Aspiring esports organization Azio lost their Counter-Strike team on Oct. 10th and in the aftermath managed to disgrace themselves in a hostile confrontation with their former players. That day VP Esports were contacted by the players and their representatives to be told that there was a situation at their teamhouse, a tense stand-off between management and players that resulted in the police being called to the property. Before all the details were revealed to the public the organization put out a statement via Twitter saying that the they had gone “above and beyond for their players” and implying that the players, who were not contracted to the organization, deciding to leave constituted some sort of betrayal.
Our statement regarding the current situation with our former CS:GO team. pic.twitter.com/H4ihx9Geh8
— AZIO eSports (@AZIOeSports) October 10, 2018
Things initially seemed to be going well between the players and the organization. The team has been performing well in the North American CS:GO Mountain Dew League with a record of 7-2 and had also made it to the semi-finals of the Cougar CS:GO Open. Crucially the team had qualified for the sixth season of FACEIT’s North American Esports Championship Series, where they would be rubbing shoulders with the likes of Team Liquid, Cloud9 and MiBR. This development had led the organization, who had already placed the players in a Oklahoma based teamhouse for a month, to draft contracts for the players to formalize their commitment to them.
However, the exposure that comes with an ECS slot had put them on the radar for bigger organizations to come in with offers. Several other brands expressed an interest but the best offer came from Spacestation Gaming. The organization had been founded by the YouTuber and Forbes 30 under 30 recipient Shaun “Shonduras” McBride who has taken an interest in esports. While specific details of this offer are not known the players stated that the offer was “double” what AZIO had verbally stated they would provide for the players, as well as featuring the significant advantage of providing a working relationship with a social media star that has a following of millions.
Before AZIO could sign the players to longer term deals the players agreed to sign with Spacestation Gaming. Despite there being no contracts in place AZIO management attempted to negotiate a buyout with Spacestation Gaming only to be told that there was no legal basis for the claim and that Spacestation would happily involve their legal counsel if they wanted to contest that. This seems to have prompted a somewhat emotional response from the management team of the AZIO organization that led to some concerning and erratic behavior.
Upon being told that the players would be taking the better offer to play elsewhere the Oklahoma based team manager, Jordan “Tryhardd” Trabue went to the property to “shut down operations.” Without informing the players what he was doing he reportedly removed power to the property via the circuit-breaker, shut off the internet and then started to remove the computers that the organization had provided for the players. Several players interviewed by VP Esports described being fearful of a confrontation as Trabue seemed irate as he moved through the house. The team is composed of some very young players including Ryan “Snakes” Amann who has just turned sixteen in July this year. Trabue’s listed age on his ESEA page is 31.
“Without informing the players what he was doing he reportedly removed power to the property via the circuit-breaker, shut off the internet and then started to remove the computers that the organization had provided for the players.”
The players, unsure as to what their rights were in this situation, called the police to the property while this was going on. According to several of the players at the scene they were informed by an officer that the owners of the house had the right to shut off any utilities and take back any property that they can prove ownership of but they could not issue a 24 hour eviction notice. There is some confusion as to whether or not this was wholly accurate as tenants enjoy a lot of rights under Oklahoma law and activities such as changing locks or turning off utilities can be legally perceived to constitute what is called a “self help” eviction, which is deemed to be an illegal activity in this state.
One player we interviewed stated “he literally turned the power off, went into the house to unplug the computers and then complained that it was too dark so he couldn’t tear the computers down. Only then did he turn the power back on.”
We interviewed Trabue via Twitter and asked for his version of events. The first denial was that they were told they had 24 hours to vacate the property. “That’s not true. This is obviously their word vs Azio. I did what the owners told me to do and I took the computers and turn the internet off. We have full right to do that.”
He also denied shutting off the power or behaving in a hostile manner to the players. “The power never got turned off” he stated before adding “I only turned off the computers and took the company computers and then the cops were called. We did nothing wrong, we never threatened the players… We just asked when they are leaving and (told them) they need to leave right away.”
When pushed on the matter of the power being turned off Trabue did present a number of inconsistencies in his account. He wasn’t able to explain why four separate witnesses stated he had turned off the circuit breaker. He added that the owners of the organization had asked him to shut the power off but despite complying with all their other instructions he did not do that. When he shared with us the message that he had received ahead of him traveling to the property there was nothing in there that could be construed as instructing him to shut off the power.
“Let the teammates know they are no longer allowed to stay at the house and that they need to make arrangements by tomorrow to be out” it read.
