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EU League of Legends caster Deficio suspended by Riot following tampering investigation

Deficio looking sinister

Riot have suspended one of their leading on-air personalities for tampering in EU LCS, as well as suspending a coach in the European division. After a cheating rumor (apparently false) prompted an internal investigation of the relationship between Riot caster Martin “Deficio” Lynge and the Copenhagen Wolves team, Riot learned that Lynge and the Wolves had been in talks to bring Lynge into the organization in a management role. Lynge had also spoken to other pro players about their joining Copenhagen Wolves, which amounts to tampering, as Riot defines it: “inappropriately influencing a player under contract with one organization to consider joining another.”

It’s an embarrassing, if minor, black-eye for their broadcast team, but one that also illustrates just how fine a line that Riot’s LCS employees have to walk when it comes to the pro scene.

Lynge is one of the main casters for European LCS and is a highly-regarded former player and coach who spent time with both the Copenhagen Wolves and Ninjas in Pyjamas organizations. When he decided to wind-down his playing career, Riot were quick to hire him for EU LCS broadcasts, where he’s proven to be a capable analyst and commentator.

But those past connections and his ongoing relationship with Copenhagen Wolves caused him problems in this embarrassing-all-around tampering story.

As Riot explain in their statement, they were prompted to investigate Deficio and Copenhagen Wolves (CW) by a rumor that Lynge had been leaking another team’s strategies to CW. The Wolves coach, Karl “Dentist” Krey, apparently told his players that he had inside information about SK Gaming’s gameplan thanks to Deficio… but he later admitted he’d just said that so his players would listen to him.

From this rather lame coaching moment, however, came the information that Lynge and CW were in talks about Deficio joining the organization in the near future, and Deficio had not disclosed that information to Riot.

“In this case, we believe that Deficio showed poor judgment in navigating this conflict of interest,” Riot stated. “Over the course of our investigation we found evidence indicating that Deficio had begun speaking with several active LCS players – contracted and free agents – about their future and the possibility of working with them on the Copenhagen Wolves. These conversations influenced – or had the potential to influence – player decisions on where they chose to play, and affected the competitive integrity of the LCS.”

As a result, Riot have suspended Deficio for the next couple weeks for tampering, while the head coach of the Wolves has received a suspension for leading his players to believe that CW were cheating, and for being complicit in Deficio’s tampering. Additionally, Deficio will not be approved to be a player, manager, coach, or owner for any LCS team until after the 2016 season.

These are surprisingly lenient sentences compared to what Riot have handed-down in similar cases (such as the large fines against CLG last year). But it’s worth noting that this is another situation where Riot did not exactly have rules governing situations like this, because LCS itself is so new and unusual. As is often the case, Riot’s governance of pro League of Legends has had to react to the unexpected.

In this case, the tampering charge against Deficio also highlights how much confusion and potential conflict of interest there is around Riot’s eSports personnel. Deficio was hired because he was a good, popular player who could understand and explain the game for audiences watching at home. His relationships with the teams and insider perspective are part of what have made him an effective caster for Riot, and indeed, those are assets that Riot tend to value quite highly when it comes to recruiting talent for their casting team.

Yet ex-players like Deficio are not working for an independent media network the way a lot of traditional sports broadcasters do. He’s working for the same company that oversees pro League of Legends and acts as league commissioner. So he’s subject to the same level of scrutiny as the teams he covers, which is rather unusual for broadcasters. He doesn’t just cover pro League of Legends but remain a part of its competitive landscape.

Riot explained in an addendum to their ruling that, in the future, Riot employees should report “firm” job offers to the company: “Reporting firm job offers doesn’t challenge the Rioters’ position – whether or not they choose to take up the offer – but it creates transparency in a competitive environment where we ask for total neutrality from Rioters.”

What’s interesting is the tampering charge itself, though. It’s not clear whether Deficio was actively trying to recruit for CW, or whether he was just having conversations with friends and colleagues about it. And that’s the problem for people in his position: on the one hand, Riot value their strong, friendly relationships with teams and players. On the other, after this ruling, it’s not “just talk” when you work for Riot.