December 6, 2022

Sapiensdigital

Sapiens Digital

Riot fines TSM $75,000, places TSM CEO Andy Dinh on probation for bullying

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Andy Dinh, CEO and co-founder of the esports organization TSM, has been fined $75,000 and placed on a two-year probation following an investigation by the North America League of Legends Championship Series (LCS), Riot Games announced Wednesday.

The findings of that investigation open with the declaration that “the League believes that there was a pattern and practice of disparaging and bullying behavior exhibited by Andy Dinh toward TSM players and staff members.” The ruling concludes that Dinh broke two LCS rules regarding profanity, hate speech and harassment.

TSM spokesperson Gillian Sheldon said the organization would not be commenting on Riot’s announcement.

Riot Games produces and publishes games such as “League of Legends” and “Valorant,” in which TSM fields rosters; the developer also runs several esports leagues, including the LCS. In Wednesday’s competitive ruling, Riot’s head of North American esports, Chris Greeley, wrote that the $75,000 fine is three times the maximum fine for misconduct by an LCS team member, reflecting the league’s belief that the pattern of “abusive and harassing conduct” stretched over the course of several years. The money will be donated to an anti-bullying or mental health charity.

From May: At TSM and Blitz, staff describes toxic workplace and volatile CEO

During the two-year probationary period, an independent monitor will operate a tip line, allowing all TSM employees — not just esports athletes or adjacent staff — to report potential instances of misconduct and rule violations on Dinh’s part. In that same time period, TSM will also be required to issue a notice — approved by the league — to all current employees and new hires, offering access to the tip line and explaining why it was instituted.

“TSM and Dinh have committed themselves to a culture shift within their organization and we want to provide space for that positive shift to occur,” reads the ruling. “However, we also want to ensure that should that shift not occur, the consequences within the Riot ecosystem are clear. Any finding by the LCS, or any other Riot governing body, that Dinh has violated our rules during this probation period will bring severely enhanced penalties.”

In addition, Riot demanded that within 60 days, TSM provide evidence that Dinh has completed sensitivity training and executive coaching from a provider approved by the LCS.

Riot’s investigation was kick-started in late 2021 when Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng, a former star player for TSM’s “League of Legends” roster, accused Dinh of verbally abusing other players in a live stream. Shortly after, the Players Association for the North American League Championship Series (LCSPA) began to reach out to other players and TSM employees to corroborate Peng’s account.

“It was very much a snowball situation,” said Phil Aram, executive director of the LCSPA, describing his conversations with players about Dinh’s conduct in an interview with The Post in May. “You start having a conversation with one or two players, and quickly you’re being linked to a dozen or more people who date back as much as a decade.”

The Players Association referred the matter to Riot on Nov. 12, 2021.

As part of its inquiry, investigators retained by the league interviewed 14 subjects, including Dinh, and reviewed documentation — emails, public statements and videos — related to the case. In widely circulated videos dating back nearly a decade, for example, Dinh can be seen yelling at other TSM esports athletes.

Greeley’s competitive ruling takes pains to distinguish the league’s investigation from a separate inquiry commissioned by TSM’s parent company, Swift. In May, Swift’s investigation, which the company said was run without Dinh’s input or involvement, found “no unlawful conduct” by the CEO. In a conciliatory note released alongside that investigation’s findings, Dinh admitted that in the past, he had taken an “aggressive and harsh tone,” and promised to undergo coaching.

“We did not provide TSM with visibility on our investigation, did not provide a list of individuals we were speaking to (outside of current TSM employees), did not share our notes or final conclusions with TSM, and did not collaborate with TSM on their investigative report or announcement, or on this competitive ruling,” Greeley writes. “The existence of, and report from, TSM’s investigation did not influence the findings of our investi
gation.”

Still, Greeley writes, “for the sake of efficiency” a few interviews with current TSM employees were conducted jointly, with investigators representing both the league and Swift present in the room. The league’s competitive ruling was delayed several weeks after Riot opted to grant those employees the opportunity to speak again without Swift’s investigator present, according to a person familiar with the investigation who was not authorized to comment publicly.

TSM finds ‘no unlawful conduct’ in investigation of CEO Andy Dinh

The May results of TSM’s internal inquiry faced some pushback from employees at the organization. During a TSM town hall at which the results were first shared, one employee raised questions about the organization’s commitment to changing its workplace culture given Dinh’s description of the allegations raised against him as “highly exaggerated.”

Some participants in the company’s investigation told The Post they found the inquiry’s narrow focus on unlawful conduct and the legal definition of harassment and protected classes “odd.”

Over a dozen current and former employees at TSM and the software development firm Blitz, which are both run by Dinh, told The Post that the young founder fostered a “culture of fear” at the two companies, and said they had experienced or witnessed Dinh publicly shaming his employees. Some attributed a dramatic turnover rate and the departures of several high-ranking executives to Dinh’s abrasive management style.

Former workers also alleged TSM and Blitz had misclassified them as contractors rather than employees. Misclassifying employees as contractors is illegal in California, where employment laws are among the strictest in the United States, according to legal experts.

“While we saw other allegations raised publicly during the course of the investigation, including the characterization of contractors and employees under relevant state or federal law, those questions are ultimately outside the scope of our investigation,” reads the competitive ruling in reference to The Post’s reporting around allegations of worker misclassification at TSM and Blitz. “Ultimately, we strive to walk the fine line between protecting our sport and enforcing our rules on the one hand, and adjudicating disputes or replacing courts, arbitrators or in some cases, the police on the other hand.”

Little precedent exists for punishing team owners for alleged workplace misconduct. The most high-profile case, that of the now-disbanded esports organization Echo Fox, is instructive but not entirely comparable. In 2019, the LCS demanded the organization remove an Echo Fox owner who had used a racial epithet in conversation with an African-American esports executive. Eventually, the league enforced the sale of Echo Fox’s franchise slot to a different organization.

Riot’s Wednesday findings, by contrast, state that “none of the witnesses recall any situation in which Dinh’s abusive behavior focused on a protected class (race, gender, age, sexual orientation, sexual identity, etc.).”

“I think the nuance on the Echo Fox thing is probably what a lot of people miss, not really understanding the difference between criminal workplace discrimination and misconduct and, you know, saying things that are disparaging,” Aram said. “We feel like with the evidence we got, Riot went out of their way to give us the best penalty possible.”

The Players Association heralded Wednesday’s ruling as a historic step forward for esports.

“Never before has an association of esports players called for an independent misconduct investigation, never before has a developer conducted such an investigation with collaboration from a PA, and never before have outcomes been imposed on a partner team that pointed toward real change to a toxic workplace,” wrote Aram in a statement to The Post. “The findings and associated consequences announced today have the potential to ensure a lasting impact on the workplace at TSM that will benefit all their players and staff. We are pleased to see strong action from Riot and the LCS team on this matter.”

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