SMITE publisher Hi-Rez Studios has banned competitive team Paradigm from participating in SMITE events, and has awarded the team's spot in the SMITE Pro League Fall Split to its former players.
In a competitive ruling published Friday, Hi-Rez says that in the course of contract negotiations that it was attempting to mediate between Paradigm and its players, it received information that Paradigm had attempted to coerce its players into agreeing to "grossly unfavorable" contract terms. The ruling says that when Hi-Rez attempted to investigate, Paradigm threatened legal action.
In response, the publisher ruled that Paradigm, which placed 3rd-4th in the 2016 World Championship in January, would forfeit its position in the SPL to the team's captain, Emil "Lawbster" Evensen. The ruling bars Paradigm from involvement in any future esports events or competitions hosted by or related Hi-Rez, SMITE or Paladins. Lawbster and his teammates will continue to play in SPL for the season as an independent team.
In a TwitLonger about the conflict, the team's solo laner Jeroen "Xaliea" Klaver alleges that the terms Paradigm wanted him and the other players to accept included a $1 per month salary, a 25 percent cut of tournament winnings and a 0 percent cut of skin sales, with the full amount going to the organization. He posted what he claims is a draft of the contract, as well as several chat logs showing conversations between Lawbster, Paradigm manager Lydia Picknell and the team's lawyer, David Fry.
Hi-Rez's ruling claims Paradigm threatened to bar its players from competitive play and force them to deliberately forfeit all of their SPL matches for the season if they did not agree its terms. Xaliea's logs appear to show Fry threatening Lawbster with pulling the team from the league, telling him, "You will sign your contract, today, or you won't play. That simple."
Paradigm announced Friday, a day before Hi-Rez's ruling, that it was parting ways with its roster, claiming that it could not come to a fair agreement on contract terms. "No matter what the outcome, it is better for Paradigm to leave SMITE due to growing tensions with Hi-Rez Studios and because players are falsely stating the events as they unfolded," the statement reads.
The organization claims the players "were given plenty of negotiations and contract options which were all rejected over three months," and that they refused to work with the team or outside mediators brought in by Paradigm to arrive at an equitable solution.
Paradigm alleges that as the negotiations progressed, the players and coach became hostile, and harassed staff members not involved in the dispute. "They became upset and lashed out towards management, including bringing in parties that had nothing to do with the situation, to try and force Paradigm to surrender our legal SPL spot through threatening measures," the statement says. "Paradigm chose to stand up for eSports values and to not cave in to unprofessional behavior."
In its ruling, Hi-Rez says that it opted to become involved in failing negotiations between the team and players on Sept. 2. It claims that on Monday, Sept. 5, it received further information about the team's unfavorable contracts and coercive behavior, and asked the team and players to freeze their operations so it could investigate the allegations with the goal of finding "an outcome that served the best interests of Paradigm, the Players, the SPL, and our community."
The ruling says that on Thursday, Sept. 7, before the investigation was completed, Paradigm sent a demand letter threatening Hi-Rez with legal action over alleged contractual and tort violations. (In a since-deleted TwitLonger that is partially reproduced on PVP Live, team manager Picknell claimed that the team was frozen in the middle of negotiating the roster's sale to another organization, Orbit, which the players had been in talks with. "I wanted to get them where they wanted out of respect," she says in a quote from the post.) On Friday, the team announced it was dropping its roster and leaving SMITE.
"[W]e feel obligated to share that we are deeply disappointed in the way Paradigm has handled this situation," Hi-Rez concludes in its statement. "We do our best to support eSports organizations in the SPL through digital content revenue streams, a dedicated administrative team, competitions with fair prizing and appearance fees, travel coverage, and numerous other benefits. And, we expect the same treatment and compassion that we share with eSports organizations to be passed on to their employees, including the players who participate in the SPL and work hard to maintain their standing."
Xaliea's TwitLonger, posted Saturday after Hi-Rez's ruling was issued, thanked Hi-Rez for its support in its investigation and final decision.
"We felt it important to defend ourselves in this situation, and show a small part of what had transpired," Xaliea wrote. "At this moment Paradigm will still own all of the money gained from the skin sales. However we are just happy about keeping our spot, as it is most important to us."
Xaliea said the team will continue to play in the SPL under the name Bipolar Method, and is currently exploring their options with other sponsors. He said they are currently in talks with Orbit, among others.
Olivia Da Silva is a news editor at theScore esports. She likes piña coladas, getting caught in the rain and dank no-scopes. Feel free to follow her on Twitter.
Jeff Fraser is a supervising editor at theScore esports.