They say never meet your heroes as you will only be disappointed by the reality. Well, Mike “Hastr0” Rufail was no hero of mine and still managed to fall well short of the basic standards I’d expect from someone in this business. After another night of making a fool of himself arguing with journalists – a job he has never grasped even a basic understanding of – he has issued an empty apology and gone back to counting his money. These feeble-minded outbursts happen with relative frequency and most just simply roll their eyes and let him continue to erode what was a once fine reputation. Not today.
When Mike was a professional player he used to be incredibly generous and judicious with his time when it came to media interactions. I recall distinctly way back in the annals of time when he became the first ever console player we interviewed on Cadred.org, him agreeing to spend a good hour with a junior journalist (Jeff Kim) who went on to produce a fantastically detailed interview. It brought new readers to our site and it brought new followers to the man called Hastr0. You see? Back when his ego was kept in check by the need to climb the ladder, he could see the benefits to the ecosystem that journalists provided. And even though I’m sure this interaction he has doubtlessly forgot was transactional in nature, it was enough respect to ensure he would always be able to hit me up for a favour in future.
And so when he hit me up somewhere in the blur between 2014-2015 to ask me about the CS:GO landscape I of course was more than happy to help him. He was a great guy, someone who knew how to treat people and someone whose track record showed he cared about excellence. We met, we drank, I introduced him to players and stakeholders in the scene, which by the way he almost certainly didn’t need me to do. I talked about how great it was that big Call of Duty orgs were coming in to support our thing and highlighted OpTic and EnvyUs as the examples of the exact kind of responsible ownership, with dedicated fanbases, that would help propel us forward.
Since then, round about the time his organisation started to receive the venture capital cash injections, he has slowly changed. Excellence matters less these days and he no longer feels compelled to operate on a basic level of diplomacy or tact when interacting with others contributing to the esports landscape. If you disagree with him you are wrong, no matter what the topic might be. After all, he built EnvyUs and then parlayed that into ownership of Dallas Fuel, a franchise in the highly successful Overwatch League. After scaling such incredible heights you can forgive him his hubris. You can also forgive his penchant for punching down. From his lofty perch it cannot be helped.
Now I don’t want to make this a lengthy character assassination. That would be a pointless endeavour as he let the suits kill off his character sometime ago anyway. You will however require a bit of background for why I simply will not ignore him yet again attacking journalists for doing their job. In 2016 he attacked me over my concerns that Envy still had Trevor “Tmartn” Martin as a co-owner of his organisation after he had violated FTC guidelines around ownership of his gambling website CS:GO Lotto and then segued into promoting a pyramid scheme. He publicly told everyone that Martin was “a great person all round” and released a statement that pretty much told the CS:GO fanbase he had deceptively profited from didn’t need to worry about it.
When I pointed out that you don’t need to directly profit from someone else’s wrongdoing for it to be unethical to work with them, the concept was alien to him and he effectively compared me to some drama YouTuber looking to harvest clicks.
In 2017 he’d spend his time bickering with journalists over anyone criticizing the dismal and declining viewership of the Overwatch League.
He implied Rod “Slasher” Breslau was drug-addled for reporting on a roster move that was absolutely in the pipeline.
He then put a lengthy statement that said Breslau had acted without “integrity or proper diligence” and that he had only reported the story because he secretly wanted to “make the news.”
Pretty scathing for the type of roster move reporting that makes up 90% of all sports coverage wouldn’t you say? When the move didn’t transpire Breslau clarified his reporting.
But many behind the scenes stated that the move would have gone ahead but for the fact the argument would have made Hastr0 look stupid. You can believe whatever you like. In 2019 he bleated out a conspiracy theory that Dexerto (where I work as Editor-At-Large) wrote more about OpTic than Envy because Hector Rodriguez had a 3% share. The best part of that is only a few years prior he had used Tmartn’s “small share” of his business to prove lack of influence. None of that stopped him losing his mind once again.
In isolation these would only make him a bit of a bellend, which is fine. This is esports. Combined they show a fundamental disdain for the type of people he once happily used to self-promote in days gone by. It has also gotten progressively more vitriolic as time has gone by too. He has fallen into the trap that so many of the esports profiteers do. Jacked up on the smell of his own farts and surrounded by yes men he has come to believe journalists exist only to serve his PR machinations and can only promote or draw attention to what he approves of. He used to be the upstart player turned owner that showed you didn’t need to fall in line for a paycheck, he himself a critic of the esports establishment. Now he sees himself as the establishment to wish all owe fealty.
His latest foray into this all annual ritual of embarrassment revolves around his objection to a journalist simply doing their job. His Valorant team had just upset the odds by defeating Sentinels to make it to the semi-finals of the Masters: Berlin tournament. It was a great moment for them and they were in high spirits. Unfortunately for the players and the organisation they also have recruited a player, Jimmy “Marved” Nguyen, who has been one of the leading persons of interest in an ongoing match-fixing investigation. This isn’t some persecution dreamed up by “the haters.” No. All the evidence points to the fact that team’s Marved played for were actively involved in manipulating outcomes, be it for the purposes of betting or some other abstract reason no-one has thought of yet. See for yourself if you haven’t already.
It is only out of respect for ongoing investigations people haven’t been more vocal about this and for people like myself, who has wasted the better years of their life trying to stop Counter-Strike imploding due to integrity failings, it has been tough watching those who would seek to do our game harm simply move on. You know, like the Call of Duty personalities that used CS:GO skins to run casinos aimed at kids then fucked off with the loot just as the lawsuits dropped. Mike should know how we feel about that since he publicly vouched for one of those offenders.
