As an outsider, it appeared that all was well at Northern Gaming Red since the acquisition of Mitchell "Bird" Guernica one month ago. After a big third place £3000 finish in the OG Invitational they continued to hang tough in and around the top five Overwatch teams in North America.
The first signs that something had gone awry came Thursday evening as rumours surfaced on the pro player Discord that Bird has left NGR. I contacted Mangachu at the time, but he didn't want to get in to it until things "get a little more not weird" and so I waited.
I had almost forgotten about it, two days passed, but then I received a message from Bird on Discord opening "hey I have a story for you if you'd like" and resulting in the following statement:
"Basically I left NGR because the environment was extremely toxic. It was impossible to be productive or constructive because people were always on tilt. On top of that it didn't seem like the people were very serious about improving and wanting to reach the top; they could barely stand scrimming for a maximum of 4 hours a day and we can't even hold a coach on the team because they always talk bad about all of our coaches behind their back because they can't take constructive criticism. I feel like moving on from NG Red is the best decision for my future, because I want to be on a team where they all have a positive mindset to improve. I tried to leave on good terms, and now their CEO, Mack, is trying to threaten me to keep me on the roster for 12 months without pay and trying to get me to not play on any other teams.
He's trying to hold me from leaving and delaying me from pursuing my dream of being a pro gamer. He's even given my teammates permission to talk all the "shit" they want to talk about me while on live stream."
When asked to clarify if he was still in contract with Northern Gaming he offered "I gave my notice to NGR's CEO that I was leaving due to a breach of contract", adding "I don't really want to go into all the details, that's between NG and I, but it is because it was breached that I went through these measures" when I pressed for the specifics of the breach.
The allegations made were significant so I approached Mangachu again to verify Bird's statement, but it quickly became clear that his version of events were going to be contested as he outlined a number of deceptions he claimed were committed by Bird against his Northern Gaming Red team mates.
My next port of call was the Northern Gaming CEO Mack Maring in search for an official response to Bird's allegations. He obliged with the 1500 words you see below in which he contests the entirety of Bird's statement in detail and directly calls out Pannucci, the owner of Empyrean, who he alleges was instrumental in Bird breaching his contract with Northern Gaming:
"Okay so to address his statements one by one. Bird states the environment is extremely toxic. Many of the players have spoken to how scrims can get heated and people can get tilted. However this has never been a concerned raised to me in the time Bird had been with us. Also, I have sat in scrims and would argue they are no worse than your average group of friends when things go bad. Toxic is the last word I would use. These guys are some of the most dedicated individuals I have ever met, and having been given multiple opportunities to sell the roster for king's ransom's I turned it down time and time again. I believe whole heartedly this roster is one of the best in the world and I think that statement could not be any more incorrect. The team scrims all the time, and have even recently given up their off day to scrim with Bird having abandoned them to make up for lost time. The coach accusations I cannot speak to, but we have only tried two coaches and one did absolutely nothing for the roster, and the other knows where he stands with our players so I think that his statement is more to incite drama. Bird's decision to move forward was out of self-interest as his new organization comes with the promise of a house for the team (which has been priority number one for US recently). Bird lied to his teammates and chose to go behind everyone's back to cement himself a position with empyrean before scrimming on an alternate account and lying to everyone saying he was out doing other things. This comes after I worked vigorously with him in getting tournament scheduled reworked for his Mexico Trip which I insisted he followed through with (despite him offering to come home early). He and his new manager, Pannucci, broke a very important clause of the contract between Bird and Northern Gaming when Bird failed to disclose to us that he was communicating with another organization. He continues to do so by playing with that organization, while still under contract with us.
It was not until I approached Mitchell and brought up all the accusations in private (he refused to admit he was lying to his team members) when he said he wanted to leave. I gave him three conditions in which I would be willing to sever our contract. The first, if he allowed us the time to get a suitable full time replacement. The second, Pannucci paid a buyout. The third, he waited until his contract expired (October 1st). Bird agreed to these terms, and then proceeded to leave the team Discord when his teammates reminded him that every accusation he was making was sudden, and had never been discussed before.
Then, Pannucci came to me with a half-assed offer which I declined to accept, and once again stressed to Mitch the original agreement. He then threatened us with legal battle, suggesting we breached the contract under three principles. The first, being that I promoted players talking shit about him on stream. This is not true nor false; once he left and started sharing insider information a player requested to speak honestly about Bird and I said I had no problems with it. Second, that we improperly paid him. However, he has been under contract for less than a month thus not being due any money other than what we would consider a "fair agreement". The team mutually decided Exeon was entitled to $800 as he had been on the team for months before Bird replaced him, and his earnings from the OG Invitational would suffice (as no contract was in place at this time). Upon signing Mitchell, I gave him $500 as a sign of good faith, as he had been with us for a few weeks at that point. Overall, he was not entitled to ANY money. Thirdly, that he felt "threatened" by his teammates. It has been a running joke since I acquired this roster (pre-Bird) that they would have a fight club esque boxing match in the team house. This included jokes about body slamming each other through objects, dropping the gloves, round house kicking each other, and the ultimate disrespectful move: Dabbing on each other. Bird partook in many of these conversations and never once was anyone truly in harms contention. He never raised any safety concerns, nor has ANYONE who has ever been involved in these hilarious late night conversations. This joke of a claim comes from either Bird or Pannucci trying to wiggle Bird free from the contract so he can LEGALLY play for another roster.
