Long-running UK eSports organisation Choke Gaming has announced it will soon become temporarily ‘inactive’, but with players leaving, ongoing legal action and a lack of sponsors, is it all but over for the org?
eSports News UK editor Dominic Sacco shares his honest opinion on Choke.
UPDATE (August 15th):
Choke manager Tom Villiers has issued a statement, saying he has paid the players what is owed and that he will be taking a break from eSports after Insomnia.
“As of today, August 15th 2016, the Choke players have been paid for ESL LoL season 2 Premiership. As an apology for the delay I have deducted Choke’s 10% cut from the winnings and given 100% of the winnings to the players.
“I take full responsibility for the delay, I have let the organisation down and the players down, I can only apologise for my mistakes and move on. I feel Luka releasing chat logs was extremely harsh. If he released them after today and I hadn’t paid when I promised, I’d feel more sympathetic towards his situation and would find it more understandable why he would take such action.
“I will be taking a break from eSports after this Insomnia as I feel emotionally drained by the burden of running a organisation, especially when added the legal implications with the former director/manager, which I felt held us back from moving forward.
“I would also like to note to other people running organisations, I can’t give out personal phone numbers/details of the companies who sponsor Choke under any circumstance.”
UPDATE (August 14th):
Choke manager Tom Villiers has responded to former player Luka “Lukezy” Trumbić’s publication of private chat logs online, and his request for payment from his former org.
You can check out that new article here.
Original opinion piece below (published August 13th):
2016 has not been a good year for Choke Gaming.
After previous manager Vincent Clarke was booted out by Choke management at parent company eSports Interactive earlier in the year, there’s been an ongoing legal dispute between the two.
Some six months later, this dispute is still not resolved.
At i57 in March, an altercation between Vince and new manager Tom Villiers did nothing to help the reputation of the organisation. It was an embarrassing incident for all involved and is part of a dispute that still looms over the Choke brand.
Despite a brief successful spell in UK Overwatch thanks to acquiring GLB’s roster, those players left Choke this week and the org began to wind down operations.
“At i57 in March, an altercation between Vince and new manager Tom Villiers did nothing to help the reputation of the organisation. It was an embarrassing incident for all involved and is part of a dispute that still looms over the Choke brand.”
Today, Choke’s manager Tom Villiers announced the org are becoming ‘inactive’, at least for the time being.
“After Insomnia 58, Choke will become an inactive company (eSports Interactive Limited). We are currently involved in legal proceedings with former managing director Vincent Clarke and feel we can not move forward as a business until this is resolved,” Choke said in a statement.
“He is still a 25% shareholder – we have tried to buy his share and offered him to buy the shares of Choke so the company can move forward. But as both don’t share the same outlook moving forward, which has made the day to day operations of the company untenable until this matter is resolved, we have been advised by our solicitors to stop operations until the legal proceeding have taken place and we have a better outlook of how we can move forward in the future.”
This doesn’t tell the whole story.
Choke have been involved in some other controversies over the past year. It all started when their former CSGO team (under Vince’s management) engaged in a public argument with the org, following accommodation issues in October 2015.
Other players have complained of not being paid winnings or reimbursed for expenses since then, including former player Jamie “Tundra” Duthie.
Another former player, Luka “Lukezy” Trumbić, has also today shared some chat logs between himself and Tom Villiers, and claims he has not been paid his share of Insomnia rewards or ESL prize money.
The logs start back in May and go up to August, and Luka says he’s been waiting four months to get paid, but has now been blocked by Tom.
In the most recent log (pasted below), Tom promises that Luka will be paid next week.
Luke added: “It would seem this Tom guy is better at chasing people than being a manager, perhaps he should change his profession to being a dog.
“I won’t even mention the bad organisation we had during both i57 and the ESL UK Premiership. Tom Villiers is a scammer and a really bad manager and should not be allowed to manage anyone or anything more than himself.
“He said I would get paid next week but I hardly doubt it, I advise that if anybody is gonna play for choke gaming you shouldn’t expect too much of the money you will have been promised.”
Tom Villiers has since responded to this, has apologised for the late payment and explains why it happened. He also states that Lukezy asked him to pay the money out of his own pocket.
In a completely unrelated tweet today, quoting our recent video interview with eSports journalist Richard Lewis (who spoke of orgs with unenforceable contracts), former player Mantas ‘Hadow’ Sukevicius mentioned Choke Gaming in the comments section.
Richard Lewis on the majority of UK eSports contracts, and his advice to players and organisations pic.twitter.com/FAkTOwhC2i
— eSports News UK (@eSports_News_UK) August 13, 2016
While Choke stand by their claims that their former players will get paid (not including Tundra’s claim for expenses, as they say he doesn’t have a receipt), the org’s long-term situation does not bode well.
Looking at Choke’s sponsors page on their website, there are five partners listed. However, three of those are all variations of the same company (ASUS, Strix and Republic of Gamers), while two (Eclipse Computers and Eclipse Arena) belong to Choke’s parent company eSports Interactive.
“I hope Choke can come back later this year fighting fit. It would be a huge shame to see an established UK eSports name disappear. But unless something drastic happens soon, I just can’t see it happening.”
ManaLight, one of the more promising new UK eSports orgs, folded a few months back due to a lack of sponsors and funding. Are Choke going down the same road?
You can argue a lack of sponsors is the cause of UK eSports’ woes, but as Richard Lewis pointing out to me yesterday in our chat about the current state of the UK scene, the buck stops with the orgs.
It’s down to them to secure funding to pay their players.
Despite everything, I still respect Tom and I believe he really does his best, but I’m sorry, I don’t buy the line: “UK eSports just isn’t big enough to have huge luxuries.”
If you owe a player money, it’s not ESL’s fault, or your sponsor’s fault, it’s your responsibility to pay them. On the flip side, without contracts, Choke legally do not have to pay anyone.
Tom was a brilliant community manager for the LoL UK Facebook group and tournament admin for i-series, but managing an org is another ball game entirely. It’s certainly not something I’d be able to run.
Hats off to Tom for apologising and explaining the situation in greater detail here.
I hope Choke can come back later this year fighting fit, I really do. It would be a huge shame to see an established UK eSports name disappear.
But unless something drastic happens soon, I just can’t see it happening. Keeping an org going is hard enough, but starting one up almost from scratch is even tougher.
Timeline: The rise and fall of Choke Gaming
- June 2014 – Choke Gaming is reformed by Jonathan Bakewell and Vincent Clarke
- December 2014 – Choke wins 4Nations LoL tournament, following wins at i53, the Scan Nvidia Summer Tournament and EGL Cup #66
- August 2015 – Choke finish runners up in the ESL UK LoL Premiership season 1, losing to Team Infused in the final, following wins at i54, Epic.14 and Epic.15
- October 25th 2015 – a public argument breaks out between Choke’s CSGO team and management around accommodation for MCM London Comic Con. CSGO team departs
- December 2015 – Choke wins i56, after losing 2-0 to FM-eSports in the ESL UK Premiership season 2 semi-final earlier in the month
- January 17th 2016 – Choke parent firm eSports Interactive sack manager Vince Clarke, citing “sponsor complaints, a conflict of interest and other failures”. Tom Villiers is appointed interim manager
- January 17th 2016 – Vince (who remains a shareholder in Choke) says: “They will be left with nothing – no management team, no players, no sponsors.”
- January 25th 2016 – Choke and Vince say they’re close to reaching an agreement
- February 9th 2016 – Vince sets up his own org Team Senses, and continues working for Ballistix
- March 28th 2016 – Vince and new manager Tom Villiers involved in physical altercation at i57
- April 3rd 2016 – Choke lose to ManaLight in the ESL UK LoL Premiership season 3 semi-final
- July 5th 2016 – Choke acquires GLB’s successful UK Overwatch team and win a string of UK cups
- August 12th 2016 – Choke disbands its UK Overwatch team after players depart
- August 13th 2016 – Choke ends current operations
- August 13th 2016 – Former player Luka “Lukezy” Trumbić publishes chat logs between himself and Choke manager Tom Villiers, claiming he is still owed money by the org, with payment months overdue
- Ongoing – the legal dispute between Vince Clarke and Choke’s owner eSports Interactive is still not resolved
Dom is an award-winning writer who graduated from Bournemouth University with a 2:1 degree in Multi-Media Journalism in 2007.
As a long-time gamer having first picked up the NES controller in the late ’80s, he has written for a range of publications including GamesTM, Nintendo Official Magazine, industry publication MCV as well as Riot Games and others. He worked as head of content for the British Esports Association up until February 2021, when he stepped back to work full-time on Esports News UK and as an esports consultant helping brands and businesses better understand the industry.