Sources: Evil Geniuses failed to care for one of their prodigies
Evil Geniuses showed a repeated lack of care for Kyle ‘Danny’ Sakamaki, contributing to the player’s struggle with mental health issues, several sources told Dexerto’s Richard Lewis.
On April 24, 2022, Evil Geniuses shocked North American League of Legends by winning the LCS Spring Playoffs. While a team effort, many of the plaudits went to their 18-year-old ADC player, Kyle ‘Danny’ Sakamaki, who picked up three MVP awards in the playoffs. Building on this good form, they followed this up with a semi-final finish at the Mid-Season Invitational in May. Hopes were high for a repeat win in the Summer, but somewhere along the line, something had gone wrong with the team. They lost their opening playoff match to Cloud9 3-1 and then limped through the next two matches, against TSM and Team Liquid, 3-2. Many noticed that Danny was making uncharacteristically bad plays and was underperforming.
On September 6, Evil Geniuses issued a statement saying that the player would be taking a break due to problems surrounding their mental health. The organization commended Danny’s “courage” and “self-awareness.” The announcement was confirmed on the official broadcast, and the Evil Geniuses team lost narrowly to 100 Thieves 3-2 with Hasan ‘Kaori’ Şentürk filling in for Danny in the bot lane.
In a shocking reveal, sources who worked within the Evil Geniuses organization have confirmed that the player’s mental and physical health was left unattended for so long that when he returned home, the family immediately sent the player to a doctor as he was suffering from malnutrition. They say this was allowed to happen despite multiple staff and players raising their concerns about Danny’s deteriorating mindset and health. The same sources state that the issue was deemed serious enough that the LCS Players Association was contacted about the matter. The sources have requested anonymity for this report due to concerns of retaliation from the Evil Geniuses organization.
What was not known to the public was that Danny has a medical condition that places him on the autistic spectrum and that this can make handling stress more difficult. Evil Geniuses were aware of this when they signed the player and, according to our sources, had pledged to offer assistance as the player learned to deal with the new spotlight he found himself in as well as the demanding expectations placed on professional esports players.
“Initially, the organization was aware of his condition and did what they could to support it,” one of the sources explained. “A lot of his problems got worse with stress so, for example, they even hired a coach specifically to work with him. Over time, the management seemed less and less interested in helping him cope with the pressure, and eventually, their strategy was to hope the problem went away despite the players and coaches all saying that he needed to be dropped.”
While it’s the public perception that the problems only manifested in the Summer Split, sources explained that the situation had been escalating for some time and didn’t go unnoticed.
“It all began during MSI,” a source said. “Danny was stressed out at MSI because of comments that were being made on Reddit and other sh*t. After MSI the team had a one or two-week break and people started to get concerned about Danny’s mental state. Even back then we were being told to just not talk to him about it by the performance team.”
This statement seems to be publicly corroborated by comments Danny made via Twitter after the tournament ended. Upon losing, he tweeted that he was “glad it’s over” and added that he had been “playing five straight months of competitive League of Legends with scrims, Riot features, official matches, lock in, regular LCS season, playoffs, Houston finals, MSI, group stage, rumble stage, semis, and everyone hates u.. man I would really like to take a small break”.
These comments enough should have prompted questions and concerns from any managerial structure. However, according to sources, they were ignored, and the situation would continue to get worse for the player.
The sources went on to explain that within Evil Geniuses, there are individual groups of coaches that were dedicated to the game relevant to their expertise. These individual groups would also have to work with a dedicated performance team that would float between all the teams and players on the roster. Many in the performance team would not be on-site with players, and sometimes obtaining answers or support from them could prove challenging. By the same token, sometimes the performance team would insist on having the final say in certain matters, something that made many coaches at the organization become disenchanted with their work. The lack of attention to detail from staff was also noticed by players. A source informed us that it wasn’t uncommon for one staff member to take time off with sickness, not knowing that they followed their partner on social media and could see that they were together at nights out during the same time period.
In regards to the matter of Danny’s health deteriorating, the management repeatedly instructed both coaches and players to avoid pushing the matter and to leave it with them without any resolution forthcoming. According to our sources, It was at this point that the player realized that, if he couldn’t get a break, he would instead retire from the esport entirely.
“When it came to Danny, the upper management repeatedly said to leave him as he is and so that was what the coaching staff did,” a source said. “There was no one making sh*t happen regarding his situation. He had told everyone a week before the Cloud9 game that he didn’t want to play anymore. One member of the performance team said that this was just what having an autistic player was like and that the players would just have to bear it. When pushed, they said it wasn’t their responsibility.
“He was openly saying to [EG staff] in the first week of playoffs that he wanted to retire,” a source continued. “The team wanted him to take a rest because it’s not fair for four players to have to play with someone who doesn’t want to win. The EG management was against them subbing in another player. They wanted Danny to play on and on.”
