Three months had passed since Ko Hyun received his last paycheck, and he was upset. The Korean StarCraft 2 star conducted most of his business with his Canadian boss online, communicating on Skype and receiving payments via PayPal.
So it's almost understandable that he would let the owner, Simon Boudreault, know about his unhappiness over the payment situation with a simple emoticon: ;'(
Now, the 25-year-old Hyun realizes he should have sent a letter from a lawyer instead.
Boudreault, the 23-year-old CEO of the Quantic Gaming eSports team, has been missing since Dec. 17, during which time his company has largely broken apart. Hyun, the team’s biggest StarCraft 2 talent, says Boudreault owes him about $23,000 in salary and prize money that has gone unpaid for months. He wants to sue Boudreault for lost pay—if he can find him first.
“Simon has gone off the map, and there is no one to be held responsible,” Hyun wrote in an open letter after the Daily Dot broke the story of Boudreault’s disappearance.
"I'm regretting the year I spent taking countless flights, and I'm so stressed out I'm wondering why I spent eight years as a gamer. I don't know what to do, and it's been a while since I've played since I just can't bring myself to. If someone can't help me out, I might have to quit.” (Translation via Team Liquid.)
No one knows where Boudreault is.
Staffers on Quantic haven’t spoken to him in weeks. Kalle Nilsson, who runs Quantic’s media division, says Boudreault owes him hundreds of dollars. That didn’t stop over 50 people from sending Nilsson hate mail after the news broke, Nilsson said. The angry fans assumed Nilsson was also responsible for the money owed to Hyun.
In fact, Hyun told the Daily Dot he holds no grudges against anyone in Quantic other than Simon Boudreault.
“The other staff is not bad people,” he wrote. “Except Simon.”
In addition to the $23,000 allegedly owed to Hyun, Bernie "Fujikura" Catalan, Quantic’s Chief Operating Officer says he is owed $4,000; Paul “Icewulf” Lampron, the team’s Marketing Director, says he is owed $8,000; and John Clark, who also worked in marketing for Quantic, says he is owed $5,000.
“The team was such a mess,” Clark told the Daily Dot.
“Had no real marketing deck, no hierarchy, no real marketing materials. Then the League of Legends team fell apart and that is when Simon disappeared.”
That adds up to at least $40,000 Boudreault allegedly owes his staff. Several other ex-Quantic employees, who have asked not be identified say Boudreault has owed them hundreds of dollars.
“I know he was very busy and did have some health problems,” Clark said. “But in the end I think he just gave up. I reached out to him almost daily, offered to take a pay cut or just partial payment to help float Quantic until we could build things up. But he never responded.”
While Boudreault struggled to pay his players and staff, he was working with Clark on ventures to create new revenue streams for Quantic. Boudreault wanted to create specialty computer desks for eSports players, a product line that his family’s IT company, Sustema, was already working on. Boudreault had made two product mockups, but disappeared before anything materialized.
“It was really tough ‘cause I could have been looking for other opportunities,” Clark said. He passed on other job opportunities while working for Quantic.
“I had nothing for Christmas. It was very hard this year. I was able to offer zero support to my family for the last 5 months.”
Clark hasn’t spoken with a lawyer. He continues to hold out hope that he can speak directly to Boudreault to work out payment.
Before disappearing, Boudreault told friends and associates he was going to get a biopsy on a lump on his lung, which had a high chance of being cancerous. However, Boudreault has disappeared like this for weeks at a time before, giving no explanation to his employees upon returning. This time, staffers aren’t expecting him back. Boudreault did not respond to multiple requests to comment to the Daily Dot.
Hyun personally believes Boudreault, who inherited much of his wealth when his father passed away, is simply out of money. In the two days since the news broke, Hyun has been working with a man who claims to have some professional experience in debt collecting and is searching for Boudreault in Canada. The unidentified man is a StarCraft 2 fan, and is not charging Hyun a fee.
Hyun is not working with a lawyer at this time.
Seohyeon Park, the Korean player coordinator on Mousesports, a European eSports team, and Hyun’s “best friend” who advised him when he first signed with Quantic in January, has been speaking to the public on Hyun’s behalf. He talked to the Daily Dot about Hyun’s situation last night.
Hyun’s lack of proper representation—a player agent or lawyer—underpins why this situation was able to spiral out of control to a point that threatens his entire career. For months, Hyun has put off speaking to a lawyer, believing he needed to raise money to pay for one first, something well beyond his means as long as he wasn’t receiving a salary.
In Canada, where Hyun would have to sue Boudreault, employment lawyers would likely consult Hyun for free, take the case without pay, and then collect their fee only once the case was won and money was paid out.
If Hyun had proper representation or if a players union were involved, he would’ve known this long ago and possibly taken action much sooner. The fact that he doesn’t have that representation is an unfortunate symptom of a larger problem in the eSports industry.
Instead, Hyun is currently fundraising from the StarCraft community in an effort to recoup lost pay, something Quantic Gaming’s staff have helped him promote. Although there has been widespread support for Hyun, many think the money should also go to a legal fund. They fear that if the Hyun gets enough money from fans, he may not go after Boudreault himself.
They worry that a fundraiser might subsidize Boudreault rather than punish him.
“We will find someway for legal action,” Park told the Daily Dot on Hyun’s behalf. “But he don’t have enough money for lawyer yet and don’t have experience about it, so just need more time.”
Hyun will announce the full amount he’s received in donations at a later date.
Most professional gamers don’t have salaries, nevermind agents to advocate for them. In Korea, the “Mecca of eSports” for over a decade, the industry is “based on handshakes,” as Jason Lake, owner of American side Complexity Gaming, put it in 2011. “And the Western scene is a little more cut-throat.”
ESports’s lack of player representation has meant that countless professionals—often teenagers or young adults—have been taken advantage of by team owners over the years. Although groups like the Cyber Solutions Agency and the eSports Management Agency are just beginning to fill that void, the vast majority of professional eSports relationships are handled in a relatively informal way, vastly increasing the chances of abuse.
Photo via artubr/Flickr