Cho resigns from Griffin as South Korean lawmakers put eyes on Riot investigation

Two Korean lawmakers have raised concerns about Riot Games' investigation of LCK team Griffin's handling of substitute jungler Seo "Kanavi" Jin-hyeok. Provided by Riot Games

Griffin director Cho Gyu-nam resigned from the League of Legends Champions Korea team on Tuesday after allegations of his mishandling a contract transfer and threatening substitute jungler Seo "Kanavi" Jin-hyeok, according to a statement released by the team to South Korean media members.

Cho's resignation comes amid an ongoing investigation that Riot Games' South Korean and Chinese branches and the Korean e-Sports Association (KeSPA) opened on Oct. 17, as well as criticism of Riot by two South Korean legislators.

The investigation by Riot is based on allegations made by former Griffin head coach Kim "cvMax" Dae-ho. On a livestream several weeks ago, cvMax alleged that Kanavi, who was a minor while a player for Griffin, was threatened by Cho and pushed to sign a five-year agreement with Chinese team JD Gaming, who he had been loaned to during the 2019 season.

In South Korea, a person is considered a minor until turning 19. Kanavi turned 19 on Nov. 2, meaning he was loaned out as a minor and also signed his contract as a minor, which are points of contention in the investigation.

In an interview with Sports Chosun on Tuesday, Cho disputed cvMax's claims and alleged that the former head coach was abusive toward Griffin's players. Cho said he intends to sue cvMax and Kanavi, according to translations posted by former Los Angeles Valiant interpreter Andrew Kim on Twitter.

Two South Korean National Assembly members, Ha Tae-kyung and Lee Dong-seop of the Bareunmirae Party, also raised concerns, with Ha submitting a proposal on Oct. 21 to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism to investigate the dispute. That proposal was later denied by the ministry, which stated that it did not have legal authority to investigate tournaments hosted by private organizations such as Riot.

Riot released an interim report on Oct. 29 outlining some of its findings based off individual testimonies, chat logs and documents it gathered from involved parties. Riot said Kanavi and JD Gaming did not violate tampering rules but that Griffin did violate the rule outlining the maximum number of players loaned out to other teams. The team also broke Riot regulations by having Kanavi's contract exceed the three-year limit. Riot said in the report that it would continue investigating claims that Kanavi was threatened by Cho and pressured by Griffin executives into signing an unfair contract with JD Gaming.

In a series of Facebook posts on Oct. 21 and Oct. 29, Ha took aim at Riot Games, alleging that game developer would not fairly conduct an investigation as an unbiased party. After the release of the interim report by Riot, Ha threatened to investigate Riot if he felt when the full investigation, when released, was not fair.

"Riot Games has released their interim report on the investigation on the 'Kanavi Incident,'" Ha said. "I'll describe it in one sentence -- 'They are watching out for each other's backs.' A few days ago, I said that the investigation will not have satisfactory results because Riot is also a party of interest in this incident. I believe this has indeed been the case. No, it's even worse than I had thought.

"I'm leaving it with a warning because this is an interim report. However, when the final report comes and there is even one difference between the investigation and what I have confirmed, you must brace yourself. The youth [of South Korea] are following this with their eyes open. Please remember -- if you do not make a proper investigation, Riot Korea may become a subject to the investigations themselves."

Additionally, Lee Dong-seop introduced a bill to the National Assembly that, if approved, would see the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, alongside the South Korean Fair Trade Commission, provide guidelines and regulations around esports player contracts.

"As you can see in the recent contracting controversy between Griffin and Kanavi, the manner of contracts between esports teams and individual players is not as systemic," Lee said in a statement announcing his bill. "There are many South Korean esports players that have branched out internationally. However, due to the nature of esports, there are more younger players in the field. I am aware that cases of players signing unfair contracts that contain excessive and malicious terms happen more often in esports compared to other fields of sports."

Riot Games has not released a final investigation into the allegations against Griffin and Cho. Griffin competed in the 2019 League of Legends World Championship in Berlin and Madrid from Oct. 12 to Oct. 26. They were eliminated by Invictus Gaming in the quarterfinals of that tournament.