Noble Esports’ fall, resuscitation, and the long quest for accountability
“I knew right away when I agreed to do it. Either everything goes well and we get an investment and I take care of my players, or I’m fucked. I should have trusted my gut.”
The sigh proceeding this statement from Jeremy McLamb, known to friends and fans as “Lambzy”, is weary and weighty, encompassing almost an entire year of frustration and regret following his brief time as the CEO of Noble Esports.
I have followed Noble Esports throughout the years, marvelling at just how much sheer force-of-will powered the brand through all its scandals. Every time a new low would be reached, the official Twitter would be announcing more giveaways or acquisitions, with seemingly no dent in its sponsorships or general process. It also seemed, despite constant public affirmations he was no longer in charge, that Radil was still ultimately the boss and calling all the shots.
At the start of 2020, the brand seemed to even gain new life, as it was announced that McLamb, a young upstart who had been a significant factor in helping to launch Simplicity Esports as a publicly traded company in 2017, would be joining Noble as its new CEO. And McLamb did indeed have grand plans, plans that soon ran into a sobering reality of not only the COVID-19 Pandemic, but constant interference from Radil himself, who was not as ready to give up power as he had claimed. Within 5 months, McLamb was done, and with him Noble, or so it seemed. But even that was not enough to truly kill the company.
Indeed, Noble lives on to this day, under completely new ownership and management. Despite its clean slate, the company is still struggling under the mighty weight of its previous notoriety, compounded further by rumor and innuendo that Radil and his enablers may still be in positions of power somewhere. Given that 2020 has been such a blur for so many, it is easy to see how that information fell between the cracks.
So how exactly did Noble, which seemed doomed to remain in the vice grip of Radil forever, suddenly change hands? Why was it done so quietly? And what exactly at the new Noble has changed that would prevent the worst aspects of the old Noble from coming into play once again? To best understand just what happened across the first six months of 2020, I conducted a phone interview with McLamb, the former COO, CEO and co-founder, while current Noble General Manager and former Overwatch team manager Envidia and current CEO, former Noble streamer and team manager, Cory Fenix, answered questions over Discord. All three of the stories had a recurring theme: Radil and Noble had the severity of their issues obfuscated through legal intimidation and the loyalty of their inner circle, who handled any allegation of wrongdoing as a public relations issue that was dredged up as a result of a hostile social media climate rather than serious moral and ethical failings, protecting him from accountability even when he was gone.
For McLamb, his return to Noble was a journey that Joseph Campbell may have very well signed off on. In 2014, McLamb was still in high school, only 17, and was a Call of Duty player looking to make the obvious transition into the world of Esports. That’s when Paul Radil aka Recon first came into his orbit. A wealthy businessman based out of New Jersey, Radil was also interested in Esports and considered himself a scout for the future, which he saw in McLamb, who had had decent showings in Call of Duty Ghosts and Advanced Warfare.
It wasn’t long before Radil’s efforts were rewarded, and he persuaded McLamb into helping launch his newly established Esports LLC, Noble Esports, as the org’s Chief Operations Officer. McLamb was ambitious, and he quickly got to work establishing contacts and building a brand through the entertainment company WebShare, which he and Radil started and used to establish a YouTube channel that promoted Triple-A games, the latest hardware for pro players and enthusiasts, and even got to host launch events for gaming and tech companies.
McLamb noted the age difference — he had recently turned 18 and Radil was in his 30’s — but maintained that he never noticed anything sinister about Radil. “He was a talker, definitely a salesman,” he recounts, “but I never saw him do any of the stuff that would come out later.” When asked why Radil partnered with someone as young as him, McLamb could only speculate as to whether or not Radil was taking advantage of his relative inexperience. “There might have been a little of that, yeah.”
For a kid who still had to turn up on Monday for class, this exposure to a world of seemingly limitless potential and initially great earnings was utterly hypnotic. “I dropped out of school, just like that,” McLamb remembers, his smile coming through in his voice, “There was nothing in school that prepared me for this, and I figured I was doing alright, making good money, so why not?”
