By David Cecconi and Kevin Hitt
Following the publishing of a report by The Benchmob earlier this month alleging that GG Esports Academy “GGEA” had recently reneged on a series of contract offers made to players from Overwatch Contenders North American side Last Night’s Leftovers, additional sources have come forward to shed light on a similar incident dating back to early 2018.
According to a series of chat logs, e-mails, and discord calls provided to VPEsports, Ali “Alicus” Saba, initially Scouting Director, and later Director of International Development for Infinite Esports & Entertainment—the holding company for brands like OpTic Gaming, Houston Outlaws, Allegiance, GGEA, and others—engaged a team of players and coaches prior to the start of Overwatch Contenders North America 2018 Season One with the intention of signing them to OpTic’s Overwatch Contenders slot. The deal, as it was framed to the team, would have made the players and staff the official academy team of Overwatch League side Houston Outlaws.
However, sources allege that, among other things, Saba and the organization not only attempted to lure players into signing a string of bad contracts that failed to include key details previously agreed upon by the parties, but that repeated mistreatment of the players and coaches by Saba was not acted upon by upper management despite the players providing records of their interactions with him.
The logs and additional records also suggest that OpTic Gaming had initially attempted to own and control as many as five North American Contenders teams simultaneously—an arrangement that appears to violate Overwatch Contenders Rule 3.1, which states:
“Each Team Owner will receive a license to operate a Team for the duration of the Contenders Season (a “Team License”), subject to the Team and Team Owner’s compliance with these Official Rules. Each Team Owner may hold only one Team License per Region. Each Team Owner must agree in writing to be bound by these Official Rules.”
The findings were consistent with a report published by over.gg on Februrary 3, 2018.
Specifically, the logs reflect that several of the players and coaches grew worried after not making contract progress over several weeks. They stressed to Saba how this offer would require them to step away from previous commitments, and for this reason, the opportunity he had promised needed to be firm. In one instance depicted in chat logs, a player explained that a sizable payment would soon be required for college enrollment and, if he were to continue to pursue a career in Overwatch through OpTic, the player would be placing his faith in Saba to deliver a contract. Saba reassured him: “Yeah, I mean it’s a unique opportunity for you and it’s stable.” However, the player’s faith would be misplaced as the opportunity ultimately fell through and the player was not able to enroll.
Saba also told the players they would need to prepare to relocate in one month’s time.
On multiple occasions, the players expressed concern to Saba after learning that OpTic Gaming was attempting to sign another roster instead and they became worried they would not get the academy slot that was promised. Those involved asked Saba for explicit confirmation that they would in fact be attached to the parent Overwatch League side through branding, effectively labeling them as Houston Outlaws’ official Contenders academy team.
Each time, the logs reflect that Saba affirmed as much with the players and coaches, telling them the organization would “put [the other players under another academy” or “if [the budget] doesn’t get approved then we just place [the other team] on FaZe or Florida” (“FaZe” referring to a separate Contenders spot being purchased from North American gaming organization FaZe Clan, while “Florida” was likely referring to Florida Mayhem academy team Mayhem Academy).
According to additional chat logs and Discord voice call recordings shared with VPEsports, the players were told by Saba that they would be playing under the “GGEA” brand rather than “OpTic Gaming.” The players were not sure whether this change would affect their standing as Houston’s academy team, and Saba appeared to grow increasingly impatient with the players’ requests for transparency about the situation.
In one such voice call recording between Saba, the players, and the coaches, Saba can clearly be heard telling the team: “I know players who are way more accomplished than all of you who would suck dick for this opportunity…I can show you my Discord.” According to sources close to the organization, this type of communication was not uncommon with respect to Saba, as other unrelated complaints of inappropriate misconduct were formally filed within the company. However, according to one source, no actions were ultimately taken at the time.
“I know players who are way more accomplished than all of you who would suck d— for this opportunity…I can show you my Discord.”
Following what players referred to as “further mistreatment by Saba,” complete records of chat logs and voice call recordings were collected and escalated to Infinite management. However, when VPEsports reached out for comment, one of the players stated that no measures were taken internally and the organization never addressed the accusations brought against Saba in subsequent communications.
VPEsports also received copies of contracts that were provided to the players by Saba and the organization. Players were asked to sign three different contracts over the span of several days, and according to sources, this was due to the constant reshuffling of rosters by Saba and management as they tried to determine to which Contenders team each roster would be assigned. The first contract listed their team as “Houston Outlaws Academy,” the second as “GGEA Desperados or Faze,” and the third simply as “Ace.”
Sources then stated that Blizzard intervened less than 24-hours before North American Contenders rosters were set to lock in order to stop OpTic from controlling multiple Contenders teams. However, given that Blizzard was responsible for allocating team licenses and would likely have been aware of the ownership and controlling structure of each Contenders team, it is unknown why the developer had not stepped in earlier.
VPEsports was later told that all player and staff contracts were subsequently voided, however, and the Outlaw’s academy slot was going to be given to another roster instead. In a Discord voice call, Alicus can be heard clearly explaining to the team that the decision to award the Outlaws’ academy slot to another group was based solely on the fact that one of the other team’s players was a Texas native and, therefore, that his team would in turn be more marketable and desirable to the Outlaw brand.
It was further alleged that Blizzard was forced to move the starting date for North American Contenders 2018 Season One back by two-to-three weeks in order to compensate for OpTic’s inability to finalize the multiple Contenders rosters they were controlling at the time.
Once Blizzard intervened and the organization no longer intended to sign the group to its academy spot, Saba and OpTic were said to have organized a deal wherein the players and coaches would instead be picked up by Simplicity—an American eSports organization founded by Jed Kaplan, minority owner of both the Memphis Grizzlies and Swansea City of the English Premier League—who purchased one of the slots vacated by OpTic management.
And while Simplicity was not affiliated with an Overwatch League team, sources say the option was the only opportunity left wherein the players would still be able participate in Contenders 2018 Season One.
However, a pair of players soon decided to pursue “safer opportunities” elsewhere and a third player quit Overwatch entirely because of the incident, this according to sources. The remaining Simplicity roster was left with a very small window in which it could trial and pick-up new players before the season began.
When reached for comment, one of the Simplicity players told VPEsports that “the incident destroyed our team and likely ended the careers of most of our players.”
Saba was later repositioned within the Infinite company and moved from Scouting Director to Director of International Development, though it is unknown whether his move within the company was in any way impacted by the aforementioned reports submitted to upper management by the players.
As of September 22, 2018 Saba was no longer a part of Infinite.
When reached for comment, Saba stated that GGEA was set to run multiple academy teams in conjunction with other OWL franchises but it fell through. Saba added, “GGEA is the org that was running this. I was assisting GGEA. My job was to do as I was told. They said they had things under control and they had deals with other [Overwatch League] teams and that it was cleared that GGEA can run a bunch of academies.”
He also told VPEsports that he was only assisting GGEA and that his departure from the organization was unrelated to any alleged misconduct which has been confirmed by VPEsports.
The above incident predates the aforementioned October 5, 2018 report from The Benchmob wherein it was stated that GGEA missed the deadline for roster submission for Overwatch Contenders North American Trials ahead of Season Three and would therefore not be competing. It was also shared that GGEA had been involved in trialing a number of new players, coaches, and analysts in recent weeks, but formal contracts could not be extended due to what was termed a “hiring freeze” that had been placed on the org by holding parent Infinite Esports & Entertainment.
Infinite did not respond to VPEsports requests for comment.