Sources: Evil Geniuses was dying internally even as they took over the esports world
In the wake of the most recent wave of Evil Geniuses layoffs and their subsequent exit from the LCS, Dexerto sat with several former employees to ask about what it was like working with the organization and whether or not they saw the writing on the wall for EG’s massive downturn.
Evil Geniuses has been a difficult organization to root for over the past year or so. Between Dexerto’s report on Danny’s mistreatment and the investigation that would follow, as well as EG’s Valorant team winning it all only for the roster to fizzle out.
What’s more, EG has since exited the LCS entirely alongside Golden Guardians, giving up a roster spot potentially worth millions and opting to exit the league rather than try to sell the spot to recoup some of the costs. Things clearly aren’t going well for Evil Geniuses.
So, Dexerto sat with a variety of now-former EG staff from interns, general employees, support staff for their pro teams, and even pro players who used to compete for the org to get a grasp of what was happening internally at EG leading up to their LCS exit and downsizing in other esports.
Evil Geniuses stood on the shoulders of passionate employees
Evil Geniuses is one of the longest-standing brands in esports, and they’ve had the success to back up that tenure. Founded in 1999, Evil Geniuses is an organization older than many of the fans who watch their teams compete. Some of the very best competitors that have ever set foot on stage at an esports event have played for this organization.
What’s more, EG has created an inroad to the esports world that, on the surface, has been a huge factor in many aspiring professionals getting their start.
According to the Evil Geniuses’ Genius League site, 70% of their internships lead to jobs within the industry. And, from what former interns with the organization said, it seems that there were opportunities created by this system for interns who worked within the org. At least, for a time.
“There are all these young professionals who are trying to enter the industry. EG saw that and basically took advantage of these people who were super hungry to enter the industry. It’s like dangling a carrot in front of them,” a former intern that goes by Retro claimed when speaking with Dexerto.
“They’re like, ‘Hey, you’re going to have a full-time job, no matter what, if you join us and you work for us.’ So therefore, obviously, you’re going to be inclined to bust your ass, because you’re like, ‘What an incredible deal that is to come out of college work in this brand new industry that you’re super passionate and super interested in.'”
Retro has been outspoken when it comes to criticizing Evil Geniuses operations in the past, and they vented some of their frustrations in a Twitter post following former CEO Nicole LaPointe Jameson’s departure, one where he claimed she, “did irreparable damage to an entire generation of this beautiful sport.”
Another former EG employee claimed that, while Evil Geniuses was a great way for hopeful interns and entry-level employees aspiring to find their start in esports, their position was more often than not used as a springboard to get into other parts of the industry rather than a reason to create a long-term career with the org. As a result, EG seems to have been bleeding talent just as often as they were picking it up.
“There’s kind of like the cream of the crop, the really good interns, who go into EG, and then all of them but one ends up moving on to Riot or somewhere else instead within a few months. They’re either not creatively fulfilled, or they realize that EG is a corporate hellhole where nothing gets done,” a former intern claimed.
“I think there’s a pretty good reason why people who work in EG either end up doing really well or end up not working in esports ever again. And there’s not much of an in-between,” claimed another former employee.
Many former interns that spoke with Dexerto claimed they would often have to work over their allotted time and were incentivized to put in a great deal of extra work if they wanted to move up within the company.
As one former intern put it, “You’re never off the clock in esports.”
That said, multiple former interns said Evil Geniuses was always respectful when it came to taking time off for school work or to study if it was needed. “The people that I worked with were fantastic, and then even the people that I interacted with on the Genius League were great.” claimed a former intern.
While conditions certainly weren’t ideal within EG according to several former employees and interns that spoke with Dexerto, not everyone had negative takeaways from their time with the organization.
However, many now-former employees were shocked by just how quickly they were laid off after spending a great deal of time working there and committing their future to the org. One source gave their account of how they received news that they no longer had a job.
“My prior notice was, ‘Hey, there’s an invite on your calendar for a meeting that happens in an hour. Make sure you’re there.’ That was the prior notice. So, I had an hour.” the former employee explained.
They went into more detail about how the meeting went, “It was very quick. Basically, [the CEO] came on and said, ‘Hey, we’ve got the unfortunate news that we have to lay off a bunch of people. Everyone in this call is affected starting immediately.’ And then, not even five minutes go by and we all lost our Slack and Google permissions. So, it was just like a big axe, whole meeting took less than five minutes.”
However, while the experience of employees who had worked with Evil Geniuses over the past few years was valuable, it’s difficult to get an idea of what may have been going on at the top considering just how big of a company this was around a year ago. Before multiple rounds of layoffs, EG employed hundreds of salaried staffers, interns, and freelancers.
To learn more about what was really going on that made Evil Geniuses poorly-veiled dysfunction so clear even to those just getting started at the company, Dexerto spoke sources a bit closer to the players as well as some former competitors that played for EG.