With matters coming to a head and the prospect of a team implosion, senior staff members directly addressed the issue. They were not initially receptive to the player taking time off and had doubts that he would actually retire. They still had hopes of earning a return on the player by selling him to another team if such a deal could be brokered.
“Members of upper management went to the League of Legends staff after they complained and the first thing they mentioned about why Danny had to keep playing was market value,” a source said. “They said if they could sell Danny during the off-season it would be a benefit for the year after… They were going to try and drag out more time so they could convince him to not retire and then sell him to another team… They seemed concerned that Danny might be lying and just wanting to join another team.”
They also added that the same upper management was concerned about public perceptions as they had stated that “we [Evil Geniuses] have the image of caring for and carrying NA’s talent.”
Multiple sources confirmed that the matter was resolved after Evil Geniuses CEO Nicole LaPointe Jameson came out to talk to Danny directly. It was after this that the player agreed that he would play until Chicago, where the LCS Finals would be hosted. Regardless of what was agreed upon in that conversation, Danny was still characterized by our sources as unhappy, and they said he continued to say concerning things quite openly.
Another former staff member of Evil Geniuses that we interviewed told us they weren’t surprised at claims management didn’t prioritize the well-being of players. During their time there, they saw similar disregard paid to the CS:GO team.
“During COVID, in the middle of the pandemic, they sent the CS:GO team to Serbia, where no one wore a mask, and then had them retroactively sign terms like they had instructed them to take safety measures from the beginning,” the source explained. “That’s bullsh*t. They put the team in that position and basically the players all got COVID from it because they skimped on paying for good accommodation and other basic things.”
Speculation begins to mount after leaked messages
The situation regarding Danny nearly came to be public knowledge last year. On December 1, analyst Marc Robert ‘Caedrel’ Lamont was sent a series of direct messages from an anonymous associate of the player’s sister. He then read those messages on his stream, prompting speculation into whether or not there was more to the situation than met the eye.
The messages stated the following:
“Yeah EG isn’t all ‘love and family’ as they make it seem. Our mom is actually talking to someone from the players association but I don’t think anything will happen since Danny doesn’t want to make a big deal about anything. He just wants to keep things quiet. Yeah it’s a big sign for impact to not resign with EG. Things are just so bad there.
“Yeah a lot of people have the wrong narrative but at this point it’s too late to change it. EG has been keeping everyone quiet. For example, Danny had a laning coach and the coach got fired for standing up for Danny and going to the players association for him. That’s how fucked up EG is.
“Yes we tell him all the time that he has many fans that still love watching him play and support him but the damage has already been done by EG and if anything he’ll try streaming on Twitch to see if he would like to do that instead but in the meantime he’s just enjoying life and getting healthy.”
We reached out to Jaclyn Sakamaki, Danny’s sister, about these messages, but she declined to comment at this time. We were able to discuss the contents of these messages with our sources and they confirmed certain details of the exchange to be accurate.
The messages were deemed to be important enough for Lapointe Jameson to put out a video statement describing the revelation of the leaked messages as an “emotional morning” at the organization. “We care a lot around taking care of our athletes,” she said, “and it’s a sh*tty situation to be in because between HIPAA and legal employment constraints, I can’t say much, I can’t give the transparency and the factual statements that people are hoping for… What I can say pretty firmly is that the allegations that are being made are untrue.”
HIPAA refers to the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, a group of laws that are designed to protect patients from having their medical information disclosed by healthcare providers and other healthcare businesses. While it isn’t clear how that would apply here invoking it does seem to point to the organization referencing a specific medical issue.
We contacted a representative from the LCS Players Association to ask for a statement regarding the matter. They told us:
“Our official statement is that the PA works to support all players experiencing mental and physical health concerns as soon as we are made aware of them through our medical directorship with Mayo Clinic, but we do not comment on specific cases. The PA has no comment regarding any ongoing investigations at this time.”
Given the nature of this report, we reached out to Danny’s parents to make them aware of its contents. They declined to comment at this time.
Since work began on this article, another journalist, Duncan Shields, published a video making similar allegations against the Evil Geniuses organization. This prompted Danny to make a public response denying the allegations.
“I want to tell you that it is completely on me & the accusations towards EG aren’t true,” the player wrote. “The truth is that the pressure of being an esports pro has overwhelmed me to my breaking point, and EG supported me all the way.”
At the same time as issuing the denials, he also announced that he had been moved from his player contract onto a new content creator contract as part of Evil Geniuses’ “Creator Collective.” The details of the contract aren’t known, but our sources stated that there had been ongoing discussions between the player’s family and the organization’s management prior to the announcement.
Evil Geniuses did not immediately respond to a request for comment.