So when Mikhail Klimentov, an Editor at The Washington Post asked about the rumours, prefacing his question with an apology, it was a welcome relief from the usual braindead backslapping that occurs at esports press conferences, especially those vetted by Riot Games.
Now it pains me to have to explain to this but I will as I am sure it’s not just Rufail that will benefit from hearing this. A journalist that does their job well will ask difficult questions that have answers in the public interest to hear. The subject not wanting to answer these questions aren’t relevant to the process of asking them. In fact, if a journalist avoids asking the question because they assume the subject doesn’t want to answer it, the journalist has indeed failed not only their publication but also their audience. And so you will often see, say for example in sports reporting, journalists have antagonistic exchanges as they ask the questions they have to and the subjects refuse to answer as, for them at least, no good can come from honesty. This isn’t to say all questions are good questions and that journalists at press conferences don’t routinely embarrass themselves because of course they do. But this wasn’t one of those times and the journalist unquestionably served his audience well. Indeed, the histrionic reaction after the fact proves that and serves as a story all on its own.
“What a question” the players explained. “We’re ignoring that one.” Then a sneering tone came “are there any Valorant related questions,” which could only have been uttered with someone who could medically be labelled a “moron” as the question is clearly a Valorant related question as it pertains to the line-up they would field in Valorant competitions. The fact it was then followed up with repeated requests to know “who asked that” is also something to take stock of. The purposes of wanting to know and take note is so that journalist can be subject to harassment from sizeable fanbases and blacklisted from future events and media work. It’s a dance as old as time, one I know the steps to very well.
The emergence of the widespread mockery had dampened Mike’s celebrations. He was working on his stand-up material at the time you see, posting that “the reality is that we are the best performing org in FPS games and maybe all around in esports. No cap. Fact check me.” He then added “Run it back for the past 10 years, 5 years and 2 years and see where we stand. I know there’s a data analyst out there who can rate the orgs.”
Then a journalist fact-checked him. Danish “Nohte” Allana is a senior staff writer at HLTV.org. He pointed out that their run in Counter-Strike has been absolutely awful for years. Everyone knows that, even Mike. He doesn’t care about the game anymore, not since he got out of it what he wanted and moved on to the American preferred GM-with-training-wheels world of franchise sports. For having the temerity to do this, Allana was called an “asshat” and called into question his employment. This exchange was followed up with comparing the writer to a cockroach and implying (stop me if you’ve heard this one before) that the criticism was only coming from the desire to turn clicks into money.
To the point about his mismanagement of his CS team I am very happy to explain it to the fans and to anyone who is interested. You see Mike, like so many in esports, has succumbed to the poison of sycophancy, with the primary symptom being unbearable narcissism. If by this point you are not convinced of that I will present yet another exhibit, this one relevant to the argument you just suffered through. This is a man who allowed his Counter-Strike division to be run into the ground by a player, Noah “Nifty” Francis, that was widely regarded as two-faced and inept in a tactical role by the pool of players he had to recruit from. This player couldn’t be usurped from his position no matter how bad the team performed or how many players he cut because they felt a new in-game leader would have been better.
He could act with total impunity safe in the knowledge Hastr0 would never drop him. He is still the only player on the roster of a completely defunct team. Why? Because ever since he beat Envy as a kid in 2013 Francis has been kissing Hastro’s ass.
This is how he makes business decisions and then he rails at people for pointing this out. Madness.
After that exchange the clip of the press conference had started to be circulate and of course Mike had to wade in, no doubt under the guise of protecting his squad. “I’m going to go ahead and state this publicly: If one of our players is proven to have cheated, fixed a match or violated the integrity of the games we compete in, they will be removed from our team instantly. You journalists don’t need to ask. How about you investigate?”
It’s a statement so staggeringly stupid you have to wonder if he really did hand over his account not just to any old comedian but to an accomplished satirist. It would indeed be an incisive and sharp observation that the powerful often demand journalists investigate things while simultaneously challenging their right to ask questions, the most BASIC form of investigation available. Equally, how can he himself overlook his own requirement to investigate. None of the accused players have been cleared by this lengthy, ongoing investigation. Anyone can tell you the handful of names things are particularly bad for and the evidence of that is out there because, bar one or two, they’re effectively radioactive despite their talents. This is an open secret and some owners have decided to roll the dice anyway and give exorbitant salaries to these players regardless because in the short term ethics can go fuck itself, winning comes first.
To clarify, multiple journalists have investigated extensively. Allana, the journalist that was pointlessly eviscerated and insulted, is one of these. He has sat, like myself and others, on findings because we were informed it would be better for the purposes of ESIC’s investigation and their required co-operation with betting operators and law enforcement. These are things Mike would know if he spent less time demanding anyone with an opinion go kiss his ring and instead he asked people with the insight he lacks for information relevant to his needs. That would require a baseline amount of humility though so scratch that.
To wrap this up let me explain why I felt compelled to write this. I’m old. I’m pretty much done with this business and I’ve been pessimistic about what comes next and by that I don’t mean for me. Lately though I have at least seen a new generation of reporters that want what’s best for the industry and will pursue that without turning into the slimy access journalists and interviewers whose pandering to people like Hastr0 is part of the reason he cannot process how journalism is meant to function. That group is worth standing up for and I hope they’re still around long after the likes of Rufail have left. They at least value something more than their own vanity. .