PUBG Mobile Controversy Explained: Stalwart Esports vs i8 Esports
A detailed explanation of what actually went down between Stalwart and i8 with statements from both parties.
The PUBG Mobile community in Pakistan has been thriving well in the past year with i8 Esports proving themselves to be among the best competitive teams that the country has to offer. They recently represented Pakistan at the PUBG Mobile World Invitational (PMWI) 2021: East, an international PUBG Mobile tournament with 16 teams from across SEA, South Asia, Korea, Japan, Russia, and the Middle East.
They were the only Pakistani team at the tournament, finishing at the 13th position overall and walking away with $5,000 USD in prize money. As a result of this performance, a donation of $37,000 USD to the International Medical Corps was also made by the tournament organizers. However, there was a lot of controversy surrounding i8 Esports’ direct invite to the tournament prior to all of this. I8 Esports’ players and their former organization Stalwart Esports had a public spat on social media which concluded with the former receiving the invite to the tournament after.
AFK Gaming reached out and spoke with Zeyan “Z3YAN” Shafiq - founder and CEO of Stalwart Esports, and Shahbaz "TRYNDA" Mengalis - i8 Esports’ captain, to decipher the situation while also trying to identify the root cause of the problem.
The following is an overview of what happened between i8 Esports and Stalwart Esports, along with both their perspectives on some of the key problems, and a take on how this could have all been avoided.
Stalwart Esports vs i8 Esports - Controversy Explained
Stalwart Esports has been competing in the Pakistani PUBG Mobile competitive circuit since Oct 2020. Their initial lineup of Black, Baba, Malik, Kashoof, BladeOp and Morte, parted ways with the org in Dec 2020. Stalwart Esports is owned and operated by Zeyan “Z3YAN” Shafiq.
Z3YAN alleged that Stalwart Esports received a direct invite for PUBG Mobile Club Open (PMGC) - Spring Split 2021: Pakistan in Feb 2021. In the absence of an active lineup at the time, Z3YAN stated that he had started looking for a team that could represent the organization. It was then that he got introduced to the i8 Esports roster through Agha Waqas - owner of FLEX Esports.
Back then i8 Esports was an upcoming team that was still trying to make a name for itself in the top-tier PUBG Mobile competitive scene, within Pakistan. The roster had struck a partnership with FLEX Esports and was operating under the latter’s banner.
Z3YAN claimed that he had his doubts about this lineup as they were an unknown underdog team. However, Waqas was allegedly able to convince him to pick up the roster who, according to Waqas, were dominating the domestic Tier-2 PUBG Mobile scene and were eager to perform at a bigger stage.
A joint venture contract was allegedly sent to FLEX Esports as per Z3YAN, to strike a three-way partnership between - Stalwart Esports, FLEX Esports, and i8 Esports. While the slot was officially Stalwart’s, Z3YAN alleged that Waqas wanted to include FLEX in the team name, but this request was initially declined. However, upon further discussion, an agreement on naming the team ‘Stalwart x FLEX’ was allegedly reached with the condition of reducing FLEX’s prize pool cut by 10%.
i8 Esports started competing under the ‘Stalwart x FLEX’ banner from Feb 2021 onwards. They competed with this team name in three official tournaments - PUBG Mobile Pro League (PMPL) - Season 3 2021: South Asia League, PMPL - S3 2021: South Asia Finals, and PUBG Mobile International League (PMIL) Phase 3.
While playing under the ‘Stalwart x FLEX’ banner no contract was established between Stalwart and i8, AFK Gaming has verified this information after speaking to both parties. Z3YAN says that as they were already partnered with FLEX it was not possible to sign a contract with i8 Esports just yet. However, a verbal agreement was allegedly established when it came to the prize pool distribution.
According to Z3YAN, the prize pool split between all the parties involved was initially 60% to Stalwart as the slot was theirs, and 40% to FLEX, who would distribute it further to the players on their own. This was however changed to 70% to Stalwart and 30% to FLEX, following the naming rights decision.