As bright as the future looked, there were some clouds on the horizon. Chiefly, his relationship with Radil had soured over the course of a year. Citing what he calls “business disagreements”, McLamb and Radil had a “bad” falling out, leading to McLamb’s initial departure from Noble. It was easy enough — McLamb and Radil had never even met face to face up to that point.
Unfettered, McLamb would use his experiences at Noble to continue working in the Esports world, doing consulting and marketing work until he got his biggest break of all: working with millionaire Jed Kaplan to launch Simplicity Esports as its director of marketing. Tasked with creating pitch decks and managing operations, McLamb worked to take the company public by the end of 2018, by far the largest feather in his cap. It was no easy task, and he recalls working “100 hour weeks” through that time period between that and his other job, also as marketing director, for the real estate firm Walkintour.
Along the way, relations between him and Radil had also started to cool. After meeting for the first time at the FGC event CEO in 2017, the two kept an open line of communication, McLamb taking the time to hang out with Noble and its crew at any FGC events he attended. Ever the salesman, Radil and some of Noble’s management tried to talk McLamb into coming back into the fold, but there was a lot of hesitance. Chiefly, Noble’s involvement in the disastrous H1Z1 Pro League had unearthed some serious allegations of player abuse that McLamb was concerned about. Radil and company insisted the worst of it was untrue or divorced from context; the league promised big money that never showed up, money that Noble banked on to pay its roster. Short of it, they had no choice but to evict its players from their Las Vegas headquarters and delay payments, which caused some of its players serious financial distress and even health problems.
Also around that time, serious allegations of sexual harassment began to float around Radil, which were again vehemently denied by the people McLamb spoke to. He followed the allegations but never asked Radil outright: “none of my business” he recalls. Still, he conceded that Noble as a brand was toxic and difficult to justify working for, and declined any offer to come back. Until he got an offer he couldn’t refuse.
In 2019, while attending Evolution in Las Vegas, McLamb met up with Maze, one of Noble’s top men, and eventually got to talking about joining again. Circumstances were different this time — McLamb had, in his spare time, began to manage an up-and-coming competitive Overwatch team through a brand called Bermuda. Although it initially started as “fuckery” that aimed to mirror “the anime beach episode vibe,” Bermuda’s quirky merchandise like beach towels and board shorts alongside its fictional, idol-inspired mascot Bermuda-chan, had gotten a bit of a following and the team proved to be talented, rising up from the bottom tiers of Overwatch competition to the 2nd tier, Contenders.
The success came with a price, or more specifically, a price tag: building the team past the 2nd tier and into an actual Overwatch League team would require a significant cash investment. McLamb had been more than happy to use his own money to support a team he truly cared about, but there were limits, and his best option was to find an investor or sponsor willing to inject the team with the resources necessary. As it so happened, Noble was more than willing to accept the Bermuda team as a subsidiary should McLamb come aboard as Noble’s Chief Executive Officer.
While the promise of a future for his team was the biggest part of the final push, another large part was that McLamb would be CEO while Radil, the LLC owner and original CEO, appeared to be exiting the picture. His complaints about the team being expensive and hard to manage were starting to become more than just the usual giving out. While he had worked for a lot of organizations and had some form of leadership role in at least one department, McLamb had yet to take the reins at being the top brass at an Esports company. Without the ethically dubious stench of Radil at the forefront of Noble, McLamb saw an opportunity to rebrand Noble into something better, more his style, like Bermuda had been. After having a heart-to-heart with his team where he put it to a democratic vote between his players and management staff, McLamb agreed to join Noble in late 2019, to take effect in January 2020.
Considering he had spent the five years since his exodus from Noble working at high-level Eports operations, McLamb was confident he had the skills to lead the brand, but he knew he was still “the new guy,” and that meant having to establish a relationship with his new staff. Luckily, there were some familiar faces; McLamb’s GM at Bermuda, Envidia, had stayed on to join Noble with him. As a team manager, she had been an indelible part of keeping Bermuda’s players happy, something she was more than happy to do. Originally a World of Warcraft player, Envidia had taken a shine to Overwatch upon its release and became interested in pursuing a career in Esports as behind-the-scenes staff. She was recommended to McLamb and joined Bermuda in the summer of 2019, and the two quickly formed a bond. When it came time to jump ship, McLamb noted that Envidia “really stepped up,” jumping into the bigger pond and navigating the large amount of tasks assigned to an Esports GM with aplomb.
