Viewers of League of Legends World Championship Finals from 2018 to 2021, Statista (Jun. 9, 2022),73.86%20million%20peak%20concurrent%20viewers (reporting data on growth in peak viewership of League of Legends World Championship finals in last four years).

[2] See What is League of Legends?, Riot Games, (last visited Nov. 2, 2022) (explaining goal of League of Legends game, cataloging characters players can choose to pilot, and various positions that each player must play).

[3] See The International 2022, Dota 2 Prize Pool Tracker, (last visited Oct. 27, 2022) (documenting growth in prize money paid to winners of “The International” championship tournament); see also Kurt Lozano, How the Prize Pools For Dota 2’s The International Became the Biggest in Esports, One Esports (Oct. 9, 2022, 9:00 AM), (explaining that due to crowdfunded nature of prize pool, winners of The International have enjoyed massive payouts for their efforts).

[4] See Werner Geyser, The Incredible Growth of eSports [+eSports Statistics], Influencer Marketing Hub (Aug. 1, 2022) (describing staggering growth in esports, citing investor projections that esports’ total US revenue will be $516 million by 2023); see also 2000-2001 1st Game-Q World Championship, Liquipedia (last visited Oct. 27, 2022) (chronicling original Starcraft: Brood War tournaments, hosted in Korea).

[5] See Key Market Insights, Fortune Business Insights (last visited Nov. 28, 2022) (documenting and projecting growth of global esports industry, valued at $1.44 billion in 2022).

[6] See Jeffrey L. Wilson and Jordan Minor, The Best Esports Games for 2022, PCMag, (last updated Nov. 4, 2022) (listing popular competitive games that are played for money).

[7] See Joshua Barney, Understanding the Motivations of Esports Fans: The Relationship Between Esports Spectator Motivations and Esports Fandom Engagement, UNLV Theses, Dissertations, Professional Papers, and Capstones 4119, (2021) (studying how fan interaction has contributed to growth of esports).

[8] See Twitch Statistics & Charts, TwitchTracker, (last visited Oct. 28, 2022) (tracking viewership trends of major online gaming streaming platform,, where professional players can broadcast their games to live, interactive audiences).

[9] See Mateusz Miter, Carlos Rodríguez Promises Comeback if he Wins Esports Award, Dot Esports (Oct. 28, 2022, 4:37 AM) (reporting that Carlos Rodriguez has stated that if he wins 2022 esports personality of the year he will return to eSports).

[10] See Chris Greeley, Competitive Ruling: Andy Dinh, Riot Games (Jul. 13, 2022) (having investigated Andy Dinh, this article documents Dinh’s behavior, announces fines and punishments, and provides reasoning for why these punitive actions are appropriate.); see also Lolesports Staff, Competitive Ruling: Carlos Rodriguez, Riot Games (Oct. 11, 2022) (documenting antics of Rodriguez and announcing certain corrective actions that Rodriguez must take if he is to continue to participate in esports).

[11] See LCSPA Statement on Riot’s Andy Dinh Ruling, Medium: LCS Players Association (Jul. 13, 2022) (marking Riot’s retention of an outside law firm to conduct an independent investigation into behavior of Andy Dinh as a “milestone in the LCS”); see also We are a Professional Esports Organization, TSM, (last visited Nov. 8, 2022) (explaining origins of the name ‘TSM’ and TSM’s operation as professional esports organization).

[12] See Mikhail Klimentov, Riot Games Fines TSM, Places CEO Andy Dinh on 2-year Probation for Bullying, Wash. Post (last updated July 13, 2022, 6:58 PM) (reporting on multi-year saga that led to this fine and probation for TSM CEO).

[13] See id. (linking “widely circulated videos dating back nearly a decade . . . [where] Dinh can be seen yelling at other TSM esports athletes”).

[14] See id. (explaining that videos and public statements demonstrating Dinh’s behavior were used as evidence in this ruling); see also TSM Reginald Flames after losing to CLG, YouTube (Jul. 13, 2013), (recording an occurrence of Dinh’s bullying); Dyrus vs Reginald Discussion [RAGE], YouTube (Aug. 23, 2013), (recording heated discussion between Dinh and his teammate as example of Dinh’s bullying); Ruiva, Chaox’s Legacy: TSM and Professionalism in NA, Dot Esports (Jan. 7, 2015, 4:27 PM) (recounting circumstances surrounding Dinh’s benching of fellow teammate ‘Chaox’ in 2013).