As you can see this message also contradicts the initial denial that the players were told to vacate the property by the morning. When I asked where he had specifically been instructed to shut down the power he couldn’t answer and instead stated “you know this is really a difficult situation in a sense that we have a team who decided to sign with another org after we provided so much for them.”
Later Trabue would also point out that the police had said they were within their rights to shut down the power but couldn’t explain why the police would have informed him of that fact if the matter of shutting off the power at the property hadn’t arisen. The interviewed players stand by their version that the power was shut off and that Trabue was hostile. In the end the electricity was restored but the internet was shut off, meaning that the players were unable to meet their obligations for the leagues within which they were playing. Shortly after pointing out the contradictions in his story Trabue refused to answer any more questions.
After contacting another spokesperson at AZIO, their Operations Manager Clay Taylor, to present them a summary of the contradictions in their story he simply stated “whatever Jordan says I stand by him. So does AZIO.”
Trabue also reportedly took every item the organization had provided for the team during their stay at the property, including bedding, which left the players having to stay overnight in spartan surroundings before they could head to their respective flights home, which were paid for by Spacestation Gaming.
In a final act of petulance Trabue also removed all the players bar himself from the ESEA roster in a bid to try and invalidate their ability to compete under the Spacestation name. The rules surrounding the MDL has a cap on how many players can be added to a roster to prevent teams being completely swapped out partway through a competition so this move would have under any other circumstances seen the team have to forfeit the rest of the season. Fortunately the admins of ESEA were aware that this move was done without the majority of the team’s permission or without them being able to prevent it due to no internet access and the changes were not upheld.
While none of this was a great advertisement for AZIO as a prospective home for any future Counter-Strike teams, the negative publicity didn’t end there. With the organization making all the headlines for the wrong reasons former players went public on their negative experiences with management. Most notably among this was a YouTube vlog by Alexander “mauisnake” Ellenberg who played for the first two seasons of the organization’s time in MDL. Over the course of the sixteen minute recording Ellenberg details a series of broken promises and financial impropriety at the hands of the management.
Speaking about housing arrangements he pointed out that Azio had woefully under delivered on their promises at the time, saying the house didn’t even have computer desks or any real furniture besides beds in it, leaving them having to play at a local LAN cafe, somewhat defeating the purpose of the teamhouse to begin with. He also detailed the team’s struggles for success as Trabue constantly tried to retain his position within the team despite clearly not being good enough for a starting role on the roster after posting what was stated to be the worst kill to death ration in MDL history.
This prompted a series of events where the players asked Trabue to leave the team so they could get a competent replacement. Upon meeting with him an argument ensued that led Trabue to threaten one of the other players in the team, Jack “JackZ” Zaruba. Ellenberg informed us that the threat issued took place on February 10th when Trabue said to Zaruba that he would “knock him the fuck out” if the team went ahead with the proposed roster team. This threat caused Zaruba to leave the team.
We tracked down Zaruba, who had deactivated his Twitter account some time after leaving Azio, and he confirmed this as being accurate. “Yes, he threatened me” he told us adding “I do not believe a person of influence on younger individuals or someone who was in his job position should be doing these things around the players or anyone else who is not of age.”
Ellenberg also shared with VP Esports the copy of the contract that his team was provided with during his time with Azio Esports. The contract promises a gym membership for the players that they say never materialized, a delivery system for groceries that they say never happened and a salary/stipend that they never received for the final month of the contract. It also details that they were to be provided with a shared vehicle for the purposes of travel. Ellenberg says that the vehicle provided had so many issues that it was “street illegal.”
The organization has also allegedly withheld prize money from the players during this time. Azio’s players earned $1500 for winning the Road To DreamHack Austin online qualifier in April and $750 for 3rd/4th place at Tokyo in Tulsa LAN in July. Trabue told the players that they would not receive their prize money due to them not keeping the house clean. There was nothing in the contract that outlined any financial penalties for failing to keep the house clean or indeed any financial penalties for failing to uphold any of the duties and responsibilities expected of the players. By contrast the contract explicitly states that the organization will not retain any share of prize money amounts under $2000.
In addition to this, upon it being made public knowledge that VP Esports were investigating the matter several other parties came forward to say that they too had been promised money by the Azio management that they were never paid. We are still waiting on clarification on these claims and will amend the report once we have more information.
All told it is hard to see how Azio can bounce back from such a rash of negative publicity prompted by the actions of their management. With more and more sponsors and investors entering the esports space with each passing month Azio seem like a relic of a bygone era, the type of amateur organization that increasingly will not be able to do business in the esports space.
The players involved will begin representing Spacestation Gaming in FACEIT’s ECS on the 18th October with their first matches against compLexity.