On Sunday, April 26th, Yillang "Doublelift" Peng was officially traded from Team Liquid to Team SoloMid. The reported cash deal has seen TSM pick up their former ADC in return for a considerable amount of monetary compensation to TL.
However, trade has prompted a backlash from many in the competitive League of Legends community, mainly because of accusations of behind-the-scenes deals. The crux of this issue is Doublelift's relationship with several current members of TSM. Not only is the star ADC friends with numerous members of the organisation's management and player roster, his current girlfriend, Aileena "Leena" Xu, is TSM's president.
You'd think TSM was an LPL franchise the way Riot lets them get away with almost anything.— Thorin (@Thorin) April 26, 2020
As a result, reports of collusion, tampering, poaching, and other misdeeds have surrounded the trade. And with the criticism flying, defenders and supporters have flocked around TSM and Doublelift.
What's the big deal then?
Pictured: Aileen Xu (Credit: Aileen Xu)
There's a lot of confusion around this trade as to why people are even taking umbrage to the actions of all parties involved. The problem lies in fundamental misunderstandings of the issues surrounding the deal.
Both sides, including people who endorse the trade, and those who think it damages the competitive integrity of the LCS, are confusing what tampering, poaching, and collusion are. In some cases, just people are criticising the trade only out of their hatred of TSM, TL, or Doublelift, and this allows their supporters to dismiss criticism offhand.
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Even Doublelift himself has misdirected criticism of the trade. In either ignorance of the tampering rules, or in a knowing shift of the blame, he released a video stating that he "didn't re-join TSM for Leena." Except the issue isn't that he was doing it for Leena. It's that by virtue of being his girlfriend, Leena had unprecedented access to a player being traded, and as a result could induce tampering within the trade.
But what is Tampering?
Pictured: Doublelift (Credit: Aileen Xu)
Tampering in trading is using insider or privileged information to induce a trade between players and teams. Coaches, managers, players, or even really anyone involved in an organisation can potentially contribute or cause tampering, but the higher up in the organisation, the worse the issue is. In the UK, tampering is known as "tapping-up," and is usually a term reserved for the practice of negotiating trades with football players who are still under contract.
The LCS Rules Set, which was most recently updated on January 17th, 2020, includes an entire section called "No Poaching or Tampering." Under the subheading "Other Prohibited Conduct" the LCS describes the point at which a trade would be considered tampering. It also outlines that players and coaches can instruct interested parties to contact their management for a trade but that it must be "a general statement aimed at the entire marketplace."
Tampering is bad for several reasons. It prevents a fair marketplace from picking up players, and in some cases (most likely not this one) can allow teams to collude to drive down the price of players. The reason accusations of tampering have marred this trade is due to Doublelift's relationship with both the players on TSM, and his girlfriend, the current president of TSM.
It's entirely possible that details of Doublelift's salary, potential trade, and more were available to members of TSM prior to his public posting for trade, giving them a competitive edge over their competition. The move would be equivalent to insider trading in stocks and shares.
Tampering would hurt the LCS perhaps more than any other league in competitive LoL because of its tiny talent pool compared to its massive status. LCS teams trade the same two dozen or so top-players around the 50 potential roster spots, filling the blanks with imports and ne'er-do-wells. When a hot commodity like Doublelift comes on the market, there should be a long protracted bidding war, not just for competitive integrity, but for the competitive health of a region with a comparatively small player base.
The case against
This isn't the first time Doublelift has been involved in tampering. In 2015 the star ADC was in the centre of CLG's competitive ruling which showed that he had used personal contacts to induce Darshan "ZionSpartan" Upadhyaya to be traded by Team Dignitas. In that case, both CLG and Doublelift broke both the tampering and poaching rules of the LCS. The team and player received lesser punishments due to coming forward on their own without an investigation.
What's more, it's baffling to imagine that TSM's President, Leena Xu, wouldn't be in direct contact with Doublelift, and privy to information about trades and roster status before any official release.
The timeline is also incredibly suspect. Doublelift was released to an open market on April 16th, with the first reports of his signing appearing just a week later. In a world marred by Novel Coronavirus lockdowns, people are lucky if they can get a corporate entity to reply to an email in less than a week, let alone agree to what's alleged to be a multi-million dollar contract.
With rumours of the signing first appearing on just April 24th, Riot's investigation will have potentially lasted only two days, over a weekend. An incredibly short turn-around for a company which is currently utilising the work-from-home model, and in the past has taken months for competitive rulings to be released.
The case for
While the tampering rules could have been breached, everything else about this trade is entirely on the up and up. Trades for cash are fully permitted under LCS rules, and the team went through the proper channels, submitting an "a general statement aimed at the entire marketplace" about Doublelift's availability.
What's more, the poaching and tampering rules mainly outline situations where players are contacted by coaches and other players, not management. An argument could be made that contact between TSM's president Leena Xu and Doublelift and Team Liquid constituted a communication between both party's management, especially with Coronavirus hindering the way people can communicate. In lieu of a formalised meeting, it could be perfectly acceptable for these kinds of negotiations to take place so long as they are adequately documented as per LCS rules.
There's also the possibility that when placed on the open market, with every team able to make a bid, no organisation but TSM wanted Doublelift. This eventuality would completely absolve TSM, TL, and Doublelift of tampering allegations. Approaching nearly his 10th year of competitive play, there are signs that the star's abilities are starting to wane, and if no other teams wanted to make a bid, then no tampering took place.
What happens now?
Doublelift is one of the most important competitors in League of Legends. He's been a talent for nearly a decade, and a player who's battled through tremendous adversity during his career. But both him and the storied TSM organisation should be under much harsher scrutiny after this trade.
It's not unheard of for Riot Games to go back on its decisions. There is no double-jeopardy in competitive rulings, and TSM, TL and Doublelift could be subjected to more investigations at a later point. Additionally, these parties could also come forward at a later date with an admission of guilt, as in the case with the CLG/Zionspartan ruling, presenting their hands for a potential slap on the wrist.