For the first time in its 24-year history, the seminal fighting games esports tournament Evo has been canceled after multiple pros, including five-time Evo champion Dominique “SonicFox” McLean, and game developers declined to participate following allegations of sexual misconduct by Evo co-founder and CEO Joey “Mr. Wizard” Cuellar.
The decision to cancel the tournament, which was set to kick off Saturday, came late Thursday following a third party investigation into the claims against Cuellar, who was put on administrative leave Wednesday.
“We are shocked and saddened by these events, but we are listening and committed to making every change that will be necessary in making Evo a better model for the stronger, safer culture we all seek,” read a statement from Evo officials. “As a result, we will be canceling Evo Online.”
The allegations against Cuellar came to light after FGC esports veteran Mikey “Crackpr0n” Pham released a statement Wednesday detailing multiple incidents of misconduct allegedly involving Cuellar in the early 2000s when Pham was underage.
According to Pham, Cuellar allegedly paid multiple young boys, including Pham, hundreds of arcade tokens to jump into the water hazards at Los Angeles’ Southern Hills Golfland for periods upward of ten minutes in only their underwear. “We were teenagers with no money and 100-200 tokens (20-40$ worth of tokens) was a lot. So almost all of us did it without a second thought,” Pham stated. “’Jump in a pool for 10 minutes for 40$? Hell yeah!’. We never really thought of it in a predatory way.”
Pham also alleged that Cuellar paid him $20 to see his erect penis as part of a bet over penis size. “None of this really registered to me until many many years later. People were talking about bets they’ve won and things they did,” Pham stated. “It suddenly all came together. The pool stuff, the bet, and everything else.”
The allegations against Cuellar, along with a series of abuse allegations against other FGC esports figures, ultimately pushed SonicFox to withdraw from participating in Evo Thursday along with other competitors. “I can not in good conscience participate in an event with the allegations of one the primary hosts of said event. It just doesn’t sit right with me,” SonicFox told ESPN.
Game developers Netherrealm Studios (Mortal Kombat 11), Capcom (Street Fighter V), Bandai Namco (Dragon Ball FighterZ, Tekken 7, Soulcaliber VI) and Mane6 (Them’s Fightin’ Herds) followed the athletes’ lead, pulling their games from the tournament prior to its cancellation.
We stand in solidarity with those who have spoken out against abuse. We will be pulling MK11 from EVO Online.
— NetherRealm (@NetherRealm) July 2, 2020
SonicFox further offered their support for the survivors speaking up on Twitter. “It has to get worse before it gets better. Commending the bravery of everyone in the community right now. You have my support,” they wrote.
Alongside the cancellation, Evo also announced that Cuellar will no longer be involved with the event “in any capacity” and fellow co-founder Tony “Ponder” Cannon will assume the role of CEO.
“We are currently working towards his complete separation from the company and have relieved him of all his responsibilities. Going forward, Tony Cannon will act as CEO; in this position, he will take a leadership role in prioritizing greater accountability across Evo, both internally and at our events,” read Evo’s statement.
Cuellar apologized in a statement via Twitter Thursday, stating he was “young and reckless and did things I’m not proud of.”