The following piece is an editorial and does not necessarily represent the opinions of compLexity Gaming or its parent company.
The following article is an exclusive blog written today by Tonya Welch. Ms. Welch has a deep history with professional gaming including stints at CPL, WSVG and CGS.
Don’t Be Fooled
I have nothing to do with gaming anymore…and you should all be thankful for that. I truly never meant to do you any harm, but through a series of really bad and naive choices, I unwittingly facilitated the use and abuse of gamers across the globe. You all suffered due to my inability to effectively judge character, then my outright refusal to see or believe what was right in front of my face. Even now, having been out of the gaming industry for well over a year, I am laden with guilt, and though I have some apologies to make, I don’t expect forgiveness.
I have a new life and career now that I love and am thankful for, and though I’m able to forget my years in gaming entirely most of the time, there are still reminders. When those creep up on me, I struggle with the question of whether I should do something…take action…speak out…make a stand. Do any of you even care to hear? Would anything I say make a difference? Would any of you believe me? I’ve been asked to do interviews and I’ve talked myself out of them with those three very questions. It’s not my business anymore. It has nothing to do with me. But the guilt remains, and is exacerbated when I hear how you are all STILL being deceived. After 17 months, I think I’ve finally come to the conclusion that it won’t be possible for me to leave gaming behind completely until I tell the truth. I’d like to pretend that I’m doing this out of some altruistic need to make things right for you, but nope – this is entirely selfish – so what you guys decide to do with the truth is up to you.
So I see the “new” CPL has got an event coming up! And I’ve been shown articles that hinted toward global expansion for the league out of its new home in China. And by the comments on these articles, everyone seems so excited about this development, and has great hope for the CPL under its new middle-eastern management. Let me tell you about this new company hiding under an old name, and why you shouldn’t be so hopeful.
I was one of the four original partners who decided to purchase the CPL in 2008. Yes, I was working for CGS then, but I had been convinced by my superior, Scott Valencia, that the company was trying to get rid of me. So it was easy for him to talk me into joining him on a new ‘adventure’ to buy the CPL name and build a league to compete against CGS. Why should I be loyal to CGS? They never really wanted to hire me in the first place, according to him; he’s the one who convinced them to keep me around. I am a single mother and will soon be unemployed, so I should start working on a new plan!
Of course, now I realize that information like this, as well as basically ALL of the information I was fed by Mr. Valencia while I worked for CGS (and the two previous companies we worked for), was given to me as a control mechanism. It’s a amazing how much someone can control another person just by limiting their access to information. So this will serve as the first example of me being stupid and naïve. There are many to come.
So the partners included me, Scott Valencia, Frank Yong and one other who I will call Nathan. (I have my own reasons for keeping the last partner’s name a secret. If you want to know the rest of this story, you’ll deal with that). Mr. Valencia had heard that the CPL name was on the block, and he said he would go into negotiations with the current owner to acquire it.
I saw the question asked many times…”why would anyone buy a name (an intellectual property, actually) that was so tarnished?” The reason was that “CPL”, despite the negative history associated with the name, was still the hottest and most well-known brand in competitive gaming in Asia. Even while working for CGS, when we would go to China, the CPL brand always came up when dealing with Chinese partners. And since China (at the time) seemed to have the greatest potential for growth in the competitive gaming industry, the purchase made perfect sense. So there’s your answer.
On with the story…
Mr. Valencia would do all of the negotiating with the owners to get the CPL IP. The rest of us were to stay hidden in the background. Why? Because (and there is a lot of history behind this…) the owners would never sell if they knew who constituted the group making the purchase. It was Mr. Valencia’s intention, from the very beginning, to deceive the owners about who was included in the partnership. Mr. Valencia looked forward to ‘surprising’ the owners with this information when the purchase was finally complete because he delighted in the idea of ‘fooling’ them. It was an exercise in revenge for him.
Furthermore, we had to stay in the background because we were all still working for, and/or affiliated with, CGS. Not only would the CPL owners not know about the three others in the partnership, Mr. Valencia would get an agreement from them to not reveal his involvement either.
The next obstacle in our plan was to actually get the money to make this purchase. This was “no problem”, Mr. Valencia told us many times. We would make the deal first, then the investment money would pour in.
But how do we convince the owners that we actually have the money NOW when we don’t?
