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Evo Online cancelled after allegations against co-founder

Fighting game championship Evo has been cancelled this year following abuse allegations against Evo co-founder and CEO Joey “MrWizard” Cuellar. Evo are ejecting him from the company and replacing him as CEO. The makers of half the games in Evo’s lineup had already pulled out of the event following the allegations, including Street Fighter gang Capcom and Mortal Kombat devs NetherRealm. Evo Online was due to run this weekend, one of the many virtual replacements for events called off due to the pandemic.

On Wednesday night, a fighting game community member made allegations against Cuellar dating back to the turn of the millennium at Southern Hills Golfland, a Californian arcade with a famous Street Fighter scene. He accused Cuellar of often offering large amounts of arcade tokens to boys aged around 12-16 if they’d jump into the miniature golf course’s water hazards in only their underwear. He further alleged that Cuellar once instigated a bet about his penis size, which required showing Cuellar his erect penis. The accuser says he was 17 at that time.

“I’m not saying it had no influence on me, because it did, but there’s no like underlying serious trauma or anything. But this is what happened to me nearly 19 years ago,” he said. “I recognise how stupid I was in the situation for not realising it, even though I also recognise how it’s not my fault for not being able to recognise it.”

Evo’s initial response two hours later said that Cuellar’s alleged behaviour “runs directly counter to Evo’s mission of building a safe, welcoming environment for all our players and attendees.” They explained, “Joey has been placed on administrative leave pending a third-party investigation.”

In the wake of the allegations, the companies behind six of the eleven games in Evo Online’s lineup announced they would no longer be involved with the event. Capcom (Street Fighter V), NetherRealm (Mortal Kombat 11), Bandai Namco (Dragon Ball FighterZ, Soulcalibur VI, Tekken 7), and Mane6 (Them’s Fighting Herds) all issued public statements explaining their decisions. A number of players and commentators also pulled out, including five-time Evo champion SonicFox.

Cuellar posted a public apology on Twitter. “I was young and reckless and did things I’m not proud of,” he said. “I have been growing and maturing over the past 20 years, but that doesn’t excuse anything.”

19 hours after their first statement, Evo had decided. “Effective immediately, Joey Cuellar will no longer be involved with Evo in any capacity,” they said. “We are currently working towards his complete separation from the company and have relieved him of all his responsibilities.” Co-founder Tony Cannon will now act as CEO, and Evo say “he will take a leadership role in prioritising greater accountability across Evo, both internally and at our events.”

For now, Evo Online is off. While people will be refunded the cost of commemorative badges sold to raise money for Project Hope, Evo say they still plan to donate an equivalent amount to the international healthcare organisation and its Covid-19 relief efforts.

“Progress doesn’t happen overnight, or without the bravery of those who speak up against misconduct and injustice,” Evo said. “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.”

This has come after weeks of allegations of sexual abuse, harrassment, and predatory behaviour against hundreds of streamers, developers, media, esports players, and other video games people. A lot of companies and communities are trying to figure out how atone for past injustices and change for a better future.

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Alice O'Connor

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When not writing news, Alice may be found in the sea.

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