“My players are important to me,” Envidia explained when describing her duties, “They call me team mom a lot.” Indeed, McLamb laughed as he said that Envidia often “babysat” the team through tough times and did a lot to manage not just the day-to-day operations, but to be a sounding board and source of support for the young team. With her by his side as a “partner” and “close friend,” McLamb figured he’d have no trouble launching Noble into whatever he wanted it to be.
Then reality hit him like a ton of bricks.
Noble’s operations were “a mess,” he complained, with a bloated roster and confusing structure. Envidia felt the same, having very little knowledge of Noble since she focused heavily on Overwatch and they didn’t have a presence in the game prior to signing Bermuda. She recalled meeting one of the only other female staff members, Airmid, and when asked what she did for the org, “[Radil] introduced her to me as ‘his conscious’.” The team website had no hierarchical listing of staff beyond Radil, which McLamb described as being like a “ghost company,” and was concerned about how this might appear to future potential big-money sponsors.
The company’s belt needed to be tightened, McLamb decided, and so he began the difficult work of trying to balance the company’s budget and manage its mess of affairs. But right away, McLamb could feel that something was a little off. When he explained that he felt Noble didn’t need to have such a large roster of streamers with small followings under contract, for example, and that the engagement numbers were microscopic, the upper echelon of Noble pushed back against him, insisting that he was overstepping.
Worse still, McLamb found Radil to be far more hands-on than he had been promised. Instead of helping to seek a buyer for the LLC so he could exit from the company, Radil was still making decisions behind McLamb’s back and had control of the org’s Twitter, which he used to promote anyone who repped the Noble tag. This directly undermined McLamb’s intent, and was just Radil doing things as if their conversations had never happened.
This slowly became the norm, as McLamb would have to deal with Radil doing business that was clearly not having an impact impressions-wise or viewership-wise for his streamers and players, but instead personally pleased him. This extended to staff, who were often as unfit for the job as Radil was. McLamb recalled shuffling through three different people hired to be a social media manager, each more incompetent than the next. One of them was asked by McLamb to write a simple ad copy, a basic level marketing strategy, for a keyboard; the manager instead handed McLamb a diatribe that compared the product to a penis. He was promptly let go.
In the background loomed the start of the global COVID-19 pandemic, which immediately through all plans into disarray. While a good number of the games that Noble was involved in could go online, the need for good online impressions was more important than ever. Still, Noble’s swelled roster wasn’t delivering on that front, simply because it was tough to keep track of them all. McLamb found himself dealing with many streamers and teams promised the world by Radil, including contracts and money, and having none of that to offer for them. One of them, a Rocket League team, not only got had their deal reneged but also signed non-disclosure agreements that were unbelievably restrictive. The org member that had scouted the team, Cory “Sheriff” Fenix, was outraged, and quit in protest after the same situation happened again later in the year.
Finally, after Radil took control of Noble’s Twitter and tweeted the wrong handle, creating a link to a gay porn website, McLamb had enough. He rung Radil and got him to once again verbally agree to step back, hopefully for good. McLamb had a good negotiating hand this time; a deal was starting to take shape with a major investor, something in the range of six figure. With luck, this would achieve McLamb’s goal of wresting the controlling interest of the company from the hive-mind of Radil and his followers and allow him to rebrand and create his preferred team, a team where players and their needs were centered instead of the needs and wants of its owner and his close confidants.
Then the allegations came roaring back
Five months of trying to deal with Radil and his iron grip on Noble, his job at Walkintour, and some issues in his personal life had begun to wear McLamb down to the bone. Things at Noble had broken down to the point that the top brass was having meetings without him, and he was personally having to relay messages between sponsors and Radil, as Radil was the sole owner and controlled all the cash. A deal to buy him out was getting further and further away as McLamb tried to wrest some kind of control back.