The writing on the wall
As shown by examples like NRG’s incredibly large support staff at the time that they won the LCS Summer 2023 title, having a collection of strong coaches, analysts, managers, and other support staff like chefs and nutritionists is an essential part of creating an environment where players can truly shine.
Considering Evil Geniuses strong track record with talent scouting between players like Danny, Jojopyun, and Demon1, they’ve always taken the approach of trying to develop players and give them an environment where they can grow rather than just grabbing a 5-man team of the best and most expensive players around.
This was also clearly shown through the efforts of EG’s Valorant team, as their meteoric rise from near the bottom of the region to the top of the world was off the backs of players who were relatively unknown at the start of 2023.
While these players are in large part responsible for their own success, having the right environment to grow was a key part of why they were able to beat out other organizations. Evil Geniuses has long been praised for the prowess of their coaching, scouting, and other support staff, and those qualities are viewed as a large part of why EG has been able to succeed in both Valorant and League of Legends over the past few years.
However, it appears that EG didn’t have enough money to hold on to their talent.
In a prior interview with Vulcan, he had this to say about why he and other EG players were dropped from the team after Spring:
“I mean, I do think they decided to lower their budget. So, they traded all the players that had pretty big salaries compared to what they wanted to go for as an org. I guess it makes sense if they want to lower their budget, but it just sucks that I guess they don’t carry through a contract all the way through. But that’s pretty common in esports, right?”
Vulcan gave the distinct impression that it was Evil Geniuses who decided to trade him over to FlyQuest at the time and not the other way around, though he didn’t seem overly happy with the team environment at EG either.
He lamented that they, “weren’t very much a team,” when speaking about EG’s run in LCS 2023 Spring, and said that his biggest takeaway was that, “team culture is a lot more important than I believed it to be.”
It’s very possible that EG’s Spring roster splitting up wasn’t entirely motivated by not being able to afford their players, and that there would have been some changes regardless of whether they could afford to keep the roster or not. Still, the org dropping everyone but Jojopyun surprised many fans.
A former member of Evil Geniuses’ staff claimed that they were tasked with building a new team around Jojo for close to the bare minimum, backing up Vulcan’s suspicions that EG couldn’t afford to keep a star-studded team.
“They basically told [us], ‘Here, we’re gonna give you pretty close to the league minimum for each player. Just try not to get ninth.’ That was the expectation. So, we over-delivered on that. It seemed like they were just trying to sell right there. Because we won, they were like, ‘Oh, I guess we’re gonna stick around for a little longer.’ I don’t think that EG intended to be around as long as they have.”
We spoke with this source before Evil Geniuses’ exit from the LCS was official, but they were spot-on with EG’s intentions to leave the LCS even before their exit was announced.
However, it seems like the organization was already stretching its crew thin even before the series of layoffs that shook EG in 2023, and one former employee felt as if the org had no intention of giving them adequate pay for the amount of work they were doing.
“It was always the same organization. I think they were just always good at hiding it is the issue. I talked to a lot of my coworkers, and we all realized like, ‘Oh, we actually got a little lied to in the onboarding.’ When I joined, I was told there were two jobs that were open, and I kind of had a choice between which one I wanted to take. And, when I got here, I realized, ‘Oh, I’m just doing both of the jobs.’ And then, as more people quit, I just got more and more jobs.”
Meanwhile, they felt as if growth opportunities for themselves and others were nearly non-existent. Despite work piling up, one source claimed that they received no additional compensation or bonuses related to the org’s strong performance.
“There were no growth opportunities,” the former employee lamented. “They were freezing hires. They were freezing raises. They were freezing bonuses. No one could move up at all.”
This employee felt lied to from the start, ultimately feeling as if they were overworked and underpaid, “It was just smoke and mirrors the whole time. That’s how my experience went with EG.”
Things only got worse within Evil Geniuses when the report about Danny came out. Having been with the company at the time the news broke, one source felt as if that report landing was the nail in the coffin.
“We didn’t know—no one at the company knew everything that went down with the whole Danny situation until it was reported on, basically. So, after that? Freefall.”
It’s important to note that the investigation into Evil Geniuses’ treatment of Danny is still ongoing. Still, the report about his mistreatment made waves even within EG itself, to the point where the organization’s attitude around at-the-time CEO Nicole LaPointe Jameson shifted.
A shifting narrative within Evil Geniuses
A former employee recounted the meeting where Nicole officially announced her departure, and it sounded awkward, to say the least.
“We had a meeting, and she was doing her sendoffs, announcing to the company that she was leaving. And the thing that I remember the most is that, at the end of it—So that whole meeting, it was an all-hands meeting, right? Everyone in the company was there. And the whole point was like, ‘Hey, I just want to let you guys know, I’m stepping down effective immediately. I haven’t been working for the past two weeks already, but today, I’m officially stepping down.’ At the end, it felt pretty clear that she was waiting for a round of applause. Like, ‘Oh, thank you for everything you did!’ You know what I mean?
“But it just didn’t happen, and then everyone just walked away. No one said anything.”