All of this led up the the first outright lie that was propagated regarding the purchase of the CPL. There was NEVER a middle-eastern investment group from Abu Dhabi behind the purchase of the CPL. It was 100%, from beginning to end, a complete LIE, with every intention to deceive the owners of the CPL brand (at least, the other three partners were told the owners were included in this lie), the gamers, the potential investors, and the people at CGS. Here are the purposes, as they were described to me, that this lie served:
1. It would convince the current owners of the CPL that we actually had the money-backing to make the purchase.
2. It would keep our names out of the press regarding the purchase (It wasn’t us! It was some wealthy Arabic group!). This would allow us to avoid any issues with CGS finding out about our plans.
3. It would provide the appearance of stable, financial backing behind the new owners so that potential investors would not hesitate to hand over money.
4. It would provide the appearance of stable, financial backing behind the new owners to the gamers, so they would get excited about the introduction of a ‘new’ league that had money behind it.
And it worked (except for the investor part – more on that later). Why would I participate in this lie? Mostly it was because I’m a chump. I am the first to admit that I don’t know how “big business” works. I can tell you that I was completely blind-sided by all of the maneuvering/positioning that occurred in the corporate setting of CGS. I was told its normal, and maybe it is. I was told by someone I trusted (Guess who?) that the things we were doing (and were going to do) are done all the time – that it was part of ‘making it’ in the cutthroat corporate business world. Did it seem wrong to me? Yep. Did I ignore those instincts and just accept what I was told blindly? Yep. Am I still just as guilty regardless? Yep.
And I continued to ignore those instincts…even when I found out that Mr. Valencia had stolen a lot of reports and information on the gamer market collected by the CGS marketing department. Even when I found out he was using trips CGS was paying for to try to make business contacts we would use later for CPL.
But I was trying to hold on to at least a few of my ethics. I went along with the plan to purchase the CPL with two stipulations:
1. The former owners would have NO decision-making role in the new CPL. I understood they might retain a percentage of ownership, but they would be silent partners – no voting on the board. Our group would make all of the decisions about the new CPL independently.
2. Under our ownership, the CPL would make every effort to determine what prize monies were owed to former patrons of the league and make good on those payments.
I should have known something was not quite right when the other partners agreed to these stipulations only because they were “great marketing moves” that would improve the brand’s reputation – not because they were the right thing to do. But we’ll cover more on these two stipulations of mine in a bit.
So the negotiations began (Like…in MAY). Mr. Valencia had several meetings with a representative of the owning company, negotiations went back and forth, and finally an initial agreement (LOA or Letter of Agreement) was signed in August.
Within a week we had taken the CPL logo and decked it out in gold (a cheesy reference to the middle-eastern investment). I actually wrote the first press release that went out (August 25, 2008) – the one in which we lied about being a middle-eastern investment group – and we sat back and watched the news sites and message boards buzz. At CGS, Mr. Valencia positively giggled at the response from the CGS execs – all of the speculation in the office about the purchase, how fun it was that we were doing this right under their noses, etc. etc..
Now we had a ton of things to do!
1. Get investment!
2. Make a new plan for our league – something different!
3. Set up the corporation!
And these were just a few items on the agenda. But drama surrounding the purchase and the press release started very quickly, and our first couple of weeks were invested in further burying the true identities of the purchasing group. Cadred announced that they knew the identity of the main person behind the purchase. People were calling around trying to gather information.
From Mr. Valencia to the partners on September 8, 2008:
this is very disturbing. i can’t believe this has gotten out. I am not sure why they have not gone public, but i am glad. we need to find a way to misdirect and find the leak….
So we hired a press manager in the middle-east for a one-time statement that bolstered the idea that we were middle-eastern. And you all bought it. And we breathed a sigh of relief. You’re still buying it.
After that initial panic that we would be ‘discovered’ passed, we set about registering the corporation. We first established a mailing address in the UK – a dummy business location to throw off those who would seek more information about us. Then Mr. Valencia started the process of setting up the corporation. We decided how the shares would be split. We decided to base the corporation in Seychelles to avoid paying taxes. I have to laugh at the following two events listed on the history page of the former owner’s website:
NewWorld sells 90% of the Cyberathlete Professional League (CPL) to an investment group from Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
NewWorld sells the Cyberathlete Amateur League (CAL) to the CPL Holding Group, LTD from Mahé, Seychelles.