During the summer, amidst mass civil unrest and waves of allegations of sexual harassment were becoming widespread in the FGC, the allegations against Radil resurfaced, with all the eyes of social media now turned to face it. McLamb, who had been in the world of Esports long enough to see how where it was going, was at the end of his rope. “Rep is everything,” he explained, “and there was no way any major deals were going to happen without us acknowledging it and Paul leaving.”
It was a difficult reckoning for McLamb. He had assumed that he was going to be running the company and Radil would be gone and with him his toxic cloud, but here it was threatening to burn everything around to cinder with nothing to build back up. It was time to go in full damage control mode, and for help he turned to one of his few loyal allies, Envidia.
What of Envidia? Since taking the job with Noble, she had stayed true to her duties but had done so without pay, as Noble’s slow compensation just never quite seemed to get to her, and neither did a contract. And sadly, like many women, Radil’s harassment extended to her, especially over the phone.
“[Radil] went out of his way to call me privately to introduce himself,” she recalled of one of her very first meetings with him. “During that call he mentioned there were “rumors” and girls that had worked here previously and lied.” Before long he was asking her to be in a polyamorous relationship with his partner, attempting to buy her gifts of underwear by brazenly asking for her bra size, and making graphic sexual comments about her in front of her Overwatch team. It got to the point where he directed all female staff to report to her, just so Radil wouldn’t have a chance to harass them over the phone like he did her.
Given her experiences, she was furious, adamant that the organization acknowledge and disavow Radil. McLamb agreed, and pressured Radil to transfer ownership to him and leave the organization as soon as possible. Naturally Radil wanted to do no such thing, and he was backed up by most of his circle, who wanted to just continue with business as usual.
A source who wished to remain anonymous described the mood of Radil’s friends to be “Don’t cancel Paul.” Whatever happened, they wanted to show support and weather the storm. For Envidia, a victim of Radil’s behavior, this was too much, and she prepared a statement that was as cut and dry as could be:
But despite McLamb’s blessing, Radil’s lawyer got involved and demanded that no public notice could mention Radil by name. McLamb found himself in a tough situation — he knew the only way for the org to survive was to acknowledge this, but the transfer of power from Radil was just as critical, and he didn’t want to put that in jeopardy by violating any agreements. Arguing in DM’s, Envidia and McLamb debated whether or not they were conveying sincerity in a post if it didn’t include Radil in any way, with Envidia firmly stating that anything less was disingenuous. It seemed like he could only get one or the other, and Noble’s management wasn’t keen on helping change that with their full-throated support of Radil.
“I couldn’t even get them to stop tweeting,” McLamb lamented, recalling how the staff was so nonchalant about the allegations resurfacing that they were just continuing to make the same joke tweets and shoutouts as usual. Their biggest concern was the blowback of acknowledging the truth, which McLamb felt was “morally wrong.”
Another roadblock was his insistence that Noble rebrand into something different as a means of moving past Radil. This was not only opposed by Radil’s allies, but Envidia too, who felt that was akin to “a PR move…to rebrand and sweep it under the rug.” Tensions were sky-high, and miscommunication began to tear into the relationship that McLamb and Envidia had built up over the past year.
McLamb claims he only slept “9 hours in 4 days” as he tried to maneuver around his goal of rebranding and working with the limitations imposed upon him by Radil’s lawyer. Eventually, he did find the best option — quit. To him, Noble was finished, and there was nothing that could be done by him to rectify the critical issues that stemmed from Radil’s sole ownership. Without a name change it would be forever tainted.
Even this decision did little to sway his former co-workers at Noble. “I was told that ‘in this political climate, you have to just deal with this’,” he went on to say, “That you just have to weather the storm because this is normal now. It wasn’t. It isn’t.” The group was far more concerned sticking together as a “family” than actually trying to do the right thing, in his view, so he knew he had to get out while he still could, and hope that the stench wouldn’t last on him.