“Holy s***, that’s a special kind of ‘you f***ed up’ to get that. Especially because, the year prior, the whole company was based around—the whole mantra of the culture [at EG] was, ‘We love Nicole’,” the former employee claimed. “At the time before anyone knew anything about what was going on, it was great.”
On the surface, it may seem counter-intuitive for a team that’s winning across two of the biggest esports in the world to be actively bleeding money, losing capital to such an extent that they’re making cuts all the way from the top of the food chain. And, while it’s clear that several former employees have disdain for Nicole and her actions as CEO, problems within the org seem to run much deeper than just the person who was at the helm.
Making money is about much more than winning. How are you taking advantage of the extra eyes on your team? Are you selling merch, or providing merchandise that’s worth buying? Are you giving your players a platform to become stars, franchise players that represent your team for years and build a fandom?
Winning is one thing, but becoming an iconic team people will remember and, more importantly for the sake of this conversation, be willing to spend money on supporting, is another entirely. And, with their Valorant roster likely splitting up and both their DOTA 2 and LCS rosters crumbling as they exit both esports, Evil Geniuses don’t seem to have been able to support the legacy their players could have built.
Profiting in esports is something that’s proven difficult, but properly supporting and monetizing players who have dominated domestically and internationally is a good start on the path toward becoming a sustainable organization.
Ultimately, it seems that it may be impossible for Evil Geniuses to recover despite having built one of the oldest and most iconic brands in esports. Though their past triumphs are many, they ring hollow when it comes to their lack of presence in the current esports ecosystem.
As one source put it, “The whole company was working together to fail spectacularly.”
However, it’s hard to get a complete picture of what was going on within Evil Geniuses without talking to the driving force behind it all: the players themselves. Though we spoke with Vulcan earlier this year and his insight at the time was insightful as to what was happening with EG, we wanted to speak with someone else who played under their banner.
Driven to compete despite the odds
This player chose to remain anonymous in this report, meaning that some of the details of the conversation have been edited to obscure the names of the players they competed alongside and the game in which they were a pro player for.
However, there’s one important piece of information about them that’s relevant here: Their livelihood was directly affected by Evil Geniuses’ decision to significantly downsize their operations in esports.
And, while EG’s LCS exit is much more public-facing, the org was moving to spend less within Valorant far before their exit from League of Legends, leading to their World Championship-winning roster very likely not sticking together if they stay in VCT at all.
EG also opted to exit from DOTA 2 entirely after the 2023 competitive year ended despite having over a decade of history within the title. EG had over $20 million in winnings to their name across their tenure in the esport.
Ultimately, several players under EG’s banner have been affected by their downsizing across multiple esports, and dozens have lost their jobs amidst the chaos.
However, this player seemed determined to keep pursuing a career in the game they’re passionate about. They have the very same mentality that’s allowed many of EG’s young prodigies to succeed, and it’s impossible to fault the organization for just how good their scouting has been over the years.
“If I got the shot on any team right now, I’d do very well. If I wasn’t top 3 in the region, I’d be disappointed. I think that the chance to prove myself was there, a few days ago. It isn’t anymore.” claimed the former EG pro player we spoke with.
As the year winds down, many teams have already locked their 2024 rosters in across multiple esports. The window for players who got cut from teams to find new homes has, in most cases, closed.
However, this player is motivated to keep trying despite everything. “The opportunity will come, just give it time. [Getting back on a pro team] is not my goal but a step toward my goal. I’m too good to give up.”
With all the sentiment from former staff being so negative, it may surprise you that the player we spoke to in particular looked back on their time with the organization fondly due to the incredible effort of the support staff and coaches around them.
“It hasn’t been all bad, and I’ve loved a lot of the people in the organization. I think it’s important to distinguish good people from a good organization, however.” They continued, “The staff, specifically [the coaches], all worked really hard and were massive for my development.”
The anonymous player we spoke to seemed happy they got the opportunity to compete at all, a sentiment that isn’t all that rare in esports. Getting paid to play video games professionally is still a paycheck many would be happy to have.
That said, there was one experience within Evil Geniuses that really stood out to this player once they started training in one of EG’s facilities.
“The players when I joined weren’t provided with food at the office, we were not meant to eat the food there. But, we would when management people weren’t in the office since there was always so much left over. I think that was a pretty clear sign the org wasn’t headed in a positive direction.”
With Evil Geniuses refusing to provide their players with food according to this former competitor’s claims, alongside the source close with their LCS team claiming many of their players were making minimum wage as the organization’s funds dried up, the picture of what was going on within EG becomes clear: Evil Geniuses’ legacy was built upon the effort of its passionate players and staff, even as many of them were getting paid the bare minimum and working under less-than-stellar conditions.
While it’s ultimately a shame for things to have ended this way, it seems unlikely that EG’s brand will be able to recover. Their exit from the LCS and overall downsizing seems to be a fatal blow dealt by their lack of support for incredibly talented players, coaches, and other staff who are doing great things in esports.
Additional reporting by Declan McLaughlin.