Still8 cancels contracts with Griffin League of Legends players

In the midst of Riot investigation penalties and continued scrutiny from South Korean lawmakers, Griffin have freed up their players from team contracts and allowed them to pursue free agency, the team announced Monday. Photo by Colin Young-Wolff/Provided by Riot Games

Team Griffin parent company Still8 canceled its players' contracts on Monday, effectively making everyone on the team's League of Legends roster a free agent.

The roster, which made it to the League of Legends World Championship quarterfinal and lost there to Invictus Gaming, includes some of the best players in the world. Later Monday, mid laner Jeong "Chovy" Ji-hoon, top laner Choi "Doran" Hyeon-joon and support Son "Lehends" Si-woo announced they were taking Still8's offer and moving into free agency.

"We are here to convey a piece of upsetting news," the team tweeted Monday. "Our contract with Lehends, Doran and Chovy was ended after mutual consent. Sincerely thank you for bringing precious memories and spectacular games to Griffin and Ourfin. Best Wishes. Thank you."

The decision by Still8 comes less than a week after former Griffin director Cho Gyu-nam and coach Kim "cvMax" Dae-ho were banned from participating in pro League of Legends by Riot Korea after an investigation into the team. That investigation centered on the treatment of substitute jungler Seo "Kanavi" Jin-hyeok, who was allegedly pressured by Cho into a five-year contract with Chinese team JD Gaming. Kanavi was a minor at the time of the deal.

The ban for cvMax, meanwhile, points to alleged physical and mental abuse of players during his time with the team -- cvMax was removed as Griffin's coach in the weeks leading up to the world championship and had been hired to coach League Champions Korea rival DragonX prior to Riot's decision.

"Verbal abuse and other abusive actions will not be tolerated in the LCK league," Riot said on Nov. 20 in a statement translated by ESPN. "Verbal abuse and other abusive actions from the position of a coach, a position within the LCK league, is even more difficult to be justified. We have confirmed that the level of verbal violence committed [from cvMax] to the players in an extended period of time was personally damaging from multiple testimony and proofs submitted to the Committee. Furthermore, some players who were victims of this physical and verbal violence were minors."

Griffin had been fined 100 million Korean won ($85,000) by Riot Games for the team's mishandling of Kanavi as well as allowing the alleged abuse by cvMax to go unchecked.

Riot Korea's investigation is a major part of the public discourse in South Korea and has also attracted the eyes of public officials. South Korean National Assembly members Ha Tae-kyung and Lee Dong-seop of the Bareunmirae Party have both taken action.

Ha, who has been publicly critical of Riot and Still8 throughout the investigation, called for the assembly to investigate both companies following the end of the Riot investigation and issued a statement likening the treatment of Kanavi to enslavement by Griffin.

Lee has taken a broader approach in introducing a bill that would allow South Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, alongside the South Korean Fair Trade Commission, to regulate esports player contracts.

"As you can see in the recent contracting controversy between Griffin and Kanavi, the manner of contracts between esports teams and individual players is not as systemic," Lee said in a statement announcing his bill on Oct. 22. "There are many South Korean esports players that have branched out internationally. However, due to the nature of esports, there are more younger players in the field. I am aware that cases of players signing unfair contracts that contain excessive and malicious terms happen more often in esports compared to other fields of sports."

--Reuters and Field Level Media contributed to this report