Both of those events suggest two different companies bought the CPL, then CAL, when in reality they were the same group – just us four – hiding behind as much “fluff” as we could manage just to keep people from knowing the truth.
(I’ll post more on CAL in a future post…)
Oddly, even though we had decided to split the shares fairly equally between the four of us, and submitted the requested documents, at some point Mr. Valencia decided to register the corporation with all shares in his name. He said it needed to be done that way initially, but eventually he would distribute them out as planned. But months and months went by, and any question about when our shares would be put in our name was put off with an excuse. Who knows, if I had stayed, if I would ever have actually seen a share in my name?
Then came a major revelation that I’m sure will make you all think “What the fuck was she thinking?!”. I started asking Mr. Valencia for a copy of the final LOA that was signed. I kept getting put off. Finally, when he went on a vacation with his family, I convinced Frank Yong to send me a copy. When I got it, I was shocked. I had asked Mr. Valencia many, MANY times if he was sure the agreement specified that the previous owners would have no voting shares in the company. I was told by Mr. Valencia over and over (multiple times in person and to my face) that they would not have any input or decision-making role in the CPL. When I got a copy of the LOA, I saw that not only did the previous owners have voting shares, but that one particular representative would be given a chairman position on the board.
Well hell, what can I expect from someone who crafts such deliberate lies for everyone else, but that he craft deliberate lies for his partners as well? I had seen him lie to not only his current employers (CGS), but his former employers as well. I had seen him lie to sponsors who trusted him. I had seen him lie to those who worked above him and those who worked below him. Jesus, I had even seen him lie to and about his own family. Sickening to me is the fact that I was participating in these lies.
Despite all of this, I was all too eager to believe his apologies when I confronted him with this lie.
From Scott to the partners on August 18, 2008:
I made a big mistake and lied to Tonya about the CPL deal. Tonya has been a huge part of my life and a trusting and loyal friend. I knew she has objections because of (this part deleted because its my own business), so when we hit the last snag in the contract and everyone agreed it was livable I lied to her to make sure she stayed part of the group. She would have been fine with letting us go on, and not been a part of it. I was just though I could get her to see the bigger picture later. Tonya has been a huge factor in the success of anything i have worked on, and I wanted to make sure she saw the fruits of the labor she has put behind all the work.
Did I drink this Kool-Aid? Yes I did. Are you starting to see now why you should be happy that I no longer work in gaming?
So I was sucked back in, and business was quickly back to normal. And it wasn’t long before we started feeling the effects of the previous owners having some decision-making room. Out of the blue (at least to the three partners NOT talking directly with the previous owners) it was dictated to us that we had to host an event in the US in the Summer of 2009 and that we had to put out a press release about this event ASAP. Were we ready to even think about hosting an event? Nope. Was putting out a statement that we were doing so a good idea? Nope. But we did it anyway, committing ourselves to an event and getting the gamers excited about it when we KNEW we had no money for it.
So, what were our plans for this new league? From the very beginning there were two different opinions on what the new CPL would become. At this point we had brought some other people into our fold and started including them in our planning meetings. Mr. Valencia and Mr. Yong had no real goal for the CPL other than to build it up as a social networking kind of business that centered on pro gaming, then SELL IT OFF TO THE HIGHEST BUYER in 2 years or less. I knew from the beginning that this would be the eventual outcome, but some of the others and I wanted to really build it into something wonderful for the gamers, and – even when it was sold off – keep it going. I don’t remember what Nathan’s hopes for the future of the CPL were. (Sorry Nathan – you know who you are!)
We all brainstormed, and I ended up coming up with a fairly unique business model that had a lot of potential. We were all excited about it. It was different. It gave the gamers virtually complete control over the tournament-based decisions for the league. I even came up with the motto that has been on the new CPL website all year – “Gamers Make the Difference!” and our plan really displayed a commitment to that motto. As a matter of fact, the model was so unique that the first few potential investors we approached were more interested in the model than in the league. Yes, I had actually come up with a good idea (as impossible as that may seem)! Everyone acknowledged it was my idea. But as soon as investors starting showing interest in the model, Mr. Valencia began calling it HIS idea. He called me one day… “Don’t you remember? I said this and you said that and really…it was all MY idea!”
