Player contracts and poaching: A long discussion with G2 Esports CEO Carlos Rodriguez

Source: Michal Konkol/ESL


On the forefront, the esports industry is a source of round-the-clock entertainment for the masses of fans, but behind the curtains, it's a ruthless business. Few know that as well as Carlos Rodriguez, founder and CEO of G2 Esports.


Since he founded G2 in 2015, Carlos has had to continuously make business moves that have stirred the community. From player signings that could be penned as "controversial", to player sales that could be considered even more so, there's rarely an offseason where Carlos and G2 are not on the tongue of the fans. If the somewhat surprising sale of bot laner Martin "Rekkles" Larsson and MSI-winning duo Mihael "Mikyx" Mehle and Martin "Wunder" Hansen after G2 failed to qualify for Worlds 2021 could be seen as simply a roster rebuilding tactic, the treatment of other players in the past have made fans question the way G2's CEO conducts business.


When Carlos parted ways with flagship player Luka "Perkz" Perković ahead of the 2021 season, the sale included a clause that Cloud9 (Perkz's new team) could not sell him to Fnatic, G2’s chief rival in the LEC — a move that prompted Riot Games to issue a statement and update their contract rules globally. Carlos has also come under allegations of poaching, i.e. recruiting players who are still under contract with another team, without the approval of said team.


For Carlos, these deals are far from black-and-white and he looks at them with a lot of nuance. During the second week of the 2022 LEC Spring Split playoffs, he open-heartedly spoke with Inven Global's Tom Matthiesen about player contracts and the topic of poaching. Carlos discussed the tough business choices he had to make selling some of the most popular players and how it impacted him.


He also made one thing crystal clear. The landscape of roster moves isn't just hectic. It's a warzone where many organizations try to steal land by any means possible.

You've made a lot of big investments last year. You scrapped basically your entire LoL team and rebuilt the roster and support staff. How do you look back on that big decision now?


Regardless of the result and regardless of how the playoffs end [G2 ended up winning the 2022 Spring Playoffs — Ed.], I would've done it again, the same way. It was crazy to do. Rekkles is a fan favorite, so a lot of fangirls were with G2. We could see the numbers, you know? We knew that if we would get rid of Rekkles, that would have negative implications for the business. At least short-term, for sure. With Wunder and Mikyx, we obviously built all our biggest successes in League of Legends. Both of them were part of our big moments.


So, it's very shocking to people because they're like, "Holy shit, you're changing people that you succeeded with." But rebuilding a team... I'm not stupid, you know? I like to think we know what we're doing. Sometimes we fuck up, but it's because we try to do something. We try to be number one. Sometimes we miss, and sometimes we hit. The legacy of G2 is based on the average of misses and hits. So, you can argue that G2 is pretty successful as a result of a lot of hits. Some misses, but a lot of hits.


"I've lost so much, I fucked up so much, I've committed so many mistakes on every level that I don't feel shame when I commit those mistakes"


Well, you're still the most successful team in the LEC.


I mean, the most successful esports team in the world in terms of top games. There is no other organization that in top games is consistently playing finals. There's a reason for that. However, we are very humble in the sense that we know we could've fucked up, right? But the decision had to be made. We felt like we had no control over the team. When a team succeeds so much together, the same group of people, some bad habits take place, and then something needs to change. Last year, when we got Rekkles on board and [Perkz] was let go, it was essentially like the moment when we got caPs. Because we could. When you can have Perkz and caPs together, you should take the chance. Well, we could get caPs and Rekkles together, so we should take the chance. It's almost too good not to do it. You will always ask yourself "What if?" otherwise. I never ask myself that. If it can be done, I'll get it done. If I fail, then so be it.


