A tournament touted to put “esports on New Zealand’s map” has left competitors pockets empty to the tune of more than NZ$28,000 and left fans scratching their heads as organisers fail to front up.
Insiders working on the New Zealand Champions 2020, a League of Legends event organised by NZEsports which boasted an advertised NZ$100,000 prize pool, stopped just short of calling the competition a scam.
But with $28,400 owed to more than 360 players following the conclusion of the first round in December, industry bosses are saying the contest seemed “too good to be true.”
Tournament head admin Katherine “Sebbie” Qin told Snowball Esports she wasn’t sure whether the “Riot-approved” competition would go ahead. She also added the organisers going dark didn’t make sense, at least in her eyes.
“I can’t 100 per cent say NZEsports is a scam and no one will get anything, but I’m also disappointed by the lack of contact,” Sebbie said.
She said she hadn’t had any contact from organisers since early March.
The last time she spoke to any of the behind-the-scenes organisers was when one of her initial contacts advised her he was no longer working on the project.
Social media accounts until today hadn’t been updated since December and competitors received only two emails since January. The first asked for payment details, and the second informed them the tournament has been delayed.
If the tournament hadn’t been delayed the top 24 teams who had fought their way through the first stage would be preparing for their final matches of Stage 2 on Sunday.
The eight teams who emerged victorious in the six-team round robin format (placing first or second in one of the four groups) would advance to the online quarterfinals. Semifinalists were set to be flown to Auckland to play out the finals series in a purpose-built studio.
Dire Wolves star Ryan “Chippys” Short is one such player who would have been taking to the Rift this weekend. He has already played in the first round of the tournament as part of his team “Flipper Boys”.
He told Snowball he was happy with how it was being run, but added he was a “little worried” about the small amount of interaction from organisers.
“We are a little worried about lack of communication, but [we’re] mainly just wondering if we can play or not,” Short said. He added the team was worried the pandemic put the live finals at risk.
Short’s team were the clear favourites for the $20,000 top prize. The squad included more OPL talent, including Dire Wolves mid laner Ari “Shok“ Greene-Young, and Legacy’s newly-crowned championship bot laner Quin “Raes” Korebrits.
He backed the tournament bosses’ decision to delay the tournament, and while he thought a three-month gap before the first and second rounds wasn’t normal, he said having the final rounds together was a good move.
“It’s better to do the rest of the event in one go when they’re able to, instead of some now, some later,” Chippys said.
“I think [New Zealand Champions 2020] is really good for the scene.
“[I’m] pretty sure top 100 teams all get prize money and there is bonus money for students with really good grades, so it gives young players a taste of competing and also motivates them to do well at school.”
While Chippys was optimistic about what the tournament could do for the NZ LoL scene, New Zealand Esports Federation spokesperson Duane Mutu admitted the whole event seemed “too good to be true.”
“You’re getting paid just to turn up; that never happens,” Duane said. “We’re here to help people, we could have helped. But we weren’t approached.”
Duane said while ESF was aware of the tournament, they had no engagement with organisers. He said unsanctioned events could have an accountability problem.
“In terms of growing the industry, it’s not what we want,” he continued. “They’ve let people down.”
The tournament was welcomed as an opportunity for the region and soon attracted nearly 200 teams from around New Zealand.
I truly hope esports fans take advantage of this and support the event, who knows when the next company to do this will be. 🙏🤞— Vash “Perzn” Memar (@perznOCE) October 16, 2019
Now, more than 360 players from 72 teams are waiting for their share of the $400 their team earned for placing between 24th and 96th in the first round of the tournament.
Tournament rules said prize money would be distributed once bank details, which organisers asked for in February, were provided.
Sebbie revealed organisers had built a studio for live and streamed games. She said she took her concerns about the lack of communication to League of Legends publisher, Riot Games, but was told to talk to the organisers.
An experienced Melbourne-based tournament admin hailing from New Zealand, Sebbie said her mostly Kiwi team did a good job of making sure the contest was smooth and rules were followed and understood.
“I had no involvement in any accounts, comms with Riot or anything else beyond the actual tournament itself,” she explained.
She said she was “extremely disappointed” the tournament had been left in limbo.
“I’m pretty sure this was the biggest single online tournament ever run in OCE, maybe outside of OOL [Oceanic Open Ladder],” she said. “I hope for the sake of everyone involved that everything gets sorted soon. I don’t want to believe in the worst.”
NZ Esports issued a statement on their Facebook page hours before publication. This marked their first post since early December. The statement announced the tournament had been indefinitely suspended due to COVID-19, and confirmed they were seeking to “continue play.”
NZ Esports and Riot Games have been approached for comment. As of the publication of this Snowball Esports investigation, neither have responded.