The young professional player Kyle “Danny” Sakamaki was considered an exceptional talent in the US League of Legends after his fantastic debut season 2021/2022. But then the then 18-year-old suddenly decided not to take part in the final and disappeared from the limelight. Now he is returning as a content creator and the exact circumstances of his career end are coming to lightt: Apparently, his team did not take sufficient care of the needs of the 19-year-old.
What’s the story so far? In 2022, Danny was well on his way to becoming one of the League of Legends greats: In April, the botlaner helped his team, the Evil Geniuses, win the Spring Split championship and set a few records along the way.
Almost half a year later, in September 2022, the pressure seemed to be too much for the young professional: Danny took a break, decided not to play in the next final, wanted to take care of his mental health first.
LoL: 18-year-old becomes champion, is considered a huge talent – throws everything away, ends career at 19
However, private messages from Danny’s friends and family, released by LEC analyst Caedrel in December 2022, shed a different light: the young player is said to have returned home in poor shape, believed to be undernourished and malnourished.
Allegations against the team of LoL professionals Evil Geniuses were made. However, CEO Nicole LaPointe Jameson denied everything. Almost a year after his huge success, Danny returned in late February 2023 and defended his team.
However, he is no longer an active player but a content creator for Evil Geniuses.
As a result, more details about the circumstances of his hiatus came to light. Three journalists publish big insider reports about Danny’s short career and his premature end.
Serious allegations were again leveled against his team:
- Danny is autistic
- the team neglected his mental and physical health
- Riot announced that it was already investigating EG.
Did EG neglect the needs of an autistic player?
Where does the information come from? According to information from the US site Dexerto, several sources from the e-sports organization reported and spoke about the treatment of Danny. Journalists Richard Lewis, Duncan “Thorin” Shields and Arsh Goyal published analyzes detailing how badly EG had let down the young player.
How did the problems start? According to Goyal, Danny’s troubles began during the May 2022 Mid-Season Invitational, which was held in Busan, Korea.
In addition to the already demanding MSI schedule, the unfamiliar environment came as an additional source of stress for Danny: EG also did not send the usual performance employees to Korea.
Goyal said Danny, whose autism diagnosis was reportedly known to staff, needs stability and consistency. The loss of his familiar environment and the pressure to perform must have affected him greatly. After EG’s departure, he posted that he was glad MSI was over. A post that understandably reminded the fans, who had no idea of his difficulties.
Because it’s a spectrum, there can be huge differences in what symptoms an autistic person has, how severe they are, and how much support they need. People with autism often have particularly strong interests and need fixed routines.
You can find more information at autism culture and MSD manuals.
In the summer after MSI, Danny’s condition is said to have deteriorated, which is said to have caused increasing concern among employees. The then 18-year-old retired, is said to have been late for training games and his performance is said to have declined.
EG is said to have arranged for measures to be taken for Danny’s well-being, including visiting his family during the annual summer break. However, management apparently demanded that the 18-year-old remain part of the active team.
Apparently Danny was pushed far beyond the breaking point
How did the crisis come about? In the reports from Richard Lewis and Arsh Goyal, there is disagreement as to whether EG was notified prior to the playoffs that Danny no longer wished to play. At the latest after losing to Cloud9 in the first round, the 18-year-old is said to have expressed the wish to stop.
However, this wish for a break was not given in to. Decision-makers including CEO Nicole LaPointe Jameson and director of performance Lindsey “Gamerdoc” Migliore are said to have opposed sending Danny to the bench.
The reason for the decision is said to have been concerns about the market value of the star player and its importance to the EG brand. Danny is said to have made a deal with management out of a sense of duty to help his team qualify for Worlds.
LoL match stretches over 8 hours – was probably the point where everything broke
What was the trigger for the final crisis? The 2nd round of the playoffs, a best-of-five against TSM, apparently finally broke the camel’s back: staff were already trying to avoid prolonged stress for the 18-year-old, but the match proved to be an enormous strain. Due to audio problems, the game dragged on for over 8 hours, apparently it was too much for the young professional.
After the devastating Bo5 against TSM, it was clear, according to internal sources, that Danny was in no shape to continue playing. His team members, of whom only Jeong “Impact” Eon-yeong knew in advance about the 18-year-old’s condition, expressed concern.
According to Goyal, coach Peter Dun was approached by a member of senior management to persuade Danny to play against Team Liquid. Dun refused and, as a result of the demand, is said to have decided not to renew his contract with EG.
Despite all the misgivings, the 18-year-old went up against Team Liquid. Before the match, members of the management are said to have made disparaging remarks about the young player: It was damn annoying that he was ruining everything.
Following the match, Danny flew home to his family and retired on public.
18-year-old is said to have been underweight and malnourished
How bad was Danny? When he arrived home, the 18-year-old was said to be severely underweight and had several associated medical problems. However, he is said to have refused a hospital stay because it had only come to this because of his stay in an unfamiliar environment.
Danny’s condition is said to have been a shock to the family: Apparently nobody had informed them about the health concerns. They were also assured that mental health would be taken into account and that the young player would be looked after accordingly – that should not have been the case.
Riot is investigating Evil Geniuses
What are the consequences? In December 2022, Twitch streamer Caedrel released private messages from family members, leading to allegations against the organization. As the US site Dexerto reports, a spokesman for the LCS confirmed that they were aware of the allegations about Danny’s treatment.
An external law firm is said to have been commissioned to conduct an investigation by the end of 2022. However, the investigation is not yet complete.
However, allegations that a coach lost his job after advising the family to contact the LCS Players Association have yet to be confirmed.
More focus on mental health in esports
What else went wrong? Other employees made allegations against EG that go beyond Danny’s case: Management has a disconnect with employees, makes wrong decisions, and an overall lack of empathy.
What does Danny himself say? In announcing that he would be working as a content creator for Evil Geniuses from now on, Danny defended the organization: The pressure was simply too much for him, but he received constant support from EG (via Twitter).
What could have been done better? However, the question remains whether the crisis could have been prevented if there had been a greater focus on mental health within the organization and esports in general.
Goyal describes EG’s staff as “appallingly ill-equipped” to deal with mental health crises in his report. Warning signals were overlooked and limits were exceeded because nobody knew better.
The organization was in dire need of a mental health expert to work with players and advise them on decision-making. The problems therefore stem not from the organization’s unhealthy internal culture, but from the general neglect of mental health.
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