The whole world was looking at us, hopeful that we would make it work. We didn't make it work. We sucked, actually. That is when we took a look at our lineup and said, "It's time to rebuild from zero." Well, it's not from zero, it's from one. We rebuilt and put in place all the structures that we use in every other team. Take control over the team, take control of the coaching staff, support staff, management... Take control of everything from the ground up again and build again. Just like we did in the previous team until [having] way too much success caused us to be incredibly hands-off. That's the story. We're happy and we would do it again and again, regardless of the playoffs result.


"When a team succeeds so much together, the same group of people, some bad habits take place, and then something needs to change."


Source: Michal Konkol/Riot Games


Making these decisions, when you have such a big brand with a large fan base, you'll also get a lot of shit thrown your way for the decisions that you make.


For sure.


I think you're simultaneously one of the most beloved and most hated personalities in esports. To me, it seems like you're always portraying yourself as invincible. But I can imagine sometimes things do get to you.


Yeah, I mean, I don't know. The only thing I can remember that affected me was the Perkz situation. I feel a lot of empathy for people, especially when they're close to me and I spend moments with them. The situation that happened with Perkz and the things that were said and told about our relationship — that I would fuck over him, or he would fuck over me — it was just so toxic. I realized that people have no taste in that regard. They will just say anything that comes to their mind. When it's about a friend and someone I was very close with — I say "was" because we're not close anymore — it definitely hurts. Well, it used to hurt. I learned my lesson there. I learned a very valuable lesson, which is: never get myself as close as I was with Perkz. I need to keep a healthy distance so that I remain focused on the goal of winning and entertaining, which are G2's goals.


Other than that, pft, I think you're right. Nothing can affect me. The reason is because I've lost so much, I fucked up so much, I've committed so many mistakes on every level that I don't feel shame when I commit those mistakes. It's about acceptance and learning, you know? I'm literally unkillable in that regard. Nothing can affect me enough in the long term to break me.


"The situation that happened with Perkz and the things that were said and told about our relationship — that I would fuck over him, or he would fuck over me — it was just so toxic."


You bring up the Perkz situation, and it was obviously quite a thing where people said you would only sell him to NA——


It wasn't like that, though. We wouldn't sell him to Fnatic. Other teams had serious offers in the form of Vitality and Misfits. Both had offers of about a million-ish. I was ready to sell him to them. However, the deal fell through because Alphari went to Team Liquid. We tried to make Alphari stay in Europe so that Perkz can go to the European team, but it didn't work. Alphari took a plane to Utrecht and he signed a contract with Team Liquid. Once he joined Team Liquid, the super team in Europe was over. Perkz decided that none of those teams were good enough for his purpose. It was no longer about G2. I was happy to sell Perkz to either Vitality or Misfits, but eventually, it happened that it was Cloud9.


But then when he's on Cloud9 and wants to come back to EU, there's the talk about a clause that would prevent Cloud9 from selling Perkz to Fnatic as well. That's also where you got a lot of hate. It's also, I think, another example of where your friendship and business-side clashed, because you were a ruthless businessman.


I don't know if ruthless is the right word. It's just the way in which I envision fair play within the same field.


You think it's fair play?


It's 100% fair play.


"I will do whatever the rules allow me to do within the context of my biggest competitor, which is Fnatic"


Perkz seemed to be taken aback by it.


Well, it's fair play within the context of our relationship with Fnatic. It's not fair play if you keep a player on the bench when the player has done incredibly for the organization and continues to try and work things out. There was one place on earth he couldn't go to and that was Fnatic. And I would do it again.


Well, it's not allowed now anymore.


It's not allowed anymore, but I will do whatever the rules allow me to do within the context of my biggest competitor, which is Fnatic. But I've spoken about that topic many times, so I'd rather not get into the Fnatic stuff.


Source: Michal Konkol/Riot Games


Sure thing. You mentioned you will do what's allowed within the rules, but sometimes you go outside those rules as well. I saw a very long interview you did with Thorin, for example. You spoke about the long process of rebuilding with G2 and you also said you would do everything for your team to win—


Within the rules, every time.