Whether it was an honest mistake or a last ditch effort by an org generally known for its aggressive retaliation, McLamb’s announcement of his departure was immediately followed by the Noble Twitter posting their final, amended, Radil-less public acknowledgement of the accusations. Out of patience and hurt, McLamb lashed back, publicly revealing that he left because he was asked to downplay the allegations. The petty jabs continued when Airmid, the employee referred to as Radil’s “conscious,” cryptically replied that “he was always part of the problem” in response to him leaving. McLamb subsequently got the tweet taken down.
While the squabbling was going on publicly, many of Noble’s own players didn’t know what to do. Chaos reigned, and it was tough to know who to believe or even what the immediate future for the org was. And many were still not getting paid. But even amidst the turmoil, many players willingly broke contract with Noble in order to protest Radil, a choice encouraged by McLamb. Others were let go, a move that was seen by some as pouring more gasoline on the fire in order to put the org in a weaker position and get Radil out.
One team chose to stay, however, and that was Envidia and her Overwatch team. Once Noble put out a statement, the expectation was that Radil was quietly going to seek exit through a buyer for the LLC. One of those potential buyers was Envidia. “I stayed because of my players and all the other people trapped here…too many people had homes here for me to just let recon destroy it.” Her reasoning was unchanged — acknowledging the mistakes, the years of bad faith and lies was the only option, and anything short of that was woefully insufficient. While she didn’t release it until Radil was totally gone from the org, her Twitlonger lay trembling in the chamber, a silver bullet she made sure to hold on to if Radil went back on his word again to find a buyer.
McLamb and his few allies left were on the warpath, encouraging players to leave and noting to not trust anyone associated with Noble. Unfortunately, this caused a lot of disinformation to fly, including the reality of where Envidia’s loyalties lied. Thanks to “lambzy and his staff lighting fires on the other end,” Envidia claimed she got lumped in with the sycophants of upper management, driving a further wedge in her relationship with McLamb. The two have since reconciled, but at the time, the weeks of chaos boiled over into outright paranoia and anger.
In spite of all the turmoil, Radil did end up agreeing to give up the ghost, a move that McLamb helped to facilitate as quickly as possible, handing the keys to the kingdom over to his longtime friend Maze. Maze immediately became acting CEO while a buyer quietly entered the picture to finally purchase the LLC and remove Radil from the organization for good. Many former staff and independent contractors came looking for what may very well be their final chance at a paycheck, which became a free-for-all. One artist in particular was commissioned by McLamb earlier in the year but not under a contract and went months without any compensation, pinging between McLamb, Maze, and Envidia who all laid the blame for the lack of expediency on one another. The artist was finally, quietly paid out in full by Maze after a few weeks, despite the fact that the records and invoices for her mysteriously vanished.
As of July 31, 2020, all of Radil’s assets were finally transferred over to Kyle McDougal, a Florida-based investor who had previously run companies that focused on e-commerce and consulting work for small businesses using Amazon and had gotten interested in Esports investment. The era of Radil was finally, truly over.
McDougal’s entry into the world of Esports was facilitated, ironically enough, by a former Noble staff member — Cory Fenix.
Since leaving Noble, Fenix had made hay, joining the org Avidity and finding great success with a Rocket League team based out of South America. Eventually the news of Noble’s impending demise reached his ears, and coincidentally a team he was trying to get signed with a pro organization happened to know McDougal, who had taken a sudden interest in Esports. Fenix and McDougal called one another and Fenix made his pitch: “[Noble] had established sponsors and underneath the black sludge that was their reputation, a stream team with talented members, a storied history from 2014 to the present, and established Social media.” Simply, Noble had already laid a lot of groundwork and at least had a minor name recognition amongst sponsors, and it was easier to work with an existing framework than to create something completely new.
For a neophyte like McDougal, this was a no-brainer, and he quickly moved to purchase all of Noble’s assets from Radil and make Fenix the new CEO after purging previous Noble staff like Maze, Airmid and Ippaku, on advice from Envidia. Not only were there trust issues stemming from their connection to Radil, but also their frequent attempts to uphold the status-quo of Noble’s low standards and poor decision-making.
