As a nascent entertainment segment, eSports still has a few growing pains to go through until it is on the level of the NFL or FIFA. That said, the growing pains are a tough stage of development as the recent announcement that League stalwart Echo Fox was ditching LoL’s Championship Series in light of allegations of racism and abuse by a shareholder that have appeared in both the press and social media.
Founded by basketball star Rick Fox in 2015, Echo Fox was a huge name in the League of Legends community and currently fields teams in other major titles like Call of Duty, among others. Echo Fox has found itself caught up in a scandal ignited by shareholder Amit Raizada who used racist language in leaked emails according to Newsweek. This has led to the team withdrawing its representation in Riot Games official series.
Readers with long memories will recall that Echo Fox went through the rigorous franchising process with Riot Games to become a part of the League of Legends Championship Series.
As part of the process, the team had to show Riot Games that it was a professional outfit and had cash to back up its operations - both things that Echo Fox did without a problem...or so it seemed.
Going through this process with Riot got Echo a permanent slot on the coveted League of Legends Championship Series which, as Yahoo reports, is now considered a model for other games that want to launch an eSports league. All of this is why Echo Fox’s sudden departure is a big deal, especially given how hard the team has worked to get this far.
Yet it isn’t just the struggle to reach this position, only to give it all up, that has people remarking about what a moment this is for eSports.
Echo Fox not only brought a well-funded, competent squad to multiple games in a class-leading way, but also the team helped bring new audiences into eSports by changing perceptions of the niche. Journalist Victoria Rose with Game Daily credits Echo Fox founder and former National Basketball Association superstar Rick Fox with a lot of this perception change because he was able to successfully meld the worlds of professional basketball with eSports.
So what brought Echo Fox to this point?
As we alluded above, less-than-appropriate comments by shareholder Amit Raizada against former Echo Fox CEO Jace Hall appeared in eSports web publication Dexerto wherein Raizada used the n-word to describe Hall. It also wasn’t the first time according to sources. Further, it is reported by Yahoo that the board of Echo Fox intially just tried to ignore Raizada’s comments against Hall in a “let’s just sweep this under the rug” type of situation.
Naturally, Commissioner Chris Greeley of the LCS found his hand was forced and the organization had to launch an investigation into the April publication in Dexerto. They made it quite clear that if they discovered evidence that corroborated the report, and that no corrective action was taken to remedy the situation, the LCS would have to levy penalties on Echo Fox as a team, including “formal action that may adversely impact the future of Echo Fox in the LCS.”
Things became even more murky when Rick Fox, the man behind so much of Echo Fox’s success, claimed that Raizada threatened Fox and his family, putting the former baller in the position of having to reconsider his position with Echo Fox. Yahoo reports that Fox described Raizada’s comments as “outrageous and [an] abhorrent display of pure racism.”
In a comment Fox said he then decided to fight against Raizada and remove him from the board.
“I made the decision that I'm going to fight, I'm going to stand in this situation, and I'm going to fight to the last bone of marrow that I have in this situation, to get this person out of Echo Fox, to get this company in a situation where it moves forward.”
To give you some idea of how much a spot on the LCS costs, a report from ESPN says that Kroenke Sports and Entertainment is looking to purchase Echo Fox’s position for a cool $30.25 million which, as many people note, is a sad end to Echo Fox’s career with League of Legends.
Confirming these reports, LCS commissioner Chris Greeley said of the possible purchase by Kroenke Sports and Entertainment, “We're working diligently to minimize disruption to Echo Fox players and staff for the 2019 season in partnership with the LCS Players' Association. If LCS rejects the proposal, Echo Fox has agreed that LCS will be taking over the sale process for the slot. Our goal is to make sure we have an orderly transition and a new team ready for the 2020 season.”
Kroenke, owned by Walmart heiress Ann Walton’s son Josh Kroenke, already commands an impressive portfolio in sports and has looked to expect into eSports over the past several years, making the LCS spot a natural fit for the company.
Commenting on the move by Echo Fox, Rose said, “Them being pushed out of the LCS by this awful situation, regardless of what the driving forces behind the decisions are, is a pretty big blow to the organization, the LCS, and esports itself,” Rose said. “It's especially bad for Echo Fox itself, because I assume there's a source of income through the LCS that added value to the organization. And obviously, it's bad because they had a racist on their board.”
While the move is shocking, the health of League of Legends Championship Series is not really in question. Esports posts such dynamic growth numbers year in, year out, it is no surprise that Kroenke moved so quickly to Echo Fox’s coveted position on the LCS. What’s more baffling is that a company caught up in a public scandal like Echo Fox chooses to forego a likely lucrative position with LCS instead of ask for an allegedly racist board member to leave.