Well, in that video you said you poach players and you also said, a bit later, that you spoke to a couple of coaches and that some of them were still under contract, which is why you didn't want to name them. It was all pretty brief there, but in general, you seem to be open about that. It's kind of a known secret.


So, this is the thing, right? You can say, for example, there are rules which everybody follows. And there are rules that are a problem because they are encouraging teams that have less to lose and people that have less to lose to break them. Poaching is one of those rules. A team that has nothing to lose, and it has happened throughout the last five years... We have the best teams, most of the time, in most games. You don't think all my players are getting bombarded with tampering, even under contract? It happens all the time. There is nothing I can do because these teams have nothing to lose. So for me, it's fair play because I know how the game works and I play that game better.


I generally believe that poaching regulations are a problem because they create a system where, whoever has less to lose, is more incentivized to place efforts into putting together a good team by poaching. It happens all the time. A good example is Zven and Mithy. When we lost Zven and Mithy, do you think we wanted to lose Zven and Mithy? No, we didn't. They were the best bot lane available when they left us. Was it by our own choice? Nope, they got poached. Before MSI in 2016, with the famous "G2 vacation" shit, Hybrid, our support, got poached right before MSI started, when we were literally about to travel. It broke our fucking MSI in full. No training, no nothing, it was not possible. Then Perkz made a joke about it and we supported him because he is our player.


Ultimately, we've been hit by poaching for the totality of our existence. Officially, I will tell you I don't poach. On the side, I'll tell you, I play within the same ruleset that everybody else is playing. And I do it better.


"There are rules that are a problem because they are encouraging teams that have less to lose and people that have less to lose to break them. Poaching is one of those rules."


Right, so you're saying "If everyone is breaking the rules, I might as well do it better."


Yes, correct. [Laughs] In the theoretical scenario that I would break the rules, I would only break them if everyone else is breaking them and I would do it better. That is my official stance.


[Laughs] Over the years I've spoken a bit to other people involved in the offseason trading etc., and they've made it clear that it definitely isn't a clean game, but——


Yeah, I'm telling you already. Like, I don't want to say every team, because that would be telling you something that might not be accurate, but probably about 50-60% of teams in the LEC, and if you count the LCS, are doing the same shit. They are poaching. Constantly, regularly. Player chats, players joining Discord, playing games together and talking, owners talking with people on Discord and hopping on calls, meeting with them... I'm pretty fucking tame. I'm just very time-efficient. [Laughs] But I'm pretty fucking tame in comparison to what you find out there.


Maybe, I will say though, things have gotten a little better. Maybe that is a result of my team, my players being less desirable as of late. But the kind of shit I see... And I've never reported anybody, even though there's proof everywhere — it will never fucking happen. Why? Because it's not on me to right the wrongs of the world. The rules are stupid. This rule shouldn't exist. Yes, anti-tampering is a must-have. You can't tamper with contracts and I've never done that.


MAD Lions accused you of doing so, though.


Yeah, whatever. MAD Lions can fuck off. [Laughs] But what was I about to say?


You were talking about poaching becoming less of an issue.


That's probably because my League of Legends team is less desirable. I have rookies now, we have a pretty good system, everybody trusts each other, we have control over the team. There are no singularities. There is a team-bonding spirit. But in other teams... man, we are getting poached everywhere.


Source: Tom Matthiesen/Inven Global


Can I put it in a hypothetical way? Let's say you're playing a game, you're playing CS:GO. Everybody agrees, "Ok, this is how we play the game, as per the rules of the developers." Somebody's aim-hacking, somebody is wall-hacking. Would you say "Well, I'm gonna do it too" then?


It's certainly not the same thing. First of all, if people would just be aim-botting everywhere, I would make sure my team doesn't play tournaments in that game. It's that simple. But what is poaching really? When you see this in front of you, people talking with your players, your players constantly getting harassed—


Sure, I'm just saying: When you signed with the LEC, you signed up saying "Ok, I'm not gonna do this." And you see other people do the same thing.