[15] See Greeley, supra note 10 (having investigated Andy Dinh, this article documents Dinh’s behavior, announces fines and punishments, and provides reasoning for why these particular punitive actions are appropriate)

[16] See id. (detailing the investigation process into TSM and Andy Dinh); see also Riot Issues a Competitive Ruling on the TSM CEO Andy Dinh, ESTNN (Jul. 14, 2022) (explaining process by which TSM was investigated and reporting on ruling).

[17] See Greeley, supra note 10 (documenting factors that contributed to this ruling including public humiliation, causing mental breakdowns of players and staff, verbal assaults, and more).

[18] See id. (punishing Dinh for his consistently deplorable behavior, finding that Dinh violated rules 14.3.1 and 14.3.4 of league rules by participating in hate speech and harassment).

[19] See id. (establishing avenues for repeated team and organization monitoring by league officials and providing a method to report further violations anonymously).

[20] See LCSPA Statement on Riot’s Andy Dinh Ruling, supra note 11 (making special note of ruling as historic).

[21] See Lolesports Staff, supra note 10 (announcing penalties for Rodriguez in light of his recent activities).

[22] See Matt Gardner, G2 Esports CEO Reveals Industry’s Most Important Factors For Financial Success, Forbes (Jun. 23, 2022, 6:00 AM) (interviewing Rodriguez on his successful esports brand); see also Dan Kleinman and Matt Perez, 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30: Sports and Games, Forbes (last visited Oct. 27, 2022) (spotlighting Rodriguez as “Featured Nominee” of Forbes’ 2019 “30 under 30” in sports and games).

[23] See Lolesports Staff, supra note 10 (documenting antics of Rodriguez and announcing certain corrective actions that Rodriguez must take if he is to continue to participate in esports).

[24] See id. (quoting relevant rule “9.2.5 of League of Legends European Championship, 2022 Season, Official Rules: ‘Team managers/Members may not give, make, issue, authorise or endorse any statement or action having, or designed to have, an effect prejudicial or detrimental to the best interest of the League, Riot Games or its affiliates, or League of Legends, as determined in the sole and absolute discretion of the League.’”).

[25] See id. (requiring Rodriguez to submit to “(i) sensitivity training, and (ii) executive training, and provide evidence of completion to the LEC, within 120 days of this ruling, but no later than before his return to the Riot-sanctioned esports ecosystem in any official capacity.”).

[26] See Scott Robertson, G2 Not Likely to Secure VALORANT Partnership with Riot in EMEA or Americas, Dot Esports (Sep. 20, 2022, 3:01 PM) (reporting that G2 has likely lost out on its bid to join an esports league for the newly popular first-person shooter game, VALORANT due to Rodriguez’s decisions).

[27] See Geyser, supra note 4 (describing staggering growth in esports, citing investor projections that esports’ total US revenue will be $516 million by 2023).

[28] See LCSPA Statement on Riot’s Andy Dinh Ruling, supra note 11 (highlighting the disciplinary actions taken by Riot against Dinh as a step towards a mature sporting league).

[29] See Roy Gardner & Elinor Ostrom, Rules and Games, 70 Public Choice 121, 124–126 (1991) (explaining game theory behind why rule-setting for games affects how particular game is played, even where players remain constant).

[30] See Walter C. Neale, The Peculiar Economics of Professional Sports, 78 The Quarterly Journal of Economics 1, 1–3 (1964) (explaining Louis-Schmelling paradox: sports firms tend to earn more when competition is high and storylines are dramatic).

[31] See id. at 4 (noting that “to produce the other utilities [of competition] [sports leagues] must have the cooperation of a several business firms”).

[32] See Dave Meltzer, The Pitfalls that Faced UFC Before its Television Success, MMA Fighting (Nov. 16, 2013, 8:00 AM) (documenting history of Ultimate Fighting Championship’s rise to popularity as it was developing, such as removing rounds, then adding rounds back, disallowing headbutts, disallowing low blows, disallowing hair-pulling, and having to convince legislators to sanction bouts); see also Astrid Eira, The 10 Biggest Fines in the NBA History: Penalties That Cost Basketball Teams A Fortune, FinancesOnline (last modified Oct. 2, 2022) (listing biggest fines in NBA history). As relevant to this article, Miami Heat owner Micky Arison was fined $250,000 for disparaging NBA management on Twitter, also Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban was fined $500,000 for criticizing referee decisions. See id. (ranking Arison’s fine as fifth largest fine in NBA history to date and Cuban’s as second largest).

[33] See Neale, supra note 30 at 8–9 (explaining “input-enthusiasm effect” as it pertains to survival of sporting leagues).