The above is mostly synchronous with what TRYNDA (i8 Esports' captain) had to say, although there are a few discrepancies. In a message to AFK Gaming, TRYNDA stated that Stalwart indeed took a 70% cut of the prize pool. However, he claimed that the remaining 30% did not go to FLEX, it was i8 who received the cut. He further alleged that FLEX was getting nothing other than the co-naming rights.
‘Stalwart x FLEX’ went on to qualify all the way till PMPL - S3 2021: South Asia Finals, as i8 Esports proved themselves to be a worthy lineup after all. This is how they performed under the banner across different tournaments.
After finishing second in the PMCO - Spring Split 2021: Pakistan, ‘Stalwart x FLEX’ qualified to the next stage of the tournament series - PMPL - S3 2021: South Asia League. With almost a month-long break to practice for this tournament, TRYNDA claims that i8 was informed by the tournament officials that they would be required to use vMix recording software while competing.
TRYNDA reached out to Stalwart Esports’ management, requesting them to provide six devices to run the recording software as they were compulsory in order to compete in the PMPL league stages. Stalwart verified the legitimacy of this request by reaching out to NODWIN Gaming as per Z3YAN, following which, he alleged that he had received a request of INR 3,00,000 ($4,030 USD) from i8 Esports. Z3YAN requested TRYNDA and the team to get this amount from their sponsors at that point in time - FLEX Esports. However, according to Z3YAN, i8 kept putting pressure on Stalwart after which the org agreed to send them money to purchase Redmi devices but faced resistance from the players who (Z3YAN claims) demanded iPhones.
TRYNDA has however denied these allegations. Instead, he claims that when Stalwart was approached for the devices, Z3YAN allegedly told the i8 players to ask their parents to buy them a new device or to simply borrow it from them. TRYNDA also went on to claim that basic things like UC Rename Cards which are used to change player names in-game were not provided by the organization.
However, all said and done, TRYNDA does claim that they were provided PKR 97,060 ($600 USD) by Stalwart for the vMix devices. This was allegedly not enough and i8 players had to pitch individually to spend about $927 USD in order to purchase one headphone and six vMix capable devices.
Despite a rough negotiation when it came to the devices, i8 went on to perform well at PMPL - S3 2021: South Asia League. They qualified for PMPL - S3 2021: South Asia Finals and from there even managed to qualify for the final event PMPL - Season 1 2021: South Asia Championship.
There was, however, almost a two-month gap between South Asia Finals and South Asia Championship. During this gap, the PMIL Phase 3 was scheduled to take place, which was also the last tournament that i8 played under the ‘Stalwart x FLEX’ banner. After this tournament, the partnership between FLEX and i8 came to an end.
Up until this point, no contract was established between i8 and Stalwart. However, now that i8 was not in partnership with any other organization, Z3YAN claims to have approached the lineup with a contract on 1st May. The offer allegedly promised 60% of the prize pool cut to i8 Esports while the remaining 40% went to Stalwart Esports.
Z3YAN claims that TRYNDA declined to sign this contract on 3rd May as they had an unnamed new sponsor and allegedly did not wish to continue under the banner of Stalwart Esports after the conclusion of PMIL Phase 3.
TRYNDA confirmed that they were offered a contract by Stalwart Esports. However, he stated that a verbal commitment was initially struck between i8 and Stalwart when they were still under FLEX. According to it, if the team qualified for PMPL - Season 3 2021: South Asia League, Stalwart would offer them a contract promising a 40% prize pool cut and a $500 USD salary per player.
TRYNDA alleged that Stalwart promised i8 that the contract would be ready before the PMPL - Season 3 2021: South Asia League kicked off. But when i8 reached that stage, Stalwart allegedly changed their terms yet again, due to which the contract kept getting delayed.