So what do you do? Do you just close your eyes and see everybody getting your players? What do you do? A thousand times I've suggested it's better if the rule doesn't exist. It's so easy to circumvent.


Have you spoken to the LEC and said "Hey listen, my players are being poached too"?


Of course, for the longest time. But it's pretty crazy to say, I would say a bit shocking, to destroy that rule. By the way, the team we have built this way was built on the back of conversations we had with people when we could have conversations with those people. At all times. Actually, officially, every player ever in G2 was not poached.


That's my official stance. [Laughs] It's a hairy topic. It's a really hairy topic. You literally see instances of this happening everywhere. The only way to combat it is to make the rule not exist or make sure you play with the same rules. There is no top team in the world, besides G2, that hasn't poached. You know, I can't speak with facts officially, considering the rules we're playing in.


It's a bit of an awkward conversation. I don't know. It's an ugly conversation to have because everybody is doing it, everyone knows everyone is doing it, but every time there is someone being accused of it, everyone jumps up saying, "Oh, look at that person!" They do the same. It's just an ugly conversation and I think it's just better to cut off that rule altogether. Oh well, it's never gonna happen. This is wishful thinking. But it's never gonna happen.


"It's an ugly conversation to have because everybody is doing it, everyone knows everyone is doing it, but every time there is someone being accused of it, everyone jumps up saying "Oh, look at that person!""


So you feel it's more of a rule for posterity.


Yes. By the way, every top team, right now, is going through poaching. Fnatic, I'm sure, because that team is insane. Rogue is going through poaching, I'm sure, because that team is insane. I'm sure people are looking at Malrang, people are looking at Comp, talking to them on Discord, talking to them everywhere... I'm telling you, that's how it works! So, I feel we should be empathetic with those teams that are at the top. I don't consider G2 a team that's at the top right now, you know? We are in the lower bracket. But those teams I told you about, we should be empathetic with them and say, "Actually, they're probably getting poached." And if they poach, they have a bigger risk to lose more than the rest.


You've turned poaching kind of into a joke, you play with it.


The truth is that there is a lot of comedy in that, in that regard. We now wear a fucking kilt. We're gonna make a meme out of this shit forever. When we lose 0-3, we make a meme about it all the time.


It's a way to defuse something.


Yeah. We get accused of poaching? We're gonna say we're poaching all the time, you know? 


“Come to the pool,” etc.


"Come to the pool." That's just G2, you know? So, I have fun with it. It's just entertainment. Rules are there to be followed. I have my thoughts about it.


You've made those very clear, yeah.


If you wanna ask some questions that are not about this shit... Honestly, I hate this topic of poaching. I hate it because... What do you want me to do?



Sure, but I specifically wanted to have the conversation because it's something that's always joked about, but never properly discussed. I very much appreciate that you were willing to talk about it. You could've said, "No, fuck it, we talk about the series."


I always like to answer every hairy question, but I'm still worried about how I can be perceived. So yeah man, I don't know. I open my heart to you, you do whatever you want.


Well, I'm already way over the time limit so let's quickly round up with something else then: This G2 roster is performing super well at the moment. You've spoken about the rebuilding process, which was long and intense. So, what does it mean to you to see this rebuild is paying off?


It feels very good. You already say we work pretty hard and blah blah, but like, there's a team spirit. There is a lot of work being placed into making sure the team operates as a team. They are young people as well. [Broken Blade] is very young, Flakked is very young, Targamas is very young... We have the dinosaur in Jankos but he has learned a lot of great skills to lead the team and honestly, nothing would make me happier than seeing this group succeed. Unlike maybe in previous years, this group of people will be very grateful to the support staff of G2 and the management in full. Because they realize how a unit can operate together. Regardless of win or lose, I feel like we are teaching each other a lot of valuable lessons about being relentless, building each other up. There are a lot of things that build that team spirit that's really hard to break right now.

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