Envidia is now a general manager, the #3 person in the company behind McDougal and Fenix. As part of a plan to ensure that the same abuses don’t happen, she has been adamant on hiring female staff (Most of Noble’s management is now made up of women) and has installed a “Safety Council” that its members can report to if they have an issue. The council is “Myself, [head of stream team] Fogi and Fenix are on the council,” she explained, “…and then 3 streamers from the community without close ties to any of us.” The idea is that there is an even representation of both powerful members of the organization and representatives from the communities and players they represent. That does leave potential for a vote deadlock on a purely ideological split, but does at least give the non-management section of their members a lifeline in case the management is compromised again.
One of the more problematic aspects of the “New” Noble is just that — the name. Like Envidia, Fenix sees the process of rebranding as a concession to ego and PR while not necessarily indicative of any consistent values. Fenix has likened the decision to keep the name as a somewhat enlightened form of revenge, paraphrasing Confucius a bit. “…what better way to stick it to old management then by seeing their old org flourish with staff, players, and streamers who love where they are and while they aren’t here?”
Even so, Fenix admits that it has been difficult to wash away the stench of Radil and his stooges. Both the org and its players have lost sponsorship opportunities because of the way Radil constantly used to pretend to pull back then meddle in company affairs, leading many to wrongfully believe that he is still involved. 100% of assets and interests have transferred to McDougal, but because there were such strict legal guidelines set by Radil’s lawyers, the split announcement was tepid and failed to condemn the toxicity of Radil’s regime, instead praising him for what he had contributed to the brand and wishing him well in future endeavors.
Because of that, there is a not-insignificant amount of time spent by the Twitter accounts of the org itself, Fenix and Envidia defending Noble from accusations that it still has the old management or is otherwise still up to no good. This may speak to inexperience — this is Fenix’s first time with a position as high as CEO, and both have only been working in Esports for just a few years. But it is not difficult to see the flashes of old Noble in the social media sniping and squabbling which, combined with the lack of denunciation of the old regime, may haunt them for a while yet.
Even so, Fenix is adamant that he can change Noble into a more democratic place to be, where players, streamers, and everyone else involved have more say. “All of my players are paid on time. All the contracts are followed to the T. It’s a part of my vision to really open things up to the moral side of not just esports, but to humainty [sic]”
There are still plenty of scars left from the fallout of Radil’s departure. McLamb lost thousands of dollars from never being reimbursed for the money he contributed to patching the org’s gaping wounds, and he’s unsure if the ugliness will leave his reputation. “My record was spotless, I always did everything right, but then I got involved with this,” he lamented. What started out as a last ditch effort to provide for a team he had grown ended in disaster, himself falling into some of the toxic tendencies of the environment that festered at Noble’s upper echelon. Envidia has dealt with having her reputation smeared as an abetter of an abuser, despite being a victim herself. There are some hard feelings left over with some of the old Noble staff, wounds that will likely never heal.
It is difficult to ignore that, in all of this, Radil cashed out; the deal to buy Noble was substantial, and his legal meddling meant that his reputation was never once smeared by the organization he started. “He paid no price, made a lot of money instead,” grumbled McLamb. Through the years, it was evident that he cared little for what people thought — his connections to sponsors and substantial personal wealth meant that smears on his reputation being blasted across Twitter were ultimately of no substantial consequence. Nor will any of the people loyal to him who felt that his accusations were exaggerated face the consequences either — Prideful, a WoW guild started by Maze, has been repurposed to be the lead of a new content creation company, despite Maze having been seen as an antagonizer of other WoW guilds as well.
Accountability, or the lack thereof, has been a consistent thorn in the side of any social movement or reckoning, and the gaming community is no different. How can there be change if that change is insistent on people in positions of power essentially playing along and keeping their promises? In cases like Mike Zaimont and here with Noble, those promises were simply broken repeatedly and there was no one to stop them from doing it. Fenix and Envidia have done an admirable job trying to rebuild, and it appears as if they are living up their word about creating a more ethical, democratic organization. But one can’t help but wonder if having a wealthy, inexperienced owner who owns 100% of the assets for the company, a position that hurt them bad the last time around, is a recipe for success. Only time will tell.