Finally, Stalwart allegedly gave i8 a contract offering $1,250 USD to the whole team, but according to TRYNDA, this offer was declined by them as they did not want to pursue a relationship with Stalwart Esports.
Both i8 and Stalwart Esports went on to play the PUBG Mobile Campus Championship (PMCC) Pakistan 2021 independently. TRYNDA claimed that i8 initially wanted to play this tournament under Stalwart Esports but after being offered 40% of the prize pool, they refused it and went on to play the qualifiers by registering themselves discreetly.
Despite their differences, i8 and Stalwart once again teamed up for PMPL - S1 2021: South Asia Championship once again, without signing a formal contract between the organization and the players. This was the last and most recent PUBG Mobile tournament where the i8 lineup played under Stalwart Esports.
Before the recently concluded PUBG Mobile World Invitational (PMWI) 2021: East, i8 Esports had once again called out Stalwart Esports, who had received a direct invite for the tournament. TRYNDA claimed that the slot was theirs and that Stalwart could hand it over to another team, the issue caught public attention and Stalwart immediately came under a lot of pressure.
In order to resolve the matter, Stalwart Esports took a decision to forfeit their spot for PMWI 2021 which was then automatically handed over to i8 Esports, who went on to represent Pakistan at the global tournament.
The event came to an end on 25th July and just two weeks later Stalwart Esports came forth to . Yuvraj Kumar - Head of Esports Operations for Stalwart Esports came forward with an stating that they tried to have a word with the i8 roster for the upcoming season of PMPL but they had other plans.
He further stated that though their competitive journey in Pakistan has come to an end, Stalwart is planning on launching some programs that are aimed towards supporting the local content creators from the region, sometime in the future.
All said and done, the parties involved (Stalwart and i8) have their own versions for multiple conflicts and it’s tough to conclude what the absolute truth is with both sides having their own versions, with proof to be presented for the same. Yet the fact remains that a lot of these allegations and mud-slinging exercises could have been avoided had they signed a written agreement/contract right at the very beginning.
Establishment of a contract should have been enforced before moving things further, as it could have easily avoided problems like prize pool distribution conflict and equipment provision responsibility. Furthermore, working on a contract could have given both parties a chance to come forward and talk about (and document) their requirements and demands.
explaining how a sustainable partnership between an organization and a player should be established in the South Asia region has been written by esports commentator Cormac "ImPERium" Wyatt, and it’s certainly worth a read for organizations and players looking to avoid such a situation in the future.
Stalwart and i8 controversy resolved
Stalwart Esports published a statement via its social platforms on 3rd September announcing that all the problems with i8 Esports had now been resolved. They further pointed out that,
All the pending payments towards i8 Esports had been cleared, despite Stalwart allegedly not having received that payment from officials themselves.
The transaction of this payment took place via cryptocurrency, which was supported by TRYNDA.
On the same day, TRYNDA via his personal Instagram account also posted a statement where he mentioned that Stalwart Esports had cleared all their pending payments related to PMCO and PMPL.
He further mentioned that Stalwart had apologised for everything that transpired between them and that i8 has since moved on, thankful that they have their own slot in PMPL.
In a statement to AFK Gaming, TRYNDA said,
There was no initial apology from our side as we have not done anything wrong. We were approached by Stalwart’s leader Zeyan with an apology. Furthermore, it was also to clear out the pending payments for our 30% cut for PMCO and PMPL that we were owed. Besides that anything that has wrongfully occured previously was from Stalwart’s side, which they realised was wrong and apologised for it. Anything that was said from our side was to stand up against unjustifiable treatment towards our team. But yes to confirm, all unresolved issues have been cleared out between us (i8 Esports) and Stalwart Esports. We wish them best for their future."Shahbaz "TRYNDA" Mengalis - Captain of i8 Esports
TRYNDA also requested their fans to not send any abusive or hateful remarks towards Stalwart Esports, including members of their organization or any of their player's.