Former Griffin coach Kim ‘cvMax’ Dae-ho has been put in the hot seat following his indefinite suspension from League of Legends, with Griffin players Choi ‘Sword’ Sung-won and Lee ‘Tarzan’ Seung-yong speaking out against the coach’s violent conduct.
Riot Korea dropped a bombshell on November 20, deciding to indefinitely suspend Griffin coach cvMax, former team director Cho Kyu-nam, and fine Griffin almost $100,000 USD over numerous allegations.
Toxic team culture, violence towards players and management, and contract exploitation have all been investigated by Riot Korea, and even looked at by members of the South Korean government.
All these allegations broke during Griffin’s Worlds 2019 run, where the Korean hopefuls finished in 5-8th after losing to China’s Invictus Gaming in the quarterfinals. Now back home and with a chance to refocus, some players have stepped forward to clear the air about the accusations.
In an interview with Korean news outlet InvenGlobal, Sword, Tarzan, Shin ‘Rather’ Hyeong-seop, and coach Byun ‘Chaos’ Young-sub came forward to speak about their experiences with Griffin under cvMax.
They gave a damning review of the under-fire coach, saying he was physically and verbally violent towards players during his two years with Griffin.
“On February 9, during feedback, he held me by the collar and shook me aggressively,” said Sword, recounting one of his experiences.
“After that, he called me to his room and said, “I’m not sorry to you at all. You earned all this. Do you know what you did wrong?”
The threats didn’t stop there. Instead, they got even more extreme, and according to Sword, cvMax was out for blood.
“He said that if we lose because of me, he’ll follow me to the end of the world to get revenge or that he’ll kill me," the Griffin top laner said. "He also heavily cursed in a phone call, which I have a recording of.”
Tarzan, Sword’s teammate, wasn’t on the receiving end of cvMax’s tirades, but saw the impact it was having on his teammates on and off the Rift.
“I wasn’t the victim of physical [or] verbal abuse,” said Tarzan,” but I witnessed him doing so to other players. While we were preparing for the Summer finals, cvMax once said to a player “a**hole, you really f*cking suck,” and that was strongly engraved in my head.”
Trying to speak out against cvMax was almost impossible for the players. There would either be repercussions from management, or their parents would get involved -- which none of them wanted.
“It was really difficult to tell [anyone] that the feedback was oppressive,” said Sword. “If I told my parents, I was worried that they would tell me to stop being a pro gamer, and to convince cvMax directly to stop giving feedback in such a manner was something that I didn’t have the confidence to do so.”
As most of Griffin’s players are young and new to the competitive scene, cvMax was their first experience of what a head coach was like. This left an impression on the players, who wondered if every team in the LCK was like this.
“Since cvMax was the first Head Coach of my career, I thought that it was like this everywhere,” said Rather. “There were times that I thought he went too far, but I believed what he said -- that it was all just an act for the greater good. So I just endured it, and tried to not to accept it on an emotional level.”
While cvMax was in the firing line with Inven, other news outlets in Korea took a closer look at the team themselves. Griffin’s contracts have been scrutinized since it was revealed that jungler Seo ‘Kanavi’ Jin-hyeok was exploited after being traded with Chinese team JD Gaming.
Naver broke down some of the clauses in each player’s contract after obtaining a copy. According to the contract, players would be instantly fired if they missed more than 30 days sick, and not be allowed to join another team for a year.
Griffin also added clauses saying they could kick players for poor performance without warning, and that if players did not communicate with the team about absences, that they would be fined over $40,000 USD.
They also claimed rights over each player’s intellectual property and trademark, which could be as simple as their in-game names, and forced players to pay Griffin out to get the rights back.
However, the investigation that has come out of Riot Korea has been heavily scrutinized by members of the Korean esports community, including former members of Griffin.
Ha Tae-kyung, who originally brought the Griffin saga to South Korean parliament, told Naver that Riot’s report was “abhorring,” coming out in defense of cvMax.
“This is clearly revenge toward the whistleblower,” he said, according to a translation by Reddit user ‘classs3’. “Riot can be punished for this under the Whistleblower Protection Bill and can receive up to three years of jail time.
If it wasn't for cvMax's courageous act, Kanavi's slave contract would have gone unnoticed. cvMax is someone who should be protected and praised, not punished.”
A petition for the South Korean government to take action against Riot Korea has amassed over 70,000 signatures in under 24 hours.
cvMax was expected to join DragonX for the 2020 season, but the team will be forced to look elsewhere for coaching options after his suspension. Griffin are yet to confirm if any of their players will be returning for LCK 2020.