Inven Exclusive: Whistleblowers reveal Longzhu Gaming's late salary issues

EXCLUSIVE - Employees, including players, of Longzhu Gaming revealed that the organization did not pay out the salaries on time without prior consent.

Players and Staffs from Longzhu Gaming revealed to Inven that their salaries and incentives were not being paid out in time for years.

When Longzhu Gaming was acquired by a Chinese retail group Suning Commerce, The team's funding problems were expected to end at last. However, Bontaek "Expession" Gu, Jinhyun "Emperor" Kim and other staff members' revelation showed that it couldn't be further from the truth.

They showed frustration at the organization for neglecting to carry out the terms specified in contracts. After emphasizing that their plight must not happen to anyone else working in esports, they started to tell their stories.

Illustration by Joonkyu "Lasso" Seok

The Case of Bontaek "Expession" Gu

Expession told Inven that he was not paid his incentives, which was specified to be worth tens of thousands of US dollars in his 2016 contract with Longzhu. The said contract has expired at November 30th, 2016; and Head Coach Donghoon "Hirai" Kang told Expession that he'll be paid the amount due by December. However, he told us that he was not paid the incentive even as now.

He also added that the issue regarding payments was not just his own - the entire roster and even staffs had problems with late salary payments. The employees would not be paid for a few months without a prior notice, and the organization would only tell them to "wait awhile".

The Case of Jinhyun "Emperor" Kim

Emperor had a bigger issue - he was not paid at all. He said: "I was not paid a single dime while I was on contract. If I knew this was going to happen, I wouldn't have joined Longzhu Gaming in the first place. The issue affected my performance as a player, and my relationship with the team. How was I supposed to focus on the game?"

The overdue salary was only paid out when his contract with the team has expired; and even then, there are still some outstanding amount remaining. He expressed frustration that the remaining amount were not give a due date at all, and he has no choice but to wait.

The Case of 'Staff A'

A Longzhu staff member ('Staff A') anonymously confided a similar story. He worked for Longzhu from late 2016 until April 2017, and he too suffered from late salary payouts from the organization. Although the salary was eventually paid out, the payments were often delayed for one or two months at a time.

'Staff A' also revealed that the contract for 2017 Season had a problem. The players and the organization couldn't reach an agreement, and the contract was eventually signed well into the 2017 LCK Spring Split.

Without signed contracts, it's not a surprise that the players would not be paid on time. 'Staff A' revealed that the players were not paid at all until early March - well into the 2017 LCK Spring Split. Although the salary is currently being paid out on time, 'Staff A' said that the team was on the verge of collapse around late February due to this issue.


To fact-check the allegations, we contacted Head Coach Hirai and another Longzhu staff in China who also wished to remain anonymous ('Staff B').

Expession's Incentive Issues

Hirai confirmed Expession's claims. "It's true that he was not paid his due. The problem was due to Longzhu's finance team being replaced. I did tell him that the incentive will be paid out in December, but the organization failed to pay it."

He was also aware of what Expession had to go through. "As far as I know, Expession is currently in talks with the organization. However, the org seems to be willing to resolve the issue." He continued, "As such, I tried to pay him from my own pocket, but he declined. He told me that he would have the organization pay his salary."

'Staff B' also confirmed the allegations. "After the organization was acquired in late 2016, the finance team has been completely replaced. This led to several issues including late payment of Expession's incentives. As the finance team has a lot of backlog to go through, the payment is unlikely to happen until they are all cleared; as such, there is no estimate of when the incentive will be paid out. I am also aware that he is in talks directly with the organization."

Player Salary Issues of 2016

Hirai again confirmed that the entire roster also had salary issues in 2016.

"I knew that the payment was being postponed. Apparently, the political issue between China and Korea regarding THAAD also affected private sectors. Again, I was willing to pay the players even with my own money. There should have been players who opened savings accounts, and either way, I thought they should have been paid as soon as possible."

He also explained that he couldn't tell the players in advance as the organization did not inform the staff beforehand. Nonetheless, he stated that he tried to make the players and staffs understand as much as he can.

'Staff B', however, asserted that the salary issue was not due to the political issue. "The salary problem was due to the finance team being replaced on September - The political issue came much later in December."

However, he was not sure why the problem started before September. "I do not know what happened prior to 2017 because I was on another team before then. I'm not sure about the cause of the payment issues that happened before September."

'Staff B' added, "The issue related to Expession was worsened because the organization also had to go through the acquistion and roster changes. No contracts in effect at the time. We have almost cleared the due salary to all personnel, but there might be some outstanding amount due to the finance team being replaced in between. They too will be paid out as soon as possible."

Staff A's Payment Issues

As for Staff A's payment issues, Hirai said: "There were some procedures that caused delay on signing the contracts - Even I was not paid on time." He added that the staffs might have not been paid on time as the organization was trying to clear the payment for the players first.

'Staff B' agreed with Hirai, saying: "'Staff A' was not paid on time due to employment procedures, and the circumstances forced the management to cause delay on payments."

Delayed 2017 Contracts and Salaries

Hirai continued to talk about issues surrounding 2017 contracts. He confirmed that the contracts were not signed on time. "The negotiation did not go well. We only reached an agreement by late February."

He revealed that the contract issues caused the players to be discontent, and even forced the team to change their coach in the middle of the season.

He also confirmed that the salary for 2017 only started to pay out in the middle of the split. Although he emphasized that the payment issue shouldn't persist, the political tension surrounding THAAD caused another delay this year, and the delay was resolved after the contracts have been signed.

'Staff B' also confirmed the problem with contracts. "Due to the acquistion and subsequent restructuring, there were problems with contracts, and both parties had to make concessions." He added that the circumstances forced the organization to postpone the payment until the contracts were cleared.


The picture was clear - Both the players and staffs from Longzhu Gaming were not being paid on time, and even not paid at all.

This could be an explanation behind Longzhu's performance over last couple of seasons. As Emperor said, it is no surprise that players' performance would be affected, when they were deprived of the most basic right of employees.

We'll end the article by sharing concluding remarks from each person that we have interviewed.

Expession: "I just recently heard from the organization that they'll pay out within this year - I'm willing to wait until then."

Emperor: "I wish that the players would be able to focus on the game only. It might sound like an excuse, but I couldn't focus well enough on the game, and it gave me a bad reputation as a player. I hope no one else will have to go through this ordeal."

Hirai: "The players trusted my words, so I feel somewhat responsible for this. I will talk to Expession again, and if the organization doesn't pay, I want to pay his due from my own pocket."

'Staff A': "People in esports are working as hard as they can - They deserve much better than this. I hope problems like this won't happen in future."

'Staff B': "We are done reorganizing our administrative teams, so there won't be further problems. We'll also do our best to resolve Expession's incentive pay issue as soon as possible."


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