Yes, I was finally beginning to realize that I was working with someone completely lacking in ethical fortitude. However, things were getting progressively worse at CGS and it became clear that the company was going down. The league started letting people go left and right. We had just entered a recession and unemployment was reaching an all-new high. I had no other option than to do whatever I could to make CPL work, and try to maintain relationships that I thought were needed to get me through being unemployed.
Lay-offs for both Mr. Valencia and I came in November. I was thankfully let go without being asked to sign a non-compete. Mr. Valencia, however, signed a 4 month non-compete in exchange for full pay during those four months. It was amazing, really…we had started competing against CGS way back in May, but Mr. Valencia took in excess of $61,000 of CGS money while continuing to compete against them AFTER signing a contract not to do so.
So…switching to the subject of getting investment. All those assurances from Mr. Valencia that investment would pour in – that he and Frank and Nathan had the contacts to get all the money we needed – never manifested in reality. We were months into planning and still had NO money. And we had a payment coming up on the purchase of the CPL brand. So the new approach to paying off the considerable debt we had incurred was to ADD to that debt by deciding to purchase CAL, then do everything we could to keep from having to pay it off. No lie here…LONG discussions were had in our meetings about finding loopholes in the contract with which we could bargain with the previous owners for more time, or claim breach of contract so we could get out of paying anything at all. I don’t know how many times the agreement was re-negotiated because we were looking for ways to delay or get out of our payment.
Meanwhile, we were trying to keep up interest in the “new CPL” by putting out more press releases. “We’re hiring new people!” We weren’t. We couldn’t even pay ourselves yet. “We’re looking at acquiring other media companies!” We weren’t. We didn’t even have the money to pay for the acquisition of the CPL brand. “We’re holding TWO events in 2009!” Haha!
Would any of you be surprised to hear, at this point, that my second stipulation started slowly fading away from our discussions? Instead of talking about paying back prize money that gamers were due, the discussion turned to how we should go about making it clear that we weren’t responsible for paying it. I would ask… “But we ARE going to pay it, right?”… “Yeah yeah, sure, we’re going to pay it, IF this…and IF that…” and a bunch of other ifs that made it clear that there was no real intention at all to EVER pay it.
So around this time, and after I discovered more lies and deceit, I decided it was time for me to go. Mr. Valencia tried to talk me out of it. He confessed to being a compulsive liar, said he didn’t know how to stop, and even told me he was getting therapy for it. I lingered around a bit more…but eventually made a complete break. And getting out from under his influence was the most enlightening thing I’ve ever done. YEARS of deceit and manipulation suddenly became visible to me.
So you may be asking…why now? Why tell us all this now? Well recently I heard that Mr. Valencia was not only CEO of CPL, but also CEO of some new company (3K Entertainment) that is giving out a YOUTH AWARD. This man…a YOUTH AWARD? You’ve got to be kidding me. I can think of no man on earth less qualified to give out a youth award. This is a man who lays out the ground-work for lies MONTHS in advance. He’s fucking gifted at it – I have no problem giving him that credit. He has probably already laid out advanced lies to make me look crazy (and hell, maybe I am, but I’m not lying!) in the event that I ever come out with all of this information. As a matter of fact, I am fully aware that there will be many who read this story and find it impossible to believe because he is so adept at convincing everyone he knows and works with that he is a “great guy”. I have no disillusions that my truths can compete against his lies. And believe me when I tell you that this is only HALF of the story about how far this man has gone and will go to serve himself to the detriment of anyone else around him.
I left in April 2009 – a year ago – so I can’t claim to know a damn thing about what’s going on with the new CPL now. But I can’t imagine it has changed much. I know that Frank Yong is still involved, and I would feel bad about including him in all of this except that Frank KNOWS all of the stuff I just wrote about, and still decides to work with this man. I left Nathan’s real name out of this because I have no idea if he is still working with Mr. Valencia, so I will err on the side of caution and hope he has better sense.
I will be continuing with this blog for a bit because I have some serious apologies to make, and more examples to give you. Then I will disappear and its likely you’ll never hear from me again. You should all hate me, anyway, for being so trusting that I went along with all of this for so long. I have lost all faith in my ability to judge right from wrong when under the influence of someone I trust to know the difference for me. I only hope I can convince at least ONE of you not to make the same mistake.