China's Dota 2 scene has been embroiled in controversy for the past two months. Former world champions Wings Gaming have broken up and as a result, Dota has lost one of its strongest teams.
On the August 13, 2016, Wings Gaming entered the Grand Finals of "The International 2016" (TI6), the biggest Dota 2 event to date. Having come out of nowhere, they made an incredible splash at the tournament, cutting through the upper bracket and ultimately winning the entire event. The more than $9 million (eight million euros) that they won was the biggest prize pool in eSports history, and it made all of the team's five players into instant millionaires.
Where are they now?
After their TI6 win, things got quiet around the team. Their performance dropped off, and they won no more significant tournaments. In April, Wings Gaming were meant to appear again on the big stage at the Kiev Major, a huge tournament with top international teams in attendance. However, suddenly the tournament page displayed a different name for the team, "Team Random." In an unofficial post, a media officer from the club explained that the players had chosen to leave Wings Gaming.
A few days later, the players reached out to elaborate on their decision to leave and create their own team. In personal statements, which were issued on weibo.com and translated into English by Jack "KBBQ" Chen, the five pro-gamers then uncovered a months-long history of not getting paid on time. Wings had allegedly not paid the players for their services for two consecutive months. Under Chinese labor laws, this was grounds to dissolve their contracts and so they left with immediate effect.
"Although we're switching organizations, the five of us are still together, and this won't change," Chu "shadow" Zeyu said in his statement.
Situation is getting out of hand
Less than a month had passed before "GosuGamers" broke the story that the Association for Chinese Esports (ACE) had imposed lifetime bans on the five players. ACE is the governing body of eSports in China and all major Dota clubs are members of the association.
Only ACE teams can play in ACE tournaments, so this ban threatened to end the players' careers. The story cited violations of the terms of their contracts as the reason for the ban, but the players had previously claimed that they had legally severed all ties to Wings Gaming. So something clearly didn't add up.
In fact, the report turned out to be false and while the story swept through all major eSports news media, ACE was preparing a statement of its own. The chief strategy officer of LGD Gaming, a high-ranking member of ACE, got together with liquiddota.com to set the record straight. Thes said that the players had indeed dissolved their labor contracts, but they had forgotten about their second contract with Wings.
"One is the normal labor contract, the labor contract states that they play for the team and should get paid, and the team covers their travel expenses and the coach and things like that. They also have another contract, which states that they cannot play for any other team than Wings," Xuan Li, the chief strategy officer, said.
As the second contract was still valid, the players had not technically left the organization.
What happened behind the scenes
This became a problem when the transfer window opened, which operates in a similar fashion to the transfer window in football. Since the players still formally belonged to Wings, they were not free to sign with another team. Xuan Li said that ACE had subsequently ruled that no team should try to poach the players while they were working on ending the remaining contracts, but the EHOME team asked ACE for permission to sign Zhang "Faith_bian" Ruida and Zhang "y`" Yiping. ACE refused to grant the request and in an unprecedented move EHOME signed the two players and withdrew from the association. The chief strategy officer then accused EHOME of deliberately misrepresenting the temporary halt on transfers as a lifetime ban, possibly as a way to persuade the players to leave ACE and sign with the team.
No future for the World Champions
Since two of the players have left ACE it seems highly unlikely that we see ever them compete as a unit again. DW contacted Alan "Nahaz" Bester, Dota analyst and professor at Western University in the Canadian province of Ontario, and asked him what he will miss most about the ex-Wings squad.
"The fact is that the version of Wings that showed up at TI6 would be a serious threat at any pro Dota 2 event before or since.[...] They ran an incredibly diverse set of lineups and while top teams would have adjusted to them, Wings perhaps more so than any major champion other than OG was well positioned to continue to innovate and succeed in different [eras of the game]. Sadly, we'll never know for certain."