Nick Ray weighs in on the recent controversy around Doublelift joining TSM and the resulting conflict of interest.

20:00, 25 Apr 2020

Well, it finally happened. Yiliang “Doublelift” Peng will be reportedly making his return to TSM for the Summer Split.

The move comes after a split full of turmoil for both Doublelift and TSM. For the star marksman, spring was plagued with visa issues, sickness, and lack of motivation. TSM was burdened with inconsistencies throughout the split, showing occasional glimpses of their roster’s potential before falling back into a rut of mediocrity. 

What was once one of the most shocking announcements of all time back at the end of 2015 now feels more like the fulfilment of some kind of prophecy stirred up by TSM fans begging for a return to the “good ol’ days.” But who can blame them? Since the disbandment of the dominant 2017 TSM roster, TSM has looked like a husk of their former selves. 

Doublelift’s return sounds like it’d fix all of TSM’s problems, but things aren’t that simple. With such a move come a few internal and personal situations that will either turn things a bit sloppy at best or create a slew of potential conflicts of interest at worst.

TSM's members represent multiple interest groups

Should the move be approved by Riot, on a single LCS team you’ll have the following: a player romantically involved with the organization’s president (Doublelift), two vice presidents of the Players Association (Doublelift and Søren “Bjergsen” Bjerg), Treasurer of the PA (Vincent “Biofrost” Wang), and a part-owner of the team (Bjergsen). Not to mention, current TSM ADC Kasper “Kobbe” Kobberup may be in a tight situation when looking for a new team due to ever-changing immigration and travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Without precedents set in place to prevent these scenarios, however, it’s a move that’ll be as hard to deny for Riot as it’ll be for some people to accept. Multiple board members of the PA being on one team is something that can’t be helped and was likely bound to happen at some point. After all, these players were voted into their positions by their peers and fellow competitors. It’s only natural that well-respected veterans (Doublelift and Bjergsen) would be voted into those roles for something that affected the well-being of the league. Everything else, however, is a bit more complex.

Doublelift and TSM’s president Leena Xu went public about their relationship in late 2019, while Doublelift was still on Team Liquid, and have been dating openly ever since. From a corporate standpoint, any conflict of interest involved here probably existed well-before Doublelift’s contract hit the market. But most would define a relationship between a player and org president as a sketchy power dynamic that you should avoid if at all possible.

We’ve seen similar situations in traditional sports. Take, for example, Los Angeles Lakers’ president Jeanie Buss’ relationship with New York Knicks president Phil Jackson, which was approved by the NBA. The NBA got ahead of the situation by commenting publicly to ESPN doubling down on their commitment to conflict of interest parameters and ensuring that their relationship would have no impact on competitive integrity.

From a competitive standpoint, their relationship doesn’t have an effect on the league or any official matches aside from, really, the perception that it could. Spoiler alert: Doublelift didn’t sack the Spring Split to get kicked and join TSM, nor have he and Leena been plotting his return. The unfortunate truth, however, is that they’ll never really be able to prove otherwise. Should their relationship persist, it will always be fuel for “what ifs” and “maybes” from the community and TSM’s competitors.

TSM’s reacquisition of Doublelift may bring potential gains at the cost to their reputation and the personal lives of those involved. People will think “what the hell’s going on over there?”, meme about Bjergsen’s latest mandate making failed ganks punishable by benching, and look a bit too deeply into Doublelift and Leena’s private relationship. 

The biggest loser here, perhaps, is Kobbe. A player at the height of his career after playing one of his best seasons that ended by taking a game off of T1 at the 2019 World Championship Quarterfinals. Kobbe came to NA looking to make a name for himself as a great ADC rather than a good one, and hopefully win a championship. Instead, he’s being replaced after a single split by a player who is arguably not much better than he is at the moment. We can only hope that TSM does everything they can to make sure he lands well in the midst of everything going on with the world.

As far as we can see from the outside, the player/coworker dynamic forming at TSM is certainly an unhealthy work environment on paper. The thing about conflicts of interest is that they don’t necessarily exist only in instances of confirmed foul play: conflicts of interest will always exist as long as people are able to PERCEIVE that something could be happening given the information available to them. 

Despite this, Doublelift should be allowed to play for TSM. Do the positions of the players within the league and within their own team have a crippling effect on competitive integrity within the LCS? My verdict is: not really. This trade will likely get approved, no matter how bad it looks given the information that we have. If league officials saw an issue, they would’ve acted well before things got to this point.

Images courtesy of LoL Esports

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