At the end of the day, Bird has broken a multitude of principle terms in the contract, all in hopes to strong arm me to drop him so he could do as he pleases legally. Clearly, Bird and Pannucci have no moral obligations to contracts, and as an owner who doesn't want to ruin a young man's life (suing him over a silly esports contract) I hope to instead teach him the ramifications of breaking a contract and trying to spread false rumours. The person who ultimately deserves to pay the price for this situation is Pannucci. Having guided a young adult into breaking his contract by lying to him and making him believe he was right to do so, is disgusting and shameful. I don't need to sue anyone for his actions to be brought to justice; I hope the community recognizes the types of people Pannucci and his organization are; as they clearly have no regard for the esports culture and the team dynamics of family and trust that should be instilled at the roots of every organization in this industry.
If for whatever reason my actions led Bird to be unhappy, I only wish he had of told me so I could have worked to fix it. I pride my brand on being like a family, and any of the five players of that roster can attest to my willingness to communicate and make them feel like they're at home. I am firmly to believe that this stems from Bird being willing to break contract for self-interest, and having someone both selfish enough and cowardly enough to manipulate a young adult into making such a foolish decision. As such, I will release Bird come September or sooner as I said I would. I will not seek legal action, however I hope the articles that will surface in coming weeks will do three things. First, show the community the type of person that Bird is. Having broken the contract in several ways, leaked information about the organization, lied to people about the situation here, and screwed over 5 of his teammates, nobody moving forward should trust a player like that. Secondly, show the community the type of person that Pannucci is. Having coached Bird into doing all of those things, and tried to strong arm me (including about lying about having legal documentation and counsel to scare me into releasing Bird. Which didn't work) he demonstrates that his selfish ways and immature outlook on contracts and integrity will lead him to screw many people over in the future. To trust an owner who shows a blatant disregard for the fundamentals of relationships in this industry would be foolish. Finally, to reveal the truth. I may not be a perfect owner, and maybe along the way I could have made different decisions. Although many people may question why we don't just release Bird, to allow him to be free before the stipulations that him and I agreed upon would be to let the other 5 people on the team down. Bird and this organization have obligations to one another, and if he chooses to not honour them then so be it. But I strongly believe that integrity is the one thing that can't be taken from you; you have to give it away. Over the last few days, I've tried to find remedies so that Bird could continue on, away from Northern Gaming, without sending the message that we do not value our contracts. I firmly believe that six months from now, Bird will look back on his actions with great regret. For Pannucci, I hope this teaches him a lesson about integrity. All in All, we will not be releasing Bird until of the aforementioned stipulations that we agreed upon is met. Bird will continue to play for other organizations, and short of involving a legal team there isn't much I can do. But to give in and drop him only encourages the Bird's and Pannucci's of the world to partake in this type of behaviour. We as a team look forward to building a new and improved roster moving forward and hope to claim a top spot in the scene once again. Our roster is incredibly talented and filled with passionate people who want nothing more than to be the best in the world; and I know they can do it."
I reached out to Pannucci twice on Discord during the last 45 hours to give him an opportunity to tell his side of the story, but I have yet to receive a response.
Over the weekend two additional public statements have been released by Northern Gaming, the second of which covers much of the same ground as the original statement above, albeit in a slightly more succinct format that includes this summary of Bird's alleged wrongdoings:
"Bird wanted out because Pannucci blinded him with a house for their team. Bird under the advice of Pannucci, has broken a multitude of contractual outlines. This includes but is not limited to:
Failing to disclose conversation with another organization.
Representing another team while under our organization
Releasing inside information about the organization to outsiders
Slandered the organization"
A personal account from NapTime also emerged on Twitter further detailing the alleged transgressions, but also with the suggestion that Bird had now burned him on three separate teams.
Not to be outdone, Bird issued his own TwitLonger entitled My turn:
"Jk this isn't middle school, and i don't care for drama. I'm not going to slander people or talk bad about people through Twitter. If you did come here for drama though, may I recommend Degrassi? It's a pretty good show! ^.^"
I gave Bird the opportunity to retract his statement in light of the seemingly damning counterclaims against him, but he told me "honestly I really don't care at this point, I want to stay away from the drama" remaining steadfast and stating "I'm confident in what I said" yesterday.
The story has been picked up by other media outlets with a YouTube video from Jackson "Hickory" Hughes appearing yesterday and today an article on PVP Live by Dustin Steiner which both explore the alleged events and come to somewhat different conclusions.
The PVP Live article is actually fairly critical of Northern Gaming's very public shaming of Bird, but perhaps lacked the context of Bird's original accusations to me which prompted the public response from Northern Gaming.
Whoever you choose to believe and whatever you think of the involved parties behaviour, the end result is that Bird has been released with immediate effect from Northern Gaming Red. It seems there will be no legal ramifications for anyone involved. You can find Bird playing for the new Empyrean roster.
Northern Gaming Red are actively seeking a sixth member and were seen competing with bl4nk (formerly of Street Hoops) at the weekend, but will continue to assess other players – for now their roster is:
- David "NapTime" Fox (Support)
- Andrew "Wolf" Avola (DPS)
- Liam "Mangachu" Campbell (Flex)
- Ian "BreadExpert" Chaplin (Support)
- Zac "Chance